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.
Pax 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.
Gabe: Like, I can be incredibly mad and then fine the next minute, so long as I get it out.
Gabe: And I feel like we got this out, so I’m not mad about it anymore.
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.
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?
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.
In 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:
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