Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has shared photos of himself playing Nintendo’s Animal Crossing after Chinese gamers blamed him for a ban on the video game in the mainland.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons disappeared from China’s Taobao and Pinduoduo platforms last week, Reuters reported. The secretary-general of pro-democracy group Demosisto said he was a fan of the popular game and had received death threats from mainland netizens following the take-down.

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Joshua Wong holding a Switch console which displays protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” in Animal Crossing.

The simulation allows users to craft tools, decorations and other creature comforts from scratch on their character’s own deserted islands.

Some users in Hong Kong, however, have created pro-democracy and anti-government messages within the digital world. Flags containing protest slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” funeral photographs of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and villain-hitting sessions against Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam are among the virtual protests that have cropped up.

Protests erupted last June across Hong Kong over a now-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrations in the real world have, however, largely halted since the coronavirus epidemic.

‘Absurd’ censorship

In recent days, Wong shared a series of edited photos of himself on social media holding a Switch console displaying other popular games including “World War Z,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Battlefield.”

“Which games is that monkey-like clown who thinks high of himself playing? De-shelve all of them.” Wong wrote in a humorous caption.

He told HKFP that he wished to highlight China’s censorship: “It is so absurd that not even a family-friendly game is allowed behind China’s firewall,” he said.

Netizens also created an Instagram story filter and meme generator for users to superimpose other images onto Wong’s Switch screen.

The activist told HKFP that, since Chinese gamers could not openly criticise the state, they blamed the ban on him.

Soft power’

Wong said the impact of the internet saga was not limited to Hong Kong and China.

“It is an event where the soft power of different countries is compared… Animal Crossing connected Thai and Hong Kong netizens in recent Twitter battles as well,” he said, in reference to a Twitter row involving Thai actor Bright and his girlfriend Nnevvy after the couple called Taiwan a country.

Chinese netizens flooded in to attack Thais, including their monarch, government and food. Thai’s, meanwhile, responded with mostly laid-back and humorous memes under the hashtag “#nnevvy.”

“Hong Kong stand[s] with our freedom-loving friends in Thailand against Chinese bullying! #nnevvy,” Wong later tweeted.

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Twitter analytics of Joshua Wong’s post in support of Thai netizens against online attacks by Chinese netizens. Photo: Joshua Wong.

He said that almost two million Twitter users had seen his tweet.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.