Feb 032011
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Richard Pryor will wait a bit longer.

Gabe and Tycho made statements today, and god dammit, I’m still no closer to sorting out exactly how I feel about everything. But I do know this much: They’ve both done their best this morning to effectively wash their hands of this whole thing and walk away, and we can’t let that happen.

Their statements are a bit lengthy so I won’t replicate them here, but everyone should definitely go read them now if you haven’t yet. Gabe/Mike posted here (screencap) and about half an hour later Tycho/Jerry (notably silent up to now) posted his thoughts (screencap).

Before we get into these I wanted to say that my primary focus is on how this mess relates to the gaming community. I’ve mentioned a few times now that there’s just so much going that it’s impossible to focus on every aspect at the same time. There are people far more nuanced and knowledgeable than I about the crucial components of rape and rape culture that have been at the heart of this conflict. What’s more, I am not the one to tell rape survivors or those offended by Gabe, Tycho and Penny Arcade what they need to hear or have happen to feel okay about this.

When I read what both Gabe and Tycho had to say about this morning, the first thing that sprung to mind was “Oh so now it’s too much.”

That sounds dismissive which is not my intent.

They received messages via Twitter making “jokes” that people should go to their homes and murder them, their wives and their children. To be clear, I find this every bit as reprehensible as the unforgivable vitriol that’s been spewed at Kirby Bits. They are words specifically crafted to do nothing more than wound the recipient to the core while attempting to bully him or her into thinking or acting a certain way. Whichever side of the debate you’re on, this is inexcusable bullshit.

So I read their posts and there’s this feeling, unbidden, that popped into my head that only now, only after having been personally hurt, that things for Gabe and Tycho have finally gone too far.

It’s been six days – six full, active days – since the Dickwolves shirt was pulled from the Penny Arcade store. Six days since Gabe repeatedly used his public Twitter feed to undermine his own statements about inclusivity and solidarity. Six days of sitting back and, if not actively observing then at least being keenly aware of the unwarranted backlash their own followers were spewing at Kirby Bits. Six days of some of the worst, most vicious attacks from every side of the issue, all put out there, impossible to take back.

Six days of this toxic, destructive atmosphere with, at best, no comment from Penny Arcade and, at worst, goading from Gabe.

But less than 24 hours after someone says it would be a funny joke to go murder them and their families, suddenly the whole thing has gone too far.

I say all that, but I admit I’m not convinced there’s validity to it. As much as this has caused me to rethink a lot of thoughts and reevaluate a lot of opinions, I still want to give Gabe and Tycho the benefit of the doubt where I can. In the absence of any other proof, I choose to believe that their call to cease hostilities would have happened today regardless of what may have been said to them personally.

The fact that this is where I’ve had to reason myself to, that it wasn’t my first thought is the exact reason why we can’t just let this go.

It’s far, far too late now to just say “this isn’t what we wanted” and ask everyone to walk away. It’s beyond the point where you could argue that a group taking your comic in a way you didn’t intend is business as usual and moving on as though it hadn’t happened. Gabe and Tycho alone chose to escalate this nasty situation, but they cannot be the sole arbiters of when it finishes.

I keep coming back to PAX, because that for me was … well, pax. Pax Romana, a golden age, a time of peace. This is what we should be striving for. This is what’s at stake.

Gabe and Tycho started out just as two guys with a gaming web comic, but they grew themselves to be much more. PAX and Child’s Play were to be the good, accepting, welcoming, responsible faces of gaming. Gamers aren’t just ultra-violent, socially-inept, self-absorbed, overly-entitled children. That has been the message carried proudly by PAX and Child’s Play.

How can anyone with any kind of insight into what’s happened these past six months believe in that anymore?

This is why we can’t walk away. We must continue to talk about this. We must fix this.

I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers. But I do know that the answer isn’t to stop talking and pretend it never happened.

  • http://www.coherentlighthouse.com/ Scott Elyard

    You speak of not letting them let it go at that, but, like pee in a swimming pool, Jerry & Mike’s attempts at sophistry is now in the internet. I’ll concede it’s laudable, as far as sophistry goes, but it’s useless because it doesn’t dissipate any of the venom. The result is that Child’s Play and PAX now have a bit of a taint. Sad.

    Even if they did do something better, it will still contaminate Wikipedia articles and blogs. People forget, but archives don’t.

    It’s not going away. I should wish them luck with that, but I’m kind of inclined to not waste the example set by Gabe running around, spitting out hornets and crying that it’s now gone too far.

    You’d think someone who has spent 13 years on the net would know better than to poke a hornet’s nest (goading those in pain), and let it lie without further comment from the start. That’s been their job for 13 years, but it wasn’t enough this time, I guess.

    May as well get some use out of it.

    • Jet Wolf

      I suppose the thing is that I hope that there’s still some way to recover … something about this. Like, we’ve been fractured, but not irreparably. Perhaps that’s naive. You’re right, archives never forget, which I think is why it should, in my view, be all the more important to them to somehow make this right. Saying “Well now it’s gone too far and I don’t want to talk abut it anymore” doesn’t fix a damn thing. Is that to be the coda to this debacle? We’re human and we’re fallible and we will fuck up on a colossal scale and we will hurt each other, sometimes beyond the ability to forgive. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

      I don’t know, maybe I am just being naive.

      • http://www.coherentlighthouse.com/ Scott Elyard

        I don’t know. A lot of what you want is going to depend on some things, as I see it:

        A public shift in Gabe’s (at least) position. This seems unlikely, but I have been often wrong about other folks’ behavior. He doesn’t even have to backtrack all the way, here. The comics can stand, his subsequent attitude can’t, and that’s what at issue. It can probably be fixed, but it may take a lot of work.

        A more private shift (not openly admitting wrongdoing) might have a similar effect, over a longer period of time, though a mark may remain indefinitely. Time sometimes heals wounds.

        But this need not affect gaming communities only negatively. Sometimes, a split in a community can lead to the creation of new communities, ones more suitable for everyone. Time may tell.

        I don’t have any investment in PA or PAX, so I can’t say what is necessarily ideal.

        I don’t see naiveté in your comment, but I’m speaking primarily as an outsider these days, so grain of salt and all.

        • Jet Wolf

          You make a lot of good points. For something that, at its core, does not directly impact me, this whole mess has somehow managed to become profoundly personal.

  • Ross

    It would help, I think, if either of them had managed to make the leap to understanding that they way they felt when someone suggested it would be funny to murder Mike’s family — that mingling of shock, horror, disgust, and disbelief that someone would actually say that — that was exactly how a lot of people felt about the dickwolves comic in the first place.

    Tycho’s response was interesting, in that he posits that the people on both sides do not share enough fundamental axioms about how the world works to be able to communicate meaningfully with each other. It’s true that this is a thing that happens — it’s the most common cause that I’ve seen for people of basically good will getting into vicious arguments with each other — but it’s more than a little disingenuous in this case because, of the two of them, he’s the world-builder. Thinking about how a foreign set of assumptions would lead to a different world model is what he does. He’s capable of bending those skills to understanding how the other side thinks and how to communicate with them. If he doesn’t, it’s because he has chosen not to.

    • Jet Wolf

      You’ve summed up a lot of what I was feeling. I really can’t add to that.

  • Ed

    One would think the appropriate response to a comic tangentially about rape would be to draw a comic about murdering Gabe or Tycho’s wife, not to suggest actually murdering people. Oh wait…

    BTW, I’m not really taking a position beyond “Actual threats of violence by either side are not helpful.”

    • Jet Wolf

      They really aren’t. It’s only caused more damage here and further closed the doors to discussion. It’s reprehensible that all sides felt the need to bring violence into this.

  • PAUL

    There’s a problem with the discourse on the rape-culture side as well. From what I can tell, notably in Shakesville and their circle of blogs, none of them want to concede that the original strip is both harmless, and of all things on their side. The strip is a condemnation of a passivity towards violations of consent that games teach, really. Its a strip that could very well have been produced by those railing against it. But the blogs and theirs authors dismiss that issue as not the point even though its is the very foundation of their entire argument against PA. They actively prune out any attempts to bring this to their attention now, because they’ve “been over it”. But I think in reality they just don’t want to face such a glaring hole in the argument they’ve spent 6 months constructing.

    Certainly PA’s reactions to the reactions are not excusable, the dickwolves merch particular. It appears like Gabe and Tycho at first could could not dissociate the irrational emails telling them they were in support of rapists or creating rapists with the genuine concerns of rape victims.

    But in the end it seems that PA was able to realize their mistake in lumping the two together, and ended their dickwolves merch. Regardless of heated twitters, I would say that their concession is a genuine one.

    As much as the conversation should continue, I don’t think it can. Not while the rape culture crowd willfully and continually distorts the original strip as a “rape joke”. I don’t mean to cast the failure of communication strictly as their fault, but at this point even with gabe’s relatively ineloquent language, PA is conceding more of their faults than the opposite crowd is.

    • Jet Wolf

      I have a lot of problems with yesterday’s response by Gabe and Tycho. Chief among them being that I don’t personally feel either addressed any of the actual problems that their recent behaviour has caused – I’m not even talking six months ago, I’m talking this week. I’m still working on that a bit though, and I will get another post up sometime today as promised in our discussion in the other thread. :)

      Your comment above though, I did want to take a second to address something that’s niggling at me a little. The impression I’m getting from my reading is a sense that you feel Gabe and Tycho’s responses should be good enough for those who were offended, and even that they shouldn’t have been offended in the first place.

      Before I go further I want to emphasize that this is my impression of what you said, and I could very well be reading it in a way you didn’t intend. I totally don’t want to put words in your mouth, so if I’ve misread you here, I apologize and please don’t hesitate to correct me.

      All that said, I can’t entirely agree with you. I think that something so easily forgotten in all this is the fact that you and I and everyone else watching from the sidelines don’t really have the right to tell anybody else that they shouldn’t be offended by something, nor can we tell them when they should stop. The simple fact that we weren’t the offended party means that we don’t have any kind of context for what should or shouldn’t be sufficient to make amends.

      It’s really for that reason that I’m so hesitant to get into the rape culture side of this debacle. Hell I’m still not 100% certain where exactly *I* stand on it! That part of the debate is, I feel, best left to those who have a far, far greater breadth of knowledge about the nuances of the topic than I.

      So when I say that I found their responses lacking, I’m speaking only for myself: a female gamer who was not personally offended at any step of the way, but who found herself deeply disturbed by and disappointed in the actions of the past week, and is very concerned about their impact on the already fragmented gaming culture.

      • PAUL

        Well, I can’t say whether Gabe and Tycho’s responses were “good enough” per se. But I can’t help but wonder what can they respond with that would be good enough? Its unfortunate, of course, that Gabe’s the one doing most of the talking. Tycho is the eloquent one, but admits that this can of worms is beyond his communication skills.

        They of course have no business apologizing for the original strip, if creators had to apologize for every instance in which a innocuous reference evoked the pain of someones trauma (and rape is only one of innumerable kinds of trauma), the creative arts would be mired in apologies and would stagnate.

        At this point it seems like they done all that they can do, which is recognize peoples discomfort with the merchandise that could be construed as cheering against people’s trauma, and scrap it.

        I, of course, have never been raped so I cannot put myself in the shoes of those offended. I only know a little of having involuntary reactions to certain objects or ideas. I wouldn’t put my experience on their level. I mean, you really got me stumped, I don’t if anything they can do anything or even if they actually owe anything more than what they’ve already done.

        • Ross

          The thing that they could do — the thing that they have not done, so far, even once that I’m aware of — is to concede that the people who are upset might have a legitimate reason to be upset.

          The “Breaking it down” comic basically said, “If you were offended by our comic, then you were wrong and also stupid to be offended.”

          When Gabe talked about pulling the shirt, he said outright that he didn’t think the opponents were right, but he just didn’t want to have the argument. (Of course, then he kept right on arguing; but that’s Gabe for you.)

          Even Tycho’s response basically came down to, “These people live in a world I can’t comprehend.”

          As for the criticism of the original comic, I think you do the critics a disservice. They can read as well as you can. It’s true that the primary joke is about the odd nature of “heroism” in online games, but the setup involves a humorously exaggerated description of the “sixth slave’s” plight, and what is the material for the humorous exaggeration? Being “raped to sleep by dickwolves.” If there were not a presumption that rape is kinda funny, the setup wouldn’t work.

          The other thing you have to understand is that, from their perspective, this is not primarly about one strip in one webcomic. This is a thing they see all the time, and every time they call attention to it, wherever it is, the reactions are very predictable — that’s not what we meant, you don’t understand, it’s just a joke, et and so on cetera. From where the Shakesville people are sitting, this is simply going around and around a script they’ve seen many times before; so yes, they have “been over it” already. The fact that many of the PA supporters are hearing about rape culture for the first time in this argument doesn’t mean that it’s a new thing.

          Look at it this way: if someone wandered into a discussion you were having and said, “Wait, Dungeons and Dragons… isn’t that, like, Satanism? Doesn’t it make kids commit suicide and stuff?” then most likely your reaction would be to sigh and say, “For the love of… no, it isn’t, that’s an urban legend, this is all well documented, and we gamers are sick and tired of having to repeat all of this because we’ve been over it fifty billion times already.” To you, it’s not only tiresome, it’s frustrating to have to keep educating people on the same damn things over and over again.

          Well, same thing with feminists and rape culture.

    • Madra Liath

      “From what I can tell, notably in Shakesville and their circle of blogs, none of them want to concede that the original strip is both harmless, and of all things on their side.”

      The problem is, we’re long past the strip’s original intent now. I’ve seen the strip. I know what the actual joke is. I understand it. The time for clarifying that and discussing that – in a non-flippant, non-sarcastic way – was back in August. It didn’t happen.

      I would like to point out that according to the timeline over at Debacle, the Penny Arcade guys and people who claim to be their supporters chose to escalate this thing at every turn. Tycho and Gabe decided to respond to initial complaints with a pissy follow-up comic, and I can understand that as a knee-jerk reaction to “People keep saying we’re horrible and backward and rapists”. But then they came out with a shirt that says “Proud Member of the Penny Arcade [Rape Monsters]” *six weeks* after the original brouhaha died down. Then they had to pull it, and didn’t think through their explanation properly before (partially) blaming a vocal minority for it. Then they sat back while slack-jawed morons who claimed to be their supporters went to town on anyone who had ever complained about the shirt, and only called a halt when somebody from the other side threatened them.

      Unless I’m missing something – and it’s entirely possible I am, I don’t read every single web page on the Internet or anything – the feminist blogosphere quit on this a long time ago. Tycho and Gabe started it back up, and people claiming to support them went to threats first.

  • Stephanie Jane

    If after receiving the feedback on the first comic strip, they had replied with “noted, thank you for your feedback, our comic may not be the right fit for you based on your needs and views” and not followed up with that ridiculous and insulting Breaking it Down comic, this whole thing never would have happened. They wouldn’t have had to change their views or even altered further comics. So the fact that it all got out of hand is totally on them. And you’re right, they don’t get to decree it’s when it’s over.