Why I Can’t Support Penny Arcade

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Look, at this point Penny Arcade have created their fair share of controversy. I’ve gotten into fights on Twitter. I’ve argued where the line should be drawn between freedom of speech and expression of opinion versus when offensive views and forms of expression are no longer okay.

I’ve seen the repeated exclamations that Trans Women are not true women, I’ve seen their support for offensive panels at their conventions and I remember the whole scenario surrounding Dickwolves (something I hoped we were finally done with).

For those unaware, here’s the story of Dickwolves up to this week. Back in August 2010 Penny Arcade released one of their regularly occurring comic strips, in which the punch line was that a character had been “raped by Dickwolves”. Many on the internet were upset about the obvious problem here, which is that you are making rape into a joke. 

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About 2 months later Penny Arcade escalated the issue by starting to sell Dickwolves T-Shirts in their online store. The shirts were styled like american sport team shirts, pitching the wearers as supporters of “Team Dickwolves”. The shirts were completely horrible in my opinion, creating an environment that was pretty exclusionary within their conventions. It made Penny Arcade Expo somewhere that was no longer a safe environment for women, rape victims, people like me who constantly fear rape when travelling alone at night. It encouraged the idea that it was cool to buy merch that advertised you as being a rapist, or at least someone who thought rape was a humorous punchline to a joke.

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Early 2011 fans of the Dickwolves comic and Penny Arcade supporters took the terrifying step of creating “Team Rape”, an online group that took to forming harassment campaigns against anti rape and anti Dickwolves campaigners. People standing up against the Dickwolves merch were regularly met with comments like “I hope you get raped by a million Dickwolves” and it was genuinely distressing trying to stand up against the horrid situation that was unfolding.

The incident came to an end when the Dickwolves merchandise was removed from the Penny Arcade website and Mike Krahulik made an apology for the statements made during the arguments that had occured on blogs and Twitter. Jerry Holkins made a final post on the matter summarizing that while Penny Arcade know they create a webcomic that is reliant on this type of humour, they were in no way supporters of rape culture. That was the end of it….. Or that should have been the end of it.

This weekend at PAX, it was announced that the biggest regret that the staff of Penny Arcade have is their choice to pull the Dickwolves Merch, they feel they should have stood by their creation and continued their support of Dickwolves.

Rather than embedding the whole video, I’ve linked to important part of the video below. If you wish to see the entire panel for context, you can still do so by following the link.

http://www.twitch.tv/pax/b/455394585?t=2h35m

So…. I don’t honestly know if I’m more upset by the fact that they regret removing the shirts, or by the disgusting audience reaction to that statement. Seriously, what audience applauds bringing back a joke that marginalises anyone whose life is affected by rape or the threat of rape? I’m so glad I wasn’t sat in that room, as honestly sitting in a room of people applauding and cheering on a rape joke would have been too much for me to take. I felt unsafe just watching the stream at home, imagine putting me in a crowded room, surrounded by those people, with no way to escape. It’s unforgivable, it really is.

I’ve had my problems with Penny Arcade in the past, I’ve been offended, but I at least thought they had the decency to step back from this one joke. I thought they had the decency to draw the line at rape. I can to a degree ignore the anti trans sentiments and brush them off as pure ignorance of the issues, but not this. This is Penny Arcade making an upsetting rape joke, encouraging rape culture within their community, finally taking a stance against rape culture and admitting they were in the wrong, then undermining any good they did. They know the effect this joke had on people, why would they tell their community that rape jokes are okay this way. 

Penny Arcade, if you appologise for a rape joke then please tell your staff to have the intelligence to go quiet on the issue. For me, this is the final straw. I can no longer hate your actions while still supporting your content and conventions. This is where I draw the line. I can no longer support anything you do. 

The worst part for me? I’m finally withdrawing my support for the amazing Extra Credits, who are currently hosted and funded by Penny Arcade. I can’t keep watching something that is putting money in the pockets of a disgusting company. I hate having to do this, but I can’t put any support to Penny Arcade any more.

14 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Support Penny Arcade

  1. Well said Laura, Well said. I can understand fully why you would feel distressed as im sure many other women and perhaps some men would feel concern. Going through an ordeal myself, I completely 100% back you up on how horrifying it is that they glorify something as sickening as rape. Keep up the good work sweets =)

  2. Hi. I understand your issue and respect the point of view. Rape shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just to help me understand your stand here, though: the idea that you were offended by was them making the rape joke, not calling that race or whatever Dickwolves. Am I right?

    1. It was never the phrase Dickwolves, it was them making a joke about walking away and not preventing rape, then glorifying this creature that encompassed their attitude toward rape. For me that was the problem.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Laura. I was going to go with what Jonathan Chapman said underneath, I don’t see their Dickwolves thing a worry as much as their refusal to stand up against the idiocy of the people who adopted the whole thing as a pro-rape campaign. In this case, I don’t think that it’s their initial comic that’s the main problem, it’s their reaction to how the public received it.

      2. Isn’t that the point of the original strip though? Making a joke that most games reward players for doing the bare minimum to meet a criteria, turning the player’s “Hero” in to a mercenary that will ignore horrific events when there’s nothing in it for them.
        That’s not saying rape is good, that’s saying ignoring rape is very not heroic.

        In my opinion, anyone using that strip to justify any kind of harassment has completely failed to understand the joke.
        Same kind of person that laughs at jokes they don’t understand I think.

      3. @Kaithar So when the initial complaints about the strip came in, why did they not say that? Instead of simply saying “it wasn’t intended to minimize rape, in fact it was intended to show that ignoring rape is not heroic” they doubled down and got defensive. They then made merchandise, fan groups supported them (including a “Team Rape” as Laura pointed out).

        The point is, they see themselves as a victim of people trying to bully or censor them and are incapable of understanding why other people got upset not only at the strip but much, much more so at their behavior following complaints about it. Nitpicking over how rape functions in the original strip is irrelevant to everything that came after it.

      4. @Robert Why didn’t they say that… I don’t really know, I can’t read their minds. Two answers that jump out though:
        1/ Explaining a joke is the fastest way to render it not funny.
        2/ It could be considered sufficiently obvious that explaining it wouldn’t help… anyone who didn’t read it that way to start with has a relatively low chance of accepting that as the explanation.

        I mean really, your phrasing neatly demonstrates this point.
        You’re blaming them for the actions of their fans. Penny Arcade didn’t make the “Team Rape” abomination, some mentally deficient fans did.

        But if we want to play these silly games, fine. Back to the core point here…
        Should we campaign for the suppression of any merchandise that supports fantasy villains on the grounds that it’s validating the actions of that villain?

        Where do you even draw the line? As Team Edward/Team Jacob was brought up, do we want to ban merchandise relating to them? Remember, werewolves and vampires are both classified as cold blooded killers.

        Oh, wait, we’ll have to ban some soft toys too… lions, tigers, the rest of the big cats, sharks, snakes, spiders… I could continue, but you get the idea. All predators that are happy enough killing humans if they feel like it. All regularly represented and glorified by toys and merchandise, some of which is aimed solidly at children.
        Yes, I can hear your shout of “But that’s different”… really? How is it different?
        Dickwolves, presumably, aren’t much smarter than big cats or sharks.
        Dickwolves are vague fantasy, none of those real animals are even uncommon enough to make you safe from them in their natural habitat. Bears? Real Wolves? Yeah, don’t need to go far to find those.
        So really it’s an assertion that being raped is worse than being mauled and eaten alive, or crushed by a constrictor, or killed by one of the snakes, spiders or jellies who use a venom that is excruciating painful.

        What’s that? I’m using strawmen? Nope, this is reductio ad absurdum.
        Perhaps you’d like to read Looking For Group and pressure them not to sell Richard plushies?

        Back here in the real world there are a few constants that are important to this argument… phallus jokes are always funny, rape never is, and some people are going to be dicks.
        The dickwolves are a simple penis joke.
        When suggested that they were supporting rape they replied with a clear and unambiguous statement that hate rapists, with an implied note that they were rather insulted by the suggestion. If you accuse someone of supporting rapists you’d damn right they’ll get “defensive”… right after they’ve gotten offended, and usually right before they consider beating you to a pulp for using such a disgusting insult. You’ve done the comic equivalent of heckling a comedian because you think their joke was offensive.
        Oh and by engaging in character assassinations like this, you’re failing Wheaton’s Law.

        But you know what? I agree with them… Pulling the merch was a big mistake. Why? For the exact reason they gave: It was engaging.

        By bowing to pressure they did two very wrong things. They legitimised the claim that they were supporting it, and they legitimised the idiots that actually were supporting it.
        Go think about that for a bit.
        The first part should be obvious, it pulling material because of a reason someone else has given implies agreement with that reason. It changes the narrative from “You support X!” “Fine, we’ll take it down.” to “You support X!” “Huh? Are you smoking something?!”
        The second part is more subtle and vague. While they defended the material they could say “Those guys are dicks misrepresenting our work”, but as soon as they pull the merch they lose that and end up with “Those guys are dicks and we don’t want to give them ammo any more.”
        See the problem?

        These are the same kind of arguments that get thrown around any time some bright spark has the idea of banning violent video games, or banning some violent movie, or banning some aggressive music, or banning some disturbing book. The result is always the same.
        While the artist may be held accountable for bad taste, they can’t be held responsible for people who lack the ability to separate fantasy from reality.
        Individuals are responsible for their own actions, you cannot blame the harassment on a fictional mythological creature.
        The people doing the harassment are responsible for the harassment and those are the people that should be campaigned against. Or are we going to start protesting against alcohol because some drunk people behave like jerks and/or commit crimes?

        Do I think rapists are subhuman abominations and that people who abuse others, like Team Rape have, are little better? Damn skippy I do.
        Do I think rape and it’s accompanying psychological trauma, including the justifiable paranoid level of fear for the victim’s own safety, is a horrific thing? Hells yes it is.
        Do I think this campaign against Penny Arcade will have even the slightest affect on said subhuman population? Nope.

  3. If I have to choose an artist’s right to express themselves vs. political correctness, which one do you think I’m going to choose 100% of the time? I don’t think the original comic was out of line. I don’t think the merchandise was out of line (the focus was on the wolves.. not the strip). I think the guys using the original joke out of context to be horrible people were out of line. And it’s they that need dealing with (via bannings, etc). But we live in a country/world where horrible people are free to speak their mind. And I’ll gladly be disgusting to allow freedom of expression to continue.

    1. “Freedom of expression” also covers people saying they were disgusted by attitudes and statements they find disgusting. It also doesn’t mean “freedom from public backlash or criticism”. Just so you know.

  4. “It made Penny Arcade Expo somewhere that was no longer a safe environment for women (1), rape victims (2), people like me who constantly fear rape when travelling alone at night (3).”

    1. Why no longer safe for women?

    2. Yes, good. Not only women are raped. So what is point (1) about? However, joking about rape, doesn’t make somewhere an unsafe space, any more than a Louis CK show is an unsafe space for “niggers”,”faggots” or any of the other group he uses discriminatory terms for.

    3. If you constantly fear rape when travelling alone at night, then this is a problem with you, rather than Penny Arcade. You obviously have issues that need to be addressed, and oppressing others and their use of language is not going to help you.

    You say: “I felt unsafe just watching the stream at home”. If this is true, and you’re not just being over-the-top for internet attention, you need to seek psychological help immediately.

    Some people are offended by cancer jokes.
    Some people are offended by AIDS jokes.
    Some people are offended by drugs jokes.
    Some people are offended by rape jokes.
    Some people are offended by gender jokes.

    Shall we stop all jokes, to protect anyone who might be upset? No, of course not.

    1. 1. Why no longer safe for women?

      Because Enforcers have a history of ignoring and enabling sexual harassers and covering up sexual assaults that happen at the con, and then drumming the people who reported it out of their “community”.

      2. Yes, good. Not only women are raped. So what is point (1) about? However, joking about rape, doesn’t make somewhere an unsafe space, any more than a Louis CK show is an unsafe space for “niggers”,”faggots” or any of the other group he uses discriminatory terms for.

      “Joking about rape” isn’t the issue. The issue is that they’ve come out and all-but-said “rape is okay” not by the comic but by all the actions they’ve endorsed or condoned in the community.

      3. If you constantly fear rape when travelling alone at night, then this is a problem with you, rather than Penny Arcade. You obviously have issues that need to be addressed, and oppressing others and their use of language is not going to help you.

      Yes, the majority of women, especially women in cities, are not constantly told to fear stranger rape and being accosted, and don’t have constant street harassment going on that reinforces the fact that everything they do is at the mercy of the people they interact with choosing not to rape them.

      In short, go fuck yourself.

  5. I was never a big fan of Penny Arcade, and I’ve never gone to PAX despite living in Seattle for the last 4 years. I guess that, from an outsider’s perspective, I don’t understand why PA insists on being assholes about this. If people were saying that something I said upsets them, why would I immediately dismiss their concerns? When I have the power to change what I’m saying, why wouldn’t I just change it? Especially in a position of power such as Penny Arcade, this is an important thing to do.

    I guess I’ve just never understood not changing. I’ve said stupid things in the past (lots of them) and while it never feels good to be told that I’ve said something stupid, I still have the ability to react rationally. If what I say is affecting somebody so strongly that they feel that they need to call me out on it, I feel like I should at least take the time to consider their position. It’s not hard. And usually, I’ll come to the conclusion that changing my words is easy and does me absolutely no harm.

    The burden is on the offended to call out the offender. This is a difficult action and should be respected. The offender has the easy decision of “not saying shitty things” and this should be the default course of action.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. I never really supported PA, so it’s an easy decision to continue NOT doing that for me, but I am glad other people are publicly withdrawing their support as well. It’s all we can do at this point, because PA is obviously not going to change.

    1. Still going to PAX. All of them. Nobody can stop me. Also, PA is too large and powerful at this point. They will soak the negative PR. Because the internet will forget in a couple weeks. Twice the number of people allowed in want in. So with some people leaving permanently that means more badges for the rest of us. So, yay? You would have to convince the major corporations to back out of PAX. Which isn’t happening. PAX is a big deal currently in the industry. It’s unstoppable for the forseeable future. Which means that all this will be forgotten.

      At least until Mike goes and says something stupid yet again. That man needs to think before he speaks, seriously.

      On a side note : I simply cannot relate to all this fear and anger being directed at PA/PAX/Etc. So this is probably why I’m in such an entrenched mode. PAX and PA have been an extremely positive force in my life and I will view any attacks on them as a direct threat to my well being. And thus I respond in such a manner befitting a cultist 😛

  6. I really appreciate this post, as I wasn’t aware of the original comic and the row about it at the time, and this gives the history. I’m in a similar position to Clint, who posted above – Penny Arcade has always been peripheral to me. As an outsider, though, I really can’t see how anyone thought those shirts were a good idea.

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