Trigger warning: discussion of rape and rape culture
As a proud member of geek culture, my place in society is general at its edges. Even with the rise in video game popularity, I still on the fringes due to a love of role-playing games, fantasy novels and everything Star Wars. Finding acceptance of this is rare. There are not many unifying factors that bring this all together. Our culture has few grand events and fewer of them are fan driven instead of industry driven.
The two minds behind Penny Arcade, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, understood this phenomenon, being nerds themselves. They built an online community that was open to all of us, then gave this community physical form in the Penny Arcade Expo. PAX is supposedly this mystical experience, where all are equal and welcome.
At least that is what I thought, until the events of the past year proved otherwise. This story is complex with lots of twists and turns. I’ll cover the highlights that pertain to my issues, but you can see a great break down here at the Debacle Timeline.
The spark that started this all was when Penny Arcade created a comic called “The Sixth Slave” in August. This comic uses rape as part of its joke. A significant number of their fans were legitimately bothered by this. As is normal in the internet age, they took the blogsphere and the Twitter and expressed their concerns.
Penny Arcade responded in the worst possible way. Rather than listening, they immediately circled the wagons. They dismissed the criticism from their fans, openly mocking the concepts of trigger warnings and rape culture. Their only concern was to mock any objectors and secure their popularity. Not once did they acknowledge that the joke actually caused their fans emotional pain.
In fact, PA instead decide to take their pain inflicting to the next level in October, with the announcement of a Dickwolves t-shirt. Now instead of merely mocking the concerns of hurt fans, they created a uniform for “loyal” fans to wear. I imagine their thought process was that it was good for showing loyalty to “Team Penny Arcade.”
Of course, if you read the comic, it is also a great way of showing support for “Team Rapist.” The idea that anyone would want to wear such a shirt is hard for me to understand. It takes the disgard for fan complaints with the initial comic and gives it physical form. Any fan who was hurt by the comic will have that injury reinforced every time they see another PA fan wearing a Dickwolves t-shirt.
Which brings us to PAX. Where PA fans will gather in mass. Where a significant portion of them may be wearing said Dickwolves shirts. How would that feel if you were hurt by the entire incident? Might you have second thoughts about going? Of course. It didn’t take long for people to decide not to go. Even speakers refused invitations.
This apparently got the attention of the Penny Arcade. In January, six months after the comics and four months after the shirt went up, the shirts were removed from the store. Mike wrote a post that, while being a bit patronizing, had a paragraph that made me think he was getting it:
PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable. It’s how they feel and according to them at least, removing the shirt would make them feel better about attending the show. For me that’s an easy fix to the problem. I really don’t want to have this fight and if not having it is as simple as not selling a shirt then I’ll do it. Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole.
It appeared that he legitimately understood the criticisms direct at them, that the shirts made people uncomfortable. He spoke of preserving PAX, of continuing its role as a place available to geeks of all types. Removing the shirt was the right thing to do, and it looked like Penny Arcade was moving in the correct direction. Twitter proved me wrong.
When asked how it feels to promote rape culture, he said:
cwgabriel It feels pretty good, why?
A comment to his wife:
cwgabriel @karajanae Didn’t you know honey? You are married to a rape apologist! I have a busy day of perpetuating rape culture. I might be home late.
And the culminating tweet that really set me off. When asked if it was ok to wear a Dickwolves shirt to PAX:
cwgabriel I will be wearing mine to PAX.
So he does not get it. In fact, he continues to openly mock his critics, mock the fans who were hurt and continue to be hurt by his actions. Removing the t-shirt was merely a false front, a public show put on in order to appease people’s complaints. PA had not changed their point of view; they did not care about rape victims, rape culture or making any difference in gamer culture. They merely want to have their cake and eat it to. The fact that Mike would willing wear the shirt to PAX (and by proxy encourage others to do so) is terrible. It is like a sick twisted (ok more twisted) version of the catch phrase “bros before hoes.” Penny Arcade has chosen to fist bump with their privileged friends instead of reaching out the victimized portion of their fan base.
There is a certain level of despair going on in the community that this will ruin PAX. Dan Plays Game wrote this in a post about the issue:
So I’m asking everyone who’s reading this (all ten of you)…please stop talking about Dickwolves. Please. Don’t ask about it, don’t wear the shirt, don’t make jokes…please. This thing has to die in order for PAX to keep its magic and for people to be carefree the whole weekend.
I am sorry Dan, but the magic is gone. Penny Arcade, through a series of actions that started ignorant and moved into malicious, broke the heart of PAX. Never will it have that innocent inclusionary magic for everyone ever again. I now know that Penny Arcade actively does not want me. They do not want rape victims and their supporters. A joke is more important than those of us who stand in opposition to rape culture.
One last point. Penny Arcade is not immune to fan uproar. There is a very recent example: this comic about mocking people who buy used games. Instantly it cause a flood of responses, in the same manner as the Dickwolves comic: people were offended. So Penny Arcade obviously then mocked them with another comic, made shirts of “Team Actual Customer” right?
No. They backpeddled THE SAME DAY, acknowledging that they once traded-in games and bought used. They listened to their fans complaints, with Mike digging through his email and twitter accounts, readings legitimate complaints. To top it off, he put a selection of this complaints on the PA blog itself, giving equal time to his critics as himself. Thefremen puts this best:
So when a rape victim says “oh hey, I don’t feel safe going to your con when you’re selling ‘team rape’ shirts” that’s worth counter attacking, stonewalling, and acting like a giant ass for months, but when a dude bro says “oh hey I buy used games all the time but my hat isn’t backwards like that guy in the comic!” then it’s worth sitting down and having a rational conversation instead of sticking to your guns and being a huge jerk?
So what now? If you have read my post about sports, you know where this is headed. At this point, there is no other alternative. In fact, Mike has kindly illustrated the situation for us:
People complained about the strip and that’s fine with me, my response as always is “if you don’t like it don’t read it.” It is very easy not to log on to Penny Arcade and read our bullshit. We’ve always made offensive comics and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
No PAX, no Penny Arcade. I will not support them with my presence, my money, or my viewership. Similarly, I have to say no to the inner circle of PA supporters. Scott Kurtz and PVP must go; he works in their office and used his twitter account to make it abundantly clear he stands with their dismissal of rape culture. Scott’s Blamination partner and fellow member of the PA inner circle Kris Straub (Chainsawsuit, Starslip) is gone as well. There will probably be more as I realize how far this spreads. The only exception is Child’s Play, but only because I can use that to do good without anything going to support Penny Arcade itself.
I know gamer culture sucks toward women, toward LGBT, toward minorities. It is a very hostile place. But Penny Arcade claimed to be different. And that’s the part that makes this hurt so damn much. We had entrusted them with building something for all of us, but instead they made something for only some of us.
Or rather some of them, since it is not for me.
-That is all.
Update: From the comments and feedback, it is apparent that my position needed some further clarification. I have written more here: My Issue With Penny Arcade: Explained Again.