NEW YORK, NY— Animal Crossing New Horizons. The game everybody has been playing during the COVID era, every day going into their little world where for some people, they’re not actually lonely. They have villagers to keep them company, can meet up with their friends in game, and spend time by decorating and terraforming their island. It’s also a game where nobody gets hurt, you can’t get raided or attacked, nobody is mean to you, and you can’t go “broke.” You can just grow money trees. This is the perfect escape from reality. However, many people have been using Animal Crossing to share their opinions about issues going on in the real world.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is a Nintendo game with over 11 million people playing since March 20, 2020. You start off on a deserted island and work to create your own paradise, relax by the beach and fish, catch bugs, meet cute villagers and invite them to your island, build with different abilities and furniture, and so much more.
But how much impact can a video game really have on real worlds issues? My friend Kako says that Animal Crossing New Horizons “is honestly just a game and I don’t really think it would really make a difference protesting in game .. it’s not the best way to protest but it is not the wrong way.” While there is doubt that the protests can make an impact, some recent events show that ACNH is catching the attention of lots of surprising people.
The 2019 protests in Hong Kong, also known as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, also reached Animal Crossing. The bill would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be taken to jail in China or Taiwan. Extradition is basically one country asking another country to give them a person who will go to jail. Hong Kong would no longer be a country of refuge for the people of China running away for freedom or for legal reasons. Now, these protests have escalated for a larger demand for democracy and a better government. Since there was a lockdown in Hong Kong and nobody could protest outside, there was a video posted on twitter with a group on the beach in Animal Crossing, made up of Hong Kong players wacking pictures of Carrie Lam, their head of government. This is an example of these protesters’ way of using Animal Crossing to protest, but in a safe way.
One of the useful platforms on ACNH is the custom design kiosk where you can post your custom designs on clothes or just regular designs onto a platform that everybody with an online nintendo account can access. Wired interviewed Fung, a Hong Kong woman who started making protest clothes with custom designs in ACNH: Fung, another Hong Konger in her 30s who only wanted to give her last name, says she recently started creating her own protest-themed clothes in the game to make a message, which she then shares with friends to wear on their islands too. “I just draw the thing I most care about and love, just like someone draws their (pop) idols … I draw 連狗連豬,” she says in a Facebook message to Wired, “referring to Hong Kong’s unofficial protest mascots, a pig and a dog.” These shirts have also been worn out in public in the real world. Some of these custom designs and protest artwork have been shown in the Hong Kong streets and underground in the subway. Recently, authorities have been taking down protest artwork, saying it’s not sanitary because of COVID-19. In Animal Crossing, nobody can remove your work except yourself.
This might just be a game, but the whole world, including the Hong Kong government, found out about Animal Crossing! Animal Crossing is now banned in Hong Kong, and it looks like making a message in this game has gone a long way. If the government noticed that, then I’m sure many others have too. For example, famous politicians have started playing, like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional district.
Not only have the issues in Hong Kong been protested, but also issues in the U.S. Protesting for the Black Lives Matter movement is spreading awareness to Animal Crossing users in other countries who also look at ACNH to find out about what’s going on in America, and is raising awareness of the unequal treatment of Black people.
All in all, looks like the protests did have real world impacts. It’s a powerful way to protest during these times when everybody is just trying to keep themselves safe.