Editor’s note: While this is an opinion piece I feel it necessary to get as much of the perspective of the people mentioned as possible. On 06/23 I reached out to Zoe Quinn, Dennis Scimeca, and Brendan Keogh via email for clarification on what has been posted. As of this writing I have not received a response, but will update if I do.
Internet outrage, on social media especially, has become something like a game of telephone. You remember that game. Usually a group of kids sit in a circle and one kid starts, “Suzie kissed Billie behind the swing set at recess,” and by the time it gets to the end the last person says, “Two penguins are fighting to the death for control of Zimbabwe.” Unfortunately this new game tends to start with the phrase already messed up, or missing half the words, and it usually catches up people who are completely unaware that they are playing. Now we also have the media involved who, for various reasons but mostly clicks and profit, want to exacerbate drama and outrage and will be as dishonest as possible to do it.
Recently it was shared out that Nintendo’s Paper Mario game has a reference to a conspiracy involving 5 guys, scandal, and a word ending in gate. Now, quite honestly when this is taken out of context it’s quite easy to assume this is in references to the 5 Guys/Zoe Quinn mess that was the talk of the gaming industry a couple years ago. On the surface, it looks like a GamerGate joke, possibly taking a jab at Zoe, or maybe even the drama that usually involves people creating a new term ending in ‘gate.
Doing a little more reading, however, and knowing a little bit about history it starts to become clear that this is not at all what it appears to be on the surface. Five fun guys, is a pun on five fungi, and a reference to a team in Mario Party. The joke in the game is more clearly a reference to the Watergate scandal of Nixon’s administration, and the 5 burglars involved. I know it’s not common knowledge, it’s not even something most people are going to remember off the top of their heads so I can see how someone might automatically go to the most recent drama but one would hope cooler heads would prevail. Unfortunately that’s not how internet outrage works.
First you have a lot of people who saw the above tweet and instantly went on the offensive or defensive. Many people did look into it and find the truth, which only made the defensive people more defensive. One would hope that the games media, or media in general would inject a little sanity into it, but instead we got articles like this one from Daily Dot. The article has been updated with Nintendo’s statement, but because they didn’t wait it was up for 13 hours with an incorrect interpretation of events just adding fuel to the fire. You even have journalists and academics demanding not to be bothered with different interpretations of an event.
At this point it’s not even an interpretation, but a fact that the joke was misinterpreted, even spliced together from two separate parts of the game to make the context muddier. Shouldn’t journalists, and academics, want the most accurate interpretation of events? Shouldn’t we always question our perceptions and make sure we understand something from every angle? But that’s not always how outrage works on the internet. One person posts something that offends them, their friends and supporters, who rarely do their own homework, share the post with message of support and more outrage. Opponents post counter arguments, which in this case were accurate, but are not always so. Then the media gets right in the middle and fans the flames in hopes that as many people as possible will click on their article to make them money. If Mr. Scimeca had just waited until the morning after he published his piece he’d have realized this was a non-issue, or if he’d wanted to write something it could have been about how Zoe seems to have been duped by someone splicing two images together.
Nintendo did make a statement, after the media went to them for an explanation of the obvious:
As many have observed, when viewed in its entirety the Nintendo Treehouse: Live segment for Paper Mario: Color Splash from E3 includes two jokes separated by commentary and gameplay that have no relation to each other. One joke has to do with Watergate, while the other is a nod to the Fungi Fun Guys from Mario Party 8. It was brought to our attention today that these two jokes have been spliced together and misconstrued as a crude reference to an online hate campaign. While we typically do not speak on localisation matters, we feel the need to confirm that these jokes are not linked in the game and were never intended to be linked. Nintendo firmly rejects the harassment of individuals in any way and was surprised to learn that its gameplay was misinterpreted in this manner.
At least Zoe Quinn put out that she misunderstood the reference and that it did not appear to be about her. But, as this goes forward, like most events of this sort, people will still cling to the original misinformation and carry the drama forward. Hell, even after the statement from Nintendo, and admission from Allison Rapp, people still say that she was fired because she was harassed online, not because she had a second job which is against Nintendo policy. It’s the nature of the beast when you have a combination of people who just won’t admit a mistake, and people who thrive on drama.
Overall this is the same sort of thing we see over and over, whether it be video game drama, politics, or other fandoms. People jump to conclusions, media fans the flames, people link patreons, lines are drawn, and the fight goes on. Why bring all this up? Is the intent here to just fan more flames? No, and I really hope it doesn’t. If I can just get a hand-full of people to be a little more patient, take a few minutes to look at every side of an issue, it might just help avoid, or shorten the next ignorant drama that comes along. It’s an optimistic view I know, but I’m an optimist.