“With great power comes great responsibility.” —Amazing Fantasy #15
As I wrote in this paper two weeks ago, I was excited to attend this year’s edition of the gaming convention PAX Prime held in Seattle earlier this month. Well, that was then; now my excitement and anticipation has been replaced by confusion and anger. The culprits? Dickwolves.
Wait. What is a Dickwolf? OK, let’s back up a bit.
Way back in 2010, Penny Arcade—the web comic out of which the convention was born—ran a strip titled “The Sixth Slave,” into which PA cofounder Mike Krahulik inserted a rape joke. The Dickwolves, creatures with penises for legs and tails, were responsible for said rape. As happens when rape jokes are made in public, there was an outcry from those speaking on behalf of rape survivors and others who felt uneasy with rape jokes. In response, PA made a joke about how they obviously don’t condone rape, and then proceeded to make Dickwolf shirts. More public outcry followed, after which the merch was thankfully pulled from PA ’s online store. And we all lived happily ever after.
Well, not exactly. Incidents have continued to create tension between Penny Arcade and the margins of the gaming community willing to speak up.
That tension came to a head at PAX Prime’s closing ceremony on Sept. 2 when Krahulik opened the old can of dickwolves, suggesting that the biggest mistake Robert Khoo, president of operations and business development at Penny Arcade, ever made was to pull the Dickwolves merchandise. He suggested that by doing so, PA was “engaging,” something they shouldn’t do. And this is where it gets ugly: The PAX audience burst into applause and cheers of approval. Someone shouted “Bring it back!”, and—in the scene’s only redeeming moment—both Krahulik and Khoo said “No!”
Response from the margins was swift. Rachel Edidin wrote a great response at Wired, titled “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo.” She points out that by making the shirts in the first place, Penny Arcade decided to engage. She writes, “These were not neutral choices.” Very true. In addition, Christine Love wrote an open letter to the PA ownership, stating that “an entire giant auditorium of men got excited at the idea of making rape survivors feel uncomfortable, and the idea of not listening to people when they say they feel unsafe. That is terrifying.” Well said, Ms. Love.
In response to this most recent outcry, Krahulik posted on the PA blog that “I absolutely regret everything we did after that comic.” However, at the end of the letter he wrote, “We don’t aspire to be role models, just normal people, but we try to do what’s best with the platform we have.”
This is where I have a problem. It’s clear that Krahulik doesn’t understand how influential he really is. He doesn’t realize that his words and tweets influence how the community as a whole reacts to those, both in the exhibition hall and outside, who think and feel differently. As the face of a company and a community, Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, his partner in PAX, are leaders. Without them, the community threatens to be a rudderless ship, steered in dangerous directions by unaccountable voices in online forums that push those on the margins further away.
I’ve been monitoring the #dickwolves hashtag on Twitter, and it is clear that a very vocal segment of the community doesn’t understand that it is not OK to make rape jokes; it is not OK to threaten people with rape; it is not OK to insist that naysayers “just don’t get it” and need to “lighten up.” These people won’t listen to someone like me or Edidin or Love. But they might listen to Krahulik and the others at Penny Arcade.
We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, but it won’t do any good until a bridge is formed to the leaders of the community. Which is why I would encourage people not to follow Edidin’s example, and to continue going to PAX.
It would be a great loss for the larger community not to be exposed to those on the margins of the gaming community. They are not going to openly seek different perspectives—why would they? So I’ll bring my perspective to them, and hope others do as well. I want an inclusive community, one with open dialogue. If we can achieve this, there would be so many more gamers—meaning a bigger market, more diversity, and more awesome games to play! Come on, who doesn’t want that?!