Done With Penny Arcade

This is roughly the same as something I put on my Facebook earlier today, only expanded in a few places and with a few pre-coffee typos cleaned up (and better, post-coffee typos added). A friend of mine asked me to post it somewhere easier to get to than the comments section of a wall post, and as I’ve meant to blog more for the last, oh, year or so, it’s going here.

Depending on how invested you are in videogames and the culture around them (and who you follow on Twitter), you may or may not be aware of the recent fervor surrounding mega-popular webcomic Penny Arcade, a shirt they made that offended a bunch of people inside and out of the videogames industry, and their subsequent removing of the shirt since earlier this week. The whole thing started last August with a strip called “The Sixth Slave” that involved monsters called Dickwolves, who’s only purpose was to rape their prisoners. Some people, some of whom were rape survivors themselves, took offense over their beloved webcomic suddenly throwing the sort of trigger words and imagery that can often bring about PTSD from their attacks, and wrote to Jerry Holkins (Tycho) and Mike Krahulik (Gabe) to let them know. In response to these complaints, the pair released a shirt in the style of a sports jersey for the Dickwolves, as well as other Dickwolves merch. Mike also posted to the Penny Arcade site mocking trigger words and those affected by them (see his post here, under “Dungeons and Dragons”), and they declared that anyone who took offense or was potentially traumatized by the trigger words had decided to find it offensive. There are also reports of them and their fans trolling feminist sites and other blogs taking offense at the strip, but I don’t have links for those. Sorry.

Flash forward to this week, when Courtney Stanton, a project manager in the games industry and rape survivor, wrote a blog post entitled Here is a Thought: Why I’m Not Speaking at PAX 2011. PAX, short for Penny Arcade Expo, is a gaming convention that grew out of the webcomic’s incredible popularity and now features two shows each year with thousands upon thousands attending. Courtney Stanton’s post (which you should take time to read) explains how, given Penny Arcade’s making and selling of Dickwolves shirts and merchandise, she no longer feels that PAX is the welcoming, inclusive environment it was meant to be. You can probably imagine why a rape survivor wouldn’t want to attend a show full of people wearing and selling shirts that could potentially bring a world of horrible memories rushing back. In response to her post, the forum trolls of 4Chan and Penny Arcade’s own forums have spent the last week spamming her email, Twitter, Facebook, and blog comments with images that just say RAPE RAPE RAPE over and over again, claims that she deserves to be raped again, threats to rape her to death, accusations that she’s lying about what happened to her and only doing this for attention, and claims that she’s trying to censor Penny Arcade (which is only true if you subscribe to the Tea Party definition of “censor”, but whatever). At one point the Dickwolves shirt quietly disappeared form the Penny Arcade online store (without comment from Holkins or Krahulik), which only made their fans more rabid. At no point did either of the Penny Arcade creators address their fans while this was going on – Jerry Holkins has kept quiet through all this, while Mike Krahulik took to making whiny posts on the PA forum and his Twitter about how a “small, vocal minority” had forced them to take the shirt down. Given the the devotion of the trolls already attacking Stanton, it’s really hard not to read this as indirectly encouraging their behavior.

Finally, late last night (the 29th), Holkins posted a statement to the PA site that you can find here. It’s more of the same “us against them” dialogue that he’s kept up since this first became an issue, a begrudged non-apology wherein he continues to play the victim of a bunch of joyless funwreckers who have bullied the most popular webcomic on the internet in to doing something they didn’t want to do. It makes no mention of the attacks their fan base have carried out on Courtney Stanton and others, it continues to marginalize the people who took issue with the shirt (while making no mention of the industry pressure on them and PAX to get rid of the shirt), and invites anyone who still has a problem to “chat about it at PAX” with him. Y’know, PAX, that event you have to buy a ticket to. Then there’s the thing of him posting this on a Saturday night, well out of anything resembling peak traffic time for a site that only updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. His statement is being put out with the trash, and will be gone on Monday with the new comic and news posts.

This is hardly surprising, given Krahulik’s behavior on the internet lately. When someone asked about people wearing the shirt to PAX in Boston, Krahulik replied that he’d be wearing his. When asked what the creators’ wives and female employees thought about the shirt, he said his wife (who apparently now speaks for all women) was disappointed they took it down. When someone tweeted at him congratulating them for doing a good thing by taking down the shirt, he replied “tldr” (or “too long, didn’t read”).

I’m by no means saying the Penny Arcade guys are all bad: In addition to PAX, Penny Arcade is also responsible for Child’s Play, a charity that has raised millions to buy games and gaming equipment for children’s hospitals everywhere. PAX itself has, up until now, had a reputation for being a friendly, welcoming convention for any and everyone. Apparently, though, that welcome only lasts so long as you agree with everything the creators say or do. Their reaction to someone publicly saying that shirt they made contains trigger words and imagery that could really mess up victims of assault and rape is to announce they’ll be wearing theirs to the show. Their handling of the situation has been passive-aggressive at best and cowardly at worse, and has pushed me to the point of not wanting to be a part of anything involving them. I’ve read their strips regularly for nearly ten years now. I’ve bought stuff from their stores, donated to Child’s Play, and had plans to try and attend PAX in 2012 or the year after. Not any more. There are other webcomics to read, other things to spend my money on, and other charities to donate to doing good work. I’m sure Tycho and Gabe won’t mind.

The Dickwolves thing is far from over, and it’ll be interesting what next week brings. There are a few questions I and probably several others are very curious about in all this:

- Where is Jerry Holkins in all this, and why is he keeping silent while his partner continues to make them both look like tools?

- Mike Krahulik has spoken before about having PTSD reactions similar to what others with PTSD go through, only related to drugs and drug abuse. If that’s the case, why isn’t he more understanding of why someone would be hurt by his mocking of trigger words and going out of his way to encourage it in others? (Update: Apparently he’s never publicly described what he goes through as PTSD, so I’ve changed the wording to reflect that.)

- Apparently Krahulik has told one entire person to lay off Stanton on twitter. When, if ever, is he going to rein in the rest of them? Do the Penny Arcade creators really not understand that they’re at least partly responsible for the storm of hate and death threats their devoted fans have been hurling for the last week?

UPDATE: Debacle Timeline has a full timeline of this whole mess, starting with the original strip and continuing to update with any relevant turns of events as they happen.

4 Responses to “Done With Penny Arcade”

  1. Tweets that mention Expertologist ยป Done With Penny Arcade -- Topsy.com says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Lamb, ladysoleil. ladysoleil said: Penny Arcade, you have failed me. Thanks for pointing out once again that women are unwelcome in geek culture. http://bit.ly/gfAteR [...]

  2. The 8-Bit Cubist » Musing: Art, Rape Shirts, Wolves, and the Gamer Culture says:

    [...] Good backstory on the entire issue can be found here. [...]

  3. That thing with Penny Arcade (plus, better places than PAX in which to spend your time and money) | Deirdra Kiai Productions says:

    [...] I won’t go into details — there’s a good summary as to what’s been going on here, and the fabulous Kirby Bits has been writing a lot about the issue from a more personal [...]

  4. Dickwolves and Why They Are a Problem | says:

    [...] many have coverd this issue much more eloquently than I ever could. That said, I feel I must add my 8-bits here, as the only way to learn [...]