I want to be able to tell you all the wonderful things I saw and did at PAX Prime over the weekend, because really there were many amazing and wonderful things. That being said, I feel it would be wrong to talk about any of that before writing about the what happened at the Penny Arcade Q&A.
Let’s talk about Mike Krahulik and the dickwolves comment he made at the Q&A yesterday, let’s talk about the crowd’s response, the whole thing. I am specifically going to be talking about what happened yesterday and not the continuing problem of rape culture perpetuation in the gaming community because that topic will be a post unto itself (which I am sure I will write in the near future).
If you are not familiar with the dickwolf issue a quick summary: 2010 Penny Arcade put up a comic with a rape joke involving creatures called dickwolves. People protested that rape jokes aren’t funny, PA responded with a comic that came across to many as flippant. There is more pushback from people online. PA then releases merchandise with dickwolves on it. Companies pull out of attending PAX, more people protest the shirts, and eventually the merchandise was pulled down from the online store.
At 2:35:53 in this video is where the subject comes up again. That is when Krahulik says that he thinks that pulling down the merchandise was a mistake. NOT that he regrets they made it, or that he regrets how he responded to the merch being pulled…that he thinks pulling the merchandise was a mistake.
I heard many interpretations of how he “meant” it, from a number of people who know the PA creators personally. Some say he meant that pulling it made the problem worse, but honestly? What he literally says is that he thinks pulling the merch was a mistake. One major thing in communications is that no matter what you mean to say, it is how the message is received that matters. If you said it wrong, then you didn’t get your intended message across. So either way his statement is a problem.
I had been so happy to see so many panels about diversity at PAX, so many panels about treating people with respect. Heck, I spoke on a panel with an MCDM classmate about treating service women with respect in games. Then…this shows me all over again that we haven’t come that far in the gaming community. To me, saying that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake was saying that listening to all the people who objected to the idea of rape jokes being okay, that he still thought there was nothing wrong with what had happened.
Let me break down the problems I see with what happened at the Penny Arcade Q&A:
1. Krahulik’s statement shows a lack of growth. The fact that he brought up the dickwolves thing at all shows that he is not over it, and implies that he learned nothing from everything that happened, that he hadn’t listened to all the people who tried to explain the problems with his comic or the fall out from it. Bringing it up at all shows a continued lack of understanding or care.
2. The cheering after the comment. To anyone who cheered after Krahulik said that pulling the merch was a bad idea? The idea that you would cheer over something that perpetuates rape culture? I honestly don’t want people like you in the gaming community. And to those who cheered, then justified it by saying that to be angry about dickwolves was censoring “art,” I suggest you look up the definition of rape culture. That says some really bad things about the gaming community.
3. They didn’t respond to the cheering. The appropriate response to the “bring back the dick wolves” shout or cheering should have been one that shut it down. It was an opportunity to make a powerful statement about how rape is not something to joke about. Instead it was brushed off.
4. Penny Arcade needs to understand power and responsibility After Krahulik’s comment, and Khoo’s follow up statement…it doesn’t appear that they still haven’t gotten a grasp on their level of power in the gaming community. When you have become the head of a big company, when you have so many people that “follow” your comic, come to your con, you have a new level of responsibility. You are not just a guy sitting at a bar spouting off your opinions anymore…you are speaking to hundreds of thousands of people. You are an example of what is acceptable and what is not, and it doesn’t matter if you want to be or not.
5. Being internet famous the way PA is means you have an army of trolls. I know that this one is similar to the last one but I want to bring this one up specifically. Krahulik must must must understand that because of his position in the company, because he has so many followers, that even if 99% of them are wonderful, the other 1% are the kind of abusive trolls who will take what he says and run with it…making the gaming world a frightening place for people like me and many of my friends.
6. The policy of “not engaging” is damaging. Khoo says in the video that they have a policy of not engaging. I am curious if that means as a whole, or just Krahulik? The way he says it, it sounded like overall. That is so not the way to do it. It is going to cause them problems the next time they publish a comic that garners negative attention. To not engage is to brush off the importance of these topics, and is to put up a wall of silence that in subtext says “We don’t care…and we are not wrong.” As a communications professional I have to just put this out there you simply can not say you are just not going to engage when it is your content that is causing the problem.
There have been a number of articles talking about how Penny Arcade needs to distance itself entirely from Krahulik to save themselves from the danger he poses to the company as a whole. Ironically? During the panel Krahulik actually says that he has had to learn that other people rely on him and he has to keep that in mind when speaking. Obviously he hasn’t learned it as well as he might think.
I can’t stress enough that when you have such a large following on the internet, when you have such a big megaphone such as all the PAX conferences, you have to be aware that what you say is magnified. So when you have someone like Krahulik who says things that perpetuate rape culture, that is degrading towards transgendered people (that happened just before PAX East) you are a part of the problem not the solution.
People have openly stated they will not go to PAX because of Krahulik’s involvement. Companies have pulled out. Damage continues to be done to the gaming community and to the company. I have to say that I hope Penny Arcade does something about this. I hope they get in someone who can teach them about these things. If they have been working on it already? After yesterday’s panel I hope they work a lot harder on it.