PAX Controversy

So I know that PAX Controversy is a really generic title, but anything else I could think of ended up sounding a bit too much of a joke for something that is really a controversial topic. So if you do not know what Dickwolves are be grateful, and they will be explained further in some other articles I will be linking to. The basic concept is that Penny Arcade created a comic that used rape to look at the contradictory nature of questing in games such as World of Warcraft where you can only save a certain number and then you have to leave the rest to often horrible fates. There were a lot of people who felt that the use of rape and how it was portrayed was insulting to actual rape victims.

Now they could have just left it there, but as creators being attacked they got defensive that someone was making claims about what they meant. So they reacted and reacted in possibly the worst way you could react to something like this. It ended up enraging the other side of the issue and it ended up breaking down to both sides name calling, threatening, and generally moved past any sort of civilized debate on the issue. Escalating so far as having a Team Dickwolves shirt made for sale on the Penny Arcade  site, which was then removed weeks later. The issue eventually seemed to die down and then PAX happened this past week and Dickwolves got brought up again. 

Dickwolves Part 2

So apparently this past weekend at PAX they had a time where they were doing a casual interview between Robert Khoo with Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. In the session, that was attended by a lot of people, Mike was asked whether there was a time that they thought Robert made a mistake. Mike, not having planned answers, said he regrets pulling the Dickwolves shirts after the fact. The reaction to this comment has been negative from all the blogs that I read. It is possible that the only people commenting are the negative comments, which is understandable.

The couple of comments that I have read are people who were already a bit taken aback with how the controversy was handled in the first place. Then to have it brought up again they felt was a slap in the face to everyone who had been offended in the first place. They make comments about not feeling comfortable at PAX anymore and having what used to be a safe place feel questionable at best. Especially with how violent the argument got, it makes sense. If I make a comment about not liking Dickwolves or something similar am I going to be met with an overreaction from someone else.

So first here are the two articles that I read about the situation; Why I’m Never Going Back to Pax and What Are Dickwolves, and What Do They Have To Do With Rape Culture? A Cautionary Tale of How Not to Respond to Feminist Criticism.

The Response

So I had read these two articles and it made me really disappointed. It just makes me sad when people with such influence and who do create some pretty amazing work do not move past something that was not one of their best moments. I really like Penny Arcade, but I do remember questioning whether I was going to keep reading the comic after the situation. I can see both sides of the situation and even though someone who is in the public eye needs to be more careful about what they say; they are just human. At the same time if they really are unapologetic for how they reacted to the whole controversy, it does make me question how much I want to support their efforts. As the articles show I am not alone in this thought.

So, when I was looking at Penny Arcade the other day, I spent a second to look through the news items and found Krahulik’s Clarification that he posted. When I read it, I felt that it was authentic look at what was behind his answer. He felt that taking down the Team Dickwolves shirts just kept the controversy going instead of just letting it die down and moving past it. He does express regret over the whole reaction that they had to the controversy, which I do commend him for. It gives me some hope, but there have been a couple things that have definitely been bad decisions.

Final Decision

Well, really I have no final decision, because I really do love most of the stuff that Penny Arcade does. They do some great stuff and it is hard combine the idea of no booth babes and trying to create this welcoming experience in PAX to then having people wearing Team Dickwolves t-shirts. Now the thing that Krahulik does not seem to understand is that by removing the t-shirts they are acknowledging that some people have a problem with the concept. Even if it was not the intention of the original comic, and the controversy afterwards turned everything into an internet flame war, there were people who really felt hurt over this. While, we cannot make everyone happy, when it comes to victims of sexual assault I think trying to be more sensitive to their situation is the better way to go. Especially if we have not had to go through a similar experience. We can never really understand what goes through their mind. So, what do you think, does this make you want to not support Penny Arcade, still on the fence, or do you think it is such a small part of what they have done that it does not blot out all the good stuff?

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10 responses to “PAX Controversy

  1. I’m a long time reader of Penny-Arcade (I started reading it when I was 12, so over half my life now). Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the comic at all, but I can see where people were coming from. While the joke itself was to do with the absurdity of being forced to leave people to their fates in MMOs after rescuing an arbitrary number of people from the exact same situation, clearly the way the point was made was a trigger for some people.

    Some of my favourite comedians are people like Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, people who know there’s a line, and they willingly step over it non-stop while they’re on stage (Frankie does this in a far more extreme manner than Jimmy, but they both do it). Similarly, I don’t think I’ve yet seen an episode of South Park that has offended me. I’m a firm believer in the idea that either everything is fair game for a joke, or nothing is. The corollary to this though, is that I also believe that you need to pick your audience. South Park get away with it because people know what to expect from it. If they don’t want it, they won’t watch it. Same goes for Frankie Boyle’s comedy shows. You know he’s going to be making jokes about things society usually considers taboo (in the interests of keeping this post appropriate for your blog, I won’t mention specific topics), so if you choose to go and see him, you accept the risk that there may be something that will upset and offend you.

    What happened with Penny Arcade though is that they discovered that as a webcomic, they can’t really choose their audience when they want to do more… I don’t want to say ‘offensive’, but I can’t think of a better term. ‘Adult’ doesn’t quite fit, nor does ‘mature’ given that the joke was anything but… anyway. We’ll use offensive. When they want to do a more offensive comic, the problem they encounter is that they have a huge readership, who are used to what they normally produce, that being gaming and popculture related humour with the occasional bit of dark comedy. And yes, there have been other potentially offensive comics, both before and after the ‘Dickwolves’ debacle. Look at their reaction comic after the “Xbox One camera is always on” stories started up. Look at any of the jokes about Tycho’s weird fetishes, which heavily imply bestiality. But these jokes, for whatever reason, haven’t hit anywhere near as many triggers.

    I agree that the initial reactions of Mike and Jerry were not ideal, and led directly to the whole thing becoming the overblown nightmare that it was. I think that Mike’s response to it after the panel was well thought out, and made a lot of sense. They should have just left it alone. But they didn’t. That said, they’ve learnt from it. I applaud that. Even if they hadn’t, I’d have still kept reading the comic, but I definitely applaud their willingness to learn from their mistakes.

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    • Thank you so much for the comment it is great to hear from people who have been reading them for a long time. I started reading them about 7 years ago I think now on and off. More recently I have been more consistent reading them. Some of my favorite things they do are when they have longer continuing stories versus the one shot jokes. I actually think some of those are brilliantly thought out and can be very simplistic stories told really well.

      It is true that as a webcomic you do not have quite the same defined audience. They have always pushed the envelope, but it is not consistent in their work, at the same time I am not shocked by the more lewd comics. I actually think the Fruit Juicer (not the real name but PC’ing it up) is hilarious. In some ways it could actually be more offensive, but you are dealing with fruit and not humans. For me it was not about the comic, but the reaction that was disappointing. If they had continued to be antagonistic I would be more sure about a decision to not read them because if they want to antagonize I definitely would not want to support that. This situation is not so clear cut though and I think everyone needs to make their own decision.

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  2. Excellent post. I’ve never been a huge or hardcore PA fan, only dropping in on them on occasion, but I do have to say that’s been less and less frequent. Seems to me that the humor has gotten a lot more sophomoric lately — whether that has anything to do with the successful Kickstarter that freed them from worrying about offending sponsors or losing advertising or just a natural evolution of their work is up for debate, but I can’t say I care for it as much as I used to — seems a little too aggressively arrogant frat boy / dudebro to me, which I find off-putting.

    Then again, I’m well beyond their core demographic, as well, so if it keeps them in business, more power to them.

    I think the issue here is that it paints gaming culture — of which PA is at the forefront of, enough so to be able to host / organize multiple major conventions dedicated to it — in an unflattering light. The whole connotation of the terminology of the word ‘rape’ as it is used in the gaming lexicon is unsavory and smacks of adolescent behavior and arrested social development, and while Mike and Jerry may not have meant to draw a connection with what was meant to be a one-off joke, they certainly fanned the flames for a closer look at misogynistic traits in that culture and proved some of the unflattering stereotypes about gamers to be correct.

    The real tragedy here is that they did enable, if not encourage, some of the more unsavory elements of their fandom to act out, which is something you never do. As a creator, you can’t directly control the trolls, and their money spends the same as the ideal, polite fans, but you also don’t bait them and give them an elevated status as a way to indirectly exact revenge against critics but still be able to say, ‘hey, this isn’t the official stance’. It makes you wonder who their ‘ideal’ fan really is, and if you, as a fan, want to be associated with that. When things like that happen, you immediately do your best to shut it down and stop it right then and there.

    The fallout here isn’t just confined to gaming — I actually became aware of this from a webcomics vector, from a tweet sent out by a cartoonist that I’m following with the comment of ‘Sick and tired of these guys being the face of webcomics’. Which is true, PA is the equivalent of Marvel or DC in that particular medium / arena.

    Krahulik can defend himself as eloquently as he’d like, but the whole thing smacks of immaturity, both artistic and personal, and a trampled ego, the sort that comes from never having anyone tell you no and having the majority of your audience clap at everything you say on stage. Joking in any way, shape or form about rape is as bad as the sociopathic idiots who still insist on making AIDS / HIV ‘jokes’. It’s not about ‘taboo’ comedy, it’s purely insensitivity and living in a bubble of self-indulgence– they could’ve gotten their point across in less offensive terms, and they could’ve acted like adult professionals when confronted with criticism of their work.

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    • I can see where the Kickstarter might have given them some liberties and maybe they are not using it in the best light. I read them every day, but until this most recent story I cannot tell you something that I read recently that really stuck with me. The story they are doing now looks really pretty. At the same time I can name at least two or three story arcs from CTL ALT DEL that I have read recently that I loved and is hilarious. Thinking about that makes me wonder how much I am really enjoying them anymore.

      The thing about them being the face of webcomics is truly fascinating and actually I have heard that PAX is considered the gateway for Indie game developers. Some of whom do not necessarily want to go to PAX after the controversy, but feel that they need to in order to make traction with the industry.

      I think I read somewhere else where some of the problem is that they do not act like the big guys they still act like the little guys who are not considered a big deal. Thinking on their reaction to the Dickwolves thing kind of reminds me of trolls on Xbox live, which is part of my deep disappointment with the whole situation. I think with video games we too often accept language that would not be allowed anywhere else, but because it deals with video games it is okay.

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  3. We’ve ended up on the timeline of this controversy! Because that’s apparently a thing! Actually, I seem to remember the first timeline about this, so it’s kind of neat to be on the second one… http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/60283610877/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline-part-2

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  4. Excellent post. While I, myself am still pondering my personal verdict on the subject, I was blown away by the decision made by this girl, a survivor of sexual assault who is determined to attend PAX next year: http://nerdycare.blogspot.com/2013/09/this-week-in-geekdom-pax-and-dc-edition.html

    Congrats on being in the timeline!

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    • That story is so awesome and does make a good point. I appreciate the thought on one hand of not wanting to give their money to programs they do not agree with. At the same time how does that change anything except for allowing a gathering place for everyone who either does not see a problem or does not understand the problem or is just an outright troll. In some ways if attendees who were against the issue flooded the PAX it might be a different situation.

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  5. Excellent post, I was wondering if you were going to write something on the subject.

    I honestly am not sure what I will do. I went to Pax with friends in 2011, and had a great time. Part of me doesn’t want to think too hard about the controversy because I don’t want those memories tainted, the other part of me is thinking I should be going to Geek Girl Con or Sakura Con instead. In the end I’m going to keep a watchful eye on things, if similar situations keep recurring I’ll take a step back and reassess how I feel about my continual support of the company. I’m going to be hopeful that the creators learn from this how to handle criticism with grace, and not cause a similar controversy that leaves everyone unhappy.

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    • I have never been to PAX, but I have wanted to go. At the same time news like this makes me wonder if I should make other choices. Now I am determined to go to Geek Girl Con next year because I am unable to this year, but have also wanted to go to that since I first heard about it. Part of what I love is the panels are not just looking at what the latest and greatest is, but actually having a discussion on the issues and people working in the industry.

      I agree I will keep an eye open to where all this goes in terms of PAX and Penny Arcade, but I am not ready to make a judgment call just yet.

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  6. Pingback: 10 Great Things From Blogging This Year | DBCII

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