A GameStop employee interviewed for a piece on Japanese rape simulator RapeLay suddenly finds himself without a job. Was he fired for his comments on the controversial game? We've got the employee's and GameStop's sides of the story.
RapeLay is a Japanese point-and-click game that follows the story of a spoiled rich kid who takes revenge on a family of three women after one gets him arrested for being a pervert. Through the course of the game he stalks and sexually assaults the women, eventually transforming them into his willing sex slaves.
One can imagine the sort of controversy a game like that raises.
RapeLay has never been legally available in the United States, though torrent files of the game with English translation seem to be rather popular.
Perhaps that's how the game fell into the hands of Derek Littlejohn, a gamer and two-year employee at GameStop in Oakland, Pennsylvania. During an interview with university journalist Ann Straub for her article, "Game spurs debate, causes controversy", 22-year-old Littlejohn spoke at length about playing RapeLay, pirating games via torrent and Japanese sexual repression.
"One has to remember that Japanese culture itself is very suppressed in sexuality as a whole, to the point where they still censor their pornography with mosaics, both picture and film-wise," Littlejohn said. "If you continually suppress a country in terms of sexuality, they'll just find different ways of exploring things themselves. RapeLay is just one of those ways of people expressing themselves, to see new things."
Shortly after the article was published, Littlejohn was fired from his position at GameStop.
The firing took place on April 30, according to a wall post on Derek's Facebook page that reads: " Derek Littlejohn's day just keeps getting better and better. Just got fired from GameStop in what can only be described as 'Epic'."
The note regarding his firing wasn't available to view, but in a post referring to said note, one of his friends comments, "Fuck that bullshit man. I support virtual rape, especially when commited by Derek Littlejohn. You are my hero."
The evidence seems to point to the fact that Littlejohn was fired for his comments. Knowing GameStop as I do, I can see how that could happen. When I first started writing for Kotaku, I was holding a part-time job at GameStop as well. A day after I posted a story mentioning this, I received a call from my district manager, telling me corporate had called him and I was not to mention my affiliation with the company in my posts.
Shortly after that I resigned from the company.
So I know that GameStop watches the internet closely for mentions of the company name. And when the company name is spoken by an employee while talking about how easy it is to pirate and play a controversial video game about raping women? Well yes, that could certainly lead to that employee losing his or her job.
This leads us to the question: Should a company fire an employee for speaking their mind?
In this particular situation, I'd have to say yes.
GameStop is a company that's all about selling video games, and while a nice portion of that market is folks like your average Kotaku reader, mature enough to handle sensitive subjects, another large segment of the company's target audience is parents. Parents who are already nervous about sex and violence in video games. Parents who might see an article in which a GameStop representative casually dismisses a game about brutal rape and decide to shop elsewhere.
Some would argue that Littlejohn was not acting as a company representative, but when you say things like this...
"The only reason the game is really known stateside is because of a third party releasing it in Britain via Amazon, which was shortly removed due to people's complaints," Littlejohn said. "Banning has never been an issue with Gamestop."
...you are speaking for the company you work for. And should the company you work for not like what you are saying when speaking as a representative, then sure, you might get fired.
What about freedom of speech? Jeff Schille brings up the subject in his article on the firing over at Game Rant.
All Americans are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, is not allowed. There is no indication that Littlejohn made any of the statements in the interview during a shift at GameStop. Is he not free to speak his mind on his own time? Whether we agree with him or not, the man has a right to his opinions.
He does indeed have a right to his opinions. And GameStop has the right to fire him for voicing them as a representative of the company. Freedom of speech doesn't excuse anyone from the consequences of the things they say, and when your company has policies in place about talking to the press, as GameStop does, freedom of speech doesn't override those policies.
As Game Politics points out in their story on the subject, this probably wouldn't have happened had Ann Straub referred to Littlejohn as a an employee of a large retail video game chain and dropped all GameStop references, but she didn't, and Littlejohn referenced the company directly in his quotes.
In short, it's unfortunate, but GameStop had every right to react as they did, if Littlejohn was indeed fired over the article.
A quick browse through Derek Littlejohn's Facebook wall shows the guy is still employed somewhere, has plenty of friends and spends an awful lot of time pantsless. Seems like he's taking this in stride. Perhaps we should too.
We've reached out to GameStop for comment on this story, and will update should we receive a response.
Update: We also reached out to Derek Littlejohn, who provided us with his side of the story.
"Essentially my DM (district manager) said that the VP of the company (Or another bigwig somewhere above him, but important) got phone calls about some article listed in The Globe (It's Point Park University's newspaper website). He thought it was referencing The Globe, a Newspaper in the UK," Littlejohn explains. "My friend initially asked me for help with her paper, which I was happy to do as all friends should. Didn't know she was gonna cite me as an employee of Gamestop, which is what they were able to use as for firing me, along with a few other snippets of the article that had Gamestop attached that were slightly paraphrased from (his comments)."
According to Littlejohn, the district manager told him that, because of the article and his comments, people were threatening to boycott and picket GameStop, which would cost the company millions of dollars. He was then let go from the company.
"So in a nutshell: You cost us millions of dollars, gtfo," summaries Littlejohn. "Though I find this a little hard to believe, but that's just me."
As for GameStop, while a representative couldn't comment on the specifics of the situation, we were given a statement regarding situations of this nature.
"As a matter of company policy we do not comment on personnel issues, so I cannot offer comment on Mr. Littlejohn's situation.
"However, I can confirm that like all other Fortune-ranked, publicly traded corporations, we have very clear company-wide policies that include protocols for associate interactions with the media and elected officials. With over 40,000 employees in 17 countries, we communicate those protocols during the onboarding or hiring process. Each employee signs off on that they have read and understand those policies when they are hired."
With that in mind, Littlejohn's termination should probably be viewed as the result of not following company policy, rather than someone being fired for speaking his mind. Losing one's job is never a happy occasion, but given the circumstances, it wasn't unwarranted - merely unfortunate.
GameStop Employee Fired Over RapeLay Interview? [Game Rant]