The past is full of unfortunate events. Actions taken with little to no experience, wisdom, and certainly no hindsight to guide them can have profound effects. We can, at least, hope to learn from them however. Let me take a moment to discuss a controversy, which is still settling, called Penny Arcade’s dickwolves.
First some context, back in 2010 Penny Arcade posted a comic which mentions rape, now infamously known as the dickwolves comic. Now rape is a serious issue and our society has problems with addressing it and many other female related social issues. However when the comic began receiving criticism focusing on the mention of rape and not the intended commentary on moral ambiguity in games, Mike Krahulik, more well known as Gabe and co-creator of Penny Arcade, responded by mocking the critics, claiming attempts to censor his work and an issue of free speech. This was the start of the actual controversy as fans and detractors angrily attacked each other vocally. The issue exploded further after merchandise referencing the comic was released. Ultimately the merchandise was removed, despite Mike Krahulik public protests, and the entire sitaution settled, until recently when Mike mentioned his regret over the merchandise being removed at a recent PAX 2013.
This issue is very complicated and I covered it in a very broad manner above. I did so because I wanted to share the following links that cover the issue from various viewpoints that hopefully will let us all learn from this. I provide the following links to inform people regarding various viewpoints of the controversy.
The first is a personal post on tumblr by someone claiming to have attended the 2013 panel. The post is effectively anonymous and can’t be verified, but that isn’t the point in sharing it. It’s the tale of a rape victim, who met her raper at PAX and despite the negative associations, continued to attend PAX, that is until she heard Mike’s comments about the dickwolves. The article is a powerful chronicle.
The point of linking to this article is two-fold. One to understand why the original criticisms of the dickwolves comic was raised. What effects including rape in a joke, even if the joke wasn’t about the rape, can have upon people. The topic of why it perpetuates rape culture is left for another time. The second is to understand why Mike just mentioning the comic has rekindled this controversy. Why people would consider not attending PAX any further.
Because many people are, and not just attendees but companies as well. Many people have been posting about how Mike’s and the reactions of some of Penny Arcade’s fans are wrong. One such response has been from Wired.com’s Rachel Edidin.
Rachel Edidin covers the controversy very quickly, providing commentary as to why this event is holding gaming as a culture back and why people should just leave PAX behind. Which I feel is a sad statement to have to make. PAX is well-known for claiming to be for everyone, but if what Rachel and the above blogger say, it is only giving lip service to this ideology.
So why is Mike behaving this way? One of the prominent figures of the gaming community mocking critics and inciting bully behavior in his fans?
MovieBob, creator of The Big Picture, The Game Overthinker, and other web series, provides what I feel is a very fair and gamer centric viewpoint of the entire situation, with particular insight into why Mike might be having this way. Warning this is a long article and it rambles a little, but it covers the entire situation and is well worth reading.
Ultimately what Movie Bob is trying to say is Penny Arcade was not wrong to post the comic but at the same time criticizing it for how lightly it uses rape was also not wrong. Neither side was necessarily wrong in this situation. Mike Krahulik’s response to the criticism however, was completely wrong.
Instead his mocking responses very indicative a mentality one might have had in the 80s and 90s. When comics and gaming were often attacked by people wishing to censor it for various ignorant and unfounded reasons. This may have been his reasoning for his actions, even if they still wrong. What is worse his actions inspired unconscionable attacks against critics of the comic by many fans of Penny Arcade. Some of these fans did it out of loyalty, and sadly some did it because of the still pervasive and ignorant misogyny that pervades gaming culture.
Thankfully the tale has something of a happy ending.
Mike has apologized for all of his actions after the initial strip. I particularly like Mike’s comments about PAX, which I hope is enough to make people reconsider their calls for boycotting the convention.
I sort of see PAX like I see my children. Yes I helped make them and yes they have a lot of me in them but they can be better than me. They can take the good stuff I have and leave out all the bad. Like my kids, PAX makes me want to be better.
At the very least all of us can learn from this controversy. Take the time to learn the difference between criticism and censorship, of the reasons why people become offended, and what can be done to fix the problems of rape in our culture, rather than attack the symptoms.
If you’re interested in other reactions to this entire controversy, one blogger has taken it upon themselves to archive this from 2010 and beyond at the this tumblr, in two large link based posted.