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How Online Trolls Helped Get a Nintendo Staffer Fired—Then Didn’t Stop.

April 17, 2016, 8:27 PM UTC
Nintendo Holds News Conference At Start Of E3 Gaming Conference
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 05: The new Wii U is displayed during a press conference for Nintendo's new hand held game console at the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Galen Center on June 5, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands are expected to attend the annual three-day convention to see the latest games and announcements from the gaming industry. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

On March 30th, marketing spokesperson Alison Rapp announced that she had been terminated by Nintendo of America. The firing came after months of harassment of Rapp by a group critical of changes Nintendo made when localizing several Japanese games. Now, she has said her harassers are continuing to target her, and extending their campaign to members of her family.

Nintendo has denied that Rapp’s termination was related to the harassment, instead saying that she violated company policy by moonlighting, which Rapp has admitted to. But Rapp has also accused the company of using her moonlighting as a pretext to rid itself of an outspoken feminist who stoked the ire of the internet’s dark underbelly, and was “no longer a good, safe representative of Nintendo.”

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The grim sequence of events, as the Verge reports, was triggered by the removal of risqué costumes on underage characters, elements of implied rape, and the ability to alter female characters’ bust size from the American releases of Japanese Wii U and 3DS titles. Rapp had no role in the changes made to the games, but her position as a marketing spokesperson for the localization team made her visible, and her frequent personal tweets about gender and sexuality issues seem to have helped make her a target.

The changes angered a contingent of individuals online, largely anonymous, but at least partly made up of neo-Nazis, and seeming to share the values of a similar 2014 harassment campaign dubbed Gamergate. In that incident, online attackers targeted game developer Zoë Quinn and others. Though the attackers framed their actions as a defense of journalistic objectivity, most observers found the real motive to be a backlash against cultural diversification and gender sensitivity in video games. The harassment was frequently described as misogynistic, and included rape and death threats, and the publicizing of Quinn’s home address.

Rapp’s harassers tore into her using methods similar to those used against Quinn, digging up everything from private photos of her to old college papers. An array of unsubstantiated and likely slanderous claims about Rapp were spread around the internet in an attempt to tarnish her reputation.

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Those tactics seem now to have progressed to terroristic threats, with Rapp tweeting last week that personal information about her husband and family was circulating online, and that they were planning on contacting police.

Nintendo, in its statement claiming that Rapp’s termination was unrelated to the campaign against her, added that “we firmly reject the harassment of individuals based on gender, race or personal beliefs.” The termination of Rapp at a moment when she is the target of serious attacks because of her role at Nintendo doesn’t quite square with that sentiment, though, and at the very least, suggests an extremely poor sense of timing.