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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.

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Companies: nintendo

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Comments on “Chinese Government Bans 'Animal Crossing' After Hong Kong Gamers Stage Protests Inside The Game”

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25 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Animal Crossing's great

I’m wondering a few things:

  1. Shouldn’t this be Timothy Geigner territory?
  2. Is Nintendo itself going to censor the pro-Hong-Kong content if it’s on their servers and not local (if the content is only local, never mind)?
  3. Will this Animal Crossing protest result in a banning of the Nintendo Switch in China?
  4. Relative to #3, will the Nintendo Switch still be manufactured in China?

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ROGS says:

My irony meter cracks when I see Techdirt is accessible anywhere in China, but Bing cannot return search results for "manufactured crisis." (no shit)

I mean-at what point does TD get a clue, and jump onboard?

Fake, spoiled, stupid fuerdai v. real revolution is laughable. The last group of those (keyboard warrior) ragtags that I met could barely speak Chinese.

And even San Mao had better manners.

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Anonymous Coward says:

it’s about time the fucking Chinese Government were held accountable for the deaths they are responsible for because of the attitude of ‘we have to keep things secret! anyone who even tries to do different will be punished instead of worrying about ‘protests inside a friggin game’! my father is one of those who has just died, today because of the covid19 virus and worrying about ‘protests’ isn’t going to bring him back! dont get me wrong, it isn’t the Chinese people or, in 99% of cases, it isn’t Chinese companies or tech, but, as it is in just about every country, including (particularly?) the USA, nothing is more important than protecting the ‘top dog’, the government, and those in it, at all costs!!

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Cover-ups are the mainstay of large institutions.

Related: all the major Christian churches (and most not-so-major ones) in the western world suffer from an epidemic of sexual assaults by clergy, acolytes, cantors, etc. in which the victim was silenced so as to not befoul the reputation of the church. Youth Pastors infamously get it on with their flock.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints notoriously has a sexual assault hotline which runs to their legal team, not to any impartial inquisition.

(Florida’s sunshine laws, incidentally, are considered the cause for Florida Man’s reputation of endless antics. It’s not that Oregon Man and Texas Man and Georgia Man are less engaged in mischief.)

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cover-ups are the mainstay of large institutions.

(Florida’s sunshine laws, incidentally, are considered the cause for Florida Man’s reputation of endless antics. It’s not that Oregon Man and Texas Man and Georgia Man are less engaged in mischief.)

It’s really ironic that one of the best thing the Florida government has ever done has led to its national shame. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess…

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

using a number of image-alteration tricks...

Chinese citizens have been very creative, using a number of image-alteration tricks to trick the government’s algorithms

I do wonder how much the adversarial input studies might be useful for the decensorship effort. By adding an overlay of image B over image A (the overlay is transparent to the human eye) it can fool neural nets trained to detect A to thinking it’s B. A technique undoubtedly very useful to the porn industry (child-porn or otherwise).

I bet it would be totally useful for scaling the Great Firewall too.

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ROGS says:

Re: using a number of image-alteration tricks...

For the record (and have you ever been to China, BTW?) The Great Firewall has NOTHING on the USA-FVEY "Great Free-Speech Steamroller."

Its not just because the Chinese don’t generally really fucking care what Jane Doe, and John Blow say, but because China appreciates dialogue at a different level. Their spy mechanism is not proactive, i.e. manufacturing, and creating terrorists. They are simply dealing with the reality that Turks, and others have a hold on their western front, literally.

SO, I have more freedom to speak in China, or in Xinjiang, than I do here, because in the US, they will literally listen to you at the Fusion Center, and then,monitor you via ALPRs, and send creepy cops by your house to literally shine spotlights through your babies window as she sleeps.

And all of this, as US cops and others fuck with your internet and phone. China wil NOT do this to foreigners, and even the stories I have heard are at best funny (NO MORE PORN ON YOUR PHONE!) and at worst (IF YOU CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE THE POLICE FOR OUR RESPONSE TO BAD FOOD AT YOUR CHILDS SCHOOL WE WILL SUSPEND YOUR ACCOUNT!!! As the authorities then fix and improve the situation, dramatically’. ANd even then, they do not suspend accounts, because the FACTS were true, and many parents agreed, and took democratic measures against such abuse)

In China, they simply care about how we talk to each other, and then, they try to discern the nuance. Western peoples voices are treasured there, because we give insight into the disfunction of our own failed democracies.

Rarely was I ever censored in China.

Uyghurs ( I knew many, their lamb is the best, and most agreed that the camps were a step forwards, educating people to work within the economic and social system as contributors as opposed to religious indoctrinated counter-productives who only want to establish Jesus as lord and Savior; or Jews whose nebulous Israeli intel ties cast them as suspects)

Not a bad thing, overall, and the so-called deaths of activists there are usually because they had radical ideas about killing guards, because the Putonghua is the devil or something similar.

The US is even worse, with mind control camps at Guantanamo, and worse, because the US does not provide education, or opportunities of assimilation to prisoners who were kept in its gulags.

But back to the point: scaling the Chinese Firewall is childs play. Any westerner can do it, if they understand the depth of dialectic spaces they are intruding upon, and/or, respecting who allows them to do it and why.

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ROGS says:

Chinatrols are NOT the problem: Stephen T. Stone is

Its so fun to watch the jokers at TD on one hand argue free speech, and on the other, enable a speech troll, named Stephen T. Stone.

Run for office, I dare you Stephen T. Stone.

Any district, anywhere, I will see you and your types defeated.

Thanks for the vanity plates, bro. I ain’t running for nothing.

How does it feel knowing that you have ZERO political future now? I am over two thousand years old, but TD elected you idiot.

Idiot

Enjoy your ownname for the next ten years.You are on a list.

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