The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been teaching marine biology by playing Animal Crossing on their Twitch channel.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's social media team has been teaching marine biology by playing Animal Crossing on their Twitch channel. Nintendo

The Los Angeles Times published a great feature over the weekend about how Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo's wildly popular (and cute) social simulation game, has "become the sort of dominating cultural touchstone usually reserved for a new Marvel movie or the last season of Game of Thrones." The roughly two-decades-old franchise's new release was expected to sell well when it dropped on March 20, but early sales and incessant memes indicate the game has found a broader footing during global self-isolation. Even the title of the game, New Horizons, feels accidentally profound. We are all on the verge of a new horizon, and in this foggy intermediary period many, many of us are playing Animal Crossing.

There are two cultural developments around Animal Crossing that I was paying attention to over the weekend. One has to do with China, and the other with an aquarium.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong protest Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in Animal Crossing.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong protest Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in Animal Crossing. Nintendo

First, the Chinese development.

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China pulled Animal Crossing: New Horizons off its "grey" markets. While the game has not officially been allowed in China, it's reported to have widespread popularity in the country.

It's not entirely clear what caused the game to be removed, but many are reading the move as a response to viral protests staged within the game by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. The protests are pretty funny:


With Hong Kong under lockdown, protesters started taking their message to Animal Crossing's digital world in early April. “I think it is a way for Hong Kongers to reduce stress and express our anger at the government,” a member of Studio Incendo, which first tweeted the video of protesters batting the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, told Wired. “We thought the video would make people laugh."

In tamer news, something I've found equally fascinating is the Monterey Bay Aquarium's adoption of the game. The aquarium's Twitch channel has started streaming live tours of the game's wildlife, using the game's dense "Critterpedia" to teach real-life marine biology lessons. The streams are surprisingly wholesome, and I spent a good portion of my weekend watching them, learning about the coloring of cephalopods, the diets of sea lions, and how we should eat more lionfish. (It's a myth that you can't eat lionfish. They're venomous, not poisonous—a distinction I learned about during these Twitch streams.)


Today, starting about five minutes ago, the aquarium's social media team is bringing on guests to give an interactive lesson about fossils. Watch it here:
Watch live video from MontereyAq on www.twitch.tvThese pro-democracy protests and aquarium tours join a growing list of instances where real worlds are transmuted into digital worlds. As 2020 progresses, it'll be interesting to see what exactly is on these new horizons.