Finally we have the main event.
Penny Arcade and the Dickwolves.
Those of you who know about this quite possibly saw it heading this way. Those of you who don’t, you’ll need some backstory. A whole lot of backstory. I’ll try to keep it short and relevant (but will possibly fail. my apologies).
It all started on 11 August 2010 with this comic strip entitled “The Sixth Slave”:
I remember this strip pretty well. I remember it because I laughed. That’s notable because I don’t actually laugh at Penny Arcade all that much. Most of their strips fall somewhere between a mild titter and blank-faced apathy. However it’s received, it takes all of 20 seconds to read and then I move on about my day. But “The Sixth Slave”, yeah, I read that one and laughed. Ages ago I myself made this very observation in City of Heroes with supposedly being a superhero, but out-leveling an area means no longer giving a shit that people are being mugged on every street corner.
So in summary: I get the joke. I laughed at the joke. I then went about my business.
13 August 2010, and it’s time for another strip. This one is called “Breaking It Down”:
I read this strip too, though I didn’t remember it until recently. The reason I didn’t remember it is that I didn’t think it was funny. I went exactly no further with it than that. read…not funny…next.
It should be noted that I’m not part of the Penny Arcade community. Aside from the strip being part of my network of site feeds, I have no idea what is ever said about anything in relation to it. I didn’t stop to learn anything about the reaction to “The Sixth Slave” that lead to “Breaking It Down”. My involvement with the PA strip was no more than looking for a funny. I didn’t find it that day so I moved on.
Fast forward to last week. I begin to hear rumblings in the gaming community about some pretty nasty shit being directed toward one of its own, Kirby Bits aka Courtney Stanton. Relevant things to know about Courtney: she’s female, she’s feminist, she’s outspoken, she’s a rape survivor, and she’s pretty damned pissed at Penny Arcade.
All of this began to come down last week, on 25 January. Well Egypt started doing a little thing of their own on the same day, and my focus shifted. I read a bit, but didn’t get too deep into the muck. Later in the week some much more important personal stuff caused a focus shift again, so I didn’t come back to this for a while.
Things I learned before Monday:
(Trigger Warning for attempts to coerce laughter through foul language, Dungeons, Dice rolling, contempt for Hydra’s bodily autonomy,Dragons,)
– There’s pretty significant backlash with the shirt being a particular focus, for reasons that I’ll go into shortly.
– Fast forward to 25 January 2011. Kirby Bits talks about why she will not be speaking at PAX East 2011.
– 26 January 2011, the Dickwolves shirt is quietly, without comment, removed from its store. Penny Arcade is thanked by many of its critics.
This is where I set my bookmark in the debacle. Overall, it seems a pretty decent place to let the matter rest.
I was in for quite a surprise when touching base again a few days later.
The outpouring of just … base vitriolic hatred I saw toward women in general and Kirby Bits in particular took my breath away. I’m still floored by it. Since Monday morning, I’ve been spinning this around and around in my head like a centrifuge, trying to separate out my reason from my feelings, and I can’t get away from this basic central fact:
On the one hand you have people speaking emotionally and angrily because they have been traumatized in the most violently invasive life-destroying way imaginable and they feel belittled, trivialized, condescended to and made the stuff of punchlines.
On the other hand you have people raging at rape survivors because they cannot buy a t-shirt.
Whatever else my feelings, I cannot get around this. I cannot believe that I’m seeing this happening, here, now, before my eyes. This is a visual breakdown of just some of the comments that have been directed at Kirby Bits over this.
Over a t-shirt, guys.
Over. A. Fucking. T-shirt.
It breaks my heart.
But we’re not done.
On 29 January 2011, Gabe posted the following explanation for the Dickwolves shirt removal. His post is copied here in its entirety:
It’s true that we have decided to remove the Dickwolves shirt from the store. Some people are happy about this but a lot more of you are upset. You think we’ve caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you’re not entirely wrong. let me at least break down why we did it though.
First of all I would never remove the strip or even apologize for the joke. It’s funny and the fact that some people don’t get it, or are offended by it doesn’t change that. 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. If jokes about violence,rape,aids,pedophilia,bestiality,drugs,cancer,homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic.
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.
Now for some people removing the shirt isn’t enough. They don’t want to come to PAX or support PA because of the strip or because they think Tycho and I are perpetuating some kind of rape culture and that’s a different matter. First off it assumes a lot about us that simply isn’t true but more importantly it’s not something I can fix. I’ve gotten a couple messages from people saying they are “conflicted” about coming to PAX. My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it. In fact give me your name and I’ll refund your money if you already bought a ticket. I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order.
So there you go. It’s not a simple decision. No matter what we do we’ll have people mad at us. If you want to talk more about it we can chat at PAX.
At first reading this, I felt better. What Gabe’s saying, in some ways, makes sense and mirrors some of my own feelings. I can agree, 100%, that Penny Arcade is one thing, an entity unto itself, while PAX and Child’s Play are another. I’m on-board with this. I agree with it completely.
I’m even with Gabe toward the end: “Don’t come if you don’t feel you should. If you’ve already bought tickets, we’ll refund your money.” That sounds completely reasonable. Generous, even.
Then I’m sucker punched. “I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order.”
Wow. I just … wow. That’s not for the benefit of anybody who’s been genuinely hurt by this. That’s not attempting to meet someone halfway. That’s nothing short of a colossally over-sized ego thinking that what they do is so awesome it is utterly irresistible, regardless of the depth of pain you might be feeling. And even then, even if you did want to come so badly that you’d push all that hurt aside? Fuck you. We don’t want you here.
I’ve been in a whirlwind about all this. I’m very torn. As I mentioned above, I’m partially on Gabe’s (and presumably Tycho’s, though he’s yet to speak out) side. I don’t think there should be anything we can’t talk about. I don’t think there’s anything we shouldn’t joke about. I think that we have to keep the light shining on every facet of the human condition to better be aware of it, to better understand it. Joking about things is a way of dealing with some of the truly horrible shit we’re capable of doing. Once one subject becomes taboo and untouchable, we pave the way for any subject to become taboo and untouchable.
So I am completely behind PA creating that strip and then keeping it up even in the light of all this. Hell, I still think it’s funny. As Gabe himself says, this isn’t the first time they’ve done a strip that offended someone, and it certainly won’t be the last.
But somewhere between “The Sixth Slave” and “Breaking It Down”, this became something much, much more. This became personal. This became a vendetta.
All those times that Penny Arcade has been offensive? All those emails and complaints that Gabe and Tycho doubtless receive every week? Where are the rebuttal strips to those complaints? Where are the hurtful, directly-targeted side comments in subsequent blog posts? Where is the merchandising for the violently murdering AIDS-riddled drug-addicted dog fuckers?
The problem with the Dickwolves shirt is really pretty simple. Opponents argue that the logo design (here it is again) is done in the style of sports team shirts, which individuals wear to show their support. We know exactly one thing about Dickwolves, and that is that they rape. The argument, then, is that this shirt could be seen as “Go Dickwolves!” or, in other words, “Go Rapists!”
Now I don’t think that was the intent per se, I really don’t. But you cant separate out the release of this shirt on the heels of the “Breaking It Down” strip – again, the only time in ten years that Gabe and Tycho have seen fit to respond directly to the criticism that they themselves acknowledge as a regular fact of life with their comic – and the intentionally hurtful mock “Trigger Warnings” post that Gabe makes on the same day the shirt is announced.
In light of all this, the absolute best you can say about the Dickwolves shirt is that it was meant as a swipe at an already deeply wounded group of people whose only crime was saying they didn’t like a comic strip.
But wait, there’s more.
We come back to the most recent developments, that being the actual removal of the shirt. Like I’ve already said, I still can’t wrap my head around what Kirby Bits has had to face, save to say that as a gamer I am deeply ashamed to see my community turn on one of its own like this. About this. I’m still swimming in so many emotions that I can’t quite see where to go and what to do. So forgive me for what is surely about to seem a very selfish turn. I don’t mean to belittle either the larger issues at play here nor the pain Kirby Bits and others have undeservedly received and doubtless will continue to receive in the coming days, weeks and months for no reason other than speaking their minds. I don’t yet know how to resolve those things, and so I turn my focus inward to something I can figure out: why this has affected me so personally.
It comes down to PAX.
I love PAX. Adore it. Mike and I went in 2009 and 2010, and all things remaining equal had every intention of going to 2011. I’ll let Past Me explain what I think is the greatest part of PAX (from my write-up of PAX 10):
There’s been a lot said about the PAX experience. “Home” is how it’s mostly described, and it’s definitely a feeling that can’t be overstated. I’m generalizing pretty heavily when I say this, but geeks and nerds are a socially awkward lot by and large, and as a result I think it’s a subculture that thrives when in a “safe” place. When that safe place just happens to be with 100,000 or so people who feel the same way you do and love all the same shit you and get all the same jokes you do … well, it’s pretty bloody awesome.
When I read Gabe’s post about the Dickwolves shirt removal, as I said, I got it. “PAX is a different matter though,” he said. “We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen.”
Yes. Yes, this exactly.
But then: “I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order.”
Cozmicaztaway: @cwgabriel If people already have the shirt and wear it to PAX, then what?
cwgabriel: @Cozmicaztaway I’ll be wearing mine to PAX.
This says only one thing to me: PAX is run by spiteful hypocrites.
Gabe has publicly stated he is aware that the shirt causes serious problems for some members of the PAX community. In his own words, “whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter”. For the good of the gaming community – for the good of PAX – Penny Arcade made the decision to pull the shirt.
But Gabe? He’s gonna wear his anyway.
How can you say that you acknowledge the negative impact of your merchandise at a place that you want to be safe and welcoming and inclusive while at the same time personally showcasing the very thing that has caused all the pain and exclusion at the very place you just said should be open to everyone?
I cannot reconcile this. Gabe wearing the shirt is either an act of childish cruelty against the very people he claims are the motivation for dropping the shirt in the first place, or he simply never meant what he said about wanting PAX to be a place for any and everybody who loves gaming.
It’s hypocritical or it’s cruel. Take your pick.
I don’t know that I, in good conscience, in now having come to this realization, can ever go to PAX again. And that, too, breaks my heart.