The stress and anxiety of 2020 was enough to make even the most reasonable person have a bad day, but there's having a bad day and there's turning into a conspiracy crank saying COVID-19 was a political destabilization tactic by China, the death rate over COVID-19 is a hoax, cancel culture is part of a "global reset" by powerful elites, and 5G has been smuggled around the world as a secret surveillance tool by none other than—you guessed it—China.
There are likely places where this kind of fear mongering might come from, and then there's the unexpected radicalization of a Twitter account roleplaying as Professor K, the radio DJ from Sega's Jet Set Radio Series, who helped the game's graffiti gangs commit cool crimes.
This is no ordinary roleplaying account, either; it's one with nearly 20,000 followers because they created Jet Set Radio Live, a living community in celebration of Jet Set Radio's terrific soundtracks. Even Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma follows this account, one that claimed in April we should fear 5G because it's dangerous to the water molecules in our body, because "microwaves heatup water molecules." 5G networking is gonna boil us, y'all.
It's been 19 years since Jet Set Radio Future, one of only two games in the franchise, but the cultural impact of Jet Set Radio has, decades later, continued to ripple. And while Sega hasn't shown much interest in keeping Jet Set Radio relevant, fans haven't given up, which is how a project like Jet Set Radio Live, where people could listen to radio stations curated with musical bangers inspired by Naganamua's music, became popular enough that it also started hosting a chat room, a TV channel, a graffiti wall for people to customize, and more.
Neither game has much of a story, but it is inarguably about celebrating art and running from angry cops. In that sense, it's a game about questioning authority and the power it has over you. There was plenty of reason to feel suspicious of power brokers in 2020, but Jet Set Radio Live has been kicking around since 2016, and while the account's tweets were always eccentric, that fell in line with what people came to expect from this roleplaying Professor K.
Then, in late March, as most of the world was entering lockdown, they tweeted this:
So far as I can tell, this is the moment Professor K started to break, because only a few weeks later, seemingly out of nowhere, they got upset at memes making fun of 5G truthers:
"Wow, now you using your platform to spread misinformation," wrote one fan. "Bye."
In response, Professor K linked to a rambling 5G conspiracy video where the host claims they "don't make oversensational videos." The video, so far, remains available on YouTube.
"Dude, people have been saying stuff like this since the early days of even airwaves from radio towers," said another fan, as people became confused, realizing this was a serious claim. "Your [sic] cool and all but how does a character of a Radio host not know this?"
Professor K has, over the course of Jet Set Radio Live's existence, been in constant communication with fans. There are, of course, the many retweets, which signal boost material to the larger Jet Set Radio community. There was an email people could contact, and Professor K would respond in character. A 2018 profile of Jet Set Radio Live included an "interview" with Professor K, in which the person running the site didn't break the illusion.
"[I used it] mostly for finding new music," said a longtime fan of Jet Set Radio Live, who goes by CrystalForce online. "[...] In the really early days of the site, I even emailed the siterunner [Professor K] some songs to add to the list. I really appreciated what they were doing."
The conspiracy tweets didn't get the same engagement as anything related to Jet Set Radio, and given the frequency the account tweeted, sometimes pumping out dozens of tweets per day, it would be pretty easy to have them zoom past, or to assume they're a tasteless joke.
But the COVID-19 material, in particular, set people off.
On occasion, they'd share something relatable, like "healthcare billionaires is a phrase that should not exist."
It's unclear what happened, what caused this fan to go from impersonating an over the top game character to spreading misinformation. Professor K did not respond to a VICE Games request for comment, and their public response has been to, over and over, double down on conspiracy theories, in between retweeting fan art and praise for Jet Set Radio Live. (And sometimes Jet Set Radio-inspired pornographic art?)
"Not a lot of people really supported Prof K in the conspiracy aspects," said Cubicle Lemur, a fan who roleplayed on Twitter as Beat, one of the characters from Jet Set Radio. "I feel like me, him [Professor K] and maybe a couple other people are the only who support the conspiracy theories. And I don't even support all of the theories, like 5G and the Covid denial/no masks and such. I'm more of a political theory guy. [...] I didn't necessarily give him the ideas for conspiracy theories. I just kinda supported it and was like—yeah, the government is going to shit woooooooo."
What it did do, however, was create a split in the community for people who were paying attention. If you just visited Jet Set Radio Live and treated it like a website, you were fine. But if you were part of the broader Jet Set Radio community, suddenly you were faced with the realization that someone you were supporting was also promoting harmful information.
"It soured pretty much everyone," said CrystalForce. "Lots of my friends were talking about it and it really sucked since the website itself was really good for the JSR community and just cool in general."
The reason I started looking into this, though, was what happened out of nowhere at the end of last year: Jet Set Radio suddenly went offline. No more music. This was preceded by a series of cryptic tweets in which Professor K said they received a letter from Roboy 2024, a character from Jet Set Radio Future, declaring "the calculated results just weren't good."
Soon after, the website went down, sending fans scrambling for ways to put a backup online.
Always starved for attention, however, Professor K continued to retweet people shocked and upset at what'd happened. This act prompted conspiracy theories for Jet Set Radio Live itself. Japanese video game companies are notoriously prickly about fans using copyrighted content, so maybe Sega had forced the site to shut down? It wasn't a ridiculous concept.
On Wednesday, the account tweeted a cryptic image that's now their pinned tweet, which teases something will be happening on February 1. A reasonable assumption would be that Professor K is going to revive Jet Set Radio Live, and maybe this was all a bored distraction.
That turned out to be true, with Jet Set Radio Live roaring back to life this morning, with Professor K claiming—I think, anyway—he's a robot from the future meant to save us from making the same mistakes their timeline has. At the very least, the radio stations are back and they’re (still) very good.
The question is: now that Jet Set Radio Live comes back, will the conspiracies return, too?