A Community of Dickwolves

Oh, hi, I have a blog. Sorry, been busy. So, let's talk about dickwolves. (Most of the links below came from this recap, which apparently is being updated in progress in case you just can't get enough dickwolf.) Penny Arcade a while back wrote a comic about the fundamental absurdity of MMO quests. Pretty familiar to those of you reading, I'm sure.

Pity the poor NPC, indeed. However, people who were raped (though presumably not by wolves, dickish or otherwise) were offended. Mind you, they would have previously had to have skipped the entire character arc of an animated fruit blender whos motivation involves, well, you know.

So, this is not a pair of cartoonists who are known for their political correctness. Or sympathy towards women. After all, this is the comic where one of the protagonists killed his wife and then replaced her with a bucket.

So - profane, surreal, funny. Got it. Someone didn't.

The problem is, I just don't find rape funny. Because rape survivors exist among us, and after being victimized by rapists, they are revictimized by a society that treats even real rape like a joke, forced to live in a culture that actually has a lot of rape jokes, including those about rape victims being actively denied justice for no other reason than because people don't take rape seriously. I don't find rape funny because rape victims are often doubted, mocked, and insulted openly. This is why I avoid comedy. I don't go to comedy movies, I rarely watch comedians, I avoid sitcoms like the plague. I've started to develop a Pavlovian response, cringing preemptively, to things I do find funny, because if somebody makes a dark joke, I've learned it won't be long until the rape jokes show up. This is why I'm a humorless feminist. Because rape jokes killed my sense of humor.

This is an overreaction. The writer admits it. She says she has no perspective on the matter. And that's OK. We all have our areas where you know, you just don't go. So of course, the authors of Penny Arcade went there anyway.

Note well - this was not profane (tasteless maybe), not surreal (unless you consider total absence of an ability to hear emotional tone surreal), and - not funny. It's defensive and churlish. As emphasized in the accompanying comment, helpfully noted as "Tragedy is when I cut my finger":

For the most part I think that people are perfectly happy to laugh at offensive jokes until the joke offends them. Then it’s not funny anymore. There is no way we can know what each and every person who reads the comic has decided to find offensive. In the end I just disagree with these people about what’s funny and that’s perfectly okay.

Which, you know, is fine. We're all adults, Penny Arcade isn't the moral arbiter of the cosmos, and people make tasteless jokes on the Internet daily. The world moves on. Except Penny Arcade didn't move on. They made a shirt commemorating the "Penny Arcade Dickwolves" sports team.

They drew a dickwolf at PAX. You get the feeling that someone really likes priapic wolves. Or failing that, really likes insulting women. Finally, someone had had enough.

Leaving aside the fact that I think it’s a little wrong-headed for people in the industry to get too tied into a fan convention in general, what I want to say is that as someone working in the game industry, I think the recent merchandising decisions of Penny Arcade have made PAX and PAX East into spaces that I don’t want my industry to align itself with, and I’m not going to give Penny Arcade content as long as they keep selling that merchandise.

Penny Arcade took down the shirt from their store two days later in response.

It’s true that we have decided to remove the Dickwolves shirt from the store. Some people are happy about this but a lot more of you are upset. You think we’ve caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you’re not entirely wrong. let me at least break down why we did it though. First of all I would never remove the strip or even apologize for the joke. It’s funny and the fact that some people don’t get it, or are offended by it doesn’t change that. People complained about the strip and that’s fine with me, my response as always is “if you don’t like it don’t read it.” It is very easy not to log on to Penny Arcade and read our bullshit. We’ve always made offensive comics and that’s not going to change anytime soon. If jokes about violence,rape,aids,pedophilia,bestiality,drugs,cancer,homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic. PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable. It’s how they feel and according to them at least, removing the shirt would make them feel better about attending the show. For me that’s an easy fix to the problem. I really don’t want to have this fight and if not having it is as simple as not selling a shirt then I’ll do it. Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole. Now for some people removing the shirt isn’t enough. They don’t want to come to PAX or support PA because of the strip or because they think Tycho and I are perpetuating some kind of rape culture and that’s a different matter. First off it assumes a lot about us that simply isn’t true but more importantly it’s not something I can fix. I’ve gotten a couple messages from people saying they are “conflicted” about coming to PAX. My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it. In fact give me your name and I’ll refund your money if you already bought a ticket. I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order. So there you go. It’s not a simple decision. No matter what we do we’ll have people mad at us. If you want to talk more about it we can chat at PAX.

I've quoted this in full for a couple reasons. First off, because this really isn't an apology. It's akin to the original comic that was done in response: surly, defensive, "we didn't do anything wrong", "if you don't like it don't read it", "no matter what we do people will be mad at us". This may be honestly how they feel (in fact, I'm pretty sure it is) but it's also not helpful. It would have been better had the shirt quietly disappeared, with a note left for the hardcore forumgoers what happened. But the problem is PAX. PAX, or Penny Arcade Expo, has fairly quickly become the primary go-to convention for gamer culture - what everyone who tried to sneak into E3 thought E3 was supposed to be. Lots of lan parties, game demos, 2nd tier science fiction actors, and Jonathan Coulton concerts. Geek nirvana, essentially. And game companies have embraced PAX because of that critical mass of success. So, in a very short time, one of the primary social and marketing events of the computer gaming industry is in the benign stewardship of two surly cartoonists who think it's funny to crack jokes, and sell merchandise, at the expense of furious rape victims (and watching as fans attack said victims). There may be one or two problems here. I think Penny Arcade is a hilarious comic. I read it on a regular basis. I just don't think it's appropriate for the game industry to embrace them through PAX. There's quite a difference between freedom of speech and subsidy of speech. (Edit to clarify/make perfectly clear: I am not 'calling for an end to PAX', as one commenter put it. I suspect strongly PAX would survive very well without advertising and marketing, for one thing. But as I said, joining in a marketing/advertising/demo partnership with them is endorsing content that many find objectionable. I would feel the same way if, say, EA advertised on Glenn Beck. Part of a responsible corporate citizenship is being aware of what you endorse.) Or maybe the game industry is still so immature that we only market to 22 year old boys who make "teamrape" twitter accounts. I mean, really, get some perspective, people, it's only words! It's not like online gaming isn't already a cesspit of a toxic environment which is actively hostile to pretty much anyone not currently in a fraternity. Maybe, after all, the dickwolf should be the mascot of online gaming. After all, we're all pretty much dicks.