(Trigger warning: rape and sexual assault.)
So, I went to PAX East back in March. It was pretty incredible, and I got to meet a lot of friends and co-bloggers whom I’d only ever spoken to online. One of those people was our own Blake, who later wrote this post about her experience at the Jonathan Coulton concert at PAX: how she felt at home singing along to geeky music with other nerds and gamers, and how abruptly that feeling was replaced by exclusion when Coulton sang a sexist song. I had similar moments at PAX East, but I still had an amazing time. As recent as Wednesday morning, I was thinking ahead to PAX East, excited to see friends again and making plans in my head.
That all changed Wednesday afternoon, when I saw the news posts for that day’s Penny Arcade strip. If you don’t want to click through, the news post announces a new t-shirt for sale: a sports logo-style tee that says “Dickwolves.” Gabe’s news post starts with a mock trigger warning for “attempts to coerce laughter through foul language, Dungeons, Dice rolling, contempt for Hydra’s bodily autonomy,Dragons,”.
No matter what you thought of the original comic that set off this chain of events, I think we can all agree that the behavior of these guys since the initial blowup has been nothing but totally assholish. I honestly thought this whole thing was over with, but apparently Gabe and Tycho are so very defensive about their privilege, they have to sell t-shirts to prove that people agree with them that it’s totally awesome to be a fucking asshole to rape survivors and people with PTSD.
But this is more than profiting off of rape culture, it’s also sending a loud and clear message to the greater gaming community about who is part of the club and who isn’t. And that message is: people who think rape is hilarious, people who mock people who have been through trauma and/or have PTSD, people who don’t understand what trigger warnings are and why they are used, people who think it is awesome to be an insensitive jackass–these people are all welcome in the gaming community. Rape survivors, people with PTSD, and people who think it actually isn’t cool to mock the first two groups can go fuck right off.
This message comes to you straight from the same people who put together PAX and PAX East, conventions that strive to be considered opening and welcoming events for all geeks, a three-day homecoming for gamers. And yet things like this show that it’s not actually all gamers who are welcome. No, PAX is really only home for the privileged, and everyone else is merely a guest whose invitation is contingent upon never ever questioning or challenging the privilege of those at the top.
The original comic was a mere drop in the sea of rape culture. It upheld rape culture but it was one of a million things that did the same just that day, so didn’t make much of a splash; on the other hand, Gabe and Tycho’s continual mockery of the concerns of survivors and allies makes huge waves within the video game community. They are leaders with a huge following, and that gives them a certain level of responsibility for shaping the community; what they did with that power was to reinforce the same old bullshit, the same barriers of oppression that have always existed in the geek world and beyond.
At the next PAX East, who is going to feel more at home, when they see a Penny Arcade fan walking around in a Dickwolves shirt, or see them sold at the merch booth? And who is going to feel like an unwanted intruder at an event that is supposed to be a safe place for nerds to geek out and have fun?
I’ve joined a number of gaming communities in the past, and except for those few that are explicitly inclusive, I’ve always gotten burned. At this point, I’m not even angry any more, I’m just heartbroken, because I actually thought that PAX would be different, that it would be the real deal. Wrong.
A slightly more coherent post on PA’s rape comic — Devil May Rant
For the record, comments discussing whether the original comic was technically a rape joke or not will be considered off-topic and deleted. We’ve already had that conversation. As always, all other moderating decisions are under sole discretion of the editors.