Chinese Government Bans 'Animal Crossing' After Hong Kong Gamers Stage Protests Inside The Game
from the always-a-step-ahead dept
China loves to censor. And residents of the country — as well as those in Hong Kong who are now seeing China encroach on their democracy — love to dodge the censors. It’s a game that’s been played for years, but one that has become increasingly sophisticated with the erection of China’s Great Firewall.
For years, Chinese citizens have been using pictures of Winnie-the-Pooh as visual shorthand for President Xi Jinping. President Xi is not flattered by the comparison. His unhappiness with this portrayal has accelerated the meme’s spread — as has the government’s attempts to rein it in. And that’s how something as innocuous as A.A. Milne’s creation has made its way to the top of the Most Censored list.
But it’s more than some light mockery of the country’s president. The recent protests in Hong Kong have been met with increased censorship by the Chinese government. Added to the ongoing memory-holing of 1989’s Tiananmen Square Massacre were duties related to a new wave of protests — and the government’s sometimes-violent responses.
The more the government tries to censor, the more citizens find ways to route around it. Chinese citizens have been very creative, using a number of image-alteration tricks to trick the government’s algorithms, as well as some clever wordplay that turns innocuous phrases into condemnations of government officials and efforts.
When the censorship algorithms fail, the government just starts blocking platforms completely and terminating communication services. Apps vanish from online stores, often with the assistance of US tech companies that don’t want to anger the government presiding over one of the largest user bases in the world.
But government critics always find a way. David Gilbert reports for Motherboard that Hong Kong gamers are using coronavirus lockdown favorite “Animal Crossing” to protest Chinese government interference and spread banned images.
Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong democracy activist, was among the first to show how this could be done, posting a screenshot of his island, which he decorated with a banner saying: “Free Hong Kong, revolution now.”
“For lots of people around the world who play this game, they have to put their ideal life into the game, and for Hong Kongers, we have to put our protest movement and our protest sites inside the game,” Wong said last week.
Wong’s Twitter thread is full of in-game protest efforts — both his and the efforts of those responding to his tweet. It’s yet another example of how censorship targets stay one step ahead of the censors.
Obviously, the Chinese government wants to shut this down. But its options are limited. No one’s buying Animal Crossing from Chinese stores because it hasn’t been officially approved for sale by the Chinese government. There’s a ban in place now, but it’s not having much of an effect on gray market offerings. The game is already extremely popular in the country where it’s not even officially for sale, with some citizens doing nothing more than changing their Nintendo eShop locations to access downloadable copies.
Censors will always lag behind the censored. That’s the way the game is played. Proactive efforts tend to miss the edge cases. And bureaucrats overseeing large-scale censorship efforts are rarely as nimble or inspired as the citizens they’re trying to silence.