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Animal Crossing, Hong Kong Protests: Pandemic Gives Rise to a New Era for Video Games




The continuation of stay-at-home restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic have significantly impacted the reality surrounding video games.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed playing video games during extended periods of confinement due to the pandemic. Within this context, games have become platforms for collaboration with fashion brands and art museums, as well as demonstrations by the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. 


Additionally, events such as online sports competitions showcasing top professional athletes continue to advance the blending of virtual space and reality. Experts in the field point out that a huge step has been taken towards a new era. 




The WHO’s Sudden Authorization


On March 11, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus as a global pandemic. Shortly afterwards, on March 29, the WHO announced #PlayApartTogether, a message created as part of an initiative in collaboration with various video game companies. 


Along with running special online events on game applications, the WHO encourages playing video games while continuing to stay at home. However, the WHO had officially recognized gaming disorder as a behavioral addiction in 2019. Considering this contradiction, the decision to support the collaborative initiative has been accepted with a degree of surprise, to say the least. 



In conjunction with this initiative, Nintendo released “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for the Nintendo Switch, which has become a global phenomenon. Just six weeks after its release, an astounding 13.4 million copies have been sold, exhibiting a chart-topping start. 


Set within a deserted island paradise, players can enjoy daily life by building a home, gardening, and catching bugs with animal villagers. Not only does the game offer a peaceful sense of solace for players staying at home, it has also given rise to unique collaborations.


Fashion brands — such as the American brand, Marc Jacobs, and the Italian brand, Valentino — have ingeniously recreated real-life items that can be worn by characters. Images and videos of these items have been posted by the brands on social media platforms. 


The ultimate aim of this endeavor is to the raise fashion brands’ degree of familiarity and visibility while also replacing fashion shows that were cancelled due to the pandemic. 



Furthermore, on May 2, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which has been closed to the public, made 400,000 digitized artworks available for free on their website as Animal Crossing items. Dedicated players can now decorate their character’s homes with masterpieces by Van Gogh or Hokusai. 



Hitting an Image of Xi Jinping with a Butterfly Net


Meanwhile, the relatively liberating world of Animal Crossing has also been used in unexpected ways. On April 10, prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong posted on YouTube live videos of Animal Crossing that included messages of the movement. These were created in place of street demonstrations prohibited by the Hong Kong government’s stay-at-home orders. 



The video displays adorable Animal Crossing characters played by Wong and other activists applauding in front of a slogan on the ground that reads, “Free Hong Kong — Revolution Now.” Additionally, images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam can be seen being hit with butterfly nets, presenting intentional acts of protest. 


Clearly, calling Animal Crossing a social phenomenon would not be an overstatement. Shuntaro Furukawa, president of Nintendo, the maker of Animal Crossing, stated at a financial briefing on May 7: “Under these distressing circumstances, people all around the world are forced to stay at home. Considering our role, we as Nintendo are continuously thinking about ways in which we can help.”



Athletes, Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka Join In


The pandemic has also caused a phenomenon where athletic competitions are being replaced by online competitions — in other words, e-sports. Due to the unavoidable cancellation of competitions and tournaments, athletic associations have increasingly turned to hosting events through e-sports. With the additional participation of star athletes, the result has been a flurry of excitement among fans and participants alike. 



The North American professional basketball league, the NBA, hosted an official online tournament where 16 NBA players including Rui Hachimura, competed against one another. In soccer, high-profile athletes participated in an online event hosted by the English Premier League. In tennis, fans worldwide were encouraged by the online appearance of top players, such as Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka. 


Moreover, the pandemic has evidently stimulated the game industry’s fusion and integration with reality. The former editor in chief of the video game magazine Weekly Famitsu and current senior advisor of Kadokawa, Hirokazu Hamamura, claimed, “Steps towards a new era for the game industry are rapidly occurring.” 


Hamamura points out that the sheltering of consumers due to stay-at-home orders have in turn prompted increased video game download sales, as well as the generation of more opportunities to come in contact with games. He concludes that, from now on, the video game industry will shift to accommodate a service economy, operating in conjunction with streaming websites. 



Furthermore, Hamamura predicts, “The video game market will enter the next phase as it continues to grow with an upward trend.” 


Author: Takashi Yamamoto


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese).



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