A Welcoming Place for All Gamers

(Trigger warning: rape and sexual assault.)

The PAX East Logo.

The PAX East Logo.

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.

Further reading:
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.

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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25 Responses to A Welcoming Place for All Gamers

  1. Thefremen says:

    Well put Alex. I had really hoped that after they tweeted my auction that this whole episode was behind them and they would just STFU in the future. Yeah, not so much. Lets not forget they also lashed out when asked to examine their privilege RE: resident evil 5 (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/2/18/) pretty much the only time they ever said “whoops, my bad” was when they were asked to examine their class privilege re: when their comic said buying used games was tantamount to stealing. I suppose in that particular incident they were able to remember a time before they no longer had to worry about money.

    At any rate, it is sad. It is heartbreaking. Just a year ago PAX was the expo where they clearly do not allow molestation or harassment. Now, not so much.

    I can understand people not examining their privilege, that’s how I lived most of my life. I just can’t understand why someone would have the opportunity to do so and react in such a manner.

  2. mehhhh says:

    I’m a rape victim. I have PTSD. I’ve been assaulted multiple times in various situations.
    And yet I’m not at all bothered by the Dickwolves shirt – in fact, I’m considering buying one, because it’s, to me, funny.
    Don’t want to be excluded or judged for not finding it funny? Fine – but on the flip side, don’t judge people who *do* find it amusing.

  3. Pingback: Randomly Assigned Open Post at Questioning Transphobia

  4. koipond says:

    Wait, post #2 and we’re already at [url=http://www.derailingfordummies.com/#represent]that straw argument[/url]?

    /me whistles

    It’s not about bothering. It’s about the fact that this shirt represents a reinforcing of the status quo that is the [url=http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html]rape culture[/url] found in the gaming community (to be fair in the wider kyriarchy but this is a gaming blog).

  5. Chen says:

    Gladly, I have never been in a situation that would render the cartoon offensive. I did find it distasteful, but I consider that par for the course on the PA site, finding gems only rarely amongst the in-jokes and self-indulgent storyline strips.

    Nevertheless, for the authors to glorify in their ignorance and then twist the knife by releasing a T-Shirt that reinforces that ignorance is most disappointing.

    As Alex explained, PA are in a position of great responsibility, however the pop-culture broadsword they swing is apparently just as likely to maim their own loyal following as it is to improve the lives of hospitalised children. Worse still, they don’t care one bit.

  6. thefremen says:

    @mehhhh you forgot to endorse their making fun of trigger warnings and then accuse anyone who doesn’t find that funny of standing in judgement of you.

  7. Jokumuu says:

    @Thefremen: Reading the news post accompanying that Resident Evil 5 strip, I find it quite difficult to see any lashing out going on. I quote:

    “It’s more or less exactly what we want out of a Resident Evil game, but it’s impossible for us to play it without the metanarrative of race providing a grim context for our every in-game action. It’s clear when playing it that they’ve added a few caucasoids to the mix, and also what looks like zombie version of Saddam Hussein, but it’s hard to tell what they’re doing there. Playing the game does nothing to dilute the imagery people have found objectionable, the trailer wasn’t out of context in any way – in fact I would say quite plainly that they go far beyond what you might have believed possible.”

    “It won’t be hard to find an authentic, devoted racist on Xbox Live to play as Chris – but is the game somehow less racist if I join someone else’s game as co-op partner Sheva Alomar? I hope so. It’s sort of like those Magic Eye pictures. You can’t see it, you can’t see it, and then wham. All you can see is the genocide.”

  8. Meg says:

    They just invited their audience to identify *as rapists*. That pretty much defines “contributing to rape culture” in my mind.

    For example, if they had just wanted to make a tasteless and offensive shirt it could have said: “dickwolf rape survivor.” But clearly, they don’t expect there to be survivors in their audience, just rapists.

  9. wererogue says:

    I find the T-Shirt way more disturbing than I did the comic (although I strongly sympathised with critics of the comic) because the statement of wearing it is “I support the rapist team.”

  10. Kirby Bits says:

    Months ago, Jay Smooth did a video talking about “post-racial” culture (the link to which I, of cours, cannot find now), and he discussed at length the idea of bridging various cultural gaps and getting closer to other cultural groups. His main point was that when building relationships between a majority and a minority, or really any two groups, or any two *individuals*, it’s fundamentally a *relationship.*

    eg: I’m dating someone, and we now live together. Now that we’re closer to each other, that doesn’t mean I “get to” suddenly stop caring about his feeling – we’re closer, and so I care *more*. As male gamers who are trying to build an all-inclusive game convention, the PA guys should be getting *more* educated and respectful of the various types of gamers they’re drawing together, not *less*. That’s not how relationships work, and that’s why it’s so disappointing and heartbreaking every time they go out of their way to be defensive jerks to groups they spend the rest of their time supposedly trying to attract to their site and events.

  11. Erika says:

    I agree. Regardless of what I think about the original comic, their behavior since then has been childish, bratty, and depressingly predictable.

    How hard is it to just say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize that would strike such a nerve” and move on? Pretty hard, apparently.

  12. thefremen says:

    @jokumuu Eh sorry, been a while. Friend linked me the comic and I completely forgot that the accompanying newspost was all like “ignore the content and message of the comic it is completely contrary to what we are saying here. No seriously we aren’t being reactionary to N’Gai Croal at all.” I still stand by the classism inherent in their labeling of folks who buy second hand games as thieves, what’s more making them hypocrites for treating torrenting TV shows as no big deal.

  13. zach says:

    “who is part of the club and who isn’t”…
    absolutely. you nailed it 100%. smartest thing i’ve read all week.

    it really isn’t about the humor anymore. it is about delineating who can play with the cool kids and who isn’t cool enough to join in.

  14. NonCon says:

    I really liked that this article addresses the angle that leaders of these communities need to have a certain level of maturity. I made a post on my own blog when the original “apology” comic came out, and that was one of the points I brought up, though I didn’t address that half as well as the article you linked that discusses that issue.

    I’ve never really been a huge PA fan. I started reading long after they became popular, and the few comics that I felt were genuinely hilarious weren’t nearly as many as the number that were “Eh. Okay then.” They *can* be funny, but as people they’ve always come off as more than a little ignorant to me in a lot of ways, and if I said I had respect for them I’d be lying.

    I’ve never attended PAX, and now I never intend to.

  15. Blake says:

    I can’t believe they turned this into a matter of “us” vs “them”. Maybe ConBust (the Smith College science fiction convention) will be the same weekend as PAX again this year and I can run the panels I wanted to run there instead.

    I actually have one of their “I’d [tap] that” t-shirts, which I’d worn as an ironic commentary on the culture of female objectification in the geek community and how the accompanying attitude of “if I just [pay four green mana] she’ll sleep with me!” was both ridiculous and a nearly-inevitable result of the original sexism. I just now realized that it wasn’t meant as satire. I’m glad I never wore it to general nerdy spaces or I’d feel dirty right now.

  16. lilmiss says:

    above and beyond what’s on the shirt and what message it sends, making fun of trigger warnings is NOT COOL. that’s just blatantly saying “I don’t care about other people’s feelings! I think it’s funny that you’re in pain!”

  17. Alex says:

    @Erika: Lisa linked this in the comments on her post at Questioning Transphobia: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/10/04/im-sorry/ It’s sadly relevant here, I think.

    @lilmiss exactly =(

    Submitted without comment.

  18. Treehouse says:

    This doesn’t surprise me, anger me or make me want to cry. I’m numb to it anymore and that’s the real pity.

    I guess I thought Gabe and Tycho were different, somehow above the general bullshit. Making money off of a rape joke? Really? It’s not even the joke that I find truly offensive (oddly enough); it’s the unabashedly childish way they’ve handled everything since the joke that makes me think they need a bottle and a burp. Maybe it’s just gas.

    The shirt just says to me- ‘Hi! My name is: I Think Rape Is Hilarious!’. It also says to me that I’m not welcomed in their space and neither is my Mom, Sister and four close friends.

    People who think that it’s the funniest thing when other people cry uncontrollably, violently shake, scream in fear, fight or try to run and hide from the invisible attacker- *those* are the people they want to cultivate and gather together? Those kind of people are ‘in’ and ‘hip’?

    I do wonder why they’re being so obtuse. I didn’t take them for idiots.

  19. Tina Russell says:

    I agree with this post. I didn’t like the original comic, but I’ve never really liked when Penny Arcade veers into shock humor so I tried not to think about it (a privilege I have, of course). It made me irritated that they dismissed criticisms out of hand, but I tried to push it all out of my brain because it all made me so sad. Then Gabe made fun of trigger warnings and I was really angry. It’s like they don’t understand why anyone might find those useful or important. The whole thing really brought into stark relief the need for greater feminism and general social-justice literacy in geek communities and just how much of a task that is. Bleh.

  20. Like Alex and many other sensible people I too thought that the “dickwolves” issue was being moved-on-from. Then I get an IM from a friend one day telling me that Gabe had mocked people with PTSD. I looked and… well… you know the sad thing is I was waiting for some ass to make this joke, you know? It’s kind of predictable, singling out and making fun of trigger warnings. It’s precisely the kind of ignorant and thoroughly asshattish thing one might do when they’re both high as a kite on privilege and angling to be ‘clever’ and ‘edgy.’ I was expecting it from some punk on a random blog comment or on Reddit. But coming from the PA guys…

    As everyone here has already pointed out, again and again, they are channelling the collective id of the gaming community. Indeed ‘id’ seems an increasingly inapt metaphor as it implies a hidden sewer everyone’s ashamed to talk about. This, in contrast, is out in the open, displayed, sold, and trumpeted with heedless pride.

    I know someone with PTSD. I know what it can do, and why it’s rather the opposite of funny. Coming from Gabe in particular who has demonstrated contempt for women again and again (remember the brouhaha about his love for PUAs, since us wimminz are all scary manipulative aliens, dontchaknow.) and on the heels of both Gabe and Tycho’s contempt for the critiques levelled at them in the wake of the “dickwolves” nonsense, this is beyond “tasteless”- it’s childish.

    Thank you, Alex, you speak truth to power effectively as always. ;)

  21. Jayle Enn says:

    I like Kirby Bits’s reference to communities merging as forming relationships, because it shows the PA guys and their ilk as being seriously phobic of commitment.

    They don’t want to court female-identifying gamers. They don’t want a real relationship with a large and growing fraction of the gaming community. They want to own us. We’re not people to them, we’re prizes– jewelry, or eye candy, or even flipping Pokemon. The second that we try to express ourselves as equal partners, they panic and make themselves look like dangerously overgrown eight year olds in order to drive us away again.

  22. Brinstar says:

    @mehhhh: It’s good that, despite your experiences, you find humour in Penny Arcade’s perspectives on rape. Others may not. Everyone deals with traumatic experiences differently. It’s out of empathy, respect, and consideration for others–and a desire that rape, its effects, and its victims are treated with respect and seriousness–that people are speaking out about this Penny Arcade incident. If you’re not affected by their rape jokes, that’s okay. No one is telling you how you should deal with your experiences or that you shouldn’t find humour in PA’s attitude towards rape. However, it’s valid to critique a culture that doesn’t take rape seriously and perpetuates myths about rape, which leads to people not taking the crime or its victims seriously. The post states that Penny Arcade is a part of this rape culture, and perpetuates frivolous attitudes towards the crime. It doesn’t cast judgment on how victims of rape should deal with the after effects of the crime.

  23. MertvayaRuka says:

    “The post states that Penny Arcade is a part of this rape culture, and perpetuates frivolous attitudes towards the crime. It doesn’t cast judgment on how victims of rape should deal with the after effects of the crime.”

    Exactly. If anything, Penny Arcade would be the ones trying to tell victims of rape how they should deal with the after effects of the crime. This continuing crap from them is essentially saying to every single victim of rape out there, “Hey, your trauma? Get over it, we’re trying to make jokes here and your insistence on feeling pain and sorrow over something awful that happened to you is really making it difficult.”.

    Given the choice, I think I’m happier being part of the un-hip, un-cool and humorless group that’s not okay with that idea.

  24. Jupiterspores says:

    This is pretty much the reason I stopped reading Penny Arcade. The follow up to the dickwolves joke has been more disappointing than the comic itself.

    For me it highlights how despite all of Tycho’s supposed storytelling chops, Penny Arcade’s humor relies almost entirely on horrible, nerdy, low-hanging fruit (It’s hard to talk to girls! Gay people are hilarious/shameful! Rape against dudes is goofy!) instead of being clever on its own merits.

  25. Nezumi says:

    I was willing to accept the original strip — they have the right to make what jokes they want, no matter how tasteless, and it was a joke about MMO culture that had the questionable taste to involve rape, rather than a pure “rape joke” — it would have worked if they’d used any other horrible fate… which raises the question of why they didn’t, come to think of it. I was also willing to accept the shirt — there is a joke inherent to a sports team having such a creature as a mascot. What gets to me is the trivializing and mocking of trigger warnings. Why? Just… why would you ever do that?

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