Nintendo’s popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons game has disappeared from China’s biggest e-commerce site—and many on Chinese social media are blaming players in Hong Kong, who used the game to spread pro-democracy messages.
Sellers on Taobao, China’s equivalent of eBay, found that Animal Crossing had disappeared from their online stores Friday morning, according to independent Chinese media outlet Caijing.
Searches for Animal Crossing on Taobao did not return results for the game on Friday, only Animal Crossing-themed merchandise.
The New Horizons installment was released on March 20 and has found an avid audience among protestors in Hong Kong who have taken advantage of the game’s customization features to create anti-government messages. On their virtual islands, characters chant protest slogans and hang up posters criticizing their city’s leaders. In one video shared widely on Twitter, players use bug-catching nets to smack pictures of the city’s unpopular leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Players have also held “memorials” for Lam, standing next to a tombstone and funeral portrait of her while dressed in all black.
Chinese social media users were quick to blame the disappearance of the game on Hong Kong protesters. In particular, they sent angry comments to prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who last week shared a screenshot of his virtual island and said protestors were “taking their cause” to the game.
“Politicizing such a beautiful game, can you go and die?” one tweet to him read. Similar comments were posted to Wong’s Instagram account.
Animal Crossing has not been officially released in mainland China, where strict regulation of the video market means that only three Nintendo Switch games—all of them from the Super Mario Bros. series—are formally distributed.
Instead, Chinese gamers purchase the overseas versions of the game informally, relying on platforms like Taobao or other gaming stores.
It’s not clear whether the game was targeted by Chinese officials, but the Communist Party’s censorship apparatus has been used to ban everything from Winnie the Pooh (due to comparisons with Chinese leader Xi Jinping), to broadcasts of the NBA after the general manager of the Houston Rockets expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
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