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On Paper Mario: Color Splash’s Tone Deaf “Five Guys” and “-Gate” Jokes

paper mario color splash gg joke

Yesterday, Zoe Quinn, game developer and founder of the Crash Override Network, tweeted about Nintendo’s decision to use a joke in Paper Mario: Color Splash that referenced “Five Fun Guys” and “Shufflegate.” Anybody who’s vaguely familiar with what’s going on in the gaming world since 2014 might recognize the significance of these words; the “joke” came off as a thinly-veiled reference to the “Five Guys” video that eventually spawned Gamergate. In her tweet, Quinn said, “What the fuck did I ever do to you, Nintendo, that y’all had to make my suffering into a fucking joke.”

We reached out to Nintendo for a comment, and we’ve included their response here in full:

“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 localization 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.” – Nintendo of America

The context that Nintendo says is missing from the above screenshots showed up on Twitter as well.

Though Nintendo insists that this is a misunderstanding, these two jokes were made in such close proximityso much so that it seems too pointed to be a coincidence. Because of that, this segment seems extremely tone deaf at best. The inclusion of the two jokes displays a staggering unawareness of the events of the past two years and even games culture in general. Quite frankly, even a passing knowledge of what had transpired could have led to avoidance of this “misinterpretation,” as Nintendo called it above.

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Six days ago, a Redditor noticed the joke and called it a “Gamergate/5 Guys” reference. A few of the comments tried to refute the connection, pointing out the fact that it’s possibly a Watergate reference (which is what Nintendo claims to have originally intended with the joke), but for the most part, it was seen as a funny joke and was seen as a probable Gamergate reference. Cut to yesterday, after Quinn tweeted her reaction, and suddenly KiA is up in arms, calling her out for being “triggered” by the joke, claiming (just like Nintendo) that it was taken out of context, that it wasn’t a Gamergate joke. So which is it, then?

Nintendo also hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to dealing with harassment campaigns. You’ll remember that back in March, Alison Rapp was let go from her position at Nintendo after being targeted by a sustained harassment campaign. Her detractors dug deep into her personal life and eventually discovered that she had a second job in addition to her position at Nintendo; this second job was cited as the reason for Rapp’s termination, although according to Rapp, having a second job is not against Nintendo’s employee policies. What’s especially telling is that according to WIRED’s article on the events, Nintendo had remained silent throughout the entire harassment campaign, which is (disappointingly) fairly typical of major studios’ responses to harassment.

They issued a statement back then that said:

Though Ms. Rapp’s termination follows her being the subject of criticism from certain groups via social media several weeks ago, the two are absolutely not related. Nintendo is a company committed to fostering inclusion and diversity in both our company and the broader video game industry and we firmly reject the harassment of individuals based on gender, race or personal beliefs.

Does that sound familiar at all?

Given that, and given the amount of press Rapp’s termination received, it’s really hard to offer Nintendo the benefit of the doubt here. It feels like there’s no way they couldn’t have better predicted how this joke would come across to their audience, many of whom are familiar with Gamergate and who therefore interpreted the joke as a reference to that. Think about it: a game like Paper Mario: Color Splash has to pass by so many editors, localizers, and hands of all sorts before even being considered ready for preview. How was it that nobody even noticed the mere possibility of this connection? More importantly, has anyone at Nintendo considered rewriting this dialogue, or removing the joke from the game entirely, given the demonstrable effect that it will continue to get interpreted by players as a reference to Gamergate?

Once again, at best, this is a tone deaf joke made with extraordinarily bad timing. Nintendo’s statement sounds very much like the typical non-apology a comedian would give after making a joke in poor taste: “That wasn’t what I intended, sorry if you were offended.” As well, their statement that they “firmly [reject] the harassment of individuals in any way” feels empty.

Actions do indeed speak louder than blanket statements of being against harassment. It’s easy to say you’re against harassment, but when it comes down to actually doing something about it, Nintendo has shown that they’d rather apologize after the fact rather than put in the work to do what needs to be done. Going forward, the hope is that Nintendo will actually do something about this rather than reiterate the same statement on being “firmly against harassment.” It’s been said plenty of times. When will you actually do something about it?

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.

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