A Rundown of What’s Going on with Penny Arcade Now

It hasn’t been that long since the last time Penny Arcade did something that cast the company in a negative light, but here we are again with another fiasco that’s been making its way around Twitter today.  I thought it would be helpful to do a quick rundown of the events from today to make everyone aware of the situation and help answer some questions about why you might want to rethink supporting Penny Arcade, PAX, or anything affiliated with that organization.

It all started today when this panel was posted from PAX Australia, titled “Why So Serious? Has the Industry Forgotten That Games Are Supposed to Be Fun?”.  The original screencap of the description is below.

Read below for full transcript.

 

“Why does the game industry garner such scrutiny from outside sources and within?  Every point aberration gets called into question, reviewers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you’re a racist.

It’s gone too far and when will it all end?  How can we get off the soapbox and work together to bring a new constructive age into fruition?”

There is so much wrong with this panel description that I don’t even know where to begin. The idea that games as a medium are exempt from criticism because they’re “supposed to be fun” is ridiculous and immature.  This complete and utter display of privilege and a total dismissal of the concerns by women and people of color is awful, but then conflating ‘a new constructive age’ with a time where we disregard the concerns of marginalized gamers is flat out embarassing.  Naturally, the internet responded.  As a result, the description was altered and the line about sexism and misogyny was removed.

panel2

 

“Does the games industry garner too much scrutiny from outside sources and within?  With review score aberrations often called into question, writers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Has it all gone too far?  Can we just get along and we work together to bring a new constructive gaming age into fruition?”

This still-blatant disregard for the fact that criticism is an important part of moving media (TV, books, movies, prose, song) forward shows that this was clearly edited for the purpose of calming down the masses.  Naturally, when people complain to him, Gabe (aka Mike Krahulik) says that “we don’t make the panels, they are submitted by the community.”

cwgabriel1

 

As someone who has submitted panels and talks to other conferences in the past, I am keenly aware that these submissions are reviewed, edited, and approved by the conference staff.  They are not just blindly posting up any submission that is entered.  This is a cop-out response in which Krahulik is pawning off responsibility to the “community” (which he is supposed to be leading).

But it gets worse.  Cue the transphobic tweets.

Mike Krahulik tweets to someone "if thinking that all women have vaginas makes me a monster than yes I'm a monster."

 

Krahalik tweets "@juliepagano I don't think it is a mistake though. I seriously believe women have vaginas. I think you call a person with a vagina a woman"

 

@guattari2600 says "@cwgabriel @juliepagano shouldn't a person with or without a vagina be the one who decides what they are called, instead of a Comic Man?", @cwgabriel replies with "@guattari2600 @juliepagano okay then I am batman. please call me Bruce."

 

cwgabriel tweets "heads up if you use the word "cis" save yourself some time and don't bother tweeting at me."

 

After complaining a bit about how he’s receiving death threats and not wanting to antagonize people on Twitter, he posted up what was intended be a ‘resolution’ to the problem, by ‘proving’ that he’s capable of learning and that even his ‘trans friends’ are able to have civil conversations with him.  Unfortunately, it’s proving to be offering way more harm than good.

To be honest with you I had no idea that you were not born a girl until just a couple months ago. When we met and hung out I always just thought you were a woman. Knowing your situation changed nothing about how I would treat you. I am happy to treat someone however they want to be treated. Wanna be a guy or a girl or a fox or whatever and I will be happy to treat you that way.

But I think that is very different from the physical reality of your human body.

I think you’re awesome and super talented. I have no idea what your body parts are and I don’t want to know. I will treat you as a woman if that’s how you present yourself to me.

I hate the idea that because I think boys and girls have different parts I am “transphobic” that pisses me off it makes me angry and so I lash out.

While it’s wonderful that he will treat someone as the gender they wish to be treated, perhaps it would be nice for Krahulik to actually view them as that gender and not worry about what sort of genitalia they have.  His constant reiteration of the fact that he feels all women have vaginas, and his disrespectful comparison of gender identity being the same as asking people to call him Batman is at complete odds with the sort of ‘compassion’ he is trying to show his ‘friend’ Sophie in her email.    You don’t get to say that you don’t care about genitals and you don’t want to know about people’s body parts, but then use the presence or lack of genitalia to define what someone’s gender is and make sweeping statements about the qualifications that have to be satisfied before you’ll think someone is a woman.

It reads as if he posted this response as a way of showing the world that a trans woman doesn’t view him as transphobic, so therefore he isn’t.  Poor Krahaulik, being picked on by those humorless feminists again.  I bet he has a lot of ‘black friends’ too.  Anyone want to play bingo?

q0rt on twitter says "Also the amount of groveling that's apparently required to call yourself a "friend" of the PA guys makes my stomach turn."

 

cousindangereax on Twitter says "Now would be a great time for even more devs, journos and high-profile games peeps to publicly call their future PAX plans into question."

I will edit this as it continues to play out.  I’m sure we’re nowhere near finished, unless Krahulik has decided to keep his mouth shut before getting into any further trouble.

38 thoughts on “A Rundown of What’s Going on with Penny Arcade Now”

  1. PA wants to maintain relevance and respectability in the modern gaming community but they keep failing to show they have the maturity or professionalism in their leadership to actually pull it off.

    Any seriously-run company would have at least barred Gabe from ever commenting publicly on any issue like this, given his pathetic track record on responding in the most immature and ignorant way possible.

  2. Oh gods. I had noticed that my Twitter feed suddenly had several people talking about trans women, but I had no idea why (since I stopped following PA a long time ago anyway). No surprise that it’s these guys at it again. Thanks for the summary.

  3. Thanks for the summary. I hadn’t glarked the connection between the PA-Australia thing and the Gabe thing from my Tweeter feed yet.

  4. I’m a huge fan of Extra Credits. I think those guys are a credit to games culture, and it always make me sad that they are associated with Penny Arcade.

    1. The PA Report and Ben Kuchera are a fairly good source of game news and criticism as well, and (as far as I’ve seen) much more progressive and thoughtful than their parent site.

      It’s nice that the declining quality of Penny Arcade has made it easy to completely cut it out of my daily webcomic rotation anyway.

    2. If it matters at all and you don’t mind being two weeks behind, you can subscribe to their youtube channel where they post their episodes. That channel from what I can tell, is not affiliated with anyone but Extra Credits.

      You can still get the episodes and not give PA the clicks. Likewise for Checkpoint that can be watched on their site LoadingReadyRun.com

  5. But Ben Kuchera just compared holding the ps4 controller to handling a girl’s breasts. What respectability could he possibly have?

      1. Kuchera has repeatedly shown an in ability to take any kind of criticism at all, and he’s shown a propensity to get involved in arguments with people on Twitter and gaming forums. He’s almost as bad as Scott Kurtz or Mike Krahulik in terms of being a jerk on Twitter.

  6. Thanks for the summary. Hopefully this is something Krahulik can draw from and use to mature a little.

  7. There seems to be a pattern that goes:

    1. Something vaguely controversial happens at PA.
    2. Gabe acts like an arse on Twitter.
    3. Massive controversy ensues.
    4. PA eventually makes the reasonable response that should have been made in the first place.

    I’m surprised that they let him anywhere near Twitter.

  8. The comments from PA seem to reveal a common confusion between transgender people and their non-transgender friends.

    For the transgender, their identity is in their mind: ‘I am a man, because that is how I conceive of myself’. For the non-transgender friend, however, they cannot know the transgender’s mind; they can only, at first, identify by the body: ‘she is a woman, because that is what I see in front of me’.

    And so, we have this confusion. A transgender person is both male and female, but two different people will focus on opposite aspects. The fact that we use the same words to describe both sex and gender muddies matters, and is, I think, a large cause of the controversy here.

    True, the responses from Gabe do seem pretty dismissive. But is it really enough to call for a boycott?

    1. Yes. It is. It absolutely is.

      It’s easy for someone who is not affected by such disgusting remarks to dismiss the reactions of people who are affected as some variation of overreaction, hysteria, looking to be offended, etc. etc. etc. If you pay attention to any social justice/human rights issue, you see such behavior occur roughly every five seconds. So not only is someone’s identity or very humanity being insulted in the first place, they are also shamed and insulted AGAIN for speaking up about it. That is abject asshole behavior.

      Also, I am absolutely sickened by the assumption that being female boils down to having a hole between my legs. Nothing else. Just a wet hole for the dudebros to jackhammer their dicks into — because that is what it boils down to when men equate women with vaginas. It’s damn telling, in both a very misogynistic and transphobic way.

      I’m not trans, but even so I know a little about the potentially, literally, murderous reactions trans women face from cis men who believe they have been “deceived”. So imagine for a second what this sort of comment can do to a trans person, what sort of traumatic shit it might trigger.

      And finally, this is “only” the latest in a string of atrocious examples of straight cisdudes deliberately and repeatedly wallowing in their complete disdain for everyone who is not like them. They want to have “fun”, so the bitches and fags and trannies whose whining ruins everything can just go die in a fire.

      Shitwankers who think like that NEED to have their oh-so-precious “fun” spoiled because it tramples on the humanity of everyone else.

      1. “Also, I am absolutely sickened by the assumption that being female boils down to having a hole between my legs. Nothing else. Just a wet hole for the dudebros to jackhammer their dicks into — because that is what it boils down to when men equate women with vaginas.”

        Yes, this is a pretty terrible attitude. However, I wonder if you may be assuming more than what is actually there. Gabe’s comments brazenly ignore the fact that sex and gender may not be the same for a person, but they also don’t discredit all the other things that identify a person (despite the rather crass delivery).

        Gabe seems to be saying ‘you have a vagina, therefore you are a woman’, and not ‘you have a vagina, therefore you are a woman, and that vagina is all that you are’.

        Or do you mean that these sorts of comments enforce that terrible attitude, regardless of intent?

    2. I have a bit of an issue with your wording: I would not call myself “both male and female”. I am just male.

      If someone calls me a woman because I have a vagina, they are wrong. And if they repeatedly insist that no, I and all other trans people are the ones who is wrong about our own gender identities – can you not see why that would be really offensive and hurtful?

      Then there’s the fact that this is not just some random dude not understanding trans issues. Whether Krahulik likes it or not, he is something of a public figure, and his words reflect not just on him, but on the organization he helps run. Some people who follow him will see this as affirmation of their own transphobic view. It’s very unprofessional to continue to spout this sort of harmful bullshit, and it makes me worry that events run by this sort of person might be unsafe for people like me.

      Also – do you really think people are doing crotch checks to determine whether someone they’re talking to is a man or a woman? People usually go more by gender presentation – which often does reflect what is in the “mind” of the trans person. Most people do not assume I am a woman when they first talk to me, because I do not present myself as a woman. It’s not as simple as saying “well, we have to rely on sex to guess what someone’s gender is”. And once someone tells you your gender, you should respect that, not tell them that they’re wrong! And don’t say, “well, I’ll treat you like a woman (even though I don’t think you are)”, like Krahulik did here.

      …sorry, I’m not being very coherent. Just… ugh. Don’t tell me this isn’t a big deal, that we shouldn’t get so worked up about it. It is a big deal.

      1. oops – *once someone tells you THEIR gender

        And to elaborate a bit on one point – I might already have worried that trans people would be unsafe at an event like PAX. But when one of the people in charge speaks like this, it starts to feel like transphobic attitudes are officially condoned, which makes it even more worrying.

      2. When I say that transgender people are both male and female, I am referring to both sex and gender; sex is female and gender is male, or sex is male and gender is female. If you are transgender and identify as ‘male’, then I trust you place more importance/value on your gender over your sex. Again, the fact that we use the same words ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ for both sex and gender confuses how we talk about this.

        (Is it possible to have a gender that is neither male nor female?)

        Yes, the PA comments are unprofessional. I don’t condone them, but I do think I understand where they are coming from. My comments were not intended as a defense, but as an explanation/qualification.

        You may have a point on ‘judging on sex’ vs. ‘judging on gendered appearance.’ I suppose, in my mind, the two are conflated, which may be a shortcoming on my part. However, it seems like this isn’t clear-cut, either, as you can often determine sex by secondary sex characteristics (voice range, breasts, adam’s apple, etc.)

        1. not intended as a defense, but as an explanation/qualification

          This makes me think of the following analogy…

          Context: someone complaining about an ant infestation. You then respond with an explanation about how ants behave as a complex, composite social entity, as a single organism that extends its reach far beyond what any individual can do, and they can do this by all the ants regurgitating food into each others’ mouths and thus distributing food to all parts of a colony.

          Question: why are you even saying this?

          Possible explanation 1: You don’t want your friend to destroy such beautiful creatures without good reason.

          Possible explanation 2: You’re trying to explain to your friend(customer?) why the delayed-effect ant bait is going to be a lot more effective at reaching the queen and finally killing the colony than the cheap bug spray they’re trying to buy now, and all else is just establishing your authority to speak on such matters.

          Back to the actual situation, I don’t think the intent is all that clear.

        2. re: your first paragraph – I KNOW what you meant. What I meant was that I consider my body to be a male body, albeit an unconventional one. I would not consider myself to be “both male and female” in any sense, and I don’t appreciate being told that I should. (Disclaimer: not all trans people think the same as I do in this respect. On the other hand, I am pretty sure I am not alone in this way of thinking.)

          Yes, it is possible to have a gender that is neither male nor female.

          Secondary sex characterists are ones that I, for one, try to hide as part of my gender presentation. For instance, I bind my chest and speak in a lower pitch. Horomone therapy also changes some of the secondary sex characteristics of a trans person who is on horomones. Both gender presentation and perceived sex (which is not necessarily accurate) are part of how we guess someone’s gender when we meet them… it’s not clear-cut, but it’s certainly not just down to sex (which is itself not a clear-cut, binary distinction).

          1. Then this is something I simply don’t understand. If you consider yourself to be male gendered, and your sex is also male regardless of genitalia, how can you be trans? Wouldn’t that make you just ‘male’? What am I missing?

            Yes, Gabe’s comments do ignore people such as yourself as well, and you are perfectly justified in correcting him, and me, in that regard.

            1. Henson, try researching the phrase “Sex assigned at birth”. This should give you a good primer on the difference in paradigm that you’re not quite getting.

              If you click enough links in Google, this will also lead you down the rabbit-hole of biological research that shows the biology you learned in 7th grade (or at an intro-level college course) is extremely over-simplified.

              There’s a really good quote in this article too:

              Sex assignment at birth, however, is merely a category that a child is placed in based on observable anatomy, and does not take into consideration the psychological and biological variations associated with the composition of each person. Given the evolving research into the development of transgender persons, compartmentalizing a child as a boy or a girl solely based on their visible anatomy is a simplistic approach to a difficult and complex issue.

              Basically, “biological sex” is a fraught term, and research suggests it is a vast oversimplification anyway.

              And more importantly, whatever the biology behind it, “male” and “female” *do* have socially marked connotations as well. If these terms were never used by anyone other than doctors or biologists doing research, that would be one thing; but they’re part of the social consciousness, they are used as an excuse to disregard or minimize trans identity. They fuel bullshit like Arizona’s recent bathroom law.

            2. re: Anna

              I don’t see how this is relevant to my question. My question is not in relation to the sex that was assigned to a person, but to the sex that a person has self-reported himself to be.

              A person identifies as male, which I assume means male-gendered (glitchy, please correct me on this if I assume incorrectly). The same person reports their sex to also be male; he considers his body to be male, despite genitalia that typically are not present for the male sex. Male gender, male sex: if I accept both of these statements as true, how can this person also be trans?

              I realize this is getting rather off-topic from the original post, so please pardon me for straying from the path.

            3. @Henson – Sorry, I guess I forgot to make the point that connects the two together. Taken along with the other stuff I posted, change your definition of transgender to: “having a gender identity and/or sex that doesn’t match the sex assigned at birth”

              Is that clear? And yes, we may be a bit off-topic, and if a moderator wants us to stop ‘polluting’ the comments, I’m happy to do so – but I think this is a *useful* conversation in context, even if it is tangential. :)

            4. re: Anna

              Yes, that definition would clear up my confusion regarding categories. (it’s also different from the definitions I’ve come across, which usually use something like ‘unconventional sex/gender identity’) Yet, it also seems like it creates a new dilemma:

              The LBGT community (and friends) seems very opposed to people assigning sex and/or gender to others – that is the primary reason for the backlash to Gabe’s comments, for instance. Given how much the community frowns on making assigned gender and/or sex a part of a person’s identity, it seems problematic that the ‘trans’ identity would use assigned gender or assigned sex as part of its definition.

              Also, thank you for indulging my tangent.

            5. @Henson, I can only speak for myself, of course. So, everything that follows is deeply laden with a dose of “this is my understanding of my own experience.”

              “Gender is a social construct” is a phrase you’ll see a lot, reading about trans politics. And it is not false, but it’s also incomplete. A better phrase might be “A significant part of how we define and relate to gender and gender identity is socially constructed.”

              Which is to say that if the gender abolitionists won, and deconstructed all of the socially constructed aspects of gender, gender dysphoria would still exist. And so we could define transgender as “experiencing gender dysphoria”. In fact, that may be a better definition. But in a world without culturally enforced gender roles, the ‘trans’ identity might not even be necessary. Certainly “social transition” would cease to be a thing. In this hypothetical better world, there would just be people who felt the need to alter their bodies a certain way in order to be psychologically healthy.

              And maybe that wouldn’t even be true. Maybe enough of gender identity is socially constructed that in a world where “a woman with a penis” was considered a perfectly valid and normal thing, gender dysphoria would disappear as an experienced phenomenon.

              Unfortunately, we can’t test that hypothesis, because we’re stuck with this world for the foreseeable future. And in this world, yes, trans identity is largely centered around having a mismatch between the gender society labeled you with and your actual gender. The process of ‘transition’ is the process of rejecting society’s forcibly applied label when that label doesn’t fit.

  9. I have been following this story since it burst onto the scene yesterdayish. It is appalling and exasperating. From that awful dismissive panel that shows so much immaturity and willingness to handwave marginalized groups off as if they mean nothing to Gabe’s blatant transphobia (no, Krahulik, that IS what it is and what behavior you’ve shown)… all of it has left me rubbing my head from the ache it leaves.

    On the one hand, I shouldn’t particularly care about PA and the PA dudes because I *KNOW* they are not allies to any of us and have shown this in many, many different ways over the last several years. But on the other hand, it’s just like getting slapped in the face when you’re not looking out for it. No matter how little you think of someone and their behavior, they manage to do something that still makes you flinch. Like this. Again. Ugh.

    I’m so inspired and proud of the Fullbright Company for pulling out of PAX. I wish other companies and studios and people would recognize the issues presented from PA and these dudes (and how they represent PAX), and pull out as well. Particularly companies and studios that claim they’re progressive and inclusive.

  10. I don’t mean to excuse his behavior, but I also don’t think it’s right to tell someone to die. People get defensive and emotional and say dumb things. Should Mike have learned from the Dickwolves incident and kept his mouth shut? Absolutely. But telling someone they’re human garbage or that they should die seems just as fucked up to me and being dismissive and phobic to trans people. It doesn’t solve the problem, and it doesn’t educate someone who obviously has ZERO CLUES about this issue.

    1. I do think that there are a number of social justice advocates who do more harm than good and could do with applying a healthy dose of Hanlon’s razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”) before they start hurling abuse and wishes of death. That kind of shit is never, ever okay and citing “tone argument” as a defence doesn’t cut it; being angry and being abusive are not the same thing.

      Having recently come out as trans*, I’ve gone out of my way to encourage family, friends and acquaintances to ask me questions about my situation and experiences. This is partly a comfort thing for me; while I may one day reach the point where people won’t know that I’m trans* unless I tell them, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, I’d rather be upfront and open. My other, somewhat more altruistic motivation, is to take the opportunity to educate the people around me and hopefully make some other trans* person’s life easier down the road as a result.

      Despite this, many people have been extremely cautious about what they say to me. Friends I’ve known for fifteen years, who already know at least one person who has transitioned, who I’ve literally said “Nothing you say will upset me, please ask me absolutely anything”to, are still worried about committing some kind of heinous faux pas and causing great offence.

      This suggests to me that people are so used to being blasted for saying the wrong thing, that they’ve come to expect it. In my opinion, this isn’t right and it isn’t helpful. I believe that the majority of people on this planet are fundamentally decent and, quite frankly, couldn’t give a crap about what’s happening in your pants. Assuming ill intent on their part when they get something wrong and abusing them for it doesn’t help anyone.

  11. Dude is an idiot and should keep his opinions to himself. The flip side of that is that I sort of see PA and their satellite of media properties as being mostly a positive influence in the gaming community, at least considering the alternatives.

    As an aside, I can vividly recall a time when, despite being a supporter of social justice, I lacked the language to talk about LGBTQ issues and said some really dumb things in public spaces. I’m glad that I was able to recover from that while inflicting a minimum of collateral damage. I can only hope Gabe learns the same lesson.

  12. Gabes most recent apology is actually an apology.
    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2013/06/21/going-one-step-further
    I’m hopeful. I know people are going to have their bridges burned and all that but I know personally that people do change, and it takes a lot of time to do so.
    His previous “apologies” seemed more like “Oh I’m sorry for causing people to be upset” and not any sort of contrition over his actual beliefs which caused him to say the things he did. Here, it seems like there’s more ownership over “I said bad shit, I need to learn”.

    1. I’m wary, but also hopeful. I do know that he said what he said out of ignorance and not malice. I really hope he genuinely has learned something from this. That would be great. (Even better would be if, once he understands more about trans issues, he were to post publicly saying he was wrong and why he was wrong.)

    2. I don’t really see it as “burned bridge” — that was ages ago with the dismissal and vicious mockery of survivors’ concerns — so much as “burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice… well, still shame on you but oh wait that’s not happening because I’m fucking outta here like yesterday bye”

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