So 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.