Whither art thou, Dickwolf?

The comic strip that divided a subculture

Something is rotten in the state of videogame discourse.

Now that the dust has largely settled, I think we can begin to assess just what happened since the infamous “The Sixth Slave” strip (pictured above) ran nearly six months ago, and why the controversy surrounding it reached a breaking point two weeks ago.

I felt it’d be negligent of us to let the recent Penny Arcade controversy pass by without offering comment. But before we go any further, let’s just clarify a couple points:

  • This controversy deals with some pretty serious and potentially upsetting issues, including slut-shaming, rape and threats of violence. These aren’t topics we would approach lightly, but be aware that this isn’t going to be your typical “I played a game, it was pretty good” article.
  • The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect those of any of the other editors or contributors here at Silicon Sasquatch. While I think we all share some common ground here, I wouldn’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth.

Everyone good with that? Great. Let’s move on.

Background

The shirt that has since been removed from the Penny Arcade store

There’s a very good chance you’re already familiar with the Dickwolves controversy, or, as site contributor Spencer Tordoff put it, Dickwolfgate. Much of this article was pieced together with the assistance of this thorough timeline of events. But for the uninitiated, here’s a quick synopsis:

On August 11, 2010, Penny Arcade ran the strip pictured at the beginning of this post — “The Sixth Slave” — based on the World of Warcraft Cataclysm beta. The joke was in how the arbitrary mission structure in an MMO leads to some profoundly amoral behavior; because the hero had already rescued the five slaves required to complete his quest, there was no motivation to rescue a sixth.

I’d wager that almost anyone who has played a videogame — particularly a massively multiplayer role-playing game — has run into a situation where the rules of the game run contrary to basic human decency. Situations in games where the protagonist can shoot innocents or perform other heinous acts without penalty utterly disrupt the game’s believability. It’s absurd, and absurdity is the basis of humor.

So yes: there was definitely a joke to be made there. But in typical Penny Arcade fashion, they didn’t stop at the baseline. Not only did the hero refuse to rescue one extra slave, but he was completely apathetic to the prisoner’s suffering of being beaten and raped by “Dickwolves,” which is where the controversy begins.

The strip prompted some readers to respond with concern and disgust. The most prominent example came from Shakesville, a feminist blog.

The right thing for Penny Arcade to do at this point would have been to admit that they had unintentionally upset and offended some of their readers. If they had simply apologized and acknowledged that rape is more than just yet another heinous crime — that it’s an issue that often leaves victims feeling perpetually belittled (or worse) by how casually it’s tossed around in society — things would have resolved in a nice, quick, amicable way.

Lines are drawn

The comic published in response to the negative feedback from "The Sixth Slave"

Instead, this happened. And now, nearly six months later, the strip’s creators (Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins) are still feeling the repercussions of their actions as supporters and detractors of the infamous strip continue to argue. To trace the back-and-forth would be an exhaustive process; fortunately, as I mentioned above, someone already did the legwork.

Things settled down for a few months until Penny Arcade announced on January 29 that it had pulled the Dickwolves shirt from its online store. Their reasoning was that, while they felt they had the right to publish whatever they wanted on their site (a right that, for the record, I don’t think anyone would seriously contest), they wanted to ensure that the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) was a welcoming and safe environment for everyone who attends.

I think that was the right decision. Unfortunately, that doesn’t put the issue to bed, as Krahulik mentioned in a tweet that he planned on wearing his own Dickwolves shirt to PAX East. Then things went from bad to worse. Threats of violence were slung from both sides of the divide. Prominent community members declined to attend PAX.

There have been some great insights from the community on the controversy, and in particular I’d recommend reading Courtney Stanton’s post on why she won’t be attending PAX East, which led to the shirt being removed from the store, and Arthur Gies’ astute summary and interpretation of the whole debacle.  But I’d like to draw some conclusions of my own.

What it all means

Here’s my interpretation of the matter:

  1. Penny Arcade is allowed to make comics about whatever they damn well please, even if they offend people. But:
  2. When people feel belittled, bullied or threatened by something or someone, they deserve to be listened to.

In my view, the real problem was never that Penny Arcade published a comic that used rape as part of its joke. It’s my firm belief that anything can be joked about given the right audience and the right approach, but given that rape culture is a very real thing, it’s not a topic I think should be tossed around lightly. But that’s secondary to much larger problem: When Krahulik and Holkins, with their millions-strong readership, use the word “rape” casually, they need to recognize that they’re no longer just a couple of guys making a webcomic out of a crappy apartment. They are among the strongest and best-recognized figureheads in one of the largest entertainment industries in the world. They’re at the forefront of a cultural movement. Their message carries far and wide into a culture that has for decades been rife with a bizarre, disgusting, offensively faux-machismo mentality.

Videogames have long been stereotyped as a hobby for out-of-touch boys and men, and make no mistake: there’s a very good reason for that. But over the years, things have been changing. Game-players are now a much larger and more diverse group of people than they were even three years ago.

So, when the de-facto mouthpieces of gamer culture make a joke that does more than just offend a few people — when they cross that line where people begin to feel threatened — they need to own up to it, apologize, and learn to be more cognizant of their readership.

Making a rape joke in poor taste isn’t exactly the high point of anybody’s career, but it sure pales in comparison to humiliating concerned readers when they express their discomfort.

If there’s one final point I want to take away from Dickwolfgate, it’s that there’s still a fundamental divide between the so-called “old guard” of videogames — the boys’ club, if you will — and those of us who feel like it’s time to grow up a bit and recognize that, as it turns out, not everyone playing these games is locked into a permanent state of male adolescence. It’s wishful thinking to hope that I won’t ever again be called a fag or have someone declare that they “totally raped” me in an online shooter, but change has to start somewhere. And if we can’t believe in the power and importance of a meaningful message, what hope is there for us as a people?

  • Kellen

    You completely ignore the fact that certain people in society want to be offended. This is a situation where a feminist critique of the original comic was COMPLETELY without merit. From my perspective, this nonsense emerged from a desire to call out to a sub-culture that doesn’t have the best record regarding its treatment of women. Why they chose to pick on this one at this time is strange; PA has used rape jokes in the past. Either way, it’s fairly blatant that a group of people on the interwebs were looking to be upset about something which led to this overblown episode of idiocy.

    Furthermore, the idea of rape culture is something that is on very very shaky ground. Many of the studies feminist theories have used to perpetuate the theory of rape culture are extremely flawed. And that’s not even taking into account the crisis of confidence currently facing the field of social psychology; there’s is systemic bias in the discipline that is only just now being recognized by academics. Furthermore, certain issues (specifically regarding race and gender) are taboo in the field, and any study that isn’t normative is

    Thus, I take issue when you say “rape culture is a very real thing;” no, it’s NOT reality, simply theory based on research that is at the very least suffering from a rather severe case of confirmation bias. Social sciences are pejoratively termed “soft science” by practitioners of hard science for exactly these reasons. So next time, before you make conclusions about the state of reality, you can offer a somewhat more honest assessment.

  • Doug Bonham

    I largely agree with Nick. I think I’m more embarrassed by how other gamers have shown their lack of maturity in their reaction, but I hold with Nick on his points — that sometimes, you just have to apologize for the joke and move on.

    It is an interesting situation for Penny Arcade to be in, though: every other major public relations spot they’ve been in, they’ve always been “the good guy.” Now? It’s questionable, and I’m interested to piece apart their reaction.

  • Aaron Thayer

    What’s important to recognize here is that whether or not the research points to there being an actual rape culture in our society, and regardless if people are justifiably upset by a joke that is much more tame than the worst Penny Arcade has done, the way these two figureheads for the industry handled themselves was completely fucked up. I just hope they understand the responsibilities they have as a business, and a method of entertainment. People can get hurt by humor, but pushing the joke won’t do anyone any good as we saw.

    • Kellen

      Granted, their handling could have been more nuanced, sensitive, understanding, etc. Public relations analysis aside, you have to admit Penny Arcade is an easy target for this type of critique. The two creators regularly interact with their fans, and exploiting this privileged situation, the “interwebs” completely warped what is, for all purposes, a casual conversation into histrionics and hyperbole. Twitter is NOT social commentary, and Mike’s “dickwolf” tweets should not be taken as such. He’s one man being snarky on the internet; but clearly, a monstrous personality. Let’s all scream bloody murder over a bit of insensitive sarcasm.

      Here’s some perspective: The Onion has dozens and dozens of stories that make explicit rape jokes.”Neighbors believe murderer only capable of rape” “Missing Girl Probably Raped” “Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue.” All of these articles make deliberate references to real world language regarding rape, even going as far as using public figures (“Israeli President Accused of Rape”). Nevertheless, any outrage directed towards the editors at The Onion has been minimal over the lifespan of the paper.

      Why is this so? First, The Onion, which has always operated under the wing of parody and satire, which has historically licensed humorists with certain privileges not extended to other social commentators. Second, The Onion has no face and their operation is fairly insular by today’s standard. Given this reality, taking the Onion to task is a difficult proposition as they are shielded by the nature of their particular business model.

      My point is that certain thin skinned people (that actively seek material they find upsetting) unilaterally stripped Penny Arcade of the privileges of parody and satire (which clearly they have fucking earned over the years). Then, these same intellectually bankrupt nitwits abused the easy access Mike and Jerry provide their community. If anyone speaks too much, they are bound to say things that they will end up regretting. This is simply the result.

      The sad result of this is that Mike and Jerry will probably be hesitant to provide commentary on future controversial strips. The attitude on these matters typically devolves into “it’s not worth the effort to respond” and simply offer a vague apology instead. This practice ultimately provides (shallow) placation for the bellyachers. Is this what people want? Allay the concerns of the most easily offended?

      I’m sorry, I just can’t perform the required mental gymnastics to make Mike and Jerry seem like the “bad guys” in all this.

      • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

        I don’t think many people at all are saying Penny Arcade shouldn’t be allowed to make rape jokes. I defended their right to do so in this article, after all. I think they’re saying that when people expressed concern about that kind of humor being encouraged through merchandise at PAX — something that is essentially a separate entity from the comic — Penny Arcade was understanding at the surface level (by removing the shirt from the store) but antagonistic and childish below that (in nearly every response afterward).

        Most of the blame can be placed on Krahulik, who made fun of things like trigger warnings, claimed he would be wearing his own Dickwolves shirt to PAX (seemingly in defiance of his company’s stance), and generally was insensitive and defensive above all else.

        This became an issue not because there aren’t any Onion figureheads. It’s an issue because there is no Onion expo. There is no community of Onion fans who meet on a message board to socialize and share a space. The issue is that Penny Arcade is more than a comic: It is a cultural entity and a common ground for its fans, and that fundamentally changes the equation.

      • Doug Bonham

        Basically, it boils down to “Don’t be an insensitive asshole about rape.” Joking about it was one thing, and I still think they have every right to joke about it, but they knowingly took the joke a step too far and then have acted insensitively about it.

        When somebody is accusing you of being an insensitive asshole, it’s not terribly helpful to be snarky, sarcastic or sardonic in reply. Too many people in the games industry and fans of gaming are childish and immature; check out the Gamers Are Embarrassing tumblr page or fatuglyorslutty.com.

        There’s a reputation that games are played by adolescent men, both those actually between the ages of 12 and 18 and those who just chose to stay there and buy land. I just feel like this whole Dickwolf thing reinforces that negative stereotype and makes me want to shake my head. It’s not about the particular details, it’s about how gamers react to Grown-Up Problems.

  • welp

    You completely ignored and then went on to trivialize all other forms of suffering and strife people suffer through and survive.

    Just because the dead can’t complain doesn’t make death a lesser fate than a survivable incident, those people have families, if you truly believe rape is worse than all forms of life destroying tragedies (war/drugs/starvation/disease/oppression), please write me a funny joke about a holocaust victim walking into a shower. Keep in mind that the first feminist blogger to sparked this “debacle” bragged about her dark sense of humor and how funny they though murder was.

    The Westboro baptist church uses their freedom of speech to demand that society abandons their freedom of speech to cater to them above all others, and these feminists are no different in their basic intentions, it’s selfish, they deserve every bad thing that will happen to their reputation from this.

    You’re quick to go on about PA but you ignore the obnoxious and accusing shakesville post they were replying to.

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      I think you’re putting words in my mouth. Where, exactly, did I trivialize other forms of suffering? Where did I suggest that rape is worse than any other tragedy?

      As for the Shakesville post: The only reference I made to it was when I mentioned that it was the most prominent immediate response to the Dickwolves comic. I mentioned it because it was integral to chronicling the controversy surrounding the comic. I did not necessarily endorse that article; in fact, the only articles I explicitly recommended were the ones by Arthur Gies and Courtney Stanton.

      I appreciate your response, but I think you’re making some pretty big assumptions about who I am and what this post is about.

  • welp

    @Doug Bonham

    You ignore that after the tshirts were pulled their later “insensitive comments” were replies to continued harassment and accusations. You’re using selective context to distort things and seem to think the feminists had no responsibility for keeping this going even after the apology.

    • Doug Bonham

      Still doesn’t change the fact that there’s a whole lot of embarrassing man-babies out there, and that their response to the wider world and bigger issues are also pretty telling.

  • welp

    @Nick Cummings
    “If they had simply apologized and acknowledged that rape is more than just yet another heinous crime — that it’s an issue that often leaves victims feeling perpetually belittled (or worse) by how casually it’s tossed around in society”

    This and your general argument is insinuating that rape takes priority over any other subject, especially lethal experiences, tackled in dark humor (humor meant to push boundaries and create unease). Though you didn’t go as far as to brag about making fun of everything non-rape like shakesville, you seem to be behind their general stance since it was PA’s reaction to THEM that you say went too far.

    Now for something different.

    Despite your belief that rape culture is real, it’s existence is disputed in Wikipedia, no one makes fun of rape in a situation where they also wouldn’t make fun of death, it deals with how people handle things they’re not personally connected to. You wouldn’t care about an uninteresting murder in the news unless you felt a connection to the person or place. The idea of rape culture is a narrow minded focus on a small part of a much bigger phenomenon, one which is the root of other things such as the bystander effect.

    In this context your “rape culture” is merely a part of human behavior, with the same root cause as what makes murder so funny to the shakesville woman.

    Sexism itself probably exists in the gaming community, but it shouldn’t be confused with such an accusing concept as rape culture, one invented by feminists, used by feminists, but unacknowledged in the world of science.

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      You’re welcome to read it however you want, but you’re making inferences about my morality that simply aren’t in the text. There’s no implication in that sentence that I think rape is worse than _____.

      Honestly, I’m willing to have a reasonable conversation about this stuff and to hear you out, but the tone and approach you’re taking with me is pretty disrespectful. There’s a reason we use our real names here: we believe in accountability and standing up for your beliefs. I’d really appreciate it if you’d give me the benefit of the doubt; I’ve certainly given you that courtesy.

  • welp

    @Doug Bonham
    That’s human nature, you’re biased viewpoint priorities the actions of PA over the feminists, while in chronological order feminists sparked this issue and continued it after the apology.

    • Doug Bonham

      *your

      I’m a gamer. I’ve always been a gamer. I’m looking at this issue through the lens of seeing how A. Penny Arcade reacts to negative press (since, to my knowledge, this is one of the first times they’ve been able to be painted as “the bad guys” in a controversial situation) and B. how gamers are tending to react as well. And while there are well thought-out points from writers like Arthur Gies (linked up in our article) and Leigh Alexander, there have also been LOL-tastic sarcasm bombs from PA’s Mike and mouthbreathers like Jim Sterling.

      I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong or who shot first because it’s a debate and I’m a grown-up who doesn’t need to be correct all the time. I’m watching what the gaming side of this is doing, and it’s sadly a predictable response.

  • welp

    Then I’ll just agree to disagree and leave it at that, though I’d like to answer your A.

    This same sort of thing happened with the furries when they were offended at a PA comic insinuating that a sexualised cartoon animal was bad, PA was accused of prejudice/bigotry and acted mostly the same way they did with the feminists and the whole thing played out generally the same way.

    • Doug Bonham

      Yeah but that’s furries. Plus that’s a nerd subculture, which I don’t feel has quite the same gravitas as a violent crime.

      Plus, again, furries. Come on.

  • Kai Samuelsen

    Penny Arcade has a long history of at least two things – 1) making extremely dark jokes that offend a number of people and 2) rejecting in the strongest possible terms the idea that videogames (or their own comics) desensitize, normalize, cause, or excuse violence.

    Jack Thompson says that videogames are murder simulators? String him up (metaphorically speaking.) And no one batted an eye. But when they are accused of doing the same thing, but for rape, we’re shocked and appalled that they dismissed the criticism. Their response wasn’t to fans who were offended. Those they ignored. Their response comic was to those who said that making a joke about a slave being beaten and raped encourage, normalized, desensitized, or caused rape.

    Everyone has been saying that they clearly should have apologized. But for what? For rejecting the rape culture paradigm? They’ve already rejected the idea of a culture of violence. And especially when those criticisms are coming from a website that describes rape culture only in terms of male sexual aggression – why should that be taken seriously?

    So someone on twitter asks Gabe “How does it feel to be encouraging a rape culture?” Do we honestly expect him to respond with a 140-character boiled down version of “Cherished longtime PA fan: We apologize from the bottom of our hearts that you or someone you know was offended by our comic. We are truly chastened. Know that henceforth, Penny Arcade will contain only the best in unicorns, bunnies, and rainbows.”

    The question I have that no one so far has been able to answer for me: What, exactly, did Gabe and Tycho do that they need to apologize for?

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      Well said, Kai. I think you make some good points. I can’t vouch for any of the other voices that have come up in this six-month-long debacle — nor do I especially want to — but I’m happy to summarize why I think they owe the community an apology. Again, this is just my own opinion, so feel free to disagree.

      Based on everything I’ve seen, read, watched, and taken in from attending PAX a whole hell of a lot, I think Mike and Jerry don’t want to be put in a position where they have to answer for their humor. I’ve barely met either of them for more than maybe a couple minutes, but I’ve been reading their stuff for almost half of my life. I like them. I think they’re good people. I think the Penny Arcade office is full of other good people. But in the last twelve years, things have changed dramatically for Penny Arcade. It’s not just a comic; it’s a brand. It’s a subculture. It’s games, books, podcasts, video broadcasts, a documentary video series, a charity and a full-blown expo — a big, ridiculously awesome gathering for gamers.

      But they’re humble people, and when something like this comes up — when some people are legitimately hurt and made to feel belittled and threatened — I don’t think they knew quite how to react. Removing the Dickwolves shirt from the store was the right thing to do, and I’m glad they did it, but that didn’t dissuade Mike from continuing to go on the defensive and belittle people by making fun of things like “trigger warnings.” I don’t think he condones rape — that’s utterly ridiculous — but I do think he’s demonstrated a pattern of generally not giving a shit about some very legitimate concerns of rape survivors and other people who have been affected by rape indirectly.

      My theory is that there’s a fundamental disconnect between Mike and Jerry’s perception of their roles as members of gaming culture and the reality of the situation. It’s probably fair to say that they are among the most widely heard and respected voices in gaming, and that they have built a community (virtual or otherwise) around their comic strip. The forums are the always-on aspect of that community, but PAX — a real-world gathering — happens twice per year. Like it or not, they are custodians over the tone of those events, and at those moments they’re not just cartoonists at a comic convention; they are figureheads. Their words and actions matter in an entirely different way.

      Yeah, PAX only happens twice per year, but I don’t think that means they only need to watch how they act for six days out of every 365. They have permanently transcended from cartoonists and commentators and are now, well, iconic. It sounds a bit silly, but it’s probably not unreasonable to call them leaders of a community. Based on how this whole debacle went down, I think it’s probably fair to say they didn’t quite understand just how much more public they had become as people. I just hope they learn from it.

    • Andy

      I think there are a couple things that I, if I were PA, would apologize for.

      1) Mocking trigger warnings without context.
      Triggers are real things that happen to real people, and the reference he made belittled triggers, without making any kind of larger statement.

      2) Releasing the Dickwolves shirt into an atmosphere already charged with tension over allegations of promoting ‘rape culture’

      This is like one of those movie scenes where character A is going to say something funny or ironic to person/group B, but before they get there, either a curtain is pulled away, or the group changes, so they end up saying it to a larger audience, and it looks really, really, bad.

      Gabe intended the shirts as a middle-finger to people who say that rape can’t be a subject in art or humor etc. It was reasonable to expect, however, that MANY people wouldn’t get that joke, and instead they’d be offended.

      Eventually Mike pulled the shirt, effectively saying, “I didn’t mean it that way, but people say they’ll be uncomfortable with the shirt at PAX, so it’s not worth it to me.” I think it might be appropriate to go one step farther and say, “I’m sorry if you felt attacked, that was not my intention in the least.”

      Of course, there are still a LOT of people who can’t see what he intended with the shirt, and never will, so it’s unclear how many people would be mollified by even that additional apology.

  • Zombie Soldier

    Alright, we’re done here. Move along.

  • http://www.gamingpixie.com/ Rochelle

    I can’t believe I’m still following this, but nonetheless….

    Personally, I’m surprised there’s so much outrage NOW. I’ve seen much, MUCH worse in other places, and this isn’t the first time Penny Arcade has used dark humor. Heck, it’s not even the first time they’ve referenced rape in a strip. And the greatest irony is that this one isn’t even a rape joke. The joke would fall apart if rape was perceived as less than a patently horrible thing that only a monster would ignore.

    The whole thing started, IMO, because (quite understandably) the PA guys thought being accused of “encouraging rape culture” — especially through *that* strip — was too absurd to take seriously. After all, to anyone who’s never heard the term before, it definitely sounds like it means… well… *encouraging rape* and calling it a GOOD thing. So, they handled it like they normally would: with mockery. And it all went downhill from there. Yes, they could’ve been more tactful and mature, but this whole fiasco didn’t start from the most civilized place.

    As for the shirts, I figure that that was more thoughtless than malicious. Personally, I took the Dickwolf as “Dick joke in the typical PA tradition” not “Horrifying symbol of rape”. If it weren’t for the controversy, that’s probably how most other people would’ve seen it, too.

    Although there are things in gamer culture that I find troublesome (using “raped” as a gaming term rates fairly high on the list), this comic isn’t one of them. Again, out of all the battles to pick, this seems like a weird one. Also, not everything is black-and-white. As Tycho pointed out:

    “I don’t have any intention of going into specifics, but speculating about my own sexual history or the sexual history of the people we know is profoundly unwise. I will also tell you that people deal with horror of this kind in different ways, and one of them is with humor.”

    Just something to consider.

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      Very well said. I tried to keep my personal values out of the majority of the article, but it sounds like my perspective on the situation is a lot like yours.

      I’m also a little shocked that there’s still so much outrage six months after the strip ran, but I think I know why. Personally, the strip didn’t offend me at all. I thought the follow-up was snide, but whatever — it was just Penny Arcade being Penny Arcade. It wasn’t until I saw how the situation escalated outside of the confines of the strip that I began to feel a little concerned. The fact that this issue hasn’t died after six months probably speaks a lot more to how some, like Krahulik, reacted to reader responses than to the actual nature of the strip in question.

      Tycho’s post resonated with me. I feel awful that everything has become so sensationalized and that aggressors on both sides have repeatedly crossed the line. That people were threatened over a stupid comic strip is unconscionable. I sincerely hope that the next time controversy comes to Penny Arcade, they don’t try to stoke the fire. But I’m still worried about the state of human discourse if this is how we treat each other when we’re afforded some amount of anonymity.

  • itdraugr

    “2.When people feel belittled, bullied or threatened by something or someone, they deserve to be listened to.”

    This is absolutely true.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to be completely overlooking the fact that Mike and Jerry are definitely feeling belittled, bullied and threatened, and the people doing that to them – the ones trying to crucify them – aren’t listening to them.

    Yes, Mike made some missteps in his angry, sarcastic responses to being prodded and attacked on Twitter. Who wouldn’t? In the end, he apologized on Twitter for offending people and for being snarky. At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that he’s not really going to wear the shirt to PAX, and that he just said some things that he didn’t mean in the heat of the moment.

    Another big problem with this whole situation is that Mike and Jerry are being blamed for the idiots who think they’re standing up for Penny Arcade, while no one is taking ownership or responsibility for the random people making vile, hateful, violence-threatening statements directed at Mike and Jerry. What’s with the double standard? I would really expect more equalized expectations of both “sides” in this argument, given that it’s been pained as being such a feminist issue.

    And as far as the “geek sexism” arguments go, I’m skeptical that it’s really a geek subculture problem rather than a culture-in-general problem. Some guys are sexist; statistically speaking, that means that some guys in every potential grouping are sexist. Hence, some geeks are sexist. Does anybody really, honestly believe that they speak or act for all of us? Sure, I’ve seen a handful of dumb kids who don’t have any filter between their brains and their mouths, and who certainly have some unhealthy attitudes towards gender, sexuality, race, etc., but I’m entirely unconvinced that they represent the overwhelming majority of gamers or the prevalent attitudes of gaming culture.

    Personally, I’ve seen enough /guildkick’s, permanent server bans, requests for “adult-only” guilds, servers and online game services to know that this “geek sexism” thing isn’t really a problem endemic to geek culture specifically. It’s a problem that society needs to take responsibility for. It’s a problem that both genders need to take responsibility for. And in the specific examples of these stupid kids who say offensive things just for kicks, it’s a problem that parents who let electronics do the babysitting/child-raising need to take responsibility for.

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      Thanks for the comment. That’s a good point — Mike and Jerry (not to mention their friends and families) have been through a lot as a result of this mess. It’s disheartening how the voices of the rational are so easily drowned out by the rabble-rousers and just plain assholes.

      You’re absolutely right that it’s a culture-in-general problem, but I would guess that, in a lot of other subcultures, it’s a far less prevalent and threatening problem than it is in gaming. I don’t think starting with gamers in particular is the right way to instigate broad social change or anything, but when people take a stand for something, that statement can’t help but be recognized by others.

      You’re right that everyone, regardless of gender, background, or whatever else, has to take responsibility for the situation. And moreover, it’s a situation where each generation needs to put forth the effort and consideration to teach the next generation even better.

  • http://www.itallstartedwithchronotrigger.com Jessica

    If I had any misgivings about this whole reactionary discourse, it’s the association with Child’s Play and any potential blow back the charity will encounter based on the controversy.

    • http://www.nickcummings.com Nick Cummings

      That would be a major tragedy if Child’s Play suffered for this. Just as PAX is bigger than Mike and Jerry, I hope people will continue to recognize that Child’s Play is still a wonderful and very important cause.

    • Andy

      Amen to that. That’s a real tragedy. Of course, that just means the rest of us will have to give more. That would be a real F-U to all of the trolls who threw fuel on this fire. :)

  • Kai Samuelsen

    Read the timeline again. When they release the shirt, about half a dozen blogs have objected, Shakesville being the most vocal. Gabe had already drawn a dickwolf when asked at a panel at PAX – at this point, it was a penis joke that resonated hugely with the fans. It was later that it became a symbol of @dickwolvington and @teamrape. I think people keep reading the t-shirt as part of the whole middle finger/second comic thing, and I don’t think the evidence supports that.

    Everyone keeps saying that they were dismissing the concerns of rape survivors. They never commented on rape survivors. There were rape survivors who were offended, there were rape survivors who loved the comics. Mike mocked trigger warnings due in large part to his reception at Shakesville (never forget that he did exactly what people are saying he should have done – he went to their blog and tried to engage in a conversation. They couldn’t be bothered). And, as they’ve said with every offensive comic they’ve ever done, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

    We keep saying ‘the very legitimate concerns of rape survivors.’ Yet, are those concerns legitimate? I don’t know what ‘legitimate’ concerns are, except in this context it seems to mean “you made a rape joke and that triggered me.” Yes, some people were triggered – but you are responsible for your own mind. It is literally impossible to go through life guaranteed to never trigger someone. I worked for a boss who was triggered once by our discussion of magic markers. I’m not going to take the blame for that.

    But if ‘legitimate concerns’ means, as some people have put forth, that because rape jokes might trigger rape survivors and therefore we should never make rape jokes, then no, I don’t think that’s legitimate. Some rape survivors find black humor, and gallows humor, therapeutic, and healing. And it means that we’ve completely lost the ability to distinguish between jokes that mention rape (as the comic did) and jokes that actually belittle rape (which do exist.)

  • Eric Buhr

    The point has been made elsewhere, but I’d like to mention it again here: much of the alleged mis-steps on Mike and Jerry’s part were, I believe, a crucial misunderstanding in terms.

    Like it or not, the terms “rape culture” and “rape apologist” conjure up very different images for someone who is not involved in the rape survivor or feminist fields (for example, someone like me). If (before this whole controversy began) I had heard someone call me a “rape apologist” for making a sexist joke I would have responded just like Jerry and Mike did: “Oh yeah, like me making this joke is going to incite one of the guys standing around me to go out and rape someone.” Or if someone told me that I was contributing to an “obesity culture” by making fat jokes (which I do as self-deprecation, being an overweight guy myself), I would laugh in their faces, taking “fat culture” to mean what it sounds like at face value: inciting or encouraging other people to be fat.

    Someone made the “Derailing for Dummies” post saying that it’s not the speaker’s responsibility to educate the listener. While I see some validity in that point, the reality is that Shakesville and (I assume) the people that responded to the original comic in emails would have used easily-misunderstood jargon without bothering to explain themselves. The widely criticized strawman in the third panel of “Breaking it Down” makes perfect sense if you consider the basic misunderstanding that would have occurred (ie, “contributing to rape culture” = “increased occurrence of rapes”). In that light, it’s exactly the same as their response to Jack Thompson and the video game violence alarmists.

    With regards to the Dickwolf T-shirts. Some people are interpreting them as an F-You to overly sensitive feminists. Some are interpreting them as an F-You to people who didn’t get the joke of “The Sixth Slave.” Some people are interpreting them as a way to mock the pain of their opposition. Honestly, I think it was more a result of “Hey, the word ‘dickwolf’ is funny, and it got a big laugh when Mike drew one at PAX, so let’s merchandise it.” And to be honest, ask someone who didn’t read PA, or who only read the strips and didn’t get involved in the controversy, and “dickwolf” won’t automatically conjure images of rape.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I think the PA guys made some major missteps. Mike mocking trigger warnings was beyond the pale. I think it was born out of a misunderstanding (ie, he may thought it was “triggering” offense rather than PTSD episodes), but by that point in the discourse he should have known that it wouldn’t help matters at all.

    Also, saying he’d wear his Dickwolves shirt at PAX after having just said that they hurt the inclusive feeling of the con was stupid at best and hypocritical at worst. I want to believe, based on the nature of Twitter, that it was a knee-jerk reaction to what was perceived as oversensitivity, but he still should have known better.

    But since then, Mike has apologized for his tweets, and I’m ok with accepting that apology as sincere. It seems that the furor is dying down, which is good. I sincerely hope that Child’s Play and PAX do not suffer as a result.

    And if nothing else, it has served to get a great many people talking and debating serious issues. I for one know a great deal more about PTSD, triggers, and the social theory behind rape culture (although I don’t agree with the definitions of it put forth by groups like the posters at Shakesville) than I did a couple of weeks ago.

  • meridian

    I don’t know how to say this in a polite way, but your analysis is pretty far off. There was no “rape joke” in The Sixth Slave. The moral indictment of the player was very clear. The joke was about the ridiculous nature of MMORPG quests and about the questionable ethics of in-game “heroes” if you look closely. In fact the joke would have made no sense if it weren’t assumed that the imaginary man inside the game being raped by imaginary creatures called “dickwolves” was a terrible thing.

    If the line were altered to say he was tortured by the dickwolves, would it be a torture joke? No, of course not.

    The response by offended bloggers was absolutely ridiculous, and the second strip only served to demonstrate how absurd their claims and implications about the first were. Your writeup of the events condemns the artist, but not the belligerent bloggers who put words into his mouth and verbally abused him. It even went so far as to say that he should have apologized for their willful misunderstanding.

    I’ve definitely lost some respect for this site from here on out.

    • Doug Bonham

      Thanks for commenting and reading the sight! Even if you disagree, we love that people are reading what we put together and taking the time to comment.

      However, I take issue on your points. First, if you read the article, you’d know we know that the point of The Sixth Slave comic wasn’t a rape joke. Quoth Nick, from the article:

      “The joke was in how the arbitrary mission structure in an MMO leads to some profoundly amoral behavior; because the hero had already rescued the five slaves required to complete his quest, there was no motivation to rescue a sixth.

      I’d wager that almost anyone who has played a videogame — particularly a massively multiplayer role-playing game — has run into a situation where the rules of the game run contrary to basic human decency. Situations in games where the protagonist can shoot innocents or perform other heinous acts without penalty utterly disrupt the game’s believability. It’s absurd, and absurdity is the basis of humor.

      So yes: there was definitely a joke to be made there. But in typical Penny Arcade fashion, they didn’t stop at the baseline. Not only did the hero refuse to rescue one extra slave, but he was completely apathetic to the prisoner’s suffering of being beaten and raped by “Dickwolves,” which is where the controversy begins.”

      So, yes, we *get* that.

      And if you read Nick’s summation of the situation w/r/t the Internet backlash, here’s what he has to say:

      “Here’s my interpretation of the matter:

      1. Penny Arcade is allowed to make comics about whatever they damn well please, even if they offend people. But:
      2. When people feel belittled, bullied or threatened by something or someone, they deserve to be listened to.”

      I feel safe in speaking for Nick a little bit here since we’ve discussed this topic at length, but our problem wasn’t with the joke or with the second comic making fun of the uproar. It was the responses in January and online where Jerry and, particularly, Mike made themselves sound very unapologetic and immature. Somehow in the point of making an apology it still became complainers’ fault that We Can’t Have Fun, and that’s not much of an apology at all.

      It’s like if you make an off-color joke amongst friends (who are used to off-color jokes) but you unintentionally touch a nerve with one of them. Say it’s a joke about dead dogs but you didn’t know their beloved pooch had just passed away last week. You didn’t know they would react that way, and you didn’t intend to actually upset them; it’s an honest mistake.

      What’s the proper response? An apology, or “well, I’m sorry I offended you. That’s your fault”? Would you really be that crass to a friend? And if you wouldn’t be that crass to a friend, what allows you to act like that online? The problem is the apology and behavior falls into the second camp.

      We don’t care that Penny Arcade make dick, rape, etc. jokes. We usually find them funny. We’re more put off by the bad reaction and unapologetic apology.

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