DO NOT ENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again.

“Why are you going to PAX? Don’t you know what they’ve done?” This is a question I got asked a lot in the weeks and days leading up to PAX, given their history of making Penny Arcade seem like an organization that is anything but against bigotry.

Yes, of course I know about that. That’s why I went to PAX. And the whole weekend I didn’t regret that decision once. I was truly impressed by the con, the people, and the conversations I was able to have (more on all this in a later post) as a result of PAX. It was fantastic. And then Dickwolves: The Sequel aired yesterday and I found myself questioning my place here in Seattle.

This isn’t about “a rape joke” or censorship

As has been discussed ad naseum these past few years, and is ramping up into a fervor yet again, the biggest issue with all of this isn’t the actual “raped to sleep by the dickwolves” joke, but everything that surrounded it. It’s about the defense of that joke, the flippant remarks about the joke, the merchandising of it, and the horrendously uncomfortable, pro-rapey vibe it evoked in a subsection of the gamer community.

Pro-Dickwolves people are arguing that the joke wasn’t bad and that censorship is bad. Pro-Inclusivity people are arguing that the handling of the whole situation was atrocious. That’s not a one-to-one argument, folks, and it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s like one group is arguing that the Millenium Falcon is the fastest ship in the galaxy, while the other group is on the bridge of the USS Enterprise complaining about how the ending of Skyrim was meaningless.

People saying “it was just a joke” or “if you can’t make a joke about one thing then you can’t make a joke about anything” and any other illogical, derailing argument are really just distracting from the crux of what’s happening.

This is about mixed messages and hypocrisy

In a world where aspects of many gamers’ identities aren’t welcome, aren’t represented in games themselves, and are often dismissed, ignored, and/or targeted with hate speech by other members of the gamer community, Penny Arcade has said again and again that they aren’t going to be an organization that sings to that tune. That they are going to make it clear that everyone is welcome. That PAX is for gamers of all identities.

Those are incredibly supportive things for us to hear– they are exceptional. Most huge gaming megacorps have never said such things, or made an effort to create spaces and experiences that are welcoming and safe.

But you can’t say that everyone is welcome, then do or say things that are exclusionary. Many trans* people don’t feel welcome at PAX, and many of the queer/ally people I spoke with this weekend at PAX had to compromise a bit on their ethics to attend. You can’t say that you want everyone to feel safe, then be pro-Dickwolves, which many people equate with pro-rape (or at least pro-rape culture), and expect survivors, allies, and women in general to feel safe.

Actually, I guess you can say and do all those things, because you have. But it sends an incredibly mixed message — a message many of us are trying to decode in comments, blog posts, and discussions online.

You can make all the rape jokes you want, but you have to be prepared to meet criticism from the people who think what you’re doing is a toxic addition to a community that is already ripe with toxicity. You’ve said again and again you don’t want to do that — you don’t want to add to the pile that’s suffocating so many marginalized gamers. You want to be different. You want to be better. You want to be inclusive. But all you’re being is hypocrites.

I’m starting to get into “open letter” territory here, so let’s just do that…

Dear Penny Arcade, you’ve said you want to be better, be better.

Guess what, guys, you got yourselves into this mess. Not by making a rape joke in a comic several years ago. Not by Mike famously putting his foot in his mouth time after time on Twitter. But by telling us that you want to rise above all the bigoted, exclusionary, boys club bullshit that is still so unfortunately the norm in our world.

We don’t get pissed when the Westboro Baptist Church says the horrible garbage they say every day, because (as sad as this sounds) we expect that from them. That’s their role. They’ve placed their flag atop Mount Doom and made it clear what their mission is. And (as much as I hate to say anything affirming about the WBC) they do a great job living out their horrible, sickening mission. Their [horrible] actions follow their [horrible] words.

You said you don’t want to reaffirm the idea that rape is an okay thing, or that it’s societally okay to make fun of or blame rape survivors. So stop doing that. You’ve said that you want PAX to be for everyone, and that you want everyone to feel safe attending and supporting PA. So start doing that.

Not talking about this isn’t going to help anything

After the transphobic comments and the reaction in the community, Mike said he’s going to stop talking about sexuality, gender, or related stuff altogether. Well, sorry, but that’s not going to help anyone who was hurt feel any better about supporting PA. It’s just going to continue to foster the ambiguity of where PA actually stands on all of this stuff, and allow bloggers and commenters to speak on Mike’s behalf. Not helpful.

When Mike said his big regret is pulling the Dickwolves merch, Robert Khoo reiterated a company policy that they think it’s best for them not to talk about any of this stuff:

“Clearly it would have been better to just not say anything, and that’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage, and in fact pulling it was a way of engaging.”

When people were understandably upset about this, because Khoo has for a long time been an ally in this, and standing up against the exclusion, Khoo clarified a bit more to Kotaku:

It wasn’t meant to be a comment supporting rape or sexual assault, but rather one about censorship and the shirt-pulling pouring gasoline on a sensitive discussion. I know we did a poor job of elaborating on that on stage, and as the guy moving the discussion along at the Q&A, I’m really sorry for that.

Sorry, guys, but if your policy is to “not engage” then “shirt-pulling” wasn’t the issue of engagement I would be regretting. That’s not where the fire got its gasoline. Making the shirts in the first place was the resounding form of engagement in this sensitive issue. By making the shirts you were not only throwing your hat into the ring and participating in the debate, but you were pretty clearly taking the side of Team Dickwolf, listening to their pleas, and providing them with a uniform to wear (and, perhaps most problematic of all, you were merchandising the rape debate).

If you’re going to regret anything, might I recommend it be that?

Not talking about this is talking about this

By attempting to stay out of these conversations altogether, you’re making a pretty loud statement: you aren’t interested in engaging with the community that is responsible for making you you.

And when you keep sending incredibly mixed messages that leave your community divided, I think it’s your responsibility to not only “engage,” but to do whatever you can to remedy that divide, make your meaning and values incredibly clear, and follow your mouth with your feet.

So perhaps we can suggest a small revision to your policy: “That’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage.”

Talk to us, or tell us to go away

There are so many of us who have been around for a long time, who have affixed ourselves to Penny Arcade because in a world where our passions weren’t always as socially acceptable as they are today, you created a home where we felt comfortable expressing ourselves. And beyond that, again and again you’ve said (in one way or another) that you never want to be the reason someone feels like they are less because of some aspect of their identity.

There is a ton of talk right now (and has been for months, really) of folks bending too far in wondering if PA/PAX is welcoming that they’re finally breaking. But there are a lot of other people who are discussing alternatives, weighing the merits of the good you’ve done against this other stuff, and are unsure of where they stand, exactly.

This is a testament to what you’ve built — the fact that a person can be cut so deep and still find themselves questioning whether the pain is a reasonable enough deterrent. The debate that’s happening, both externally and internally, is a reflection of how mixed a message many of us are receiving.

If you really want PA/PAX to be for everyone, please tell us and show us. Engage. Open up the channels. Allow people into your heads. Make it emphatically clear through action and conversation that there’s no reason any of us should be wondering if it’s still ethical to support Penny Arcade. Or, please — and I mean this — just tell us to go away.

I grew up with Penny Arcade, but it’s days like today that I fear Penny Arcade hasn’t grown up with me.

  • Fliff

    I was looking forward to going to PAX East in the spring. I’m living in Boston now ffs and I’ve been a gamer since my dad bought an Atari 2600 when I was a preschooler. It’d be perfect, right? Go to a big con that has stuff I want to see, people I want to meet, games I want to play, merch I want to have… except right now I think I won’t be comfortable doing that, because this is the latest in a long line of dismissing people and issues that matter to me.

    How often do straight/cis/male/white (choose all or some of the above) gamers go out of their way to make the community unwelcoming to people who aren’t like them?

    Too damn often.

    I am not telling other people not to go. I won’t look down on a studio for having a presence there; I know they have to make decisions based on money and marketing and whatnot (though I will pay attention to how they treat fans who visit them, and what sort of presentation they’re making with their booths). But my choice is plain.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one in the community who feels like this. I’m also really glad there are people who aren’t sure what they’re comfortable doing but are willing to think and talk about it. I’m glad you wrote and posted this.

  • Hey Mike, thanks for the comment!

    This is a great example of exactly why I think they *should* engage, because while your theory seems plausible to me, and we could debate it, it would just be you and I speaking on behalf of Mike K, putting words in his mouth and thoughts in his head.

    That’s problematic. That’s what we’ve all been doing in comment threads for the past three years, and all it’s left us with is a whole lot of ambiguity and a huge elephant in the room at PAX (in literally every diversity-type panel I went to this was loosely and uncomfortably brought up by one of the panelists).

    If he “converts” (i.e., realizes that everyone else in the world isn’t exactly like him), great. If he doesn’t (and even if he does), I would want to hear some clear examples of how they are going to make PA/X feel comfy and safe for the people who aren’t feeling that way now. Third (sad) option: if he/they aren’t onboard with any of this, and don’t truly hold inclusivity as the value they keep saying they have, I would really like to know that once and for all.

    • Reggie_Rock

      Except no one is interested in engaging. Activism is dead, it was killed by choking on outrage. There is not a single feminist blog, tumblr, tweeter, podcaster interested in educating the public or changing minds. The entire feminist movement has been replaced by bourgeois middle class liberal arts self-righteousness. The whole community is interested in one thing and one thing only and that’s looking down their noses at people who disagree or are ignorant for being plebs deserving of nothing but scorn.

      When the feminist movement is interesting in something more than the next clickbait outrage sung out to the choir to reinforce it’s since of superiority then we can start to see real change. Until then it’s a circle jerk choking on it’s own bile while the ignorant go on being ignorant and the truly evil laugh in glee.

      I feel sorry for the honest but ignorant people like Penny Arcade that are chewed up and destroyed in the search for fresh outrage.

      • We are (GAB) absolutely interested in engaging. We’ve taken a pretty firm stance against being a part of any torch-bearing mob, and are dedicated to creating educational opportunities instead of tearing folks down for mistakes. And there are plenty out there like us. I met a lot of them at PAX, speaking on panels about issues like this.

        Mike has had, and still has, plenty of offers for education (both within the PA umbrella and outside). His is a willful ignorance, not one born out of a lack of options for remedying it.

      • Vic George

        I can’t say I feel sorry for Penny Arcade. They made their bed of nails, they should be responsible for lying on it or getting rid of it entirely. Trying to have their cake and eat it too isn’t fooling anyone but themselves.

      • Um…here is a feminist blog dedicated to educating people:
        In terms of games, Anita Sarkesian’s videos are ABSOLUTELY about educating people and changing their minds.

        It’s also interesting that you say the feminist movement has been “replaced” with a middle-class bourgeois movement, considering that’s actually been a historical problem that the movement (well, movements) have been grappling with for decades.

        Also, the “search for outrage” and “wanting to be a victim” type anti-feminism narratives are such straw arguments. No one’s looking for outrage; we’re looking for victories. The whole thing about Wendy Davis’ filibuster was all about feminists looking for a victory. Even after it was done, everyone knew that Perry would just call another special session and that the anti-abortion legislation would probably get passed the next time around…but hot dangit if feminist blogs, Twitters and real life groups didn’t collectively cheer their pants off at the end of Davis’ filibuster.

        Finally, I’ll just add that the problem is never that Mike and PA are ignorant of the issues. Seriously, if after Dickwolves they’d issued an “we just had no idea; we’re educating ourselves,” type of statement, and left it at that, there wouldn’t be this huge, years-long problem. But, no, they doubled down, and that’s the real problem.

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  • Reggie_Rock

    Except that Krahulik’s comments were not transphobic, they were ignorant. In the literal sense of the word. He didn’t know better and he has a personality that get’s snarky and defensive when someone attacks him. And on the internet being ignorant of social justice issues will get you attacked by insufferably self-righteous social justice warriors ten times out of ten.

    Krahulik has a very defensive snarky personality but if people had only tried to discuss the issue with him instead of skipping straight to attack then there would never be any of these issues. Krahulik is ignorant in a time where being ignorant gets you e-lynched.

    • Hey Reggie, thanks for the comment. Literally speaking, you’re absolutely correct. His comments didn’t necessarily evoke the idea that he had “an irrational fear of trans people.” Culturally, we use “transphobia” in a bit of a looser way than that, and “cissexist” would have been a more precise word to use, but it’s not as widely/easily understood by lay people.

      And I can assure you that PLENTY of people reached out with the olive branch, offer to help Mike understand these things and why people are so upset, and are continuing to do so to this day.

      • Reggie_Rock

        How droll. I am using transphobia to mean hateful, discriminatory, and/or systemically biased. His comments were neither of those things.

        The problem is the people with the olive branches only come along after the “trolls” have taken it on themselves to go for the jugular and Krahulik overreacts as he has a history of doing. When it’s done to people like Ocean Marketing no one minds, unfortunately.

      • Here’s I, about to write a comment that you might have considered using “cissexist” and then turns out you did. That and “heterosexist” really need to somehow enter into the vernacular more…though at least with “heterosexist” people could probably figure out what you mean. So many people are still unfamiliar with the concept of cis.

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  • Hi Lobo, thanks for the comment! Absolutely NO offense taken from anything in there. In fact, quite the opposite. I really appreciated reading this.

    In a lot of ways, I completely agree with you. The initial slip-ups have absolutely been a result of ignorance in “how to” be inclusive, even though they’ve vocally said many times they want to. The issue, here, is that plenty of people have provided them with explanations of why what they are doing is leading to the reactions it’s getting, and they are simply ignoring those people.

    As far as the threatened part goes, read this ( or this ( The first one is a bit more mellow, and (as a warning) the second one is pretty intense.

    If Mike and PA genuinely want to be inclusive of all people, it’s their responsibility to learn what that means. What they’ve been doing is irresponsible. It’d be like if you asked a cook if the meal was safe for people with anaphylactic reactions to nuts, the chef didn’t know what anaphylactic meant, and fed you pesto. The chef didn’t mean to seriously harm or kill you, but the chef’s willful ignorance (instead of asking) was still just as deadly.

    Hope that helps. And if you’d like to learn a bit more about gender identity yourself, let me know! I’d love to share some links 🙂

    • Taradino C.

      I share the previous poster’s question about “the threatened part”. I’ve read both of the posts you linked, and I’m still having a hard time understanding why the comic, or PA’s statements, or anyone else’s statements make for an environment where the threat of physical harm is considered realistic.

      What I do see is quotes like this, where it’s asserted (without explanation) that the PA community is unsafe and threatening:

      “But the community has progressed to a place where it is UNSAFE for me to even say that I’m offended. Let me say that again: standing up for myself within the Penny Arcade community has become a threat to my physical well being.”

      And, maybe more importantly, I see quotes like these, where malicious thoughts are attributed to people in the audience:

      “That entire room of people supports him making money from minimizing the most excruciating experience of my life.”

      “Like, literally an entire giant auditorium of men got excited at the idea of making rape survivors feel uncomfortable”

      I don’t want to be dismissive either, but when I see those statements — which are at odds with my experience of PA, PAX, and human psychology — I can’t help but think that the authors’ personal trauma is leading them to believe things about the people involved that just aren’t true. And they don’t seem to be open to changing those beliefs. So how do we move forward?

  • Sarah

    “You said you don’t want to reaffirm the idea that rape is an okay thing, or that it’s societally okay to make fun of or blame rape survivors. So stop doing that.”

    But they’re not doing that. No more than you are. What they’re doing is saying that rape is a VERY BAD thing, and it’s possible to make a joke that mentions rape WITHOUT reaffirming the idea that rape is an okay thing or that it’s okay to make fun of or blame rape survivors.

    I am a sexual assault survivor and I want to make very clear I do not support this, you don’t do this in my name.

    “You’ve said that you want PAX to be for everyone, and that you want everyone to feel safe attending and supporting PA. So start doing that.”

    I don’t feel safe around your campaign. I don’t feel safe when I, as a victim of sexual assault, can be called a bigot by people, many of whom have not had that experience, simply because I don’t agree that jokes that mention rape inherently support rape and rape culture.

    What is your response to that? Do my feelings not matter? Am I the wrong kind of assault victim?

    I think you’re a bunch of censorious controlling idiots who have bandwagonned onto a serious issue and you’re wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I will not be bullied by well meaning fascists. I will not be silenced because you don’t understand how language and culture work. I will not accept that I, as a victim of sexual assault, am a bigot because you don’t understand that humour that uses rape as AN EXAMPLE OF A BAD THING, does not ENCOURAGE or TRIVIALISE RAPE but in fact DOES THE OPPOSITE.

    • Hi. Please read the first section of the article. It specifically mentions this issue is not about the rape joke — we all know the comic is not even about that — but the superfluous defense of it that has gone on for years and the cognitive dissonance it has created for people who wish to attend PAX but do not support Penny Arcade. Moreover, while your viewpoint is important, there are other sexual assault survivors, people who legitimately empathize with them, and also people who simply find Penny Arcade’s remarks to be tasteless, who all agree that this kind of behavior should not be tolerated, especially at PAX. I do not believe calling them “censorious controlling idiots” helps the discussion if they sincerely feel unsafe and unhappy to attend PAX because of Penny Arcade. You are one kind of assault victim, but not all of them. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    Where is my comment?

    • Beatnik Bill

      I see it right below this one.

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