Doing the right thing

Some game developers (is that the right name for them?) got a desirable spot at a gaming expo but then decided not to take it up after all, because of the people behind the expo.

But in the back of our minds all along, we’ve been bothered by the public stances that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX’s parent organization Penny Arcade, have taken on a number of issues.

First there was the entire “Dickwolves” debacle, during which Mike said that it “felt pretty good” to “support rape culture.”

Then there were the Penny Arcade Kickstarters, one of which offered to let backers pay them $7,500 to work as a Penny Arcade intern for a day.

When critics recently raised objections about the over-the-top depiction of female characters in Dragon’s Crown, Jerry referred to opinions that differed from his own as “censorship.”

And then yesterday a panel was announced for PAX Australia entitled “Why So Serious?” Its description initially included the lines

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?


This morning we stopped pushing those long-held reservations about Jerry and Mike into the back of our minds. We talked to each other and did a simple show of hands– do any of us feel comfortable presenting Gone Home at PAX?

No hands went up.

We believe that people’s opinions and actions on social issues and business ethics are important. We believe that agreeing to pay the organizers of PAX over $1,000 for booth space, and to present our game on their showfloor for four days, provides explicit support for and tacit approval of their publicly demonstrated positions on these subjects. And we have finally come to the conclusion that we cannot support Jerry, Mike, and their organization by participating in this event.

So they’re not presenting their game at PAX.



  1. CaitieCat says

    Good for them. I’m e-mailing them to tell them I’ll be buying their game as soon as I can set aside the dosh. Things like this need support if they’re going to spread and be what we want.

  2. says

    This is complicated. Mike & Jerry, who run Paax, are mostly good guys when they think things through. They’ve done a lot to reduce sexism at cons with anti-harassment policies and were the first to ban booth babes. Unfortunately, thinking things through tends to be their third or fourth reaction to things, so they tend to do several other things before doing the right thing. The Dickwolves story is a good example. I’m guessing an about-face on this soon.

  3. CaitieCat says

    Not complicated for me. Once? Sure. Twice? Okay, I can stretch to that.

    But after the transphobic bullshit that this asswiping reached for when he, by his own words, “got angry and wanted to lash out”?

    No. Not complicated at all. By their deeds shall ye know them.

    Not everything the Bibble says is bad advice just because it’s in there.

  4. CaitieCat says

    Nope, just more convinced he’s an unrepentant male-supremacist transphobic jackass. he’s defending his privilege all over the damn thing. It’s the shit-cherry on the torte d’ordure. No. Not even close to changing my mind. It’s not even as good an apology as the first one. He’s just doing it because PAX’s PR people were probably flinging themselves out high windows. There’s no sincerity, and no slightest bit of remorse, all kinds of excuses for why it’s okay.

    Ask yourself this. Have you seen Rebecca Watson use racist language because people have been e-mailing her day and night that she should go and die?

    No. Because she actually walks the walk.

    This jerk reaches for slurs the same way Paula Deen does. She gets “humourous” articles about how fat and hypocritical she is. He gets…apologia.

  5. says

    I said if you use the word “cis” don’t bother tweeting me.

    . . .

    I hate lots of people it’s true. But I’ve never hated anyone for their sexual orientation or their gender situation. I don’t hate people for superficial shit like that.

    dude has no flaming clue how prejudice works, thinking it’s about “hate”, and then gets pissed off and lashes out at people for pointing out his prejudice.

    there aren’t enough desks to head.

  6. says

    and yeah, that apology amounted to “don’t call me a bigot, i get angry when you call me a bigot. i’m sorry for being angry b/c it’s having a bad effect on my con; not sorry about the being a bigot part tho”

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Reading stories such as this, illustrated by the plastic sex-toy “my hero” ads for Wartunes “Dirty Fantasy Game – For Men Only”, causes severe stresses to my irony meter.

    I already had to put in extra baffles & filters for the Liberty University and bible study ads; further overloads may turn the poor thing into a WMD, and get me droned.

  8. M can help you with that. says

    Most of my (more limited than I’d like) gaming dollars these days go to quirky, creative, usually-fairly-short-due-to-being-made-by-very-few-people “indie” games; the Fullbright Company has just launched “Gone Home” towards the top of my list (both in appreciation of the principled stand and because I rather suspect that I won’t have to put up with sexist, homophobic or transphobic crap while playing).

  9. carlie says

    This is a pretty good piece on Penny Arcade and its problems. I especially like how it lays out actions and consequences:

    To be clear, I wasn’t boycotting any of these things. Boycotting implies that I was refraining from buying something or partaking in something I otherwise would have enjoyed in an effort to teach someone else a lesson. This wasn’t the case. Instead, my overall enjoyment of the products they associate themselves with lost their lustre to me. They became less interesting.

    So to Mike Krahulik I say this:

    I understand freedom of speech is important to you. It’s important to me too. But speech has consequences. Speech has responsibility. When you start saying things that alienate people, they will walk away. This isn’t because they want to shut you up, it’s because they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

  10. Ysidro says

    I swear, if anyone else gets knocked off of pedestals, I’m going to have to start an empty pedestal store…or something.

    I didn’t even know abou the “dickwolves” thing. It’s amazing how one can make a statement declaring rape culture doesn’t exist or one doesn’t support it while actually contributing to it in the very same statement. That’s just impressive.

    And sick and immature.


  11. says

    And here’s the thing: their webcomic isn’t even that good. It’s rarely funny, and it too often delves abruptly and deeply into gaming industry issues that are esoteric and unrecognizable to the rest of us. It’s incredibly inside baseball stuff. If it were starting up today, it would wither and die fast — most people would just go “WTF?” and turn away.

    But they got in on the ground floor and really have built a big empire, with a lot of branches that appeal to the gaming community in general. And I thought their StripSearch show was brilliant (but mainly because of the artists they brought in, not the two ‘creators’). I’ve never been to Pax, but I’ve heard it’s a really good conference.

    So really, their only important role is as leaders, not webcomic artists. And then they keep screwing that part up.

  12. says

    I’ve never really got why Penny Arcade is so beloved, either. I’m kinda a comics guy from before there even were webcomics and have the ancient Pogo paperbacks and Tom Tomorrow collections–not to mention sable brushes and pots of India Ink–to prove it, and always read lots of the digital stuff from the beginning of when there were such things, and so on. Early ‘zine culture exports to Argon Zark, I’m quasi-literate in the area at least, I figure, tho’ there’s no way a mere human could keep up with all of it you can pull out in like two seconds of searching, now…

    I guess it’s like PZ says, mostly, about their thing: too inside, and that’s not an inside I know enough to get.

    And he and Daniel Kaszor and others besides are right about the leaders thing, too. Because though I don’t really follow gaming culture, I’ve certainly heard about this stuff, and not just here…

    And, umm, honestly, before or after the Anita Sarkeesian incident, I expect my broad (and thus presumably somewhat unfair or at least un-nuanced) picture of the subculture would have pretty much put it in the ‘unsurprising’ column of events either way.

    I don’t know quite what else to say about that. Beyond telling them what they probably already know: they’re playing awfully well to a very unpretty stereotype of themselves. Non-gamers* are fairly likely to glance over, say, yeah, really, no kidding.

    They might want to look to that if it turns out it’s actually true. Same as, y’know, any subculture might want to look to how inclusive they are in their own things and just what kind of culture they’re making, exactly, if it does turn out there’s a bit more behind such mutterings than there is behind smears about the eating of infants.

    (*/Or, okay, I don’t know what I am… Do have and play some games and not just stuff for the ‘casual’ demographic, just don’t really keep up or get online or get real social about it… And there’s probably a term for this, too, I would likewise completely fail to recognize if referenced in PA.)

  13. machintelligence says

    A funny thing about leaders and criticism: a lot of them can dish it out but don’t seem to be able to take it.

  14. says

    I had already marked Gone Home as something I’m very interested in for some time. 🙂

    I guess it’s like PZ says, mostly, about their thing: too inside, and that’s not an inside I know enough to get.

    Huh, interesting. To me, as a programmer (and not one in the gaming industry), I never really read Penny Arcade, because I always viewed it as not inside enough. It’s just surface fluff for the mainstream. This is also why I don’t follow most gaming news or shows.

  15. elly says

    Good article, although I had a tough time reading through the comments. There’s a lot of the usual, “people are looking for reasons to be offended,” transgender and feminist bashing, “freeze-peach” posturing and so on.

    As usual, they seem to have missed the point of the article entirely.

  16. besomyka says

    @20 I tried to chime in on that thread yesterday, but it’s pretty exhausting.

    And it’s the same sort of errors that the same people make when it comes to sexism, rape culture, and all the rest: shallow understanding of the topic, myopic view of the issues at hand, privilege-related misunderstandings of facts discussed, etc.


  17. Robert B. says

    … That explains why they didn’t accept our queer-issues-in-fandom panel for PAX East.

  18. doubtthat says

    You know, I would actually defend that dickwolves comic, but then…it so quickly became the very least of the crimes that it doesn’t even matter anymore.

  19. great1american1satan says

    Ace of Sevens – according to the Know Your Meme link Krahulik was praised by the MENS RIGHTS subreddit. ‘Nuff said.

  20. great1american1satan says

    The game industry and culture are overrun with this shit. Are you a gamer? You either know what I’m talking about and sigh, or you are an asshole. My dude used to work at a video game company where guys grumbled loudly because someone complained about them screaming faggot, bitch, and rape stuff at their desks. Since there were only two female-looking people in the pit where they kept the artists and level designers, the grumbling happened next to certain desks…

    Anyhow, as I always say about haters when they show their asses like this, if the worst conservative jerkface you can think of (Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, whatever) would approve of the view you are espousing, RECONSIDER IT, at least for a second. OK?

  21. Karen says

    I haven’t found PA comics that funny in the last few years. I don’t know if it’s because they have changed or I have or both. I certainly don’t like going to a gaming comic and reading about completely unrelated, no context sex topics. (For example.) Just… why are comics like that necessary? There was one comic much further back about how they thought one of their wives was in a porn video. I have no idea what that was all about or if it was actually something bleeding over from their personal lives, but it had nothing to do with gaming either. No, I don’t have to go to their site if I don’t like it, and I usually don’t anymore. After this controversy, probably even less now. However I still recognize the site as culturally important in gaming which is why I feel the need to criticize. It’s about social responsibility. They don’t seem to realize just how many gamers, young and old, take great stock in their opinions. There’s going to be certain individuals who are going to feel it’s ok or funny to dismiss rape culture when they see people that they look up to doing it as well. Whether the PA guys like it or not, they are public figures, and public figures can’t just say any old crap without consequence. They are representatives of the gaming community. They lead an entire gaming convention. They are parents! The civilized public is going to hold them to a higher standard now that they aren’t the average gamer blogger, and there’s nothing they can really do about it. Fame happens, and the critics are there to keep their egos in check and call out questionable decisions. Yeah PA has the right to play it off as free speech, no big deal, or a joke — but there will be social consequences. The undertone in their various apologies that there shouldn’t be a consequence for them because of X, Y, and Z reasons is moot. There’s always social consequences. Get used to it, you’re famous and people are going to single you out for it. Learn to take what you dish out. If you don’t like it, stop joking around about such horrible or sensitive things. It’s like playing with fire and blaming someone else when you get burned. The way PA posts apologies it often sounds that they’re only sorry they were called out on their socially unacceptable behavior. A sort of “please make the hate mail stop”, “oh god, my reputations!”, and “here, money will make it all better” situation. The onus is really on them to come off as sincere, but I think this type of situation has happened so many times now that some individuals are not going to believe any apology. I’m certainly turned off reading their comic now. I know for my boyfriend (who is a straight white male and also a game dev) when he read the “feeling good about supporting rape culture” twitter BS, that was the final straw for him and he took their site off his daily visits. This isn’t just having an effect on minority audiences or “non-target” audiences; He was as thoroughly disgusted as anyone else was. Mike says on the PA front page: “I’m not qualified to talk about the ambiguity of sexuality and frankly I don’t give a shit about it. I like drawing comics and playing video games. I’ll keep my mouth shut when it comes to all the other stuff.” That’s good. I hope he sticks to what he says here. Every time this guy opens his mouth I remember why Jerry is the primary mouthpiece of the PA empire. If Mike is sincerely not coming off the way he actually means, he really does need to stay in the back, doing what he’s good at; drawing comics. What personally bothered me the most was how Mike mentioned he was a “damaged” individual and “can’t stop being an asshole”. I also consider myself a “damaged” individual, and I have also been guilty of being an asshole and have said things I deeply regret, but that doesn’t exempt me from accepting the social consequence of what I do and say. If you can’t control your speech, stop speaking, remove yourself from the dialog. Own up to your mistakes, especially if they are actually mistakes. As a person who has lived with mental issues for most of my life, nothing bothers me more than seeing other sufferers play that “I did it because I’m screwed up” card. It’s covering your demons with a blanket instead of slaying them (which is harder, yes). It’s making excuses and making other sufferers look bad. It’s still your responsibility to do everything you can to not spread that damage and hurt to other people. I also don’t agree with the people that have been sending PA death threats and such. That is the worst way to get a point across and not acceptable dialog. You people make the people fighting for an end to rape culture look very bad with every emotional outburst. I also want to put it out there that I always have felt that Child’s Play, as wonderful a charity it is, was a charity created as fallback for their reputations (similar to how certain illicit biker gangs and mafias do it – and this is just an example of the concept, I’m not saying PA is anywhere near on par with criminals here). It’s fortunate that despite the things the PA creators say sometimes, this charity is still able to go on and help kids.

  22. doubtthat says

    @27 great1american1satan

    My brother and I dabbled in games and the internet when it when online games were first becoming viable. He was always more of a tech expert than me, but we just assumed everyone who was into this stuff shared our basic outlook on life. Call it the “Star Trek” theory: interest in science and technology went hand in hand with progressive social ideas.

    Then my brother got a summer job at a tech company. The stories were…revelatory. Constant racism, constant sexism, constant vulgarity. It was shocking.

    Even knowing this, I made the same faulty assumption about the atheist/skeptical community.

  23. great1american1satan says

    Karen- Great comment, though when I first saw the wall of text, I thought it was a Reap Paden incursion. Did you lose your carriage returns somehow?

    Doubtthat- I know! Totally.

  24. J says

    (disclosure: I may have posted here before but I have apparently forgotten my account name so I can’t log in. I believe I would have posted as ‘J’, so maintaining that)

    Obviously the studio in question can do whatever they like, and I applaud them for making a principled stand.

    As a general comment though, overall I’ve found PA’s handling of women-in-gaming issues positive. They banned booth babes entirely at PAX. They have called BS on sexist depictions of women in game art. They did rational coverage of Anita Sarkeesian’s project (and closed comments on it, explicitly saying they were doing this so people can watch it and reflect and not just spew nonsense all over). Their own art depicts girls and women in a non-sexualised way.

    I’ve never gotten the impression that they’re raging sexists who let that slip out from time to time, more that they are generally-ok guys who have thought about these issues enough to come to some good conclusions but perhaps not enough to excise *all* of the cultural shit we get programmed with. They’re certainly not experts on the subject matter, but overall I think they have probably had a somewhat moderating influence on what can often be a vitriolic culture.

    Re: dickwolves
    This exasperated me at the time because while I’m **strongly** in favour of dismantling current culture around rape, as a (female) gamer this came across as a really obvious example of ‘joke containing concept of rape to make a jab at something else’, which as far as I can tell most feminists agree can be permissible.

    In this case, the subject of the joke was the dubious morality of video games ‘heroes’. e.g the game sets up outrageously horrible situations, and then sets a quest that has you help only a set number of the people experiencing it. This is bad especially in the case of MMOs, when the situation obviously has to continue in perpetuity. They did another comic on this topic, where Batman flies straight over a guy getting beaten up by thugs, because he’s spotted a trophy somewhere nearby.

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