Hating Your Passion: Round 2

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.


36 thoughts on “Hating Your Passion: Round 2

  1. Oh Well says:

    Why could I tell from the trigger warning that this was going to be unapologetically biased, ignorant of the other side’s views and outright intolerant towards the freedoms of others?

    History has shown that the chronically offended or outright intolerant don’t last long in the gaming community or industry. I hope you feminists become aware one day of the vast diversity among the gaming community and learn that other people have rights too.

    And don’t try to lump in gays and racial minorities into this embarrassing 6 month temper tantrum over a word, as a member of both groups I don’t appreciate being used in what’s essentially a march for censorship or self censorship, something I’d never wish upon anyone who doesn’t agree with my life.

    You should be trying to change opinions, not silence them.

  2. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    I imagine by the fake email address, that you probably won’t be back. But I will, in the interests of fairness, leave your comment and respond to it.

    This is not about censorship. It never has been. It is about respecting your fans and their criticisms. Penny Arcade has actively dismissed the concerns of rape victims and their supports. They have actively acted to hurt those people. They have the right to do this; they have a freedom of speech. But I have freedom to call them on it and encourage others not to support them.

    As for intolerance, sure as hell I am intolerant. I am intolerant of any who support rape and rape culture. I am intolerante of ignorance, especially repeated ignorance in the face of better evidence. You have the freedom to be as clueless as you like. But I’ll call you on it every time.

  3. It’s weird, but after reading both the comics, and a fair chunk of the timeline, I still see posts like yours as not getting it.

    PA’s answer, and the tweets you quote from gabe, essentially say the same thing: “You’re not getting it”. They didn’t make a comic about what you complain about, then people got all bothered, then PA responded by saying “You don’t get it. Also, you’re at least disingenuous, because we’ve done much worse with the Fruit Fucker and you didn’t say anything”

    If I got accosted by a stranger on the street and asked something so stupid as “do you support rape culture”, I’d be hard pressed not to answer snarkily like gabe. I would use irony just like him, too.

    On the other hand, making a dickwolves t-shirt was indeed something stupid.

  4. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    The Fruit Fucker is a good contrast piece. Fruit being fucked is not large a concern anywhere in the world. No one attempts to blame the fruit for being fucked by a robot. There are no cultural and social forces working to marginalize fruit, to make their complaints and feelings unimportant. The fruit, being as they are no longer alive after being picked, are not emotionally traumatized by the action. The sight of a Fruit Fucker does not elicit any emotional response in fruit.

    All of these things are true of rape in our culture. We live in a culture that works extremely hard to trivialize rape, to make it unimportant, unworthy of discussion or attention. Rape jokes add to that trivialization. They contribute to the environment that gives rise to the concept that rape is ok. Because of how our culture is constructed, rape IS different than bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, torture and all of the other subjects Penny Arcade so loves to make comics about.

    Penny Arcade makes offensive comics. I know this. So when the first comic was released, I gave them a pass. When they reacted strongly, I thought they might not understand the situation, and reacted harshly to harsh criticism. I again gave them a pass, knowing them, that is how they act when cornered.

    But the t-shirt was the beginning of the end. This was were my willingness to go easy on them fell apart. I can not rationalize any way to endorse a sports t-shirt supporting rapists, even fictional ones.

    Then Gabe posted his long explanation of why they were removing the t-shirt from the store. It was a revelation. I thought “They get it.” Which immediately can crashing apart when Gabe stated on Twitter he was going to wear his shirt to PAX anyway, the feelings of others be damned, and by proxy encouraging others to do so as well.

    So then it was all clear. Penny Arcade DID understand the effect they were having, but they DIDN’T care. If their t-shirts caused guests at PAX to feel threatened they didn’t care. If their images promoting rape triggered PTSD episodes in rape survivors, they didn’t care. They did not care that they hurt and continue to hurt an already marginalized segment of their fan base.

    At its core, this is about compassion and empathy for your fans and fellow gamers. When someone says “that hurts me,” you stop doing it, find out why it hurts, and work to prevent doing it again. You don’t keep hurting them again and again.

  5. “The Fruit Fucker is a good contrast piece. Fruit being fucked is not large a concern anywhere in the world”.

    I suppose men being raped by wolves who have dicks for limbs is a very important and widespread concern, then?

    “When they reacted strongly, I thought they might not understand the situation”
    What I suggested is that maybe, other people acted just as strongly without understanding the situation.

    “We live in a culture that works extremely hard to trivialize rape, to make it unimportant, unworthy of discussion or attention.”
    I could not disagree more. It’s the same reasoning as “violent videogames promote / trivialize / encourage violence”, and it’s just as false.

    Otherwise, your answer makes more sense than your original post.

  6. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Thanks for the compliment. I have been talking about this for the last two days since this post went up. A lot of conversation about it helps hone one’s descriptions.

    Re: Fruit fucker.

    You are confusing the victim with the perpetrator. There is no fruit to traumatize by showing the Fruit Fucker. Fruit, being dead inanimate objects, do not have feels or concerns. Nor is fucking them a widespread problem. Rape victims DO exist. Rape IS a wide spread problem: 1 in 6 women in the US are raped in their lifetime. It does not matter who or what raped them. Rape victims ARE real people and their concerns should be treated with respect.

    Re: Penny Arcades reaction

    This may sound harsh, I do not care about anyone else’s reaction. Penny Arcade is not responsible for other people. They are responsible for themselves. I judge them based on their own actions. And not just on a single action, but as the post illustrates, a series of negative actions.

    Re: Rape culture vs violence.

    If one is murdered, the victims past behavior is never used as an excuse to release the murderer without punishment. Nor is the victim’s clothing or race or profession. Murderers never escape punishment with the argument that the victim should have struggled more, said no louder, or not “enjoyed it.” Murder is not considered a compliment.

    Rape is all of those things and more. This is just the tip of the iceberg in fact. This is rape culture which encourages male sexual aggression and socially condones violence against women. If you want more information about rape culture I suggest this excellent description “Rape Culture 101”: http://bit.ly/19ciil

  7. I don’t understand how your answer addresses my comments. You seem to be unloading stuff on your comment, but you didn’t answer any of my points. I could rebut “digital inanimate cartoons being abused by imaginary wolves have no feelings either.” In fact I will.

    What people are offended or upset about is not the reality of the dickwolves or the particular slave, but the act of rape, which is the same for the fruit fucker or the dickwolves. Hence me calling you -and the original protestors- disingenuous. I should note that you seem to give a high pass to every other crime ever shown on PA by this. Paedophilia, murder, assault. Please spare me the rape statistics, thank you. I know it’s a terrible crime. I don’t believe any of the others are less terrible.

    I really feel that you’re diluting all the good parts of your post with this.

  8. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    This arguing about the fruit fucker is going sideways. As is debating the extend of the comics effect on rape culture. None of this is critical to understanding my position. In fact, the initial cause of the pain is not the critical. It is Penny Arcade’s continued ignoring that they are causing pain that is the problem.

    People were hurt by what Penny Arcade did in the initial comic. Penny Arcade’s response to that pain was to cause it again with their mocking response. Then again to a higher degree with the t-shirt. And finally, with a completely disingenuous remove of the t-shirt from the store.

    If you hurt someone, should you not try and understand why? If you care about that someone, you ask why and try to avoid doing it again. Penny Arcade did a great job of this with the used game comic example I linked to above. Why not do the same here?

    As for the reader, if someone continually hurts you, in completely disregard for your feelings, why would you go back to them? Why support anything they do?

    Finally, it is perfectly OK if you, as an individual, decides that Penny Arcade did no wrong. If you weren’t hurt and offended, fine, you can continue to support them. This is a very personal decision, and I respect everyone’s need to make it for themselves.

  9. Donna says:

    Nicholas addressed all of your points; simply stating that he didn’t doesn’t equal a valid argument.

    I’m not a regular Penny Arcade reader; I don’t have to object to every disgusting joke they’ve ever made to complain about this one. Also, sometimes peoples’ minds change — maybe at one point, they were okay with a certain type of joke, and then later on, it became a trigger for them.

    When I looked back at the Fruit Fucker comics, I did not find them at all tasteful or acceptable. But Nicholas is right — the human victim is shown pleading and suffering, whereas the fruit is shown…being inanimate. It was fictional fruit, and it was a fictional victim — but they represent real things: one thing which cannot suffer, and one person who can. Not only that: he’s called the “Fruit Fucker,” not the “Fruit Rapist,” soooo… yeah. Regardless, the comics were in extremely poor taste and could very well trigger rape victims. I’m not okay with pedophilia, murder, or assault jokes, either. That doesn’t mean I have to object to every one of them to be pissed off about The Sixth Slave.

    It is true, though, that rape victims are very often subject to blame and ridicule for their own victimization — especially male victims. Imagine you are a male victim of rape; when you tried to get help after being assaulted, no one would listen to you or assist you. Then imagine reading “The Sixth Slave.”

    There’s also the fact that a majority of video games contain killing and violence — usually in a competitive sense, where you’re killing folks who would otherwise kill you — and that almost none contain rape. So most gamers are likely desensitized to murder and killing, but not rape — making it a more sensitive subject. I’m not here to debate whether that’s a good, reasonable position, only that it’s true. (Also, again, in games where the player kills, it’s against enemies who try to kill you too; in the very few rape-related games, the player rapes helpless, innocent victims. It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.)

    Nevermind all of these things I’ve just said. If I made a murder joke, and someone was triggered by it, I would apologize and say I didn’t intend to make light of their suffering. I wouldn’t mock them for being oversensitive JUST BECAUSE THEIR BROTHER WAS BRUTALLY MURDERED. OMG, what a sensitive hysterical person, right?! No. You just don’t do that crap to other human beings. UGH.

  10. FangedFaerie says:

    So a depiction of a fictional character that fucks fruit is acceptable, but mention of a fake NPC slave raped by non-pictured grotesquely exaggerated animals is not okay. What?

    So let’s move past that and talk about how people’s feelings were hurt. Okay, that’s fair enough. But I was under the impression that the PA guys were mocking People Who Were Offended by This Comic–in the first response at least–rather than Rape Survivors specifically.

    Trigger warnings are ridiculous, in my opinion, and I think Gabe’s post mocking them was spot on. Trigger warnings can themselves be triggering, ergo useless. It’s further ridiculous to think that we can put everything on a ratings and warning labels kind of system. Or am I the only one who rolls my eyes at the “Warning: Contents Hot” on coffee cups?

    The t-shirts and pennants were crossing the line, I thought. But I never took Gabe’s tweets as anything but sarcasm, especially because it seems pretty clear to me that he followed the path: supporter of rape culture -> supporter of rapists. I saw some people call him a rape apologist. I saw some people call his written words, because they weren’t respectful of other people’s boundaries, as evidence that he acted like a rapist. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if he actually wears his shirt to PAX.

    Rape and pedophilia are on the same spectrum, and I’m horrified that you would even imply that rape is “worse” than murder. You’ve never heard of justifiable homicide? You’ve never heard of people who bomb abortion clinics and kill abortion providers because they were “baby killers”?

    You’re not considering war, and how female citizens are unfairly targeted and affected by war crimes and genocide. You’re ignoring the entire dialogue that has been going on about waterboarding and acceptable methods of interrogation in a post 9/11 world.

    Bizarrely, you’re either conveniently ignoring or simply not thinking of the women who are killed by their husbands, and of the people who later shake their heads and wonder why she didn’t “just” leave him.

    And how many people think (often justifiably in my opinion) that suicide is one of the most selfish things a person can do, because of the pain and shame they bring upon their loved ones?

    Rape is not a special crime, in the way you’re trying to posit here. And directing your ire at satirists is an exercise in futility.

    By all means, don’t attend the con, and don’t visit the website. The lovely thing about true freedom is that it’s for everyone.

  11. ColdFury says:

    Actually, I think if I made a comment in a game like “Oh wow, I totally got murdered!” and someone came at me about how someone in their family just murder, and how DARE I trivialize something as serious as murder, and I OWE THEM AN APOLOGY, AND A RETRACTION, AND I BETTER THINK ABOUT WHAT I’VE DONE.”

    I would think, rightly, that they’re emotionally a bit out of sorts.

    I don’t think mocking rape survivors is a good thing. But that doesn’t give them and their supporters a free pass to flip their junk every time someone uses the word ‘rape’. Every argument I’ve seen has this entitlement thing going where “Penny Arcade owes their fans an apology!” No, they don’t. If you don’t like what they’re doing, stop being their patron. But they don’t *owe* you anything. You don’t like their free entertainment? Stop tuning in.

    As for the “Why can Penny Arcade have a serious discussion about video game economics, but not a serious discussion about societal discourse in regards to rape?” that’s sort of like asking the milkman why he’s not washing your car. He’s there to bring you milk. Maybe, on a rare day, he can talk to you about your milk. But his job is 1.) Show up. 2.) Drop off milk. 3.) Leave.

    Gabe and Tycho’s jobs are to write a comic and a news post about gaming. One time they talked about a gaming issue. Gasp and shock, they’re not equipped to have a discussion with a bunch of people about topics they’re not passionate about.

    And that’s the last thing. Everyone saying “NO, WE CAN’T SHUT UP. THIS IS IMPORTANT.” There’s a ton of important things out there in the world. Politics. Health care. Homeless people. Disease. Religion. Rape. Murder. Abuse.

    If we *all* talked about all the important things ALL the time, we’d go crazy. So it’s natural for people to wish for a ‘back to normal’ for an area of their lives that isn’t usually filled with the ‘serious’ stuff. Is it selfish? Maybe. But I think we’re all a bit selfish in our own ways, in that regard. You cannot dictate to me, to Tycho, or to Gabe where our passions lie. That doesn’t make your passions, or my passions, or their passions any less valid. But you can’t demand, as some people have, that any of us spend time on passions we don’t care to.

  12. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    But what if “People Who Were Offended by the Comic” are “Rape Survivors?”

    As for trigger warnings, you are arguing that because warning might trigger a reaction means that we should just let people unknowingly read a post that has a might greater chance of causing a reaction? They are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. The words “Trigger Warning” themselves alter the reader that potential stuff is coming. It gives them an out right away. Then the description is generally as generic as possible, again to limit the ability for the post to hurt them. So far, it is a method that works relatively well and definitely better than simply letting people stumble upon the trigger content mid-post.

    Rape vs murder, rape vs torture, rape vs war, etc are all false dichotomies. Just because I care and argue against rape culture does not mean that I am for all of those thing. Rape is the subject this post, because it is the subject of comic at the posts center. Just like if I wrote a post about torture, the comments don’t need to ask “why aren’t you arguing against war, its terrible too.”

  13. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    “Gasp and shock, they’re not equipped to have a discussion with a bunch of people about topics they’re not passionate about.”

    But by making the reactionary comic, by writing blog posts mocking their critics, by talking about it on twitter, they WERE having a discussion. Just not a civil one. And you are correct, it was one that they were not equipped to have, because they did not understand the issues. That is a great deal of the problem.

  14. Oh Well says:

    They were accused of supporting rape by a blogger and her followers over simply using the word rape, a blogger who then proceeded to brag about her dark sense of humor and how funny she thought murder was, and they responded appropriately based on what the Shakesvillers told them.

    Reading Shakesville gives a normal person the impression that they’re a bunch of conspiracy theorists. Let me pull a quote.

    “People who get beaten aren’t subject to denial of justice”

    That’s quite a claim from someone who hasn’t been repeatedly beaten for their lifestyle choice.

    Shakesville’s blatant bias being established, it’s not PA’s responsibility to go look up the feminist ideology and determine if Shakesville is accurately portraying the concerns of all feminists, It’s up to you to either try to clarify the concerns of feminists or otherwise act in a way fitting of the context, but not go on some ignorant march and assume PA is part of some organised conspiracy to bring down feminism.

    They’re acting the way they feel they have to act to not be censored by bullies, you say you don’t want them censored, yet despite their constant apologies and pulling the shirt you’re still doing this, I don’t believe you and I’m insulted by the way you drag others into it. LGBT and ethnic advancement groups would never resort to this level of childish bridge burning.

    “I am intolerant of any who support rape and rape culture.”

    They do not support rape, I don’t support rape, men don’t support rape by simply being men, they apologised, grow up, stop throwing the word around like it’s meaningless, you do more to trivialise rape with baseless accusations than 100 dickwolf comics could ever hope to.

  15. Donna says:

    I should probably start including Trigger Warnings. It’s a new concept to me, but I think it’s a wonderful idea – like a “NSFW” tag but much more important. So…

    [Trigger warning for discussions of rape]

    @ColdFury: You’re attacking a straw-man and oversimplifying the issue to the point of absurdity, which is pretty much par for the course for every single PA supporter I’ve ever encountered. So let’s break this down.

    If you, some random gamer, said something like “I just got murdered” and another person started screaming at you – sure, they seem like they’re a bit off their rocker. I happen to think that having a close family member murdered is a pretty good excuse to be off your rocker, but that’s not my point. My point is that Gabe/Tycho are famous, very influential people who made light of rape in a very public way. It’s likely more than a few of their readers were “triggered” by the comic – which is NOT synonymous with “offended.” Being triggered is a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and involves panic and anxiety attacks.

    The initial criticism of “The Sixth Slave” by Shakesville guest poster Milli A. was extremely calm and reasonable – not even CLOSE to attacking Penny Arcade or demanding an apology. Milli A. simply stated, “…I just don’t find rape funny. Because rape survivors exist among us, and after being victimized by rapists, they are revictimized by a society that treats even real rape like a joke…”

    There is certainly room for debate in the original post re: Dark humor vs. Rape humor, but the suggestion that it was some rabid, hysterical kneejerk is simply false.

    Initial criticism also argued that the comic encourages the rape culture, which was a fair point, even if you happen to disagree with it. I believe that laughing at jokes about “rape victims being actively denied justice for no other reason than because people don’t take rape seriously” (as Milli A. put it) reinforces dangerous suggestions that rape isn’t really that serious. I believe jokes like that desensitize us to the ubiquitous presence of rape. I also believe this joke specifically ridicules male rape victims. (The effects of jokes like this are plainly apparent: in the movie “Get Him to the Greek,” one of the male leads is raped by a female. When he tells the other male lead about it, he laughs – and the so does the audience, supposedly, as it was obviously meant as a joke. In “40 Days and 40 Nights,” not only is the male lead raped – his girlfriend BLAMES HIM FOR IT.)

    99% of the anger at Gabe and Tycho came from their reaction to the initial criticism: their follow-up comic. They completely ignored the first point of criticism – that they could have easily triggered rape victims – and instead oversimplified the second criticism to the point of absurdity (a recurring theme!). Instead of actually doing some research and understanding what “Rape Culture” actually means, they mocked their critics for espousing a patently ridiculous view, that the comic could directly cause someone to rape. This inspired a PA-fan backlash (including threats and violent rhetoric) against any and all PA-critics (especially feminists) that Gabe/Tycho implicitly and, sometimes explicitly, condoned.

    I am NOT a Penny Arcade reader, and I will never be (so telling me to “stop tuning in” is you missing the point), but I’m not going to sit back and take it while they say and do things I find damaging and harmful. Free speech goes both ways – they have the freedom to be assholes, and I have the freedom to criticize them for being assholes.

    As for your last little bit: in no way did Nicholas try to “dictate where your passions lie” or any bullshit like that. He wasn’t saying Gabe and Tycho need to be serious all the time, or that they need to use their public presence for the sole purpose of curing the world of evil. Your suggestion is a hyperbolic canard.

    Nicholas was simply noting the stark contrast between their responses to two separate incidents of fan uproar. When rape victims were triggered, Gabe and Tycho mocked them and made dickwolf t-shirts; when used game buyers were offended, Gabe and Tycho had a SERIOUS DISCUSSION with them.

    Rape victims and their supporters weren’t demanding a serious discussion. They weren’t demanding that Gabe and Tycho drop to their knees and grovel. They were simply criticizing their careless use of rape as humor. It wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if Gabe and Tycho had even simply ignored the criticism; instead, they chose to get downright hostile towards their critics. And THAT is where the anger came from; it’s hardly just because of the damned comic.

  16. Oh Well says:

    You claiming you don’t feel rape is worse than murder/war/torture is irrelevant when you get behind Shakesville, which has a well rehearsed reasoning as to why rape victims are more important than others, which started the dickwolves things by making accusations towards PA that other feminists wouldn’t of made, and dragged other feminists into the issue by using PA’s response out of context and applying it to all feminists.

    McEwen went as far as to brag about her dark sense of humor and how all of these topics were funny with the exception of rape.

    If you didn’t agree with Shakesville’s policy on rape vs other crime you shouldn’t of been trying to fight McEwen’s battle vs PA, their response was just in the context of what Shakesville accused them of, it was your choice to not consider the context and line up behind Shakesville, trying to distance yourself from them now is meaningless.

    Also the term rape survivor is very empowering I’m sure but it’s not fair to survivors of inherently lethal things like leukemia, I could argue that feminists trivialize the word to the disadvantage of actual survivors the same way you would claim PA trivialized rape to the disadvantage of rape victims. Though this leads back into the “me, me and me only” feminist mentality.

  17. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Focusing on Shakesville is a misdirection. They are not the only critics. Nor are they even the only feminists. This is not a criticism only from them, even if they are the initial source.

    Rape victims are treated different in our society than survivors of other trauma. A leukemia survivor will be praised as an example to others, as someone who made a heroic effort in the face of adversity. A rape victim, on the other hand, has their trauma doubted by police, by the press, even by friends. Their trauma is blamed on themselves and their own actions, rather that those of the assaulter. Suffering from leukemia is rarely blamed on the patient.

    Theses kinds treatment of rape are symptomatic of what we refer to as rape culture. It is apparent that you do not understand rape culture. If you do not understand this concept, you need to get further education until we can have an actual discussion about this topics.

  18. Oh Well says:

    You’re dodging the point as to why you take offence at PA’s reaction towards Shakesville, you’re willingly ignoring how Shakesville provoked PA’s reaction by outright linking them to rape and used it to provoke other feminists.

    It is not misdirection just because you say it is, it is the key of the issue, it was the beginning of how it all started, it was shakesville that provoked the reaction you’re reacting to, even if you attempt to overlook it, the entire feminist side of the issue is being judged based on it and the original comic by the gamer community. Even if you ignore it, they won’t.

    I’m glad you brought up the old rape culture defense because I’d love to make it about that.

    I’ve already read through the wikipedia article, there’s not much to the idea and the key factor to prove it’s existence is disputed (more on that later). It’s most heavily quoted definition of course comes from shakesville.

    It clearly looks like an aspect of normal human behavior towards murder, starvation and even genocide when we are not personally linked to it. What you call rape culture exists for the same reason why people couldn’t care less about the latest murder in the news unless they were linked to the place or person.

    The idea of rape culture is a narrow view of a small part of this phenomenon, treating rape culture as a separate and isolated entity from humanities indifference to other tragedies is as illogical as the idea of murder culture, theft culture (“he/she shouldn’t of flashed their wallet!”), homeless hate culture (“they should get jobs!”), starvation culture, strife culture, and of course homophobia culture (“he was asking for it with that flaming attitude!”) not that I expect you to sympathize with the troubles of people like me.

    They are not separate entities, they are all narrow slices of a larger behavior brought on by common awareness and a eventually desensitized attitude the public has of our imperfect world, without this indifference we could not function on the level that we do to make this society possible.

    Now onto the disputed bit, when presented with this argument feminists typically cite studies showing some very scary numbers for the frequency of rape in the US, the 1/4 study, 1/8, etc. Of course these numbers don’t reflect the say in which the studies were carried out.


    Example: The 1/4 study, probably the most often cited, suggesting 1/4 women will be raped in their lifetime. In this rape was defined in terms to broad that it included things that were completely unrepresentative of the crime the word rape is associated with, of the 1/4 considered to be raped, 73% of them did not agree that they were raped, yet were branded rape victims.

    If the survey was limited to actual forceable rape (the kind that feminists are supposed to be fighting) and women who agree that they were in fact raped, the statistic would drop from 1/4 (25%) to roughly 3/50 (6.75%).

    And of course we have the practical example of Japan, a genre for rape games, rape porn everywhere, etc. Yet per captia they have one of the lowest rape rates in the world, 1/20 that of the US.

  19. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Oh Well:
    I am not even going to put any effort into arguing with you any more. Quoting a biblical “university” website as evidence shows your lack of scholarly intent. Denying rape culture on the claim simply human indifference shows a lack of understanding. You methods have no place here. Please leave and do not come back.

  20. Donna says:

    [Trigger Warning: Rape]

    It’s hilarious that you make all these assertions when you can’t even get a simple facts straight, or even spell McEwan’s name. The initial criticism of the comic did NOT come from McEwan — it came from a guest poster called Milli A. Nevermind the fact that Nicholas didn’t even *mention* disagreeing with Shakesville.

    Milli A. explained why she, personally, found murder jokes less upsetting than rape jokes — she was in no way asserting that murder jokes are A-OK for everyone, anytime. Milli A. is a gamer, and a majority of modern games involve killing enemies. Rape, however, is not a regular part of most gamers’ experiences. She was merely stating that games necessarily involve the killing and subsequent resurrection of player characters – a wholly artificial situation which is not replicated in real life – and that such a fantastical event doesn’t hit the same nerve as a “joke” in which a rape victim is denied justice (because that happens every goddamn day).

    No one here has argued that it’s horrible to trigger rape victims, but totally fine to trigger torture victims. That’s a straw-man argument you’re presenting there, bud, and it’s a logical fallacy.

    As for the term “rape survivor”: it’s a wholly appropriate name for people who were attacked, probably had their life threatened, and who live day-by-day steadfastly refusing to give up and let the rapist win. Rapists rape for power, to diminish their victim, to assert their dominance over their victim’s life and body. Many rapists don’t just rape their victim; they beat and torture them, and often their victims are killed. Rape is an inherently violent act. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve never been raped; what makes you think you can assert that [insert random bad thing here] is so much worse than being raped?

  21. Donna says:

    @Oh Well:

    You may not agree with the definition of rape culture; you may not agree that it even exists. That’s a fair argument to have. What isn’t fair is to say “Shakesville brought this on themselves by criticizing Penny Arcade.” Because really, how DARE they suggest that casual treatment of rape encourages a culture that doesn’t take rape seriously?

    It’s not Shakesville’s fault that Mike/Jerry couldn’t be arsed to understand the actual meaning of “rape culture.” It’s not Shakesville’s fault that they deliberately misrepresented the criticism being presented. It’s not Shakesville’s fault that Mike/Jerry are reactionary and defensive and would much rather trigger rape victims than even attempt to be sensitive to their pain.

    You quote all these statistics like they’re cold, hard facts (even though you quote from an incredibly biased source). Nevermind that many rapes go unreported, unsubstantiated, especially when the victim is male. You attempt to differentiate “forceable rape” from “non-forceable rape” – seriously, what does that even mean? One type of rape involves force, but the other type is consensual? You know that rape is inherently non-consensual, right? If we’re talking statutory, okay, but I hardly think statutory makes up a majority of all rape – nevermind the fact that underage children cannot legally consent to sexual activity.

    Have you stopped to consider that the culture in Japan might not lend itself to victims prosecuting their attackers? That there is a huge problem over there with public groping? That maybe, just maybe, correlation of two things doesn’t imply causation?

    Why am I even arguing with you? You’re a damned troll anyway. And a pretty skilled one at that. XD

  22. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Thank you Donna. Glad someone gets it. It can be lonely when you’re surrounded by trolls. 🙂

  23. Kai Samuelsen says:

    “Focusing on Shakesville is a misdirection. They are not the only critics. Nor are they even the only feminists. This is not a criticism only from them, even if they are the initial source.”

    This is a response I don’t get, along with the one I’ve seen elsewhere on the internet: “The first comic wasn’t the problem.” People have focused on Shakesville because the second comic was a response primarily to Shakesville. And Shakesville (be it McEwan, or a guest blogger, or whoever) does not have a good track record for reasoned discourse. I went through the history of Shakesville’s “Rape is Hilarious” ongoing series (where the discussion of the sixth slave was originally put – entry fifty something – not going to go back and check.) Sometimes, it was an example of the classic ‘rape joke’ – something that trivializes or normalizes rape. Sometimes, it was a joke that might have been about rape, or not, or maybe just about sex, and it was unclear. There were a couple that were not about rape. At all. One was the classic “Kiss me. I like to be kissed when I’m being fucked.” (I say classic as it appeared in Dog Day Afternoon – it’s at least forty years old.)

    Everyone is saying that the problem was the second comic trivialized the feelings of rape survivors. I don’t think it did. I don’t read that comic as ridiculing people who found it offensive; I find it ridiculing people who said they were supporting rape culture. Yes, people say that their hyperbole shows that they don’t understand rape culture, that no one was saying that supporting rape culture means you’ll cause people to suddenly become rapists. But what if they knew that? What if their hyperbole was for comic effect, and they understood the criticism, and dismissed it all the same?

    Penny Arcade has a long track record of rejecting the idea that videogames desensitize us to violence. Sometimes people say that videogames cause violence (or even rape!) but more often it’s couched in terms that are extremely familiar to this debate: that it trivializes violence; that it desensitizes us to violence; that it makes us more cavalier towards violent criminals. So (and again, I’m just asking) what if they said I understand what you’re saying about rape culture – I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe that a joke which was not about rape (anymore than it was about slavery) is going to support a culture that treats rape as trivial.

    This is what I believe happened – they weren’t ridiculing rape victims, they were ignoring them. Later, true, Gabe ridiculed trigger warnings; I think he had cause to do so for two reasons. 1) trigger warnings were one more thing that he was being beaten with in this discussion, after he tried to go to the Shakesville forums to understand why people were suddenly offended by this comic; and 2) it’s not possible to use trigger warnings to make sure you never trigger someone. Triggers are just too diverse – I once triggered my boss by mentioning magic markers.

    But anyway – they never made fun of rape victims. They never said you should just get over what happened to you. No – they said, this is our comic; some people find it funny. If you don’t, that’s okay, it’s probably not for you. But to those of you who say we’re supporting a culture of rape and should apologize – we won’t apologize, because we’ve done nothing wrong.

    Everything else falls into place. The t-shirt? Since it wasn’t intended as a symbol of rape to twist the knife a little more for the victims, but instead as a juvenile penis-joke, what’s the problem? Gabe’s sarcastic tweets? I believe you have the right to say whatever you want to people who call you a rape apologist.

    But if none of this changes your mind – if you still feel the need to boycott not just penny-arcade, but pvp, PAX, and anyone else whose ever been in personal contact with Gabe or Tycho; if you feel that it is just not possible for you to tolerate speaking to someone who finds Penny Arcade funny, you can boycott me too. My name is Kai Samuelsen.

  24. Andy says:


    Shakesville is just as much a cause of this disaster as PA. Without them there would have been no initial article. Without their ignorance of satire and rape culture there would have been no reason for a 2nd comic. Feminists on the web should be really, really angry at Melissa for propagating misunderstanding and contention when there could have been positive discourse. She did as much or more than Mike to turn this into the giant mess that it is.

  25. Andy says:

    It IS shakesvilles fault for not knowing their shit. They misrepresented what rape culture is: that comic is not rape culture by any legitimate definition. They mocked and ridiculed anyone who came into their space to try to explain that, demonstrating the same defensive ignorance that Mike is accused of.

    At the end of the day, these ‘feminists’ made a huge mistake in their diagnosis of ‘rape culture’. After that, they had an opportunity to bring an important issue to light, to form an alliance with Mike, who tried to engage them in conversation. They blew him off. They refused to understand his position. They misconstrued his arguments.

    Let me make this clear: as long as feminists defend shakesville, their reputation will suffer. As long as anyone pretends that Melissa McEwan didn’t willfully escalate the fight when she could have engaged with respect, they have no ground to call Mike on anything.

  26. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    I am interested where you see any evidence that Mike wanted to have a polite conversation about this. In the public discourse, I see little of this. I would love to see your examples.

  27. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    The focus on Shakesville is misdirection because, as I said, they were not the only critic. More importantly, the person posting it was not a regular poster there. It was a guest post from Milli A, who is an admitted Penny Arcade fan.

    More so, in the blog post accompanying the second comic, Mike further elaborated that in “each case the emails I got started with something like “I’ve been a long time fan” or “Been reading the comic for years…” and then they go into how this particular comic really bothered them.” The extended criticism you see on the timeline has many fans. From the very beginning, this criticism was coming from the fans.

    From my point of view, whether or not your agree with their complaint is immaterial. The point is that a segment of the Penny Arcade was hurt, and they made that hurt known through emails, blog posts, and Twitter. Penny Arcades response to that hurt to go on the attack, defending their right to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences or hurt it causes. The Penny Arcade point of view, and the view you are endorsing here, is that they have the right to respond in as rude or mean a manner as possible simply because they feel slighted.

    It is one thing to take that kind of attitude toward someone outside your fandom, who doesn’t really care about you, like a Jack Thompson. But to do it to your own fans, people who you want support from? I won’t be a part of that.

  28. Andy says:

    The quote from a private email from Mike here: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2010/08/survivors-are-so-sensitive.html#comment-68551297

    His comment here, reiterating that he was being serious in his newspost:

    Oh, and Mike’s newspost: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2010/8/13/

    It ends in “In the end I just disagree with these people about what’s funny and that’s perfectly okay.”

    Did he get impolite? Sure. He gets sarcastic here:


    After he gets nothing but ignorant hate from the shakers. Everyone’s all up in arms that he mocked those people AFTER he tried to engage them and they refused to acknowledge that any of his points were valid. Then MIKE gets accused of being willfully ignorant? That is bullshit.

  29. Andy says:

    where did this happen:

    “defending their right to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences or hurt it causes. The Penny Arcade point of view, and the view you are endorsing here, is that they have the right to respond in as rude or mean a manner as possible simply because they feel slighted.”


    Neither PA nor I have ever said “[they have the right to respond in as rude or mean a manner as possible simply because they feel slighted.”

    What crazy, hurtful things have they done? How MEAN have they been? Where are these grand atrocities that they have committed against their fandom?

    Mike’s point was this: If you’re going to laugh and laugh and be a ‘fan’ when people get murdered in a comic, and then you get upset and offended when people are raped, you are a hypocrite.

    Let me put it this way: If you were offended by that comic, they don’t want your views. They don’t want you reading penny-arcade, because they will continue to make that kind of comic, and you will continue to be offended.

    In addition, PA thinks that people like this are ignorant, naive, and hypocritical. Guess what? Ignorant, naive and hypocritical people (like Jack Thompson) are often targets of mockery. These “fans” liked the mockery when it wasn’t directed at them, but now that they’re on the receiving end, they cry “Foul!”? That’s not surprising, but it doesn’t mean that PA did anything more ‘mean’ than they’ve always done. As Mike said, what kind of comic did you think you were reading?

  30. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Yes, Penny Arcade does not want my views. They have shown their priorities are different than mine, which is why I am not longer reading their comic. Which is the entire point of this post: explaining why I am not reading them any more.

  31. Nicholas Lester Bell says:

    Every one of your examples is after the second comic mocking their critics. That comic is NOT how you start a polite conversation.

    The news post isn’t bad. If that had come with the first comic (and the second comic and t-shirt hadn’t happened), the situation might have turned out differently.

  32. Andy says:


    I HATED “40 Days and 40 Nights.” I am glad to hear that I am not the only one.

    I seem to have a different understanding of the timeline than you do:

    “99% of the anger at Gabe and Tycho came from their reaction to the initial criticism: their follow-up comic.”

    I think it’s important to remember that the ‘initial criticism’ is not just Milli A’s post. It includes email exchanges between Mike, Jerry, and several unknown persons. These would be the emails mike refers to in the newspost that accompanied the 2nd comic.

    It’s also clear from Jerry’s most recent post on the subject that he and Mike DID, in fact, read more of shakesville and try to understand where they are coming from.

    That’s where the comments on the article are important for understanding their response. Milli A never said that Mike and Jerry were Rape Apologists. THE COMMENTERS DID.

    Mike and Jerry were responding to the people claiming that their comic encouraged rapists. Misunderstanding the targets of that comic makes it a straw man.

  33. Andy says:

    “mocking their critics”

    I cannot repeat this enough. YOU didn’t think that the first comic encouraged rapists or was Rape Apology. Other people did, and said so.

    An example of pre-second-comic polite conversation is here:


    Mike had an email exchange with someone who doesn’t think that rape can ever be mentioned, addressed, or referenced in humor, and he disagreed respectfully.

    The fact is that even after that comic and exchange, mike still continued to engage respectfully. Then he got fed up and made his sarcastic comment. After that, Mike did several things that range (imho) from wrong to just poor judgement:

    He made sarcastic comments on twitter. (oh the huge manatee?)
    He made a joke about trigger warnings. (I think he shouldn’t have)
    He made a dickwolves t-shirt (a poor way to make a good point)

    I simply disagree that
    a) the 2nd comic was an affront to… well anyone except the people it directly addressed
    b) Mike and Jerry have done anything worthy of a boycott.

    I mean, have you read Jerry’s post on the whole thing? He went to great lengths to see where the other side was coming from. He just came to the conclusion that he couldn’t bend his mind around their perspective, and they clearly couldn’t see his.

  34. Kai Samuelsen says:

    They weren’t doing it to their fans – they were doing it to people who said by making this joke you support rape culture.

    I know there is a cross section there – some PA fans believe that this comic supports rape culture. But you’ve got this idea that they took these hurt emails from fans, and made the second comic. And I don’t think that was the reaction. In their minds, they were attacking the Jack Thompsons at Shakesville.

  35. Yeah... No. says:

    I saw the pro-PA side of this argument described as a “graduate level course in not getting it.” That last reply is probably included in the textbook.

    Not that this will penetrate that thick skull, but try to zoom out and forget shakesville for a minute. The blogger there is not the only one who had a problem with the initial comment, and even among those of us who didn’t have a problem with that comic there are a lot of us who had a serious problem with PA’s handling of the situation from there on out.

    For some reason, the people who are so desperate to frame this as some kind of censorship thing (give me a break, and then learn what censorship actually means), or as the fringe opinion of some lunatice fringe enclave of man-hating feminists, repeatedly ignore the thing we’ve repeated a thousand times– this is an issue of common decency.

    If, as a result of striving to be a decent person, you make the decision to not use rape as a shock value prop in a comic or joke or whatever else, I think you’ll probably recover, and the people in your life who have been affected by rape (which there are, whether you know it or not) will appreciate it.

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