I’ve talked like way more about this than anyone probably should. If you’re just joining in and wondering how I got here or looking for more detailed thoughts as this debacle unfolded, please see my previous posts:
All things remaining as they stand now, this is my final post on the matter of Dickwolves.
This has eaten up a large part of my life for the past week. Putting it simply, I’m wiped clean and I’m wiped out. I’ve had an amazing amount of conversation happen here, for which I’m very thankful. I began writing about this primarily as a means to sort out my feelings, and by hearing from people who mostly agreed with my view and others who largely didn’t, I’ve been able to crystallize how I see these events and just what it all means to me personally. I’ve come to the point where I believe there’s nothing much more that can be said by those-who-are-not-Gabe-and-Tycho to alter my opinions, and I don’t think I can clarify any further without just repeating myself again and again.
In other words, since I don’t think there’s much more to be gained on either side by hashing and rehashing the same points repeatedly, in the absence of any new developments I won’t be commenting further on the Dickwolves debacle.
Tired as I am, frankly I hope there is more. It would be a bitter disappointment and a tragic loss to the gaming community if things were to end here.
Whatever Gabe and Tycho choose to do or not do, it’s clear that as gamers we still have a hell of a lot of growing ahead of us. I’ve been so encouraged by the discourse I’ve gotten just in these few posts, and I believe that if we can keep talking and treating each other with respect, even when we disagree – especially when we disagree – then we can make our community the kind of place it should be for everyone. I’d like to see Gabe and Tycho be part of the solution and not evidence of the problem, but that’s their call to make.
The larger issue of the sickness infecting our gaming culture I plan to revisit as I think up more and more words to spew. But on the Dickwolves, unless and until Gabe and Tycho return to the conversation, this post is where I stand.
Gabe and Tycho have said their piece. Both essentially concluded by saying these were their final words on the matter. As such, we now have the totality of their involvement in the Dickwolves mess and a complete picture of the actions and reactions that brought us to this. We can outline the history, analyze the key events, and draw our conclusions accordingly.
These are mine.
Jet Wolf’s Interpretation of Events
I personally found “The Sixth Slave” strip funny, but even if I hadn’t I would defend Gabe and Tycho’s right to the comic. I do not believe that any topic should be off-limits for discussion and that no subject is too inappropriate for a joke. By the same token however I believe that no joke is above reproach or commentary. Just as Penny Arcade has the right to make a joke about whatever it wants, so too do its readers have the right to be offended by it and both privately and publicly speak their offense.
The “Breaking It Down” response strip I believe was an ill-conceived knee-jerk reaction to criticism, a reaction I admit to finding difficult to fully understand in light of the checkered and much-criticized past of Penny Arcade. Still, I believe their interpretation of the criticism was “you advocate rape and support rapists”. This being the message they heard, they were either unable or unwilling to see beyond this, which led to a sweeping dismissal of any potentially valid criticism or helpful conversation. This perspective coupled with their immediate defensiveness lead to an atmosphere of antagonism and hostility, initiated by this comic.
The Dickwolves shirt is a continuation of the above atmosphere. Rather than let the matter fade, Gabe and Tycho continued to dig, striking out at a what they felt was a grievous wound, again either unwilling or unable to consider the feelings of their initial critics, a group who have already been so hurt. Particularly in light of the length of time between the “Breaking It Down” strip and the shirt’s announcement (nearly two months), I think this was a ridiculously and needlessly aggressive move. Even if Gabe and Tycho had managed to uncouple the idea of their critics as rape survivors, why they felt the need to restart a conflict that had died down, all the while adding the insult of their ability to profit from it is beyond me.
Similarly, Gabe’s flippant, mocking use of trigger warnings is indefensible. Even if it could be considered a wholly self-contained action – something I don’t think is genuinely possible given that it happens at the same time the Dickwolves shirt is announced – using it in this way does absolutely nothing but reinforce the idea that you are, at best, completely insensitive to even the idea of rape as a very real, very marginalized, and very serious issue.
All of the above has at its heart the theory of rape culture. While there are several points I’ve seen in my admittedly limited reading that ring with some truth to me, there are also many that I don’t agree with. Additionally it seems to me that many of its staunchest proponents are themselves either unwilling or unable to engage in any conversation that does not itself inherently agree. Given their experiences I think I can understand that. However that stance also makes it impossible to have discourse. All these things considered, I’m remaining otherwise separate from this issue. Ultimately I believe it’s one requiring far more knowledge and nuance than I have; there are folks out there far better equipped to handle this portion of the discussion, and I am content to leave it to them.
At this point we come to the moment where in my view the issue splits, becoming less about rape culture and more about gaming culture.
The Dickwolves shirt disappears from the Penny Arcade store. The shirt’s removal was, I think, an excellent step – not surprising as I think it was a such a colossal misstep in the first place. It was initially done quietly and without comment, and had a simple cordial explanation been given, the Internet would be a very different place right now.
But it wasn’t. Instead, Gabe’s explanation on the shirt’s removal becomes the launchpad for everything that happens next. The two moments of particular importance for me are: “We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen.” and “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.” The former will be discussed at length shortly. As to the latter, it’s the first but far from the last demonstration to me that the apparent concessions being made with the shirt’s removal are token at best. The message here seems to be, “If you complained, you aren’t welcome at PAX.”
The shirt becomes a clarion call. Waves of attacks are launched against the perceived “enemies” who had the Dickwolves shirt pulled. A primary target is Kirby Bits, whose public statement about why she would not be attending PAX East directly preceded the shirt’s removal. The attacks against her are frequent, brutal, and utterly reprehensible. It’s theorized that the majority of the attackers are from 4chan, the implication being that they were trolling simply to troll. Whatever their source or motivation, they attack in the name of Penny Arcade and the Dickwolves.
Meanwhile on Twitter, Gabe has been goading any negative comments he receives. He insists on mocking any mention of rape and rape culture. When asked if Dickwolves shirts will be allowed at PAX, Gabe responds, “I’ll be wearing mine to PAX.” Of all the statements made as far as PAX is concerned, I find this to be the most shining example of the blatant hypocrisy that has yet to be addressed.
Gabe continues to mock and provoke on Twitter for nearly a week. The attacks on Penny Arcade’s critics similarly continue. In all this time, there is only one visible attempt to curb the blatant and open violence flooding Kirby Bits, when Gabe says directly to @dickwolvington “you need to stop man. Not fucking okay at all.” I’ve seen it argued that Gabe and Tycho had no idea what was going on, which I find incredibly unlikely. But even @dickwolvington was the only attacker to directly come to their attention, it’s absurd to think that two highly savvy Internet guys couldn’t come to the conclusion that maybe others were out there, and thus all the more inexcusable that they would not make any kind of public effort to deter others, just in case. Their silence is implicit approval.
They remain silent until Gabe received a threat against his family via Twitter. I said then and I repeat now that I very much don’t want to think that it took the threat of violence of those Gabe loves to convince he and Tycho to speak out. In the absence of any evidence I will choose to believe they were going to say something at that time anyway, and that this was an oddly-timed coincidence. But even given that, it took far, far too long to make the statement decrying those lashing out in their name. What’s more, I find the complete lack of empathic connection from Gabe (and his threatening tweet) to Kirby Bits (who has been experiencing an almost non-stop stream of the most horrific threats of rape and violence for nearly a week solid) to be both surprising and disappointing.
My distillation of Gabe’s response is “I’ve been snarky. Let’s not talk about it anymore.” My distillation of Tycho’s response is “I don’t know what to say so I’m not saying anything.” I find both to be wholly insufficient.
(Portions of the following were culled together from my responses found throughout this blog. My thanks to all people who’ve been talking with me throughout this and who helped me sort through my feelings.)
Why They Can’t Drop It
I believe that Gabe and Tycho have a responsibility to the gaming community to try and fix this. For better or worse, they are pillars of gamer culture. They are powerful individuals whose opinions have weight and whose actions set tone.
It’s been suggested that Gabe and Tycho are just two guys making a web comic, completely oblivious to the larger role they now play. I can’t claim to know what goes on inside Gabe and Tycho’s heads so I can’t say that’s wrong. If this is indeed the case however, I believe it’s incredibly naive, nearly to the point of self-delusion. They’ve watched PAX grow, they’ve watched Child’s Play grow – two things founded on precisely the idea of utilizing their very public and powerful position within the gaming community to sway internal attitudes and external opinions in a more positive way. They’re both avid followers of gaming news. Tycho especially has a gift for analyzing trends and getting to the heart of them. To say that up until now, up until this very controversy, they had no idea the kind of power they could wield is, I feel, disingenuous.
But let’s say that it’s true and only now have their eyes been opened to their influence on the gaming culture. So let’s fix it. You now know you have the power; use it to do what you always claimed you wanted. That cannot happen by withdrawing and pretending this never happened.
I’ve been pretty harsh in my criticism of Gabe throughout this – not surprising given his level of direct, targeted involvement. Still that criticism has sparked comments from many of Penny Arcade’s long-time community members coming to his defense. What I keep hearing is essentially “That’s just how Gabe is, you have to ignore him.”
That is insufficient justification for what’s happened here.
At least not – and I think this is a really important point – at least not once he involved the world that existed outside of his comic strip.
I am completely on-board with Gabe’s assertion that Penny Arcade: The Comic Strip is one thing, and that PAX and Child’s Play are another. I am with this 100%. However it’s Gabe that decided to drag all the nastiness of his comic strip personality, where several thousand fans were fairly well sequestered and unto themselves, into the larger world of several hundred-thousand gamers who are supposedly, according to his own statements, meant to be invited and welcomed.
If Gabe is that much of a loose cannon that a mere condition of being around him is to dismiss him, then he shouldn’t be speaking on behalf of the larger face of Penny Arcade: The Company.
Or if he does, then someone else with Penny Arcade: The Company should intervene quickly to mitigate his damage.
Or if they don’t, they should demonstrate that they’ve learned something from all this and will take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
But Gabe did speak. And it was six days before anyone even tried to call a halt. And nobody seems to have learned a damned thing.
So What Do You Want?
Whatever their intent, at all steps in this debacle Gabe and Tycho’s actions have been at best dismissive and antagonistic. This debacle didn’t cause misogyny and marginalization to suddenly appear in the gaming community, but it absolutely enhanced it. It’s unacceptable that they’ve caused so much damage but seem unwilling to try and help make it right.
But what specifically do I want to see?
I believe that for me (and I can’t claim to speak for anybody but myself) what I would like to see to start being okay with all this is some measure of a lesson learned. I would like to see Gabe be able to display a spark of empathy for his not insignificant role in bringing us to this point. Saying “I was an ass, let’s drop it” is not that.
If he for whatever reason simply can’t, then I would like to see some movement made on his behalf to help heal the damage he’s caused. Have Tycho or Khoo speak for him, maybe his wife could issue a statement, hire the dude a PR rep … Something. But letting his actions and words stand alone without comment or attempted amends by anyone else with Penny Arcade: The Company pretty much says all I need to know about Penny Arcade: The Company.
Tycho I’m a lot fuzzier on, I admit. I still have a lot of respect (however fragile) for Tycho, and I believe he is capable of greater thought, introspection and reflection than his partner, as well as the ability to connect what’s occurred here to the deeper and far more troubling undercurrents in our gaming culture. I would like to see him address this, and utilize his position in our community to help turn this mess around so that at least something positive can come out of it.
The only other alternative is to drop the farce that PAX is inclusive to everyone and welcome to all, at which point I’ll stop expecting better of anyone involved. But so long as they continue to try and present the idea that they are better and what they do is better then I will insist that they prove it.
What Happens Next?
The ball is squarely in Gabe and Tycho’s court. None of us can make them do anything at all. They can take this as an opportunity to improve the gamer culture or they can pretend they haven’t seen just how bad it is.
But make no mistake, if they choose to do nothing, if they choose to continue to consider themselves utterly blameless and above reproach, if they choose to be hypocritical and wear the Dickwolves shirt to PAX, then they can no longer claim that PAX is a place for all gamers.
PAX will no longer be home.
After I post this, I will drop my subscription to Penny Arcade. I will cancel my plans to attend PAX Prime.
I don’t say that lightly. What may have gotten lost along the way is just how much I love PAX. I really, really want this to be okay. I want to keep going to PAX. But as things stand right now, I simply can’t.
Gabe and Tycho don’t know me. They have absolutely no idea who I am. They certainly won’t miss me if I stop reading their comic and going to their convention. I’m under no illusions that they won’t feel any impact from my absence.
Sometimes actions aren’t so much taken against someone else as they are for yourself.
I can’t reconcile their words and actions over the past week with what they have said and I believe to be at the heart of PAX. As the founders and hosts of PAX – created and fostered as much as an idea as an event – they set the tone for what PAX is. To butcher a colloquialism, if they won’t walk the walk, then I won’t believe the talk.
That will only “hurt” me, I know that. At the end of the day though, all we have are our beliefs and our actions, and all I can do is stay as true to them as I can.
And that’s all I have to say about that.