NeoGAF’s Shadows I: Attack on JonTron

Who is Jon Jafari? He’s the mastermind behind JonTronShow the YouTube channel. Jon’s videos delve into the wonderful world of video games, reviewing them in a humor-based presentation with skits and comedy. He was one-half of the original Game Grumps, working alongside Arin Hanson in a series of Let’s Play videos. The popularity of that skyrocketed, allowing Jon’s own channel to be in a comfortable position of fame once he got back to doing videos on a semi-regular basis.

That’s pretty much all people knew (or cared) about Jafari before the Playtonic incident happened.

Thursday. March 23rd, 2017. Gaming media website gamesindustry.biz posts an article.

UK developer Playtonic has removed the controversial YouTuber JonTron from its upcoming title Yooka-Laylee.
JonTron – real name Jon Jafari – has found himself in the news in recent weeks following a series of far-right views about immigration, ethnicity and nationalism.

Some folks saw the move coming. But others in the community had no idea what was going on. Jontron himself had uploaded a Q&A video at the end of February saying that politics wasn’t something he wanted to mix with his career.  “I couldn’t care less about your political affiliation,” he said.

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A look at the tweets made back in 2015 shows that people were excited and enthusiastic about Jontron’s involvement with Yooka-Laylee.  This optimism was generally present with mentions on the topic throughout 2016, with the end of January 2017 being the first time any negative connotations show up. This can be attributed to the fact that JonTron did a livestream with Sargon of Akkad. Not only is Sargon considered to be politically active, the discussions had on-air between him and Jon were political themselves. Many of the things Jafari said at that time were taken out of context and started a public opposition of negativity against Jon’s character.  The tweet demand that Jontron be removed from Yooka-Laylee gained momentum only after the debate with Destiny. The totals there were meager at best. Elsewhere on the internet, there were only 2 comments on the game’s Kickstarter page in that same timeframe. The only pre-article mention of Jontron on Playtonic’s website was a thread created by a freshly made account, and it had a total of 7 responses before the news broke.

It’s based on these minute levels of activity elsewhere that lead to the conclusion Jon Jafari’s removal from Yooka-Laylee was a NeoGAF-backed effort.

The site hadn’t talked about Jafari much in the past, with the only rumblings of it beginning after he made political tweets reacting to the Women’s March. Popular gaming youtuber Jon Tron is a sexist shit-head – #JonTronIsOverParty? read the title of a 17-page long thread from January 24th. One of their main examples of evidence was a Breitbart interview Jafari did back in November 2016. The sheer fact that Jon agreed to that was sufficient proof for NeoGAF that he was a white supremacist. It was in January 2017 was when NeoGAF’s campaign against Jontron began. “I let Playtonic know the kind of person they’re working with,” wrote one post. The idea that NeoGAF was going after him was flat-out stated.

After that spat, things died down for a short while between the two groups. But it wouldn’t last long.

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On March 12th, US Representative from the state of Iowa, Steve King, made a controversial statement. King was reacting to Islamic extremism in Europe, leading him to write “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” in a tweet.

Jontron tweeted a reaction. “Wow, how scandalous, Steve King doesn’t want his country invaded by people who have contempt for his culture and people! NAZI!!!”

That was the beginning of a long afternoon of Twitter debate for Jontron. Skimming over the entire list of tweets may be helpful in understanding the context. The topic at the center of it was mass immigration, and while race played a role in that discussion it was not the entirety of it. Jafari’s debate tried to look at things from a historical aspect, and that exchange of ideas caught the attention of a streamer named OmniDestiny.  Destiny was very politically charged and he made JonTron kick up his arguments a notch. Yes, JonTron used the phrase “demographic suicide” at one point. But it was in the context of a larger discussion about cultural heritage, identity, and trying to understand what being a minority means.

To be clear, I don’t care if you agree or disagree with Jon’s stances. 

“I’ll debate with you if you want, no harm in it,” JonTron tweeted to OmniDestiny at 7:43 PM. The debate didn’t start until 10:04 that evening, as JonTron had to eat a burger first.

It’s a two-hour long talk, but it’s important to mention it because of the shockwaves it’d send in the weeks afterward.

It was a very heated discussion, and the gaming community’s opinions of that would be highly divided. In Jon’s defense, it’s worth pointing out that he  himself admitted he did not articulate some of his points as well as he could have.

The NeoGAF thread discussing these events was 97 pages long. If you were to pick any of the pages at random, chances are in favor of it being filled with comments calling JonTron a white supremacist. The OP was someone named Cerium. Remember the name, as they’ll show up later on when the Yooka-Laylee stuff happens.

On March 19th, Jontron uploaded a video responding to the controversy surrounding his tweets and debate. It doesn’t pull any punches, with Jon clarifying straightforward what he meant in the prior week. The video itself was unlisted, as to not distract from the usual style of content on the JonTronShow YouTube channel. Despite all of these precautions, the video would generate a NeoGAF thread that was 42 pages long. A lot of people commenting say they don’t want to watch the video at all and ask other GAF folks for a summary instead. By relying on second-hand summaries instead of watching for themselves, it reinforces the hive-mind way of thinking.

These things would serve as the prelude to the Yooka-Laylee situation. Playtonic’s decision to cut Jontron out of the game due to his political views, and the public response on both sides to the argument.

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A NeoGAF moderator tweeted at Playtonic on the morning of the 23rd. “Can you clarify whether JonTron is still in the game after his racist, white supremacist remarks? NeoGAF is curious,” they wrote. The mod’s inquiry was backed by a thread on the site that asked if Jontron was still involved with the project, given recent events. The same person who started that thread was the OP for earlier Jontron threads, and they were the first to mention Jafari in the Yooka-Laylee general thread on March 23rd.

This OP was Cerium. To understand how a NeoGAF pile-on works, all one needs to do is see the amount of effort Cerium put into ousting JonTron. They essentially rallied that Yooka-Laylee general thread in an effort to get the studio to respond, giving “you’re either with us or against us” sort of reasoning. It wasn’t long after they got a few others joined in. It’s here we learn Jontron was in the game’s credits, according to a passerby poster. “This is not diet racism, this is full on Stormfront quality white nationalism,”

“This is not diet racism, this is full on Stormfront quality white nationalism,” Cerium remarked about Jon’s statements.

Some posters said Cerium was taking this too far and Jontron had no bearing on the rest of the game outside of his cameo. Cerium deflected these responses and encouraged NeoGAF to put more pressure on the studio. Another user suggested the idea get posted in Jontron related threads to help it gain traction.

CeriumWrongthink

Playtonic Games was put into a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” situation with Jontron. Cerium said they needed a statement from Playtonic about Jontron because the game was so close to release.  To get that answer, NeoGAF put on pressure via social media. They started to dig into the developer’s Twitter accounts and mock their tweets. Users were escalating their inquiries to them directly on top of the official @PlaytonicGames account. If they weren’t going to get the response they wanted, NeoGAF already had someone to pin the blame on.

“Seems they’re also douches,” wrote a user named Jett.

Other posts in the thread called the development team “a lot of white dudes” when describing them, and analyzed Grant Kirkhope’s politics as a means of judging his character.

At 1:40 PM NeoGAF time on March 23rd, it was posted Jontron’s voice was removed. Accompanied by a link to the gamesindustry.biz article. That’s how most people would first hear about this situation outside of the NeoGAF bubble, intensifying the situation to new levels of attention in the days that followed.

But back in the thread – the response that says it all is the one from the person who started the internet fire.

“Would you look at that, Playtonic was as cool as I thought they would be and removing the Nazi was as simple as I thought it would be. A happy ending,” Cerium wrote.

After that, the Yooka-Laylee general thread dropped the subject completely. It was like Jontron never even existed. The place that had become a war room for a letter writing campaign to Playtonic had simmered down just as fast as it rolled in.

Jontron responded a few hours later, saying “Unfortunate to see Playtonic remove me from Yooka Laylee, but I understand their decision. I wish them the best with their launch!”

It was a PR friendly and neutral response, for sure.  But the outrage fires would still burn.  The GAF moderators herded everyone away from the Yooka-Laylee general and into containment. NeoGAF had an 83-page long thread dedicated to discussing Jontron’s removal and the gamesindustry.biz article in particular.

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But what kind of outside influence and pressure could’ve been involved here?

There were tweets by small-time websites like David Jones, founder of a fan club called Rare & Friends.  The morning after Jontron’s March 12th/13th debate, they tweeted at @PlaytonicGames. Expressing shock, they asked the studio if JonTron was still going to be in Yooka-Laylee. There was no explanation by Jones as to what brought this up, save for a link to NeoGAF discussion threads.  After Jafari’s removal was announced, Jones made sure to praise Playtonic for their decision. In a separate conversation, David Jones fantasized about Jon being personally disturbed by the removal.  Taunting him, he wrote “and I find that thought pleasing. 🙂 You reap what you sow, Jon,” in a tweet.

On a higher level of magnitude, Playtonic Games faced pressure from a former games journalist turned Avant-Garde Economist named Lewie Procter. Based out of the UK, he’s built up his website savygamer.co.uk for nearly a decade. Between March 2009 and November 2013, Lewie was a Section Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun and had a Freelance stint with VG247 somewhere in that time-frame. Lewie tried to get onto NeoGAF for a while, being rejected as far back as 2009 for an account. He still browsed and had others post things on the site on his behalf. Procter was actively aware of game journalism’s bad habit of writing articles based purely on things they saw on GAF.

Lewie hated Jontron for ages and used the same attacks on other YouTube figures.  When Cerium posed the question of Jontron’s involvement to NeoGAF, Procter was one of the first to rally behind it. He reframed the argument in terms of the perception of Yooka-Laylee as a game, and openly embraced the notion that cutting Jafari out would cost Playtonic money.  Procter fell to the cliché of using children as an example claiming Jontron’s words had an influence on them.

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When it comes to understanding his intentions, all we need to see is a post made by Lewie in the Yooka-Laylee general thread. “Were it me, I’d be willing to go to extreme lengths to remove a white supremacist from a creative work I was planning on releasing,” he admitted.

Lewie implied that the online discourse would not be over with the NeoGAF thread. Not only was he keenly aware of the Twitter bombardment aspect to it, Procter was one of the first to cause a stir on that platform. Tweets mirrored his NeoGAF comments, essentially.

His response to someone bringing the race of Playtonic’s team members into question was initially disturbing, as he appears willing to explore the idea of the company being white supremacists themselves. After talking with Mr. Procter about it, he says his response had nothing to do with talking about the skin color of the developers, and that he was focusing only on the political beliefs aspect.

This was what he said when someone called the Playtonic team a bunch of white dudes:

Their apparent association with a white supremacist raises some questions.

Questions that could very easily be answered by simply issuing a statement confirming that JonTron does not feature in their game.

Edit: people don’t have to boycott this game, or indeed to have any interest in it in the first place to wish that the games industry were a less welcoming place to raging white supremacists.

To Lewie, this ordeal was more of an opportunity to knock down one of his ideological opponents. When Pewdiepie faced controversy after the Wall Street Journal had Disney punish him for his humor, Procter cheered it on. “Hey that’s a good start youtube how about getting rid of all the other bigots,” he tweeted.

PlaytonicNeoGAF

Disclaimer: Playtonic was well within their rights to remove JonTron from their game, regardless if you agree with their reasoning for doing so. I disavow any witch-hunting and will have none of that.

Andy Robinson is involved with Yooka-Laylee as a writer. But Andy came from a different background than his Rare comrades. He worked at Future Publishing and ComputerandVideoGames.com as an Editor between April 2010 and January 2015, making his transition to the gaming industry by becoming a publicist for Bandai Namco. For whatever reason, that didn’t work out as planned, and he formally came on board Playtonic by March 2015.

It’s through him we can confirm Playtonic’s awareness of NeoGAF. It makes sense for a developer to take the site seriously if they themselves had a long time membership there. Andy has had an account as long as the website has been around, being one of the first users on the site in 2004. Using “Espio” as his alias.

In February 2015, months before Yooka-Laylee‘s Kickstarter would even begin, Andy can be seen clearing up people’s confusion about Playtonic and what it was going to be doing. He was able to answer questions about who was going to be involved in the upcoming project, and specify what some leaked design images floating around at the time were depicting.

May 2015 was when Andy came back, this time formally identifying himself as such on his NeoGAF account. Filling in everyone on what the Playtonic team did in the span of a few months, he rounded off by stating “I’ve only been here a few months and I’m a Rare outsider and honestly, these guys are going to nail this. They create this stuff in their sleep. If I wasn’t here, I’d be backing lots of cash :)” in his post.  Robinson brought exclusive art goodies as well, apparently.

In the days and months afterward, Andy popped into NeoGAF to answer a question or two. But the most noteworthy occasion came on January 11th, 2016, when Robinson responded to someone’s questions about Yooka-Laylee development in great detail.

I think we’ve been incredibly transparent about the personnel on board, to the point where – and this is incredibly rare for any game developer – we list every single employee over on our website, along with what they’ve worked on. We’ve certainly never claimed to employ ‘the entire’ DKC team, because that’d be wrong.

However… I’ll bite 😉 in K Bayliss and S Mayles Playtonic has both character artists. M Stevenson and S Hurst did objects and backgrounds (the former was later outright art lead on DKC3). C Sutherland – lead programmer and first name on the credits – is our co-founder and D Wise is in the office almost every day making music.

That’s six senior figures – most of them leads – out of what would’ve been a core team of not much more than ten including the Stampers. But I don’t think they’d join 😉

But before I get ahead of myself blabbering on about names, I’ll say that in my opinion the secret behind that core team, which went on to work on Banjo, Grabbed by the Ghoulies and loads of great games, was as much about a style of working and an environment that fostered collaboration and fun. That’s what we’ve tried to recreate at Playtonic – the mood of those old barns – and that’s personally what I think is most exciting. At Playtonic everyone pitches in and has a certain level of creative autonomy, which hopefully will result in a great game at the end. Ultimately a studio could employ Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima, but without room to breath creatively their abilities would be severely hampered.

We’re good friends with Greg, Robin, Leigh etc at Rare btw. In fact the former has a brother in our employment and was best man at our studio head’s wedding, so we see him fairly often 🙂

This says a lot of things. But what it says the most is Andy was willing to reach out and try to share a fair amount of information about the company. Moreover, it creates the sensation of exclusivity with NeoGAF. From that point on, he made regular returns to the site to help clarify Yooka-Laylee reveals and content as they became available.

This personal connection to the website Andy Robinson has, along with his posting pattern throughout the project’s lifetime, makes it more than likely he was the one to bring NeoGAF’s threads about JonTron to the company’s attention. Otherwise, it makes him a contender for backing the website’s comment as sufficient evidence for concern.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure how exactly Playtonic Games came to their decision. Witch-hunting would solve nothing.

At this point, it doesn’t matter anyway. People can hear what JonTron’s voice-lines were for themselves here. The incident ran its course.

It makes sense, as Robinson had marketed the game toward NeoGAF personally from the outset. When JonTron’s controversy brewed in one of their threads, it surely turned his head. But it did for everyone in Playtonic Games at the end of the day.

But as a controversy, it’s interesting to dissect the pieces and parts. Especially how NeoGAF fits into the equation.

How’d it get from there to a website? With a NeoGAF moderator like Mike Williams working at gamesindustry.biz, the process of A to B seems pretty straightforward. Some people think what happened was justified. Others think it was unnecessary.

To me, it raises the question of how much sway NeoGAF can have over someone’s mind in the first place.

Part 2 talks about Boogie2988’s war with the website.

Click here to go back to the hub page.

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3 thoughts on “NeoGAF’s Shadows I: Attack on JonTron

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