The twisting controversies about the translation of Nintendo games, harassment and the firing of one of its employees got even messier this week. Two weeks ago, word spread through social media and sites like ours that Nintendo had fired product marketing specialist Alison Rapp, the target of a months-long campaign to initially blame her for perceived political correctness in changes to Nintendo's games. Nintendo said they fired Rapp for a second job at "conflict with Nintendo's corporate culture", denying that harassment of Rapp was a factor. Rapp acknowledged she had another job.
Her critics — many of whom are members of the kinds of amorphous groups of largely anonymous online individuals who mostly drive these efforts — initially zeroed in on risque modelling photos. And then, this past weekend, users of a message board notorious for facilitating doxxing and harassment offered up evidence she was an escort based on an online listing that presented some visual similarities. Though Rapp had already been fired, one of the central goals for her detractors, they kept digging for new information.
Meanwhile, Rapp has reported that harassment against her has intensified. This past weekend, Rapp tweeted about her family getting hassled, their phone numbers and home addresses magically appearing online and one individual claiming they have filed a police report, hoping investigators would knock on her door. On Wednesday, her husband, Jake Rapp, said in a blog post that he quit his job as a barista at Nintendo's internal coffee shop, describing his own online harassment of hurled insults and theorising about his life as being forced "to lie there and take every kick until they [the harassers] grow tired, flaccid, and move on to the next victim".
This story has been a mess and a minefield, one that raises questions about the best ways to report on harassment while providing readers as full a picture as possible.
Some of this had become a media controversy. When she was fired, Rapp publicly laid blame at the hands of harassers who she said motivated her employer to "look at her tweets". We reported that story and were critical of Nintendo for having taken no public action involving Rapp all these months, only to then fire her. After our story ran, Nintendo did comment, saying the dismissal was due to the second job. Internet detectives began poring over the available material. The escort allegation has been based on pictures found on an escort website, and closely comparing tattoos and photographic metadata. (We looked at some of the evidence ourselves, weighing, inconclusively, the possibilities that it was an elaborate hoax or that it was real.)
Rapp did not comment when asked about this, nor has Nintendo. Even the idea of asking about this, though, stirs some controversy. A reporter's obligation is to find the truth, but for stories like this we also weigh the potential of incentivising harassers, of amplifying unconfirmed claims. We've debated that internally. The Washington Post, which reported on these latest developments earlier this week, likened the type of digging done on Rapp to political opposition research, in which details about a story, often negative, are dropped into the laps of reporters in the hopes that they will end up running a story about it. Reporters don't usually talk about this part of the process, however, a chief reason this story even exists is to give you a sense of how this all works vis a vis a story we've been following for some time.
Recent events have turned this saga into The Alison Rapp Story or into an examination of whether Nintendo was right or wrong to fire her, but to focus only on that would be to lose sight of the myriad issues at hand.
The debate over how to localise Japanese games, which circuitously led to the Rapp situation, is but one skirmish in a larger cultural struggle that's been taking place on the internet for years, but didn't move to the forefront until GamerGate emerged in 2014. The interesting questions raised by these debates, often focused on portrayals of sex and gender and artistic integrity, are easily drowned out by ugly and disingenuous attacks meant to overwhelm and silence. The tactics, which operate by mining a person's past for anything that could be construed as wrongdoing or hypocrisy in the present, have become a playbook. These attacks largely take place on social media, putting them out of sight and out of mind for many. But the attacks and even what they dig up can be relevant, derailing or both.
I learned about Rapp during my months of reporting on the suggested censorship of Japanese games, and how Nintendo had become such a figure of controversy. Changes often involved removing sexualised content but also sometimes involved more mundane dialogue changes, like the altering of jokes. My first story on the topic ran in December, and focused on the difficult arguments about the best ways to translate Japanese artistic creations for American audiences and the motivations for specific changes. These remain underexplored issues that have been debated largely on the wild front lines of gaming's culture war, with angry recriminations about censorship and the supposedly pernicious effect of "social justice warriors".
Image Credit: Sam Woolley
Game creators have mostly been silent, and as I reported then, none more so than Nintendo. Despite my repeated attempts, they have declined to discuss the issue with me. The lack of specific explanations has fuelled speculation. Maybe these changes meant they were selling out their artistic integrity, bowing to real or imagined commercial pressures, or having second thoughts as they get a chance to polish their games for a second regional release.
In the absence of any other explanation, Rapp became an answer, her feminist rhetoric online a cipher for the the localisation changes made to certain Nintendo games, such as the the removal of a bust slider in Xenoblade Chronicles X. Though my reporting indicated she was not involved in those changes — Rapp later said she even liked the bust slider — attacks on her shifted the focus. Now, it was about discrediting her over a university paper someone found that she wrote, over new and old Tweets, over presumptions about her views on child pornography, then the modelling photos, then the second job. Things are thrown at the wall until, finally, something sticks.
The reporting of this saga has been tricky. We're not talking about products. We're talking about people in all their complexity. Every new piece of "evidence" is more salacious than the last, making it hard to tell if people care about Rapp's firing or simply find themselves enraptured by the spectacle of a person's personal life becoming public. (Some places, like the popular gaming forum NeoGAF, outright banned the mining of her past.) It's not possible to write a simple story here, a point made all the more difficult by a litany of external factors. Hundreds of people have emailed and tweeted, asking me to look into this or that, but it's difficult to know their agenda. Some yell, others scream obscenities and a few have genuine questions. It wouldn't be the first time I've been sent misleading information in the hopes that it will make me look negligent. I've tried to exercise judgment and follow leads, wherever it takes me.
It's possible for Rapp to have violated her contract with Nintendo and to be angry at how she was treated. These are not mutually exclusive ideas.
The fiery cultural debates at the heart of gaming is what attracted me to this story in the first place, not a person's private life. They're easy to ignore; they ask us to grapple with questions that lack easy answers. But for me, nothing's changed, and I'll continue to follow the stories happening beneath the surface of video games.
One point I want to make, though. For the great sin of covering this topic, the personal details of my family have been investigated, with harassers finding ways to target us in real-life. That we cannot even have a discussion without such extremes shows how toxic this has all become.
Image Credit: Jim Cooke