Recently, the developers of the upcoming third-person platformer video game Yooka-Laylee, Playtonic, have announced that they would be removing a voice cameo by the popular YouTube personality JonTron after he made controversial political remarks during a two-hour debate with another online personality that was streamed over the internet.
Although JonTron, whose real name is Jon Jafari, is primarily associated with a YouTube channel that posts comedic videos critiquing video games and other elements of popular culture, he has also used his online presence to share his views on politics: on his personal twitter account, Jafari has expressed opinions about issues related to race, gender, and protests. In light of Jafari’s proclivity for political commentary, another YouTube personality by the name of Destiny invited him to a debate about politics, which was broadcast live over the internet, without a moderator, and focused mainly on the topics of immigration to the United States and the question of assimilation. During the debate Jafari made some comments which have been picked up by various news outlets for their inflammatory nature: he claimed that “we’ve gotten rid of discrimination in Western countries,” and cited, without evidence, a statistic that “wealthy blacks … commit more crime than poor whites.” He also expressed concern about the changing nature of the United States’ racial makeup, and, after repeatedly being asked to explain why a change in the country’s racial demographic is relevant, declined to retract his statements on the matter.
Reactions to the debate online were strongly polarized. The comments section of the YouTube recording of the debate contained a mixture of comments attacking Jafari, defending him, and criticizing the debate itself for its lack of rigor and intellectual content. Likewise, JonTron’s reddit forum, received a massive influx of comments concerning the debate, many of which were critical of perceived ignorance or stupidity on Jafari’s part or of the ostensibly undue amount of fervor surrounding the discussion. Eventually, the moderators of the subreddit decided to ban political comments altogether, despite the community’s interest in the topic, as a result of what they perceived as an “unhealthy” atmosphere. Many of the comments posted online about the debate accused Jafari of relying on white nationalist talking points, although Jafari himself is the son of Hungarian and Iranian immigrants.
After the debate, and the resulting fallout, including direct criticism from a significant number of online gaming-oriented publications, the game developer Playtonic announced that they would be severing their business ties to Jafari by removing a cameo from their upcoming video game, Yooka-Laylee. While Jafari’s role in the game was extremely minor, as he only provided voice samples for a minor non-playable character in the game, the symbolic nature of the decision is consequential. Playtonic is a games studio comprised of developers who had previously worked on the popular Nintendo 64 platformers Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie; Jafari has previously claimed that these games held a significant degree of importance to him, as they contributed to his childhood development. As Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to these games, Jafari likely deeply disappointed about Playtonic’s removal of his voice cameo. Additionally, a handful of consumers said that they would cancel their pre-orders for the game, and some of the game’s Kickstarter backers have asked for refunds.
In response to the controversy, Jafari released a YouTube video in which he addresses some of the criticisms of his performance during the debate. During the video, Jafari acknowledges that he misspoke, and made poorly-spoken comments about contentious issues, claiming that he “suck[s] at debate.” However, he also claimed that many of his comments were “misconstrued,” and “things are being extracted from this that I know I don’t think.” He also reiterated many of his claims about race and failed to support some of the statistics he mentioned during the debate with evidence.
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