How Nintendo Abandoned And Fired Alison Rapp

How a culture of silence and “for profit” localization practices cost Alison Rapp her job

Written by Jonathan R. Clauson / Published on April 1, 2016

Nintendo abandoned and fired Alison Rapp and the internet is mad about it, or happy about it depending on who you ask. Different reasonings for her termination have been made: GamerGate, white supremacists, policy violations, online shaming attempts, feminism and college thesis papers have all been caught up in a maelstrom of information clouding the social media news cycles reaching a height of almost hysterical lunacy. Through it all, it appears only Alison herself is making any sense and Nintendo is remaining silent.

The Facts

Alison was terminated, according to a Nintendo representative, due to violating a company policy that prohibits “holding a second job in conflict with Nintendo’s corporate culture.”

“Alison Rapp was terminated due to violation of an internal company policy involving holding a second job in conflict with Nintendo’s corporate culture. 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. We wish Ms. Rapp well in her future endeavors.”

Rapp has since admitted to moonlighting under a fake name which fits the reason given by Nintendo for her termination. However, in response to the statement from Nintendo Rapp replied on Twitter:

You can view the corporate policy that is listed publicly on Nintendo’s corporate site. It is unknown if this the same, or similar to any agreement Alison would have signed onto upon employment. 

Why the controversy?

This is harder to nail down. The internet has a way of making small groups seem like rampaging hordes across the Mongolian plains. The rhetoric and vitriol that is associated with these groups can make finding the truth feel futile. Everyone has an opinion on what is factual.

Nintendo is no stranger to criticism by vocal fans who are dissatisfied with their localizations, the process by which the Japanese language is translated and adapted to English. The process is handled internally by Treehouse, a team of nearly 50 writers and editors with varying levels of experience. The process is more than simply making a word to word translation. Cultural references, anime jokes, calendar events and other things that won’t resonate or make sense to an American audience must be changed while still retaining the spirit behind the original writing.

Translation is a very complex practice and two professionals can have different opinions on how a simple sentence can be translated based on context, personal sense of humor and so on. The controversy surrounding Nintendo’s translations stem from changes as banal as a conversation between two ninjas (or lack thereof) in Fire Emblem Fates, to controversial elements such as bust size slider removal from Xenoblade. Other examples include helping a bi-sexual character get over her fear of the same sex via a magical powder, and mini-games that involve “petting” another character’s face to increase the bond between them and you, both of which were removed for the North American release.

Video Credit: HiMyNameIsMaurice via Kotaku

But we are not here to debate the merits of Nintendo’s localization practices. If you want to explore that topic, there are plenty of well written articles on the topic. We are here to figure out how Alison Rap figured into all this as someone who wasn’t even involved in the localization efforts?

The Scapegoat of Silence

When a political scandal erupts, someone gets fired and/or prosecuted (see Flint, MI). When a corporate PR disaster occurs, someone must take the blame. The practice is called “scapegoating” and it has roots all the way back to Levitical law in the Bible.

Nintendo has a mysterious environment, a kind of Iron Curtain that no one gets to peak behind. Even Treehouse is off limits to everyone but the highest senior management and members. Nintendo is also notorious for not explaining their decisions in an open and honest way. “Making changes is not unusual when we localize games,” Nintendo said in a statement, “and we have indeed made changes in these games. When we localize a game we do so in order to make it appropriate for that particular territory. All our choices were made from that point of view.”

With a silent company that gives the airs of being better than their consumers, common sense says there will be a figure head to latch onto, to become the focus of the frustration and immature outrage over a video game. It is my belief that the focus was on the public face of the marketing for Fire Emblem Fates, Alison Rapp. When the disgruntled masses started picking her online history apart, things got worse.

As a vocal feminist, Rapp was ripe material for the sub-section of gamers found on white supremacist sites like The Daily Stormer.  The icing on the cake was her thesis paper: Speech We Hate: An Argument for the Cessation of International Pressure on Japan to Strengthen Its Anti-Child Pornography Laws. Then things got even more ludicrous. An Gift List that Rapp posted to Twitter was used in an attempt to shame her due to things like an anime body pillow being included on the list. The usual (but no less serious) threats and calls for her termination followed and posts of phone numbers for Nintendo of America executives were posted online.

Our Thoughts

GameInformer has a conclusion that mirrors our own quite well. Nintendo did not support its employee and its silence contributed to the harassment ending in her termination. This is not ok. Long before Rapp was terminated, Nintendo should have been in her corner, defending and standing behind its employee from vitriolic, unacceptable abuse.

The one sticking point which will likely never be revealed by either party is if the moonlighting is truly an accepted practice or if it is just not enforced unless it is discovered. If Nintendo does allow it, then it has now publicly said it reserves the right to morally judge what is appropriate or not.

About the Author:

Jonathan Clauson started as an on-air producer and on-air talent for Clear Channel Radio. He graduated from Full Sail University and moved into marketing for EA Tiburon. He is currently the News Editor and Podcast producer for both GameChurch and Christ and Pop Culture.

  • Jason Walton

    Leaving aside the ‘sticking point’ you noted at the end of the article, and acknowledging that it may have been perfectly legit to let Rapp go if she violated policy, I find myself asking these questions: In what way did Nintendo abandon her during the online controversy? What was their responsibility to her?

    She was not involved in the specific localization decisions, but if she’s deciding to criticize the decisions on social media and distance herself from the company, I don’t know what obligation Nintendo should have to come to her support.

    I can completely understand opposition to the ideas she presents in her thesis (which I have only read two pages of, and a few excerpts). These are very murky waters she waded into, and I’m inclined to say she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in defending what seems indefensible.

  • EricaRamon

    The header of this article has proven to be wholly incorrect, companies have very strict policies about moonlighting, much less when that moonlighting activity is illegal. If she were dealing drugs, you wouldn’t have phrased it like this, I don’t see what makes her activities as a prostitute any different. Nintendo is loyal to its brand, not a random low ranking and problematic PR person.