Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t officially available in China, but tons of Chinese gamers are already playing the game and showing off their islands online. And these islands come with some interesting accoutrements: Portraits of Communist leaders, Covid-19 quarantine signs and ancient Chinese clothing are some of the interesting things you can expect to see.

Nintendo just released the latest entry in the iconic Animal Crossing franchise this month. Within two days of its launch, New Horizons was already the bestselling physical game on Amazon this year and the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game ever in the UK.

Animal Crossing is a family-friendly life sim that’s been around since 2001. The game encourages players to decorate their own islands and invite others to visit. But New Horizons has a new feature that’s producing some interesting results. Players quickly discovered a workaround to convert any image into pixel art in the game, which is why you might see the face of Mao Zedong if you visit certain islands. 

Gamers are now actively sharing screenshots of the game on Weibo to show off the various decorations they put up on their islands. Many of these reference iconic Chinese trappings.  

One player put up portraits of Communist idols such as Mao Zedong, Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin alongside the flags of China and the Soviet Union. It’s unclear whether it was intended as a joke or a sincere homage, but it’s not something that would be out of place in some Chinese homes. Idolizing Communist leaders has been a common phenomenon in China, but mostly among older generations these days.

A player put up portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Mao Zedong, Jiang Zemin, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in his house. These types of portraits used to be more common in China. (Picture: Feichenpan/Weibo)

If Mao and Stalin are too old-school for the young Communists out there, another player put in some more contemporary art by turning his entire lawn into political propaganda. In the middle of his flower bed sits a giant poster with a picture of President Xi Jinping and the Core Socialist Values.

Does wearing a Doom cap and a shirt that says “slut” adhere to the Core Socialist Values? (Picture: Feichenpan/Weibo)

Not everyone sees the humor in filling Animal Crossing with communist propaganda, though. Some players are admonishing their fellow countrymen not to politicize the game.

“This is exactly what I fear most,” one Weibo user wrote. “It will ruin the game if it becomes too politicized and fraught with emotion. It will be a pain if this provokes some anti-Chinese slogans in the game.”

Some players are also using the new feature to light-heartedly reference the Covid-19 outbreak and China’s containment efforts. One player set up a body temperature checkpoint at the entrance to her island.

Rather than holding a thermometer, this lady is rocking a Toy Story hoodie and clutching a slingshot in her hand. You get the message. (Picture: -MIKUKU-/Weibo)

Another gamer put down banners on his island that read, “Those who are not wearing a mask are forbidden to step on this island.”

No one without a mask is allowed on the island… except the person who built it. (Picture: -lassac-/Weibo)

New Horizons players can do more than just create custom posters, though. The game also allows people to make their own clothes, which some Chinese gamers are using introduce some ancient Chinese clothing to the game.

Someone is a fan of the popular Chinese internet celebrity Li Ziqi, known for vlogging about her life in a rural Chinese town. (Picture: Huozaiwuyuedesangjiang/Weibo)

While Animal Crossing has been a popular franchise among gamers in Japan and the West, it’s not as well-known in China. But that’s changing now that Tencent recently teamed up with Nintendo to distribute the Nintendo Switch in China. The country is seeing an increasing number of Switch owners and Nintendo fans.

Many millennials are now trying to make ancient Chinese clothes fashionable again. (Picture: Yunyunchongsheng/Weibo)

However, since China tightly controls video games available in the country, games have to be approved by the state before they can officially be sold there. So far, China has only approved three Nintendo Switch games, all of which are Mario games. As a result, most Switch owners have to purchase cartridges from grey market scalpers in order to play other games on the device.

It remains to be seen when Animal Crossing: New Horizons will be formally launched in China. When the first Animal Crossing game made it to China on the iQue Player in 2005, four years had already passed since its original release in Japan. 

That’s why many Chinese gamers tend to buy overseas versions of console games. The new game doesn’t appear to be an exception. Three days after the game was released overseas, there were nearly 200,000 posts and comments about New Horizons on Weibo.