Japanese video game giant Nintendo has told players of its hit creation Animal Crossing: New Horizons to stop adding political or commercial content, after a variety of users worldwide – including Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners – started sending their own messages.

Nintendo told businesses and organisations in a press release Thursday to “refrain from bringing politics into the in game,” and said those who breached the guidelines could be banned.

users creating political messages in animal crossing
File photo: Joshua Wong, via Twitter.

Animal Crossing has been a hit since its launch in March, selling over 20 million copies by September. It allows users to craft tools, decorations and other creature comforts from scratch on their own deserted islands.

However, some users have utilised its features to send political messages.

In Hong Kong, some players have been creating pro-democracy and anti-government content, including flags with protest slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” funeral photographs of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and “villain-hitting” sessions aimed at Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.

The game has since been pulled from Chinese grey market online shopping platforms.

users protesting in animal crossing
File photo: Studio Incendo, via Facebook.

US President-elect Joe Biden is also among those who hope to capitalise on the game’s popularity. Biden’s campaign launched its own virtual island last month, allowing players to “volunteer” at the island’s campaign headquarters and visit polling stations. Under the new guidelines, the island is likely to be banned.

Activist Joshua Wong told HKFP that he had taken part in a number of virtual protests in the game this year.

“What Animal Crossing represented was not just entertainment during lockdown, but also a reflection of happenings in real life. It provides an alternative when institutional channels of expression are restricted,” he said.

“It is a shame that Nintendo overlooked the significance of this game.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.