“Penny Arcade” addendum

EDIT 21 MARCH 2011: I just found out that this post is now on the timeline (see March 15 or just search the page for “V. E. Duncan”). Read below for more.

A little while ago, I wrote a review of the first season of Penny Arcade: The Series, which is a cross between “a day in the life” of the comic’s creators and highlighting aspects of the Penny Arcade company, including how the creators make comics (“The Fourth Panel”), its employees, Child’s Play Charity, and ping pong tournaments.

Then, a couple of days ago, I found out about the dickwolves debacle. My immediate response was, “Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me”—and not because I think that the original objection was by a group blog “with no sense of humor”… The founder beg’s to differ—and I agree with her (embedded links in the original):

The argument always, always, goes: No topic should be totally off-limits, and, you know, I actually agree with that. But context is everything.

As is the perspective from which the joke is being told, and its intended audience: After I once observed acerbically in comments that anyone can participate in discussions of sexual assault “even without the benefit (ha!) of having been raped,” Shaker Carleigh said, “You are one of the handful of people on the planet that know how to make a rape joke funny.” To which I replied: “That’s because my rape jokes are for rape victims, not rapists.”

My response was anger and disbelief because I’m tired of people—people who I may just look up to, maybe even see as (admittedly unconventional) heroes in my mind’s eye—going and pissing all over my little hero worship parade. And the people pissing on my parade are the very ones I’m trying to laud. Godsdamnit. I mean, really, does everything just have to be shitty all the time? Can’t there be just one person who is a good person who agrees with me about the two things I find most evil in the world? In Gabe, I had a person who was a good person who had never done any drugs, and in Tycho I had a person who respected his friend’s decision. (I assume they both drink, which is actually my First Great Evil, but I was willing to overlook that because I felt like they would understand if I said, “You know how Gabe feels about doing drugs because he watched his brother OD and die? That’s how I feel about alcohol.”)

And then they had to go and ruin everything by making some crappy comments about rape (my Second Great Evil)—and it’s not even the original comic I’m talking about, here. I’m talking about how they handled everything after that, including the “apology” which was really just saying, “You guys have no sense of humor and we’re rubbing it in your faces that we’re not really going to apologize. Ever.” Gabe wearing his fucking stupid dickwolves t-shirt to PAX was really just kind of adding insult to injury (see January 29 in the timeline).

So I read through all the stuff—the comic (and its “apology”), the initial objection, the timeline… everything. (I really did at least skim everything mentioned in the timeline.) I watched the video of Gabe drawing a dickwolf at PAX Prime live for a crowd of cheering spectators. (I’m not going to link the video because it just made me throw up in my mouth, especially after everything else. If you want to watch it, look it up for yourself.) I read the article about why at least one hardcore Penny Arcade fan won’t be reading the comic again (which is, by the way, completely 100% recommended reading; if you read nothing else I link in this post, at least read that article).

Taking all this information in, two things happened. First and most obviously, my heart sank. As I was watching the first season of the series, I felt like these were two guys who were relate-able (though it probably helps that they’re white and I’m white, and they present themselves as upper-middle class and I come from a similar background). Now, after reading all this drama, I want to scream at them to just fucking apologize like a decent human being would and, even if it’s late, it’s better late than never. I have a high tolerance for bullshit, but talking to me facetiously about rape is just not on the list of things I’m going to put up with for very long. (Though I suspect that my online gamer friends, mostly men in this respect, don’t exactly tell other players, also usually men, to STFU about rape—or “fags” or other hateful language—or GTFO. They may even participate in it, which makes me sick to my stomach to think about, but at least they don’t do it around me.)

The second thing that happened was, I realized, more a coincidence. This entire craptastic drama began just as I was finishing up the first season of the series. I don’t actually read Penny Arcade (the comic) very much, and I don’t really play games, online or console or otherwise. (I have played through a few notable exceptions.) And most of the disaster had somehow or other resolved itself (mostly unsatisfactorily for all parties) right before I sat down to seriously write the review for the first season in February. (Which is not to say that anything was actually resolved, just that the shitstorm around it had died down somewhat and people were moving on.) So, I basically missed the entire fiasco, and for that I’m seriously grateful. If I’d been parry to it, I would certainly not have given the the series such a glowing review, and I think that wouldn’t have been fair to the series.

I vaguely remember reading that comic when it was first posted. (It was about the time I was just finishing up the first season and putting the review in the cue on this journal.) I like to think I understood the intent of the comic because I, at least, don’t remember even noticing the mention of rape. The joke in the comic, as the creators point out, is in the absurdity of playing MMORPGs (like WoW) and not being able to have your character save all the NPCs. (Since many other posts about this entire debacle explain why saving all the NPCs in any given area is not only unrealistic, it’s also often impossible: I won’t be getting into it here.) I wasn’t offended by the first comic, but I was able to imagine, in rereading it, how someone could be. I was offended and hurt by the follow-up “apology” and all the shit that Gabe and Tycho did afterwards: selling the dickwolves t-shirt, refusing to apologize, not calling out their trolling, hateful fans, and so on. I understand that the creator(s) cannot control the creation’s fans, but they could’ve at least given it a good-faith effort.

Basically, what it comes down to, for me, is this:

Those who have never have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed carry an inherent sense of privilege and power in a society where sexual violence has been normalized. They don’t have to worry about being triggered by words, images, or sounds that carry them back to that horrible moment when their whole life changed for the worse. Those who are privileged in this particular way never have to hear themselves being told to get a life, move on, get over it, or find a sense of humor. And they never, ever have to endure personal attacks, questions about their sanity, or death threats when they decline to just get over it.

The most insidious part of this whole sorry affair is that those who carry such privilege have no clue that they possess it, because their privilege makes them completely tone deaf to the concerns and objections of those whom they so casually traumatized. No, what is most important is that everyone recognize their personal righteousness: how nice they really are, how they would never really rape someone, how much the PA guys raise for charity, etc.

That is all.
Seriously, though, go read: Gaming, rape culture, and how I stopped reading Penny Arcade

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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