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Accusations Of Sexual Predation Shake Pokémon YouTube Community

Kyle “TheKingNappy” McNeal
Image: Twitch

Accusations of sexual predation are rocking the Pokémon YouTube community after 12 alleged victims made public statements against four individuals in that scene, including Kyle “TheKingNappy” McNeal, a well-known Pokémon YouTuber with over 500,000 subscribers.

Pokémon is a franchise that typically appeals to kids and teenagers, plus adults who grew up with the games and anime. The series has spawned a lively scene on YouTube where people post let’s plays, online battles, challenge runs, and general commentary on the series. Because of the series’ appeal to kids, fans of Pokémon YouTubers may skew young. Earlier this year, Kotaku reported on how Twitch streamers and YouTubers can take advantage of their large platforms and the power differentials they generate to abuse fans, and especially underage fans. In the past, games like Minecraft, which also attracts a younger audience, have given rise to content megastars who, according to a report by Vice Motherboard, have in some instances allegedly sexually preyed on underage fans. This weekend’s allegations against Pokemon’s online community and the power dynamics within it are proving similarly explosive.

These conversations outing alleged predators among Pokémon YouTubers began last week after a 19-year-old student named Sylveon, who asked Kotaku to keep her real name private, published a YouTube video titled “Finally coming forward.” In the video, Sylveon accuses Nathan Putnam, who goes by Dekadurr and makes graphics for widely regarded Pokémon YouTubers, of asking her for nude pictures when she was 15 years old. Putnam worked with many of the biggest names in his community and appeared at live events with them. Four women have accused him of preying on them when they were either underage or just barely 18.

Sylveon said over a Discord voice call that she met Putnam on the Twitch channel of Pokémon streamer ShadyPenguinn, after which Putnam looked her up on Twitter, which led to regular conversations online. After sending her shirtless pictures of himself via Snapchat, she says, Putnam asked her for nudes, which she says she initially declined. “He continued to make me feel like the bad guy,” she said. Eventually, she says, she assented. Sources say Putnam was in his early 20s, which Kotaku is working to confirm.

“It was really annoying to me, but I was kind of scared of him,” she explained on our call. “He had a larger following than me and worked with all these bigger names, people I looked up to. I didn’t want to speak out because who’s gonna believe me?” Sylveon says the messages between herself and Putnam are on an old phone and that she cannot corroborate that he knew her age. However, public statements and interviews with three other women, who were either underage or just 18 while in contact with Putnam, indicate that his behavior was part of a pattern of predation.

Over Twitter DMs and Discord messages, two of these women described how Putnam aggressively demanded naked pictures from them even after expressing how uncomfortable they felt. Two more say he hit on them when they were underage. One of them, who goes by Caroline, told Kotaku that she came forward because “I feel it’s important for everyone to know the horrible things he’s done to not only myself, but many others. As he is (or was) apart [sic] of an online community full of kids, this will continue to happen to young girls if we do not stop him.” (Kotaku has seen proof that Caroline’s age, which was 16, was visible on her bios on Twitter and Skype, where they spoke.)

Putnam did not return Kotaku’s requests for comment.

On March 31, Kyle “TheKingNappy” McNeal, who had previously worked with Putnam, called his actions “cruel and unforgivable” and apologized for not speaking up sooner. “I can 100% assure you that there wasn’t a single person aware of what Nathan was doing,” McNeal said in a note on Twitter. “If we had been aware, we would have taken action years ago and Nathan would not have been considered our friend, to any extent.”

Later that day, he amended his statement after people pointed out that this contradicted a tweet from another YouTuber, JayYTGamer, who said there was a general awareness of the Putnam’s behavior among the group, and “a few of us would pull him aside and try to speak to him and tell him to fucking stop that pedo shit.” McNeal said in his second statement that he was “referring to everything SINCE then.”

That same day, however, people begin to come forward with allegations against McNeal himself, the most severe of which suggested that he coerced a then-underage Pokémon YouTuber named Callum into dating him in 2013. Callum said he was 16 at the time and that McNeal was 21. In addition to his 500,000 YouTube subscribers, McNeal was followed by nearly 200,000 fans on his Twitch channel, which Nintendo has itself promoted. Nintendo did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Kotaku will update with their comment should we hear back.

“He gave me an ultimatum,” Callum wrote on Twitter. “Date or we’re no longer friends…I eventually agreed to try dating Nappy…I know I should’ve cut the relationship sooner, but I was still so terrified of losing friends over it.”

Another Pokémon YouTuber, GameboyLuke, came forward with his own story shortly after Callum. He told Kotaku via email that he was 21 or 22 at the time. Luke told Kotaku via phone that in 2015, Nappy made advances on him. Luke said he turned Nappy down but that Nappy persisted.

“It wasn’t until the third, fourth, or fifth advance that I realized something was really wrong,” he explained. According to Luke, Nappy also said that if Luke got a girlfriend, Nappy would have to cut ties with him.

“When he finally gave up, he kicked me from the friend group & he told everyone that ‘I didn’t fuck with them anymore’ when in reality McNeal couldn’t get me to do what he wanted & so he exiled me,” he explained on Twitter.

McNeal attempted to clear the air in a since-deleted stream the same day these stories came to light.

In the stream, which another YouTuber recorded and uploaded to YouTube, McNeal didn’t deny that his romantic pursuit of Luke happened, but he claims that the entire situation was consensual, that he was the one who broke things off, and that he didn’t do anything to ostracize Luke among their friend group. McNeal also claimed he was “good close friends” with Callum, but nothing more. “There was no collusion to plot against this 16-year-old sitting in his room in Scotland. Here I am, a 100,000+ subscriber channel. Why would I put any of this at risk over that?” he said. Last night, however, one of Callum’s friends posted Skype logs between herself and Callum in which Callum refers to McNeal as a “boyfriend,” in quotation marks, and in which Callum expresses feelings that he “led [McNeal] on…I shouldn’t have agreed to anything in the first place.” After those Skype logs leaked, McNeal posted another statement on Twitter. While he says that “the words I spoke on stream are the truth, at least from my perspective,” he offers his apologies to “all those involved.”

Callum has not responded to Kotaku’s requests for comment. McNeal did not originally reply to Kotaku in time for this story’s publication, but sent an emailed response after it ran that read, in part:

“In regards to the situation, I spoke ‘my side’ of things in my livestream this past Sunday. It’s hard to speak on things because there are so many situations with so many different people involved. Just as, ‘the other side,’ has their perception of things, so do I. I say that because none of these situations are one on one or black and white. However, this has all been an uphill battle due to the fact that whatever response I give is met with, ‘you’re lying.’”

“I still think that all of this hurt could have been avoided with a simple conversation. If anyone, at any point, had said something regarding how they felt, this giant mess of a series of arguments between friends would have never needed to become entertainment for hundreds of thousands of people,” he wrote.

At the same time, allegations surfaced against another Pokémon YouTuber close to McNeal, a woman who goes by Mudkip Mama. With just about 8,000 YouTube subscribers, Mudkip Mama had a small but close-knit following in the Pokémon YouTube world. According to two individuals who spoke with Kotaku, Mudkip Mama aggressively pursued them when they were either 18 or under 18. One of them, Pokémon YouTuber Patterrz, posted screenshots in which Mudkip Mama, who is in her 30s, apparently attempted to pressure him into a sexual connection. Later, he says, she trapped him in a bathroom with her and attempted to kiss him. (Patterrz did not return a request for comment by press time, but posted his side of the story on Twitlonger.)

In a Twitlonger post, a woman named Nikki says Mudkip Mama became “overly sexual with me in DM [direct message],” although she no longer has access to those messages. Nikki explains that she was 15, which she says Mudkip Mama knew, but Nikki could not confirm this because she says she deleted their conversations after attempting to “expose” Mudkip Mama two years ago. Nikki also shared a screenshot in which Mudkip Mama allegedly admits to “dating” a fan with an “age difference.”

Mudkip Mama did not return Kotaku’s request for comment and deleted much of her social media, but in a Twitlonger post, said that she stopped flirting with Patterz once she became aware he felt uncomfortable. She also says that she “went in full mother mode” after Nikki’s personal crisis to “try and make her feel special and loved,” admitting that she “probably went too far at some point and I realized she was misinterpreting it.” Finally, she says, she had “no idea” the fan she says she was “dating” was under 18.

Mudkip Mama, Putnam, and McNeal would often collaborate on a stream called Primetime and attended several events together. “That group was an extremely desirable group to be in,” said Jubilee Blais, another Pokemon YouTuber. “They were very exclusive.” Even associating with its lesser-known member meant being close to YouTube microcelebrity, which, several former fans say, led them to excuse early signs of predation.

The fourth Pokémon YouTuber facing allegations of predatory behavior operated separately, sources who knew him say. Mizumi, a YouTuber known for modding Nintendo games, including Pokémon, had amassed a following of 20,000 subscribers before alleged victims went public over the weekend with their experiences with him.

Tori, who is 18, says she was 14 when she began speaking to Mizumi. She says he solicited nude photos from her, an allegation also waged by another girl, Jenny, who at the time was 19. In a direct message on Twitter, Tori said, “Had I not done what he wanted, he had the ability to ruin my social life (which he did anyways).” Jenny told Kotaku that while initially their intimate relationship was consensual, he pressured her into sending nudes by “talking about wanting to kill himself and self harming behaviors and said things about how getting nudes would ‘help him feel better.’”

Over email, Mizumi did not deny these allegations. “This isn’t entirely my fault. The line is grayer than what everyone thinks and everyone here is a victim in one way or the other,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I am remorseful and I apologized personally to each of the people I’ve hurt, but the way the public views this situation and the way it truly is are completely different. That’s all I will say on the situation.”

Over the weekend, these allegations spread rapidly among Pokémon fans and YouTubers covering Pokémon. Several prominent community figures commented on the allegations and their role in continuing these alleged predators’ careers, even after whisperings of sexual misconduct had become known to them. TheHeatedMo, a YouTuber with 160,000 subscribers, explained in an unlisted video that he knew Putnam was “a guy being creepy on a girl,” but did not yet consider him to be actively harmful. He added that when it came to McNeal, whom he has known for years, “He manipulates a lot of people around him.”

While there is no evidence that predation is more widespread in the gaming community than anywhere else, young people’s increasingly online lives may more regularly intersect with the increasing number of microcelebrities created by social media. One woman who says she fell victim to Putnam’s tactics explained over Discord, “Most viewers are pretty young. Pokémon is targeted towards younger kids, after all. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine it’d be too difficult to find a young, easily manipulated target somewhere within the community.” Sylveon agreed: “I think it might be because it has a younger audience,” she explained. “We look up to these people and they use their power to manipulate someone else. They have the platform they’ve been given, that they’re privileged enough to have access to, to manipulate and hurt other people.”

When asked whether there’s anything specific to the Pokémon community that might allow for widespread predation to continue allegedly for years, said Jenny, who accused Mizumi of predation, “I think it’s an issue with any community of streamers/YouTubers. It’s full of young people seeking attention from older people in a position of power who are accessible in a way previous celebrities were not. It’s prime for abuse.”

After addressing the allegations him in an email to Kotaku, Mizumi sent another email a couple of minutes later: “Also, if you do mention me in your article, don’t forget to include a link to my YouTube channel. Thanks again :).”

Nathan Grayson contributed additional reporting to this story.

This story has been updated to include additional information from sources.

Update, 7:50 p.m. ET: This story has been updated a second time to include additional comments from Kyle McNeal.

Source: Kotaku.com

A YouTuber Finds Wholesome, Heartbreaking Stories Behind Silly VRChat Avatars

Screenshot: Syrmor (YouTube)

In one of Syrmor Sherazee’s best videos, he asks a long-legged bird about what it was like to be homeless.

The scene is the Onett stage from Super Smash Bros. Melee—one of the many video game realms repurposed in the sprawling, mutant multiverse of VRChat. Interspersed are clips of the bird holding court with an acoustic guitar and a microphone, covering drifter classics by John Denver and Andrew Jackson Jihad. The music continues in the background while Syrmor asks him about what it was like to hop trains, to sleep in the woods, to leave a girlfriend behind in Ohio before setting off for California. The player behind the bird answers patiently and vulnerably, protected only by the thin veneer of an avatar. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Tip the world on its side, and all the loose parts fall into VRChat. The persistent, Ready Player One-like chatroom became a standout for early adopters of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. You log in, choose an avatar, and make some friends. Syrmor is the man on the street, telling each of their stories, one at a time.

Screenshot: Syrmor (YouTube)

“I really like Vice and Vox’s human interest pieces,” he says, over a Discord call. “A lot of the inspiration I take from editing them is from the way they edit their human interest pieces. That’s essentially what I’m trying to go for. Trying to tell some coherent story about a person, no matter how mundane the story actually is.”

Sherazee, who is 22 and from Toronto, has assembled a remarkable portfolio. The soul of his VRChat is quiet and melancholy. He walks up to an avatar and asks them a question about life. Sometimes the conversation ends right there; the subject is too glib, too churlish, or too suspicious to open up. But every once in a while, he strikes gold. A squat Korean bird laments his country’s mandatory military service and the death of his brother. A Bulgarian eggplant struggles with alcoholism and plots a life-changing move to Germany. Sans from Undertale recalls what it was like to get the news that his girlfriend had terminal cancer. It’s not always clear how true these stories are, but many of them have a compelling, human feel.

Syrmor edits the conversations into soft, sad vignettes for a playlist on his channel called “Humans of VRChat”—a nod to photographer Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” series, where he interviews everyday bystanders about the quirks and complexities that define their lives. The principles are largely the same, and Syrmor generally presents the stories at face value. The only difference is that Syrmor spends much of his time talking to Gokus and Nyan Cats and Big Chunguses.

Sherazee broke through almost exactly a year ago, during the Ugandan Knuckles phenomenon. He was already a freelance videographer when his two-minute clip documenting VRChat’s most infamous moment caught fire. Ugandan Knuckles was one of those characters that emerged fully formed from the dregs of the internet with a popular, but ultimately extremely tasteless, shtick. A herd of reprobate Knuckles sliced through the ticky-tack VRChat landscapes parroting malformed quotes from a Ugandan action movie, while throwing in some minstrel throat-clicks of their own. The meme was outwardly ridiculous and undeniably racist, a classic and ubiquitous formula for internet “humor.”

Screenshot: Syrmor (YouTube)

Syrmor managed to neatly capture all of these elements in his video, which accumulated over 27 million views. Suddenly, he wielded a ton of influence. He needed to figure out what he wanted to do next.

“I didn’t have any expectations to do YouTube. After the video blew up I thought I’d try my hand at it, because what were the odds of me ever having another viral video?” says Sherazee. “So I started by basically doing comedy compilations, and it was sort of interesting, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing on YouTube. Then one day, I bumped into this guy in VRChat who was really drunk, and he was just rambling on for hours. I was recording the whole thing. I went back and edited it. And I thought, ‘You know what, this is a really cool conversation of this guy letting his heart out to a bunch of strangers online, but it’s not really funny.’ I thought the audience wouldn’t like it, but I released it, and people reacted to it well.”

The video Syrmor is referencing is about as beguiling as it is heartbreaking. “Whenever I meet people in here, they’re willing to talk to me when I just say that I’m drunk,” says a slurred Slavic voice. “I really appreciate that you guys are listening to me, I love you guys.” The existentialist rant is ventriloquized out of a slouching anime girl, and she concludes while standing atop a UFO that overlooks a plastic Earth.

Sherazee says he used to not tell his interview subjects that he was recording, meaning they had no idea that there was a YouTuber standing in their midst. That changed about eight months ago, as he started to reconsider what VRChat represented to its regulars. Taping without consent stretched the limits of video game sequestration, so Sherazee needed to adjust his methodology to sit right with his morals.

“The discussion I’ve had with a lot of people is [about] what your assumed privacy is in a video game. If I was recording a Call of Duty Let’s Play, and I was recording the people talking in my game, nobody would care. Nobody would fault me for that. They’re playing a video game and talking online,” he says. “I felt the same way about VR. I would record and I wouldn’t give a second thought to the people in the recording. But after thinking about it for a while, I started viewing VRChat as less of a game but more of a private chat room, or having a conversation with someone on MSN Messenger.”

I asked Syrmor if he ever feels uneasy about ostensibly broadcasting the social traumas of a middle school kid, or the substance abuse of an eggplant, to YouTube’s casual cruelty. He’s come up with a policy to address those concerns, too. Before every video, he sends the footage he wants to use to whoever he interviewed. They get final approval of the content, which means they won’t find any ugly surprises about how they looked or sounded like when they watch themselves online. It’s not a journalistic approach, but the compromise works for Syrmor given the shaky jurisdiction of a platform like VRChat. Syrmor’s social stance as a whole has softened since he’s started his project.

“It’s made me a little bit less of a dick online, for sure. Especially because I talk to a lot of kids online. I would’ve never been mean to kids online before, but a lot of them talk about other people being mean to them online, and going forward it made me question that,” he says. “It’s difficult to grasp that the people you play with in a game are their own people, when they’re separated by gameplay. But in VRChat, when it’s just voice to voice and there’s next to no gameplay, it’s a bit easier to see stuff like that.”

Screenshot: Syrmor (YouTube)

Syrmor notes the most memorable experiences he’s ever had in VRChat and the subject of one of his most recent videos. The subject explained that he was a kid suffering from epidermolysis bullosa, or “the butterfly condition,” a lifelong genetic disorder that makes your skin as “fragile as a butterfly’s wings.” (In some cases, it can even lead to amputations.) Everything, from crawling on your hands and knees to taking a bath, can be very, very painful. He told Syrmor a story about daily battles with the disorder through the guise of a sprightly Piglet avatar.

“What really got me is that he talked about his dad very highly, because his dad is his caretaker. I said something like, ‘Your dad sounds like a cool guy,’ and he actually got his dad on the microphone,” says Syrmor. “Having this very burly, 40-year-old male voice coming through Piglet in virtual reality, talking about his son’s disease, and what life was like for him, was just not something I ever expected to encounter in video games.”

It is clear what Syrmor is reaping, and it is clear why people are watching his videos. Each of the commenters dotting his uploads know what it’s like to be a lonely bird. If there is any maliciousness, it’s certainly not filtered to the top:

“I never thought a bird would get me so sentimental.”

“I really want to give him a hug. he sounds like such a nice kid.“

“Most of your videos have such profound and heavy stuff in them but i still always end up with this warm and hopeful feeling and just compassion for the person.”

Syrmor’s brand is the kindness of talking to other people online—and more than that, listening. Who knew it could be that simple?

Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego, currently living in Brooklyn. In addition to Kotaku, he contributes to Vice, PC Gamer, Variety, Rolling Stone, and Polygon. 

Source: Kotaku.com

Entire Machinima YouTube Channel Set To Private [UPDATE]

With no public announcement or advanced warning to many creators, the entire Machinima Youtube channel was effectively wiped from the internet recently. All videos on the channel are now private, making them unable to view. The news quickly spread across social media, with fans and creators sharing their stories and information about the shutdown using the hashtag #RIPMachinima.

News of the videos began to spread yesterday, but it’s unclear when the switch to private happened. Many creators seemed not to have been aware that their videos would be set to private. “Otter Media really just went and deleted Machinima, Happy Hour, Respawn, Realm, Prime, Inside Gaming, ETC, everything.” Jeremy Azevedo, a former creator and employee of Machinima tweeted after learning about the news. Other former creators were shocked to find years of videos now gone.

KhailAnonymous, a former creator at Machinima tweeted,“Wow y’all making me emotional with #RIPMachinima”. “Sad to see the catalogue go. As many have already said Machinima was a special place filled with amazing people,” said former creator Matt Dannevik.

Back in December 2018, AT&T moved Machinima under their Otter Media brand in a restructuring that also saw layoffs across Otter Media. Otter Media is made up of other companies, including streaming services like VRV and Crunchy Roll. In early January, shortly after the restructuring, long time Machinima creators like Maximilian Dood were let go. Other creators were let go or sent letters informing them they were being moved to Fullscreen, another media company founded in 2011 which is also owned and operated by Otter Media.

For many fans, the news feels like the end of an era. One of the old YouTube giants now gone. “I cannot begin to understand the motivation behind nuking every official Machinima channel… That’s like 7 years of core gaming content, gone forever,” one fan tweeted. “It’s so weird now that I’m going to be a part of that generation of people that will say, ‘remember Machinima?’” wrote another. Using the #RIPMachinima hashtag, others reminisced about their favorite creators and derided the decision to set the channel to private.

What will happen to the Machinima channel and all of its videos is unknown at this time. The channel currently has 12.3 million subscribers. Kotaku has reached out to Machinima for comment.

Update (3:41 PM): Otter Media sent Kotaku a statement about the future of Machinima:

We are focused on creating new content with the Machinima team, which will be distributed on new channels to be announced in the coming months.

In the meantime the Machinima network of creator channels continues to showcase the talents of the network. As part of this focus on new content, we have pivoted from distributing content on a handful of legacy operated channels.

Source: Kotaku.com