Houses are sealed by green fences. Entertainment venues are shut. Trucks face roadblocks.
The typical scenes from locked-down Shanghai have made a virtual crossover. The familiar setting is now part of a fictitious island in the popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Behind the virtual reality is Laura Liang and Josh Jiang. The Shanghai couple has recreated their experience from the COVID-19 lockdown, now in its fourth week.
“Everything in the game is a déjà vu,” Liang, who is now in her 30s and works for an advertising agency, told Sixth Tone.
The game was first released in March 2020 when the world was in the throes of the pandemic. Millions of players globally turned to Animal Crossing as an escape from reality where they could build their own virtual islands with activities ranging from fishing to farming and more.
Though the game wasn’t officially available in China then, tens of thousands of people rushed to e-commerce platform Taobao to buy imported second-hand versions. The game hasn’t still been released in China, while those available on e-commerce platforms were removed in April 2020.
Liang and Jiang said they picked up the game after a hiatus to toy around with their virtual island. The couple was in quarantine from March 20, as the city started locking down apartments where COVID-19 patients and their close contacts lived or visited.
“Since I haven’t traveled abroad in the past two years, I wanted to recreate the memories of various cities I have visited on this island,” Liang said, adding that their island is a mix of Japanese and European architecture.
But little did they know that their virtual houses with green fences would reflect the situation that was unfolding. The fences were similar to those used to seal some of the houses on Saturday.
“That green fence in the photo struck me because I have the exact same fence on the island — and our island is full of animals,” Liang said. “It couldn’t be more ironic.”
Liang’s husband Jiang then recorded a video of their island and shared it on his WeChat video channel called Snowthings on Sunday.
“In order to prevent the epidemic from spreading to the Metaverse, I resolutely sealed the island in Animal Crossing,” Jiang captioned the video.
The video plays out some of the familiar scenes from Shanghai’s lockdown. It opens with a news broadcast giving updates to the islanders and has scenes showing the island committee chief on inspection visits to quarantine centers, residential neighborhoods, and a farm.
As of Thursday afternoon, Jiang said the video had been viewed over 220,000 times.
The couple said they have uploaded their island on the Animal Crossing cloud, which will allow other players to visit the island using the Dream function. The pair has published the Dream Code in the comment section of the video.
“We just want to cheer everyone in a humorous way,” Jiang said.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header and in-text images: Visual elements from Laura Liang and Nintendo, reedited by Ding Yining/Sixth Tone)