Nintendo says that a sequence of jokes in Paper Mario: Color Splash, which some have interpreted as references to GamerGate and designer Zoe Quinn, are unrelated to the online hate campaign that targeted the game developer. Dialogue from the Wii U game has been "misconstrued as a crude reference" to harassment, Nintendo said in a statement to Polygon.
Yesterday, Quinn called out two pieces of dialogue from the game's E3 2016 demo, which was livestreamed on Nintendo's Treehouse Live program. On Twitter, she wrote, "what the fuck did I ever do to you, Nintendo, that y'all had to make my suffering into a fucking joke."
The dialogue, between Mario and a Toad, was interpreted as a crude reference to Quinn's personal life and GamerGate, the online harassment campaign that targeted indie game developers and video game journalists. Here are the two screenshots Quinn shared on Twitter, which come from about 20 minutes into Nintendo's Color Splash livestream.
The lines called out by Quinn take place a couple minutes apart and were interpreted by many on social media as a reference to GamerGate. Others argued that the game's text referenced the 1972 Watergate scandal, in which five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex. Regardless of the reference, many accused Nintendo's localization team of being tone-deaf in invoking the "-gate" suffix for a joke in 2016.
Quinn wasn't the only one drawing links between Paper Mario: Color Splash's dialogue to GamerGate. Some online video game publications sympathetic to GamerGate saw the references as a dig at Quinn or a parody of the targeted harassment campaign — a victory, of sorts.
In a statement sent to Polygon, Nintendo denied that Paper Mario: Color Splash was making reference to or light of any online harassment campaign.
"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."
It's not uncommon for Nintendo of America's localization teams to make references to real-world events, slip in internet memes, break the fourth wall or be unabashedly self-referential in the Paper Mario series. For example...
However, critics have blasted Nintendo of America for missing what could easily be interpreted as a reference to organized, ongoing harassment of game developers and its own employees.