Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

Et tu PAX?

Angry CatSo let’s talk about what went down in the waning hours of PAX Prime this year and all the other concomitant issues that surround the creators of Penny Arcade and PAX, Gabe and Tycho. Well mostly Gabe, but Tycho’s is complicit in it all as well. Yes, we’re talking about the Dickwolves again. I’m only going to do a quick overview because a lot more people have said a lot more intelligent things about it and have kept a lot more tabs on the whole mess than I have or ever could:

Three years ago, shortly before the first PAX (which also happened to be my first con) I ever attended, Penny Arcade released a comic that included a rape joke. Some feminists objected to that rape joke, Penny Arcade did not understand their criticism and reacted in the worst possible way. And kept reacting in the worst possible way to all of the following blowback and criticism from each mistake they made. They made a reactionary strip that missed the point by about a quadrillion light years and set up feminism as the enemy of all good comedy everywhere. They made shirts that centered and glorified the rape joke from the comic.  And it just goes on from there. Especially when the hordes of douchnerds took up the cause and started wearing those Dickwolves shirts as implicit threats to women and feminists, and at PAX no less.

There is also the other issues of Gabe making transphobic comments and supporting a kickstarter sex game based on rape.  As well as the recently unearthed incident of sexual assault by a PAX Enforcer, aka one of the good guys that’s supposed to keep con-goers safe. I say unearthed because it appears that Penny Arcade tried to cover up the story. So yeah, a whole lot of bad in the context here. And on the last day of PAX he made the comment, in an interview panel, that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves shirts from their merchandise store. Firestorm successfully reignited, Gabe. Good job, now please learn to just shut your mouth.

He has since apologized and explained what he meant by that statement (he says he regrets every decision made after posting that comic, every knee jerk reaction and hastily made overly defensive choice).

There have also been a lot of really smart people saying really smart things about why they’ll never attend PAX again. As well as some other really smart people saying some really smart things about why they will continue to attend PAX and try to enact change from the inside.

Personally, I think I fall somewhere towards the latter. Even though I am a feminist, and a woman, and a person that focuses on bringing down rape culture, I am very much privileged. I have never been sexually assaulted, heck I’ve hardly ever been sexually harassed. I live in a little bubble of privilege when it comes to this stuff, and while that’s fantastic for me, I realize how flimsy that bubble is and that it does not negate the truth of other people’s lived experiences. When a rape survivor talks about the chill of horror they had at hearing the audience cheer when Gabe said he regretted pulling the Dickwolves shirts, I believethem and I support their desire to never set foot in PAX again.

However I also know that the vast majority of my time at the three PAXs I’ve been to have been nothing but positive and have made me feel free and welcomed into the nerd community. For me it’s like the feeling you get when you’re nerding out with your best bud over the latest Doctor Who episode or the wonderment of grouping up with your friend on launch day of a new MMO as you explore territory that is both new and ever so familiar. When I’m there I see Enforcers of all shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and nerdiness helping to build a place where gamers with just as much diversity feel safe and welcome. It’s a wonderful feeling of acceptance and my goal is to make that acceptance more accessible for everyone.

I feel that by leaving PAX, one of the few big gaming conventions out there that has community safety and acceptance as its main goal, we are letting the douchenozzels and bigots win. It’s trite to say there will always be bad apples, but until we live in a perfect utopia, there will always be people willing and able to take advantage of the massive crowds and passion on display at places like PAX. I don’t want to give them even one more inch of nerd culture. Their numbers are getting smaller every day, I can see it in the sea change of gamer culture as a whole and in the events, panels, and booths of PAX. The bigots may be winning small battles, and Gabe might be harming the progressive tide, but we are winning the war here. We are changing gamer culture to one that is more open, more diverse, and more accepting of everyone.

I fully support those gamers and nerds out there who feel threatened or triggered by what Gabe and his ilk have done and who can no longer trust him or Penny Arcade to handle PAX without tainting the experience for them. I also support those who want to boycott it on principle and in solidarity for those actively being harmed by Gabe and the Dickwolves debacle. But I think I am going to join those who will use their privilege that shields them from that harm to try to continue to make PAX a safer place for everyone. And to make other gaming cons safer. And to pressure gaming companies themselves to be more open and diverse in both their comapnies and the games they publish.

It’s a delicate dance we weave when the things we like are problematic. Some need to sit out, some need to leave entirely, some take over the band and change the music little by little, and some stay on the dance floor changing the rhythm. Hopefully some day soon the song will change and all our dance cards will be full and we will have a big merry party late into the night.


I’ll be posting a review of my overall PAX experience, a look at Everquest Next, the Elder Scrolls Online, and some indie games over the next few days. I wanted to address this first as it is of great importance to the gaming community. 

5 responses to “Et tu PAX?

  1. Pingback: PAX Prime 2013: A review in bullet points | Zaewen

  2. Dead Kitten Thought Experiment 2013 September 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade has directly trolled comments section of articles, mocked survivors, antagonized people with PTSD, and his actions have caused companies, speakers and fans to do everything from voice feeling excluded and not safe to withdrawing support. I was commiserating with a few friends and wondered what would it take after everything he’s done for him to lose support. As it turns out, in 2006, satirist August J. Pollak came up with a thought experiment…Would supporters of President BUsh “still support him if he went as far as to kill a kitten with a hammer for no apparent reason? What if he killed several?”. In this spirit, I am conducting the 2013 Mike Krahulik Dead Kitten Thought Experiment.

    The survey will take a mere moment of your time, and consists of the following scenario:

    I would like for you to imagine the Mike Krahulik, killing kittens one-by-one with a hammer. When doing so, please keep in mind the following conditions of this hypothetical scenario:

    The kitten will be killed by Mike Krahulik. It will not be ordered killed, nor terminated in any way by a subordinate. You are to assume for the whole of this scenario that the reference to the killing implies a scenario in which Mike Krahulik will sit at a desk, place a small kitten on the desk, and kill it by beating it with a hammer until it is dead, and possibly for a short time afterwards. No other means or individuals will be employed in the death of the kitten.

    The hammer will be a standard carpenter’s hammer, of steel construction with a rubber handle grip. It is not a sledgehammer or any form of giant hammer that will guarantee the death of the kitten in a single blow.

    You are to assume that for every kitten death you accept, you will be willing to watch the actual act performed by Mike Krahulik. It will not be done privately or in any intimate conditions to which the act may be deemed “more humane” or “less graphic.” Assume you will watch the full act of him terminating the life of the kitten by one or possibly a series of blows with a hammer. You may determine the distance at which you are watching depending on your estimate of how messy the act may be and how much you may enjoy kitten parts being sprayed on you, if at all.

    You are not to assume the kitten needs to die, is already dying, or has a reason to require being killed with a hammer by Krahulik. In fact, assume that the kitten is perfectly healthy and of normal temperament, and would be perfectly suitable living a full life in any normal American household had it not been selected by Krahulik to die.

    Furthermore, no acknowledged benefit shall be suggested by death of the kitten nor any practical use be made of its remains. When Mike Krahulik has declared his satisfaction with his repeated blows to the kitten and a medical advisor concurs it is without question dead, an aide shall squeegee the remains of the kitten off the desk into a bag which shall then be incinerated.

    At no point will you be given a reason for Mike Krahulik doing all of this. The only statement that will be offered by Penny Arcade regarding the killing of kitten will be that Mike Krahulik was well within his authority. While you may personally surmise a legitimate reason, Mike Krahulik himself will give no reason for killing a kitten with a hammer other than his desire to do so.

    For the sake of this experiment, assume Mike Krahulik is not insane, nor of any unsound mind or condition suggesting a rationale for his actions above. Assume Mike Krahulik has decided that it is not only within his authority, but a necessity in his capacity as part of Penny Arcade, that he begin to murder kittens one by one with a hammer on the top of his desk.

    Given the terms of the scenario described above, this Survey presents the following three questions:

    Were the event detailed above to occur, would you still support Mike Krahulik?

    If the answer to Question #1 is yes, is there a number of kittens Mike Krahulik would kill with a hammer that would change your mind?

    If the answer to Question #2 is yes, what would that number be?

    At your earliest convenience, you may answer these questions by responding to this e-mail or by sending your answers to While there is no established time limit to respond, the faster you respond, the faster an accurate assessment of the average stance can be established.

    I would venture at this point you’re assuming I’m mocking you. I assure you I am not. This is a legitimate survey using a hypothetical situation that, albeit gruesome and bizarre, is no less hypothetical than other surveys asking one’s opinions of a politician selling you a used car, or enjoying a drink with you at a bar- both actual survey questions used during the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. I am not asking all this rhetorically, and I am honestly accumulating all responses in the hope that all of you whom I have written will legitimately respond.

    That in mind, please understand that like any other legitimate survey, responses that violate the accepted guidelines of a response must be invalidated. While I expect some responses that violate these guidelines- likely in the form of verbal abuse- they may not be incorporated in the final statistical results, although they may be posted in a full account of all received data.

    I will be keeping a record of all persons I have submitted the survey to, and will update the results accordingly on my site. In addition, I will be preparing official Certificates of Participation in the Survey to any participant I solicit who honestly and accurately responds with a set limit of kittens they would tolerate the Mike Krahulik killing with a hammer. The Certificate will state the following:

    “Be it known on this day, ____ of _____ in the year 2013, that ____________ has stated for the record that, albeit a staunch supporter of Mike Krahulik, such support would cease should Mike Krahulik kill ______ kitten(s) with a hammer.”

    Again, I thank you for your participation in this survey. In a time when gaming culture semms divided as ever, I am hopeful that a honest consensus can be reached among the most left or right leaning of Mike Krahulik supporters: that regardless of our stances on gaming culture, Penny Arcade, or the Penny Arcade Expo, maybe, just maybe, we draw the line at killing kittens with hammers.

    Disclaimer: this is a one-time solicitation. Should you decline to participate in the survey, your name has not been added to any mailing list, nor will you be contacted again.

    • Zaewen September 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      You are either a very good troll or a someone trying to make a good point using dark humor. I’m going to address you as if you are the latter.

      I understand that to the people hurt by Mike “Gabe” Krahulik’s remarks and the actions of Penny Arcade that my statement that I intend to continuing going to PAX is, in effect, a statement saying that I support him despite the things he’s done. And that to continue supporting him means that logically I find the things he’s done to not actually be that terrible. I understand this viewpoint. I have been on the other side of it before when someone I know continues to enjoy or participate in something that has harmed me or propagates ideas that harm me. To be clear: I do not support Gabe or Penny Arcade in any matters pertaining to the Dickwolves, his transphobic remarks, the PAX coverup of a sexual assault, or any other bigoted thing he has done or will do. He lost my support a long time ago, no kitten deaths needed.

      Part of enjoying the gamer community, and games themselves, is being able to enjoy and participate in content and communities that have problematic and/or harmful elements to them. Trying to decide if the harm outweighs the enjoyment of the thing is a personal decision. It’s something each of us has to navigate for ourselves. And as a feminist gamer I always strive to be mindful that just because it doesn’t harm or bother me in particular, or people like me, it could be harmful to others.

      I have stopped playing many games, left many communities, and withheld my money from companies that have shown themselves to be harmful to gamers with marginalized identities. However, in games and communities and companies where I can see the potential for growth and progressive strides I stay and try to help make things better. Especially when I can see that others also want to see the community become a safer place for them as well and I have the privilege of being shielded from the worst of the harm such that I can use that privilege to enact progress towards that safer place. I see that potential and that community desire with PAX.

      That’s why I intend to continue going to PAX and what I hope to do: use what I have available to me to make the place a safer one for the community at large. I do not want to give up any more ground to the bigoted parts of gaming. However, I completely understand that my continued participation in it, especially that that means I will be giving Gabe money and financial support, can and will be interpreted as a show of support for the problematic things he has said and done. For that I am sincerely sorry and, as I said in my post, I fully support and understand those who have decided to boycott PAX.

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