What Nintendo Firing Alison Rapp Means For The Video Game Culture War (Commentary)

Even if Rapp’s firing wasn’t because of GamerGate, GamerGate won anyway

Alison Rapp says her firing from Nintendo has some relation to the months and months of harassment dealt to her by angry Internet nerds. Nintendo says it fired her strictly because it didn’t approve of whatever second job she was holding while working there. I couldn’t tell you what’s really going on there, because I don’t know. Neither do you, probably.

The facts, as we know them: Alison Rapp worked in marketing for Nintendo at its Seattle-based subsidiary Nintendo of America. She is a feminist, and would commonly talk about her feminist ideals on social media. She is in a polyamorous relationship, and didn’t hide the fact. A bunch of misogynist gamers wouldn’t have any of this, and so they went after her, constantly, to the point where Rapp felt her safety was in some way threatened (this, uh, happens a lot in gamerdom).

Rapp specifically referred to her harassers as being a part of GamerGate, a loosely aligned group of self-proclaimed “core gamers” that formed in 2014 after the boyfriend of independent game developer Zoe Quinn claimed she had cheated on him with several men, including game journalist Nathan Grayson.

What they did from there was harass Quinn incessantly online, to the extent that she felt the need to go into hiding for her own safety. (Quinn has since been an outspoken advocate for the victims of that sort of harassment.)

Since then, GamerGate’s focus splintered. At various times, members have claimed to be about “ethics in video game journalism” or a “consumer revolt” against an industry it believed was being corrupted by political correctness. The #GamerGate hashtag these folks rally under, by the way, was coined by noted celebrity Tea Partier Adam Baldwin.

In reality, GamerGate is little more than a haphazard coalition of angry conservative Internet commenters and “men’s rights activists” who feel threatened by people who aren’t them wanting to get involved in video games.

When those gamers took issue with changes Nintendo made to its game “Fire Emblem Fates” in preparation for its release in North America and Europe, they went after Rapp for it, though Rapp did not have anything to do with those changes. And on Wednesday, Rapp was fired.

Maybe Rapp was moonlighting as an assassin for hire and Nintendo really just couldn’t abide by that when they found out. Or maybe Nintendo of America leadership is just a bunch of blatant misogynists who couldn’t stand Rapp’s feminist viewpoints. For those of us who aren’t named Alison Rapp or who don’t make personnel decisions at Nintendo, it doesn’t matter what the truth is. Not really.

What absolutely does matter to all of us is this: Nintendo firing Rapp after she’d been subjected to so much of the worst kind of bullshit we see online, for so long, is bad news. It’s something we’re going to look back on as a significant moment in the video game culture war. It demonstrates very clearly the fickle nature of liberal Internet causes. And it shows exactly how this small collection of large corporations keeps a stranglehold on an industry despite many fans constantly yelling that they want something more and better than what has been offered to them thus far.

When Rapp took to Twitter to announce that she had been fired, she did so at the conclusion of a long string of tweets that very obviously was intended to relate the decision to GamerGate’s harassment of her over the previous months. On its own, however, the tweet in which she said she’d been fired was more vague: “Today, the decision was made: I am no longer a good, safe representative of Nintendo, and my employment has been terminated.”

It’s not a statement that’s really at odds with Nintendo’s declared reason for firing her, especially after she later tweeted that Nintendo learned she was moonlighting when some anonymous denizen of the Web dug this information and sent it to her employer.

Because she prefaced the news of her firing with all the stuff about GamerGate, her followers and many others on Video Game Twitter had the same response: “Fuck Nintendo.”

That’s not a sentiment you hear much. Everybody loves Nintendo. Video games are a very nostalgia-driven business, and Nintendo is the king of exploiting that. And considering that “Nintendo” was a generic term for all video games a couple decades ago, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they’d have success with that approach.

Nintendo has lifetimes more goodwill built up with gamers than any other publisher or platform holder can claim. When Xbox boss Phil Spencer dies, he’s probably not gonna get any whimsical animated tribute videos, but Nintendo’s CEO did after he passed. 

This should illustrate the power of GamerGate, a group so hated that the hint that Nintendo might be aligned with them in some sort of symbolic way turned the video game crowd against a company it had previously idolized. GG, despite having no real form or leadership structure, is a group aimed solely at maintaining a bad status quo in the world of video games.

The games industry as it exists in the West (which certainly includes Nintendo of America), is mostly white, mostly male, and is full of video games that have nothing to say. In support of that status quo the past two years, GamerGate has orchestrated so many online harassment campaigns (among other things) against women and people of color that it’s taken on the role of boogeyman for a significant portion the games community.

So it’s a big deal that Video Game Twitter came together to talk so much shit about Nintendo that Alison Rapp was trending on Wednesday. But a funny thing happened overnight. Nintendo released a social networking mobile app called Miitomo. It was cute and funny, and despite its complete lack of substance, Video Game Twitter kinda lost its mind over it. And so on Thursday morning #Miitomo was trending.

Twelve hours after we heard a chorus of tweets about boycotting Nintendo products, there came a chorus of tweets from the same group of people about how they were happily engaging with a new Nintendo product.

In the land of video games, the only guns anybody sticks to are the ones in the games themselves. This is a business that thrives on people putting up with stuff they hate in order to get to something they like. The so-called “social justice warrior” segment of the population never gets anything done, because at the end of the day, we just want to play games.

Corporations like Nintendo know their core isn’t going anywhere, because there is no alternative to the oligarchy of gaming. If you’re going to make a change, it’s likely going to be to a different video game corporation, not an exit from the culture. The hooks are too deep.

And while I may not know exactly what happened here between Nintendo and Alison Rapp, here’s something I do know: GamerGate wasn’t spawned in a vacuum, and it’s not made up of people with outlier perspectives in the universe of video games. The racist and sexist status quo of the games industry didn’t happen by accident — GamerGate reflects the values of many within the industry itself.

So what we have here is an escalation of the culture war. GamerGate counts this as a win. Nintendo makes its statement and shuts up and ultimately will feel no real blowback from this. We’ve seen this before, and we will see it again.