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Lovers in Shanghai Had a Wedding in Animal Crossing During Lockdown

By Johnson Ge
May. 12, 2022 updated 07:00

Chen was waving toward me in her customized dress with a Hollow Knight icon when my plane flew over her island in Animal Crossing.

It had been a year since I last picked up Animal Crossing. But at that moment, I was traveling a great distance for a wedding ceremony. In fact, the ceremony had ended the previous day, and I was taking a tour of the wedding scene.

A screenshot shows the bride waving toward me.A screenshot shows the bride waving toward me.

Chen was the host of the island and the bride. Her wedding with her fiancé 饭店仔 fdz (meaning “Diner boy” in Chinese) was supposed to be held in Hainan but was endlessly delayed due to the pandemic in Shanghai, where they were living.  Eventually, they decided to hold the wedding in the video game Animal Crossing.

Flowers, cake, and pipe organs were placed neatly in the island's central square, just like a real-life wedding. Near the airport entrance gate stood the snow-white wedding arch and the welcome sign. Chen was waiting for the system broadcast of guests visiting with a flower in her hands.

On May 4th, at 8:00 pm, the wedding started.

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Chen is not a big fan of weddings in real life. She described herself as “having a little bit of social anxiety”. A traditional formal wedding ceremony, where dozens of guests will come to celebrate, and the wedding couple is expected to toast every single one of them, was kind of overwhelming for her. But her boyfriend fdz still wanted to have a ceremony. So they both made a compromise: preparing a travel wedding in Hainan with their closest friends and relatives.

The wedding was planned for March, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the plans. On March 6th, Chen was locked down in her home for 48 hours due to close contact found in the same building. She got another 48 hours of lockdown in the following two weeks. After that, Shanghai went into a silent state where everyone wondered when the lockdown would end. “It felt like we were not waiting for an end but ‘waiting for Godot’”.

As the ceremony had been delayed again, Chen decided to move the ceremony to Animal Crossing. It was not an impulse decision. Actually, Chen had a “Chunibyo dream” to hold a wedding ceremony in a video game for a long time. She mentioned this idea to her boyfriend several times, and due to the year of delays to their wedding schedule, fdz agreed to Chen’s plan. They started up Animal Crossing, which they stopped playing for a year, and updating the game delayed them 36 hours.

Chen’s friends were more enthusiastic than herself after they heard the idea. They asked for Chen’s island visiting permission as soon as possible and gave her in-game dresses and furniture. In June 2020, there was a wedding event in Animal Crossing where players could collect furniture for a wedding ceremony. Some of Chen’s friends already had the full set and left them on her island when they had the chance.

A screenshot of Animal Crossing’s wedding event.A screenshot of Animal Crossing’s wedding event.

In addition to sending gifts, their friends brought all their skills to bear. A friend working as the advertiser arranged the whole schedule for Chen. There was a detailed timetable about when the guests should arrive on the island, take the group photo, and how the wedding vow ceremony should be prepared. Another friend made a virtual invitation for them. In that invitation, fdz was wearing a dress, and Chen was wearing the clothing with Hollow Knight on it.

The idea for letting the boyfriend wear a dress came from the TV drama: It Started With A Kiss. It would be hard in real life but much easier for a “virtual wedding”. And Hollow Knight is one of Chen’s favorite games, her original wedding ceremony plan was to play the “mantis lord” theme music from Hollow Knight when the couple makes their speech. 

It feels like a fairy tale where the pixies summoned dresses and a pumpkin carriage with the sound of “PON”. Their friends were so enthusiastic that sometimes Chen felt like she was not arranging the wedding but just going with the flow.

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Since she had not played the game for months, Chen felt strange about it. The controls felt clumsy, and her room was crawling with cockroaches. There were other unnoticed changes, like the Animal Villagers were different.

But she did not have time to wait or hesitate. All the furniture was on her island or in her mailbox, and Chen took an entire night to arrange the ceremony scenes from scratch. Luckily most of the furniture was neat and tidy, so it looked pretty enough to just lay them all out on the square.

One good part of a virtual wedding was that everyone could easily participate regardless of their location. It did not matter if the visitor was from Beijing or the next door. Though there was an issue, Animal Crossing has a limit of eight players maximum on each island. This meant only six guests could be on the island at a time.

During the wedding, Chen noticed an even greater issue.

At 8 o’clock in the evening, the first batch of guests arrived. Chen prepared a Tencent meeting so everyone could arrive at the island as planned, and they could coordinate their messages in-game to capture the experience in pictures better. The guests boarded planes to the island one by one, and … then the island “exploded”.

The “island exploded” is how Chinese players describe everyone in the game suddenly getting disconnected, a prevalent issue in Animal Crossing multiplayer experiences. If one guest player disconnects due to a poor internet connection, everyone else will also be disconnected. Then their saves will be rolled back to the moment before they boarded the airplane to the island as if nothing had happened at all.

They tried several times. Every time a guest boarded, a welcome cutscene would be played for everyone on the island. Then, after they finally had everyone on the island, guess what? The “explosion” happened again. Among the guests, one had a particularly bad connection. They tried different join sequences, letting him be the first or the end, but none of that worked. Finally, everyone used a VPN to improve their chances of staying connected.

It took so long, and Chen was concerned that she might waste everyone’s time. One friend had a meeting at 9, So they ended up being in a Wechat meeting room for work and a Tencent meeting room for the wedding at the same time. By the time their work meeting was over, everyone was still trying to get onto the island.

And that was how they delayed the ceremony from 8 pm to 10 pm. One of the friends who was in charge of the speech writing said something like: ”10 o’clock is actually good. In Chinese, the number 10 always refers to complete and perfect.”

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Though it was a wedding in a video game, Chen still felt nervous. It could be because her friends were always casual and relaxed in daily life but had suddenly become serious during the ceremony.

Chen tried to ease the atmosphere by taking out her ax as a joke, but she was stopped by friends immediately. They asked her to switch back to flowers to “avoid jinxing it”. The ceremony came after the group photo. Chen was nervous again, feeling that she should change her haircut or hair color or maybe change her eye shape for better expressions. It seems the wedding in-game was as real as in actual life.

The wedding vows were customized for them, it was kind of informal, but Chen loved it. It mentioned her kitty “Big Devil Sanxi (大魔王三喜)”, it mentioned her favorite game, Hollow Knight, it mentioned May 4th, Star Wars Day; it was precisely how she pictured her love story. We will share the vow here:

Without a capture card, Chen could only record 15s-long videos. Thus she could not record the entirety of the ceremony. But she did not regret that; it was a perfect wedding: friends blessed her with wishes and funny jokes, and there was no cumbersome traditional process. It was relaxing, funny, and heart-warming as well. “To be honest, even if I managed to hold the wedding ceremony in Hainan, the best I could wish is a wedding experience just like this,” Chen told me.

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Chen shared her experience in her online space after the ceremony. Some of her colleagues failed to understand it, and they thought it might be “too naïve and childish” and asked her, "Does this mean you really got married?”  However, on the second day, Chen found her post on douban.com had attracted the attention of a wider audience, being shared by many users who wished her well.

Chen and fdz were not planning to tell their parents that they had a wedding ceremony in a video game. They were not planning to explain if asked. Fdz had an easier environment.  His parents were secretly playing Battle City together without his notice when he was a kid. But Chen always got the line “you cannot make a living from games” from her parents and elder relatives. It was a surprise to Chen that she saw her mother, who always opposed her love of games, had liked her online post about the “game wedding”.

The other reason Chen chose Animal Crossing as the wedding stage was that she met fdz because of Switch games. And it was related to Hollow Knight too.

When Chen started to play Hollow Knight, many friends told her, “That might not be the perfect game for casual players like you”. Fdz was different; he encouraged Chen: ”You could make it if you try harder and be patient”. He also helped Chen find online guides together, and in the end, Chen found that she was capable of clearing the game.

After the ceremony, fdz promised Chen to try and clear Hollow Knight himself. Or at least he will beat the Mantis Lords. These bosses are one of the most iconic fights in the game. They have a pattern to their attacks, and the theme music is passionate. In the highest difficulty, all three Mantis Lords will attack simultaneously, challenging the players’ patience and courage.

In Chen’s mind, marriage was no different from fighting the Mantis Lords: you have to be patient and know every single detail of the other side, and afterward, there is a whole new journey to experience.

At last, I would like to make a summary in Chen’s own words:

Life may be tougher in the future, but you have been stronger. Unlike Hollow Knight, you have a partner to fight beside you in the future. There will be failures, and there will be successes, but you won’t be alone in facing them. Being a married couple could be boring; being Eternal Partners is more romantic.