Trigger Warnings: Rape, rape culture, lotsa swearing.
[a great, comprehensive recap of this situation can be found here: http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline]
About a week and a half ago, the Dickwolves controversy reared it’s ugly, ugly head again when Gabe said in an interview that he wishes he wouldn’t have pulled the Dickwolves Merchandise from stores. This exposed some still-fresh wounds in the gaming community, prompting a hailstorm of blogs, twitter responses, and discussions. For those who aren’t familiar, here is a recap with my personal reactions along the way:
August 2010 [read this if you don’t understand what the big deal is]: Penny Arcade, a powerful and well-known group in the gaming industry posted a comic where they made a joke out of an NPC being raped by Dickwolves. More specifically, the cartoon was a critique of fetch quests where you do heroic acts like save slaves, but then stop while others are still there because you have completed the quest. The rape part was a small part of the comic and was not the focus. While I don’t believe the comic was directly making fun of rape, it was using the severity of rape to make its point and to make its joke. So, not cool. But considering how many horrible, disgusting fucking things that happen in the industry every day, this probably wouldn’t have even stood out to me if not for the backlash.
But here’s the thing, many many people found the cartoon unoffensive. Some people found it offensive. That doesn’t mean one group is right; that doesn’t mean that there is one “right” way or even one “feminist” way to interpret the cartoon. People get offended by shit. People get offended by shit that I think is ridiculous. People get offended by shit I think is serious and horrible. Unfortunately for Gabe, the video game industry has a long, entrenched history of abusing, sexually assaulting, shaming, ignoring, silencing, excluding, marginalizing, and erasing women and their contributions to the field. The numbers of women in the industry are abysmally low, and most of the time a woman comes into the spotlight, they get harassed, insulted, and threatened until they (most often) quit the industry and are silent to keep themselves and their families safe. In this culture, a rape joke is never just a joke. Women are *systematically* excluded from the video game industry by things like rape. When you’re in a position of power, when people respect you, like Penny Arcade, you add to this by making a joke out of rape. No matter how innocuous. No matter how accidental. They made a joke of rape, and it offended people [in and of itself, not so horrible, or rather it’s at least far far more common]; but for me, the real crime came after when they defended their comic and empowered those who believe women should get the fuck in the kitchen and make a sandwich.
[Oh but it was just Gabe, not Penny Arcade). I doubt that is of little consolation to those who got trolled, threatened, or hurt by the comic and by the actions after. In my mind, Gabe is and speaks for Penny Arcade, because people respond to him as “Gabe from Penny Arcade” not just Gabe some random dude. He is his position and Penny Arcade is the reason he has power and why this was such a big deal.]
2 months later… In the interim, several well known female bloggers spoke out against the comic for making a joke of rape and for contributing to the anti-woman culture in the industry. Many gamers rallied behind Penny Arcade, showing their love by creating things like “Team Rape.” [https://twitter.com/teamrape]. Gamers tell most of the women speaking out that they hope the women get raped, particularly by Dickwolves. Then Penny Arcade sanctions Dickwolves t-shirts. There are countless rape threat attacks on twitter. Finally gamers who hate women have sanctioning from someone in power and they use it to troll and abuse and threatening anyone who dare speak ill of Penny Arcade.
Eventually Gabe apologizes. It’s weak, and clear he still doesn’t understand. And it’s too late. Because of him, people who would join Team Rape have been given power and a voice and found likeminded people. They pull the Dickwolves merchandise (at the urging of Robert, the other primary Penny Arcade guy).
But then, in September 2013, Gabe says that pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was the biggest mistake he has ever made. Not, mind you, creating an atmosphere where it was ok to threaten women with rape, to troll their sites, to create pro-rape merchandise, but pulling the merchandise was the problem. He then writes an apology found here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2013/09/04/some-clarification. He says he regrets everything he has done after the initial comic. It actually sounds like he is starting to get why people found it offensive. Or at least he is saying the words.
I, for one, find the apology genuine. Gabe sounds defeated and tired (just imagine how tired Courtney Stanton is having to block thousands of rape threats from her site, but I digress). His legacy is that of supporting and rallying together people who think rape is funny and/or who think that its ok to threaten to rape women (they’re not people anyway, right?). The groups have been formed, the connections have been made. Dickwolves will never die. And for me, Dickwolves are the perfect representation of how the video game industry systematically excludes women.
So in the end. I accept the apology. But he has done so much damage that he probably will never know about or understand. You just can’t kill a dickwolf. They will keep respawning. He says in his apology that he doesn’t try to be a role model, that he just wants to be a regular guy. Unfortunately, he’s not. And he inspired a lot of pain and hurt. And then defended it and stood by it. He says that he still thinks the original comic is funny. But can anything really be funny after all this? You keep laughing at your Dickwolves, and the rest of us will be trying to pick up the pieces, installing sexual harassment policies, creating safe and equitable work environments, making games that don’t objectify women, and trying to make things a little safer for us at cons. But no no, what’s important is whether or not the comic is funny.