Pax, You’ve Gone And Done It: An Open Letter

Dear Penny Arcade,

I don’t honestly know where to begin. You’ve really gone and done it now.

Let’s start from the top: Dickwolves. Dickwolves were a thing a while back. You remember dickwolves, right? It was the huge controversy about your sometimes funny comic strip offering up rape jokes as part of your attempts at humor. I won’t go into the madness that was the entire issue because, frankly, it is like one giant labyrinth of PR nightmare meets the worst insensitivity high school locker room humor can offer. (If you need the long description, this exhaustive timeline chronicles the Dickwolves madness). Suffice to say, the dickwolves controversy is just the tip of the iceberg of a serious problem I’ve come to recognize about Penny Arcade and its Pax conventions. Penny Arcade and it’s creators Mike and Jerry (aka Gabe and Tycho) have a serious problem:

They’ve become part of what’s wrong with geek culture.

And its not funny anymore. In fact, it’s goddamn insulting.

First it was “The Sixth Slave” comic that kicked off the dickwolves. Then it was the guest comic about the non-consensual breakfast cereal. Then came the ridiculous Twitter implosion of Mike Krahulik regarding using the term cis-gender and generally being an insensitive human regarding the trans community. Should we toss in the case of the Pax Enforcer that was involved in a sexual harassment case that was all-but covered up? Each time, creator Mike Krahulik has come out with new and wonderful ways to explain support of rape jokes or transphobic speech, or has sat by while those who spoke up against his particular brand of ‘humor’ have been threatened with rape and death just for speaking out. And each and every time this has happened, there has been a controversy and Penny Arcade has ended up back in the geek news sphere long enough for people to get riled up. Then an apology is issued and everything calms down for a little while. Still, folks sit back and wait quietly to see if Krahulik will say something else, do something else, that shows off just how tragically out of touch they are with the evolving geek community. And BAM, it happens again.

Switch over to my side of the tracks for two seconds. I am a game designer, a video game fan, a creator and a panelist. I get invited to go to Pax East to speak as a woman about everything from women in game design, women’s representation in video games, and of course female harassment in convention culture. People look at me sideways when I say I’m attending PaxEast. “But Shoshana, what about the dickwolves? Why go somewhere that supports this kind of rape culture? Why go to the middle of dickwolves central?”

Because, I responded, it can’t be all that bad. And besides, shouldn’t that be where the conversations about women in video games should be happening? Isn’t that where these battles should be fought?

Oh, Penny Arcade – look at me, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Look at me, trying to have a discourse.

imagesPax East was difficult. There was trolling I personally had to put up with in my life. But in the end, we had a good time there and were treated with respect for the most part. In fact, things go so well, you invited us out to PaxPrime. Then came the wonderful cis-gender conversation from Krahulik on Twitter. And people brought it up again. “Shoshana, you can’t possibly be going there! Look at what he said! Do you still think that you should be attending the convention?”

Yes, I said, because that’s where the conversation about these things should be happening. Take the conversation right to PA’s door and talk about how we are folks who use the word cis-gender without snickering, without being insulting. People were very receptive, the audience was great, this is where the conversation should go on.

Oh Pax – look at you, giving me hope that things wouldn’t devolve into something ridiculous FIVE MINUTES AFTER THE CON.

Do I sound frustrated to you? It’s because I am. Pax Prime gave me a little hope, you see. I counted the number of panels you had on diversity and inclusion, on women in gaming and on LGBT representation, and I rejoiced. See, here were the conversations I was hoping to see! There were tons of them, hosted by people from tabletop and video games, from cosplayers to the female employees of Bioware. Here were the inclusive community discussions I was hoping to see at a convention that has been plagued with a reputation for misogyny and sexual misconduct. This was the kind of community reform, from the inside, that I love to see. I got on a plane after spending the weekend meeting people and talking about these issues, happy to have attended. I got off the plane to this exchange in a Q&A panel where Mike and Jerry answered questions to Robert Khoo, their business manager. Here’s the video (with the exchange in question at 2 hours and 35 minutes) but enclosed is the offending transcript:

Robert Khoo: I mean, speaking of, I know the three of us have like, a really great working relationship, like, probably the best given the circumstances that we were thrown together in, given our personalities, it really is sort of a dream scenario, I couldn’t have written any better. But, is there anything you wish I would do better, or anything you resent me for doing or saying, or um… besides this panel. Outside of this panel.

Mike Krahulik (Gabe): This is honesty time?

Khoo: Honesty time, yeah. Absolutely.

Gabe: I… You know that I don’t hold grudges.

Khoo: Alright

Gabe: Like, I can be incredibly mad and then fine the next minute, so long as I get it out.

Khoo: Okay.

Gabe: And I feel like we got this out, so I’m not mad about it anymore.

Khoo: Alright.

Gabe: But…I think that pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.

Khoo: Clearly, had I known the falling steps that would follow after that move, I would never have brought it up to you. Course I wouldn’t have, because I did not know… I mean, I don’t wanna say “Alright, well, because of this, this happened, people said this, I said this, you said that, clearly it would have just been better to just like, not say anything. That’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now where it’s like, it’s just better not to engage. And in fact, pulling it was, in a way, enga-

Gabe: – engaging –

Khoo: – A way of engaging. And then, then you actually engage. That was a direct result of pulling. And I totally agree. I totally agree.

Gabe: Okay.

Audience Member: Bring it back!

Khoo: No, that’s a terrible idea.

Do I have to go on, Penny Arcade? Do I have to say a damn thing else?

apology

After the last piece of sludge that fell out of Krahulik’s mouth (the cis-gender issue), he issued an apology for what he said. I was pretty critical of that apology because of the language used there, namely where Krahulik made it seem as though he couldn’t stop himself from being, using his words, ‘a dick’. Well apparently that is the case! Because right here, in the above transcript, we have it: ‘Gabe’ saying it was a mistake to pull the dickwolf merchandise from their shelves.

Let me reiterate: he said it was a mistake to pull merchandise referencing a rape joke off of their website. It was a mistake to stop making money off of rape jokes that offended, hurt, and insulted members of the gamer community. This was the statement made by Mike Krahulik. And Robert Khoo agreed to it. And audience members cheered.

Three strikes. You’re out.

I have no more excuses for you, Penny Arcade. I have no more excuses for how you imagine you can, in one breath, invite people to your conventions with promises of a ‘safe space’ and in the next support rape jokes and rape culture. I cannot imagine how you presume to invite professionals from across the country to speak on your panels, broadcast across the internet on your Twitch stream, about the very issues you are helping to perpetuate and then have your leadership say things like the above transcript. Have you looked up the definition of hypocrisy lately? Because I believe with this last statement, Krahulik and Penny Arcade has used up their last piece of ‘oh well, you know, he didn’t mean it like that’ cred that might have ever existed for ‘Gabe’.

So what now? Now, I say this: Pax was fun. Both of them were fun. I have great memories of both. I won’t forget the faces of the people I spoke to at the panels, or how great it was to chat with the game devs and representatives and the wonderful fellow nerds. But fact is, what the hell am I supposed to do when faced with a statement like this? Do I go to a convention that is headed by people who regret engaging with the fans they hurt, who regret taking down merchandise that supports rape as something to be joked about? Who haven’t seemingly learned a damn thing about being respectful to all parts of their audience, but instead continue to cater to the lowest common denominator of juvenile, offensive humor in an attempt to stay relevant? Sorry. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time, and I gotta have my damn head examined.

sorrynotsorryIn my eyes, as of this statement, Krahulik has proven finally how grossly out of touch he is with the evolving gamer world. This is a geek community that is socially conscious and responsible, that takes into account the feelings and considerations not only of the ‘mainstream’ demographic but of all its membership. This is a community of peers that is demanding, not just asking, that offensive content be reconsidered and shelved to be replaced by content that doesn’t make folks feel hurt. That asks creators to consider whether just because you can create something potentially harmful (not just offensive but downright harmful), does it still mean you should. This is the evolving geek community, and Penny Arcade’s frontman has once again proven he’s got eyes shut to those changes.

No, I’d say its worse. This latest garbage is a slap in the face to every Pax Enforcer or employee who has gone out of their way to try and make the environment at the conventions friendly and safe for all. It is an insult to anyone who attended the conventions to bring about talks about inclusivity and gender/sexual/racial equality in games and gaming culture. It is the comments of someone tragically unaware of the changing face of the gamer world, whose actions are supported by their business team (remember Khoo in the above transcript supports Krahulik’s statement) and therefore indelibly intertwined with the Penny Arcade brand and its subsidiary, Pax.

Do I sound pissed off, Penny Arcade? I am. Because I attended your convention in good faith. Good faith that the voices of people like me, who went to your convention to speak about these issues, were welcome. Instead, I feel as though whatever voice I bring was just used to give legitimacy to your convention. ‘Look,‘ you could say, ‘we have some women talking about these issues! Now maybe they’ll ignore our rape jokes and other nonsense.‘ Do I sound like I’m feeling a little used? Probably because I do. I feel used. Insulted. Frustrated at your misuse of your cultural clout in the geek community. And sad for all those who believed in your corner of the community more than I did.

You’re going to ask, of course, what does it matter if you feel betrayed? Sure, I’m just one tiny game designer, Penny Arcade. But funny thing: there’s a lot of folks out there right now who have read that transcript. Or saw the video. And a lot of companies and individuals who are questioning their consciences about whether or not to continue supporting you. I might just be one. But there’s plenty of ‘ones’ out there. So congratulations – you’ve proven today how tragically out of touch you are and because of that, I’m taking my time, money, attendance and support elsewhere. And I think a hell of a lot of others are going to do the same.

Hope that was worth the price of a few dickwolves.

Signed, Shoshana Kessock

Other articles about this issue:

Gaygamer- Pax Honesty Time: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise Was ‘A Mistake’

Elizabeth Sampat – Quit Fucking Going To Pax Already, What is Wrong With You?

Leigh Alexander – Still Never Going To Pax

Lillian Cohen-Moore – Why I’m Quitting Pax

Make Me A Sammich – Gabe: We Made A Mistake Removing Dickwolves Merch

Kotaku – Penny Arcade Artist: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise ‘Was A Mistake’ 

23 Comments

  1. This makes me so sad.

    PAXEast has been the only convention where I’ve found actual community to exist at all. The amount of Love and Support from fellow PAXers combined with Interesting & Important panels and panelists such as yourself, is what I look forward to every year with PAX, on top of all the fun & gaming.

    So Mike is an ass, and I understand your position, but what about the rest of us? Do we get lumped into the same pile because we like PAX? Isn’t PAX more than one person?

    If people of conviction abandon the only decent “large-ish” con available, where else can we, the community, go?

    I didn’t even know about Gamers Against Bigotry, The Able-Gamers Foundation, or The Take This Project; before going to PAX. The PAX Community is what I reference when I say, as a full grown adult, that I’m a gamer and people look at me funny. I’m asked about 13 year olds spewing the foulest of hate speech while playing COD. I inform them that that is the vocal minority and that there is so much positivity in the Video Game Space citing said references above.

    You Game Like A Girl: Tales of Trolls & White Knights; was AMAZING. Taking the online comments before the panel even started and being able to laugh at how ridiculous they were was incredible.

    I’m glad you have integrity and I support your convictions, but is abandoning PAX the right move? Does it make more of a difference to not be a part of it in protest than the difference you make by being there?

    I’ve watched Mike & Jerry cry & hug PAXers who thank them for the safe space. That, because of them creating PAX, they found their courage, their self respect, and love. That they believed they were complete outcasts and it was PAX that made them realize that Life was worth living. People of all genders and orientations telling their stories at the PAX Q&A. I know that there is genuine goodness there.

    Shoshana we need people like you to be in our community. To be vocal as you are here. I’m sorry that you feel you need to take this step to make stand. I support you, and I hope that this problem can be resolved, because you being at PAX is why I read your blog. You being at PAX is why I know how passionate you are. You being at PAX is what inspires me to be better and more vocal against prejudice.

    PAX needs people of Consequence, otherwise it will just become what the outside world views gamers to already be.

    1. The funny thing is, people choosing to not attend the conventions that don’t have people at the top who actively engage in rape jokes and transphobia and instead attending the smaller conventions that don’t say one thing out of one side of their mouth and then say the exact opposite means that those smaller conferences will start to get that community size. There are options; Gabe and Tycho don’t have us all by the short hairs. I was at the early PAXes, and things weren’t always this big. They built it up through the goodwill of their fans who believed in a better environment than the corporate E3. These other conventions can be built up as well.

      I’m glad you had some good experiences. I have too. I’ll always have those memories and nothing can take them away. But sometimes things, and people, change for the worse over time. And sometimes you have to grow and move on. For me, after the past three years, the time has come. I’ll be heading to GaymerX, the Midwest Gaming Classic and maybe Convergence – there are options, and they can grow without the weight of (mostly) Gabe and Tycho’s flaws.

      1. I will say I’m very excited for GaymerX and sad I missed this year. I’m looking into including that into my schedule for next year!

      2. GaymerX was one of the best cons I have been to in a long, long time, despite being very obviously a new con and way over capacity. I had a blast and there’s no way I will miss it next year.

    2. Thank you, Jarrett, for posting this. Passionate responses like yours are what made this decision so difficult for me, because I believe that the Pax community is more than the sum of one man’s unfortunate choices. I believe that, for the most part, the people who go to Pax are awesome gamers who are creating community – something I believe in heartily. And my own experiences personally at both PaxEast and PaxPrime were altogether great – I met fantastic people, got a chance to talk about what I love, and met other folks who were equally as intent on creating safe spaces and talking about important topics.

      That being said… it comes down to one issue for me – and that’s supporting an organization led by someone who profits when I attend and does not always stand on the right side of issues I feel strongly about. The whole dickwolves mess was just the fine line.

      Would I decide to never go back to Pax again if I saw an improvement in Gabe’s representation? Never would say that. I enjoyed Pax. I don’t lump the community in with the headman. But it puts me in such a bad position to say ‘I’m going to go and give money to a guy who thinks making money on rape jokes is okay’. It’s largely the same reason I did not attend DragonCon when I learned about the issue of the child porn issues of one of its board members – and that once they severed ties with that individual I’m willing to attend again. Instead, I can go to conventions where the community doesn’t have issues – conventions like GaymerX, GeekGirlCon, GenCon, Dreamation, DexCon, WyrdCon, Metatopia, ect.- to have community. Does that help take away the conversation from where it might be needed/wanted? If I’m not the only one who makes that decision, then yeah. And that’s sad and rough.

      I really hope that the conversations that need to keep going on at Pax do continue. I will be in wait and see mode in regards to attending in the future, but for now it’s a no from me. And I really wish that wasn’t the case, honestly.

      I want to thank you again for posting this – because honestly, its voices like yours that remind me how the good end up suffering a slighted community for the insensitivity of headman’s failures.

  2. So, a word of defense of Khoo – He’s a biz dev guy, and I think his words were chosen *very* carefully (as I’m pretty sure he’s been around this a few times). If he had the chance to do it again, he would not take it to Mike. Because he’s not a dumbass, I suspect that was polite weasel words for “I would have just done it because it’s not like MIke would have noticed anyway”.

    Watching the whole interview (and others) is fascinating because Mike is an easily recognizable type. Enthusiastic, proactive and engaged, but also very fast to anger, so much so that those around him must appease the anger to avoid the consequences. The dynamic with Krahulik is clearly one of creative partners where the swagger of one supports the uncertainty of the other, and as such, the swagger must be protected. With Khoo, the whole interaction carried notes of “appeasing the talent”.

    And this is, ultimately, why this one kind of tipped things for me. Seeing the interactions laid bare pretty much obliterated any hope I had that there were other strong personalities who could keep Mike in check. There are not.

    And there probably won’t be. I joke about him being a bro, but it’s not so much a joke as all that. He really is the voice of a large segment of video gaming, not because he leads them, but because he is in tune with them. That says a little about him and a lot more about video games.

    Not that this makes it any better.

    1. Agreed, Rob. I keep expecting after every single one of these ‘Mike moments’ that someone will step up and say something to refute it. Or that Mike himself would go ‘wait a second, I understand how this is wrong!’ and things will get better. Only it never seemed to go that way. And that’s because the dynamic is what you’re pointing out: he’s a provocative talent who is not pulled back. He’s allowed his opinions of course but nobody seems to be standing up to say ‘you are harming your brand, and your audience’.

      He has become the poster child for negative stereotypes in the gaming world and feeding the gulf between those trying to be proactive in representation and that bro population. And that, beyond anything else, makes him worth speaking against. The rift doesn’t need to get wider because someone with a large megaphone is feeding it.

  3. What makes Krahulik’s statement especially awful is that the t-shirts weren’t really just a way of cashing in on rape jokes. The t-shirts were also Penny Arcade’s way of giving their approval and support to the Internet troll mob that was bombarding the original critics (many of whom are rape victims themselves) with death and rape threats.

    1. The Dickwolves merch was an attempt by PA to monetize a new brand. It had nothing to do with those rabid asshat fans that created that terrible team or cashing in on rape jokes.

      The comic itself wasn’t even focused on the rape joke it was about the fact that players play a ‘Hero’ that is confronted with the dissonance that they don’t get anything out of saving that one extra prisoner so they just ignore it.

      Bottom line of the comic : It’s an commentary on how ignoring rape (or insert appropriate atrocity here) isn’t heroic in the least. And how games reinforce that idea that you have to get a reward for your actions otherwise you won’t do anything.

      1. Well I’ll be damned, someone actually understands the comic. The merchandise doesn’t reference a rape joke (as Shoshana said above) because the comic is not a joke about rape. If the character in the comic referenced the fact that the Wolves were hell bent on exterminating his entire race, would we have Holocaust survivors, Jewish people, and other people who have been victims of attempted genocide up in arms?

        Clutch your pearls all you want, but the point of the comic went completely over most people’s heads.

        His supposedly transphobic comments are more about him being a moron, and completely ignorant of the current state of transgender issues.

      2. This would be plausible, and this whole thing would have blown over, had Jerry not checked out of the conversation very early on and let Mike take control and turn it into something else. I don’t think I’ve seen him write a damn word on the whole thing. I don’t think I’ve seen him defend or condemn the comic beyond his initial input. Which is depressing, really, since it was his writing that started this whole fucking mess.

        Also, why would you monetize rape, even if it’s meant to be taken in its serious context? People forget that Alan Moore was given hell for his use of rape as a thoughtless plot device…

      3. Yep, that was the point of the comic exactly. If PA had simply said that in response to the criticism, let the tiny minority of people who were going to have issues with any discussion of rape at all (even, in this case, using it as an example of something horrible that shouldn’t be tolerated but is) rage about it, and not brought it up again, the whole thing would have blown over years ago. Instead, Mike went out of his way to lash out at rape survivors, make idiotic claims about ‘censorship’ (criticism is not censorship; free speech means you have the right to say what you like without government interference, not without people responding to it; etc.), and bring up the controversy over and over. Most people who are criticizing PA aren’t particularly upset about the original comic, they’re talking about the response to the criticism of the comic.

  4. I have to disagree with some things in this argument. I think that ultimately the issue is far too nuanced to discuss in a comment without coming off as an ass for one side or another, so I won’t attempt to, it has been plenty documented. Both sides of the argument have valid arguments in a multifaceted discussion and both sides are so staunch and polarized I don’t think this discussion is really effective at all, to the point where I think it needs to be addressed differently than we all are doing.

    However, here is the quote that caught me most awkwardly however:

    “This is a community of peers that is demanding, not just asking, that offensive content be reconsidered and shelved to be replaced by content that doesn’t make folks feel hurt.”

    If this were true for the majority of the gaming community and the people who go to PAX or read PA, I think that the whole video landscape would be much different than what it is. Would Borderlands 2, a game that openly offends multiple groups in a comedic fashion no different than the Dickwolves comic be one of the top sellers this year? Would the Call of Duty series, a game that glorifies warfare and dehumanizes most middle eastern people sell millions upon millions of copies every single iteration? Would the amount of games with Male leads and females in need of rescue be as high in quantity and proportion of the industry as it is now.

    Or alternately, I have seen plenty of women at PAX dressed as anime characters from series that utterly talk down to their gender. Specifically I remember one girl dressed as Moxie from Borderlands 2 (she had an outstanding costume), a character who is cast as a promiscuous prostitute who has had sex with virtually ever male on the planet and who only has the place in society that she has because she has sold her body to get there.

    I am not sure what community you are part of, or if your being exclusionary to the parts of the greater gaming community you don’t want to associate with, but gamers have voted with their support and dollars on this topic and continue to do so. Maybe one day gamers will be more enlightened than they are, but right now I suspect you are trying to speak for a proportionately small subsection of the greater gaming community which I do not feel you are representative of, for right or wrong.

  5. Businesses who choose to engage with PAX are now leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t know about a boycott, but I was pretty much set on buying Gone Home before I even heard that it had Bratmobile songs in it, and now I feel kinda icky about supporting/buying Hate Plus. I was considering a Razer headset but now…I just don’t know.

    The T-Shirts absolutely gave the twitter account “Team_Rape” and similar legitimacy from PA Official. I can’t remember any period of intense harassment directly related to being a rape survivor speaking out about it worse than when I chose to auction off my PA merch and walk away from that community.

    1. The t-shirts were pulled before that particular Team R twitter account even started harassing people. So no, the shirts were not PA’s thumbs up for that Team. Timeline doesn’t match up for that to be possible.

      PA’s response is what’s at question here. Not even PA. Mike in general. He needs to watch what he’s saying. Like, all the damn time. Being one half of the Face of Penny Arcade Mike needs to get some PR training.

      I really like the guy. I talk to him at every PAX I Enforce at. And, to me at least he seems like a swell gamer buddy. But that’s my experience and not necessarily anybody else’s.

      1. , minus the part that they are not symbolic of annihtyg. I don’t think the PA guys were trying to perpetuate rape culture, but unfortunately that is what they are inadvertently doing. I’ll say it again, I do not think they sat down with the intention, how can we make light of rape and upset all the sexually assaulted readers we have? No, that’s just silly.However, people took offense to it. A lot of people. So much so that random people on the internet are having months and months long discussion and argument about it. Obviously that has to mean something. For victims of rape, they voiced their concerns. But the PA guys ignored it. They made a t-shirt of their creation. A creation that does not have any other connection to annihtyg other than rape. Yes, the comic was meant as satire that you save only five people and leave the rest to torture. Yes, it shows how silly the game mechanics and idea of these quests are. I get it.BUT, the fact is that a LOT of people have their hands up in the air, making a big deal out this, because it’s a big deal to them. People who think the dickwolf is funny aren’t really looking into the deeper rhetoric of what it means to a rape survivor: it means that the rape they experienced is joke-worthy. And to see it on a tshirt is like throwing salt in the wound.Whether or not that was their original purpose should no longer be part of this discussion. The explicit results are that a lot of people are upset, that the deeper meaning of it is being overlooked because people can’t take a joke. It’s insensitive, despite its original purpose as being ironic.

  6. Wow. Great article. So disappointing, I used to love Penny Arcade. Will you be at NYCC? If so, would you be interested in sitting on the Comix Chix (we ❤ our gamer sisters) panel to discuss your experience? I think it's very relevant to the ongoing conversation on how women and the LGBT community are treated in the general geek world.

  7. The fact is, that there was bad behavior on both sides of the dickwolves incident. Another thing that people rarely seem to consider is why both sides reacted as they did.

    See, I understand why hardcore third wave feminists got upset about the Sixth Slave strip. They spend a lot of their time and mental energy examining artifacts of culture for the tendrils of chauvinism, objectification, and rape permission. These are laudable activities, and I wholeheartedly support this endeavor, but it also leaves these people primed to find the spectre of rape culture where it may not actually exist.

    However, I also understand why the penny arcade author, artist, and fan community got upset about the backlash. The gaming community has its own political and cultural agenda, wherein their hobby gets demonized and crusaded against, and the arbiters of morality frequently threaten to try to destroy it. They spend a lot of time passionately defending their hobby and heatedly debating against those who would censor it. These are also laudable activities, and endeavors I wholeheartedly support, but it leaves these people primed to find the spectre of censorship where it may not actually exist.

    I feel that the initial backlash against the strip missed the point. What Mike and Jerry were attempting to convey with the strip was a thing about massively multiplayer online RPGs, where players take on the persona of a hero who travels about the land performing noble deeds. Because of the nature of MMORPGs, a quest is never truly completed, because otherwise, when one player or party of players finished it, the next player or party would not be able to undertake it. This leads to the logical conclusion that MMORPG characters are not actually heroes, but sociopaths who do the bare minimum to earn the reward. If their quest is to rescue five slaves from a prison/work camp, the sixth slave is shit out of luck, and the pleas for assistance to escape from their squalor are useless.

    Fitting this concept into three panels is where the “raped to sleep by dickwolves” comes in. It is meant to be the most horrible thing imaginable, to highlight the MMO “hero”‘s sociopathic disregard for the plight of the helpless slave. Is their choice to use rape as a shortcut to garner sympathy lazy writing? Absolutely. Is it condonement of rape culture? Absolutely not. There is perhaps a valid argument here that by using the word so casually, they help lessen the impact of it, but I don’t see anything morally wrong with them producing the strip, merchandising off of perhaps one of the comic’s most creative moments, or defending their intentions against the unexpected backlash.

    However, that initial backlash also triggered Mike and Jerry’s censorship alarm bells, and primed them for a fight. Here is where communication broke down. Each side now saw the other not as people with motives and emotions, but as a pre-imagined monster that they have been locked in perpetual struggle with. They ceased to give the benefit of the doubt, or imagine that the other had good intentions.

    Amidst all this, there were also extremists on both sides who, feeling threatened, resorted to the worst kind of mob behavior. Neither side’s extremists had their actions condoned by their leadership, in fact, both sides leadership found these extreme reactions, of death threats and deliberately inflammatory rhetoric, to be abhorrent.

    And so it continued. Both sides fought, not to victory, but exhaustion. No understanding was reached, and resentments continued to simmer, never dying. The dickwolves merchandise was pulled not because Mike understood what it represented to his opponents, but because he was tired of fighting, and wanted to offer an olive branch.

    Understand that to him, that moment represents his resignation to the forces of censorship, being told that he is not allowed to take pride in that particular act of his creative work. Understand that to him, the dickwolves merchandise does not represent support of the internet bullying his opponents, but a refusal to let those who would censor him turn his pride into shame. He has never understood why the issue was so important to you, and others like you. He only knew that he was told the issue /is/ important enough to you that the very existence of the merchandise would compromise their ability to maintain PAX as a safe space, free from bullying or harassment. But he was never able, in his head, to separate your side of the argument from the high school bullies who told him he was a freak for liking video games instead of sports, and that he wasn’t allowed to speak his opinions without retribution.

    I am optimistic for the day when communication between these two perspectives can be restored, and you can realize that you would actually be each other’s greatest allies if both sides could simply listen to each other without bringing in external baggage.

  8. The fact is, that there was bad behavior on both sides of the dickwolves incident. Another thing that people rarely seem to consider is why both sides reacted as they did.

    See, I understand why hardcore third wave feminists got upset about the Sixth Slave strip. They spend a lot of their time and mental energy examining artifacts of culture for the tendrils of chauvinism, objectification, and rape permission. These are laudable activities, and I wholeheartedly support this endeavor, but it also leaves these people primed to find the spectre of rape culture where it may not actually exist.

    However, I also understand why the penny arcade author, artist, and fan community got upset about the backlash. The gaming community has its own political and cultural agenda, wherein their hobby gets demonized and crusaded against, and the arbiters of morality frequently threaten to try to destroy it. They spend a lot of time passionately defending their hobby and heatedly debating against those who would censor it. These are also laudable activities, and endeavors I wholeheartedly support, but it leaves these people primed to find the spectre of censorship where it may not actually exist.

    I feel that the initial backlash against the strip missed the point. What Mike and Jerry were attempting to convey with the strip was a thing about massively multiplayer online RPGs, where players take on the persona of a hero who travels about the land performing noble deeds. Because of the nature of MMORPGs, a quest is never truly completed, because otherwise, when one player or party of players finished it, the next player or party would not be able to undertake it. This leads to the logical conclusion that MMORPG characters are not actually heroes, but sociopaths who do the bare minimum to earn the reward. If their quest is to rescue five slaves from a prison/work camp, the sixth slave is shit out of luck, and the pleas for assistance to escape from their squalor are useless.

    Fitting this concept into three panels is where the “raped to sleep by dickwolves” comes in. It is meant to be the most horrible thing imaginable, to highlight the MMO “hero”‘s sociopathic disregard for the plight of the helpless slave. Is their choice to use rape as a shortcut to garner sympathy lazy writing? Absolutely. Is it condonement of rape culture? Absolutely not. There is perhaps a valid argument here that by using the word so casually, they help lessen the impact of it, but I don’t see anything morally wrong with them producing the strip, merchandising off of perhaps one of the comic’s most creative moments, or defending their intentions against the unexpected backlash. I also feel that a lot of that initial backlash was from people who failed to understand that depiction is not endorsement.

    However, that initial backlash also triggered Mike and Jerry’s censorship alarm bells, and primed them for a fight. Here is where communication broke down. Each side now saw the other not as people with motives and emotions, but as a pre-imagined monster that they have been locked in perpetual struggle with. They ceased to give the benefit of the doubt, or imagine that their opponents had good intentions.

    Amidst all this, there were also extremists on both sides who, feeling threatened, resorted to the worst kind of mob behavior. Neither side’s extremists had their actions condoned by their leadership, in fact, both sides leadership found these extreme reactions, of death threats and deliberately inflammatory rhetoric, to be abhorrent.

    And so it continued. Both sides fought, not to victory, but exhaustion. No understanding was reached, and resentments continued to simmer, never dying. The dickwolves merchandise was pulled not because Mike understood what it represented to his opponents, but because he was tired of fighting, and wanted to offer an olive branch.

    Understand that to him, that moment represents his resignation to the forces of censorship, being told that he is not allowed to take pride in that particular act of his creative work. Understand that to him, the dickwolves merchandise does not represent support of the internet bullying his opponents, but a refusal to let those who would censor him turn his pride into shame. He has never understood why the issue was so important to you, and others like you. He only knew that he was told the issue /is/ important enough to you that the very existence of the merchandise would compromise their ability to maintain PAX as a safe space, free from bullying or harassment. But he was never able, in his head, to separate your side of the argument from the high school bullies who told him he was a freak for liking video games instead of sports, and that he wasn’t allowed to speak his opinions without retribution.

    I am optimistic for the day when communication between these two perspectives can be restored, and you can realize that you would actually be each other’s greatest allies if both sides could simply listen to each other without bringing in external baggage.

  9. Sorry, but “jokes about topic X should never be made” will never get my support. Nor will they gain much traction among gamers, a pretty freethinking bunch on average. Penny Arcade, as the creators themselves have pointed out, has made jokes about torture, mass murder, necrophilia, child abuse, cannibalism, and a thousand other horrible things. And singling out “rape” as somehow especially objectionable, to the point of claiming that it should be off-limits to humor, is simply a worthless argument.

    By creating the T-shirts, Mike and Jerry foolishly fanned the flames of a controversy they should have simply ignored. By pulling the T-shirts, they even more foolishly gave their critics an undeserved sense of legitimacy. They now recognize that there’s no point in engaging with such people, no matter how defenseive you feel about their unfair attacks and irrational claims.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s