The 2013 Penny Arcade Expo took place this past weekend! And, as fate would have it, there is once again controversy surrounding Mike Krahulik as he fires another bullet into the Penny Arcade Dickwolves timeline.
For those not up-to-speed with the debacle: back in 2010, Mike and Jerry, the creators of Penny Arcade, posted a comic called “The Sixth Slave”, featuring a character talking about “dickwolves” and some grim allusions to rape in an attempt at “dark humour” (trigger warning for discussions of rape: “The Sixth Slave“). And ever since, they’ve been attempting to defend and justify their comic – most significantly by creating women’s T-Shirts with a “dickwolves” logo on the front, which was pulled almost two months later. And now, the controversy has been reignited – surrounded by a number of other controversies that highlight problems with Penny Arcade’s management, including Mike Krahulik’s recent transphobic comments.
At Monday’s panel, Robert Khoo asked Mike and Jerry if they had any regrets over the years at building up Penny Arcade:
Robert Khoo: I mean, speaking of, I know the three of us have like, a really great working relationship, like, probably the best given the circumstances that we were thrown together in, given our personalities, it really is sort of a dream scenario, I couldn’t have written any better. But, is there anything you wish I would do better, or anything you resent me for doing or saying, or um… besides this panel. Outside of this panel.
Mike Krahulik (Gabe): This is honesty time?
Khoo: Honesty time, yeah. Absolutely.
Gabe: I… You know that I don’t hold grudges.
Gabe: Like, I can be incredibly mad and then fine the next minute, so long as I get it out.
Gabe: And I feel like we got this out, so I’m not mad about it anymore.
Gabe: But…I think that pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.
Khoo: Clearly, had I known the falling steps that would follow after that move, I would never have brought it up to you. Course I wouldn’t have, because I did not know… I mean, I don’t wanna say “Alright, well, because of this, this happened, people said this, I said this, you said that, clearly it would have just been better to just like, not say anything. That’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now where it’s like, it’s just better not to engage. And in fact, pulling it was, in a way, enga-
Gabe: – engaging –
Khoo: – A way of engaging. And then, then you actually engage. That was a direct result of pulling. And I totally agree. I totally agree.
Audience Member: Bring it back!
Khoo: No, that’s a terrible idea.
The full video can be seen over at TwitchTV, with this particular segment found at 2h, 35 minutes onwards.
Mike’s statement is more contentious in light of his previous outright dismissal of trans* people over on Twitter, his hurried justification, and both of his dubious apologies that seemed to suggest he was done talking about the issue – a sentiment echoed on the panel itself.
Robert Khoo mentions that it’s PA’s policy to not engage, but doesn’t state exactly what it is they refuse to engage with – one would imagine it would be a refusal to engage with critics, considering that by hosting PAX at all, they’re very definitely engaging – with creators and with fans.
It does make a strange sort of sense that the policy of the folks at Penny Arcade would be one of refusing to engage , especially in light of the recent discussions online about the ubiquitousness of harassment of creators and developers, where not engaging can be the only way to prevent an escalation of hostility aimed at the developer. On the other hand, there’s a line between harassment and genuine critique – and an inability or outright refusal to engage with critics just looks like the guys at PAX want to avoid accountability for their actions.
Budding off from this is a discussion (or an argument, depending) where the question of “Why doesn’t everyone just avoid PAX?” is being floated once again. Proponents of distancing from, separating from or outright boycotting PAX have made it clear that attending and supporting PAX is still implicitly supporting an unsupportive, unsafe and exclusivist environment (as well as PA’s Gabe and Tycho) – and that refusing to associate with PAX is the best way forward; others feel that, while a noble and laudable idea, this solution may also hurt people dependent on showcasing their work at PAX – as Christine Love said on Twitter, “Being unable to pay rent is not a revolutionary act”. Boycotts are only effective if affordable, accessible and amenable alternatives can be found, and there are many already in existence that build inclusivity and support into their framework – such as GeekGirlCon, 9Worlds, GaymerX, NoShowCon, and many others. Still, as one of the biggest gaming conventions in the world, those showcasing games at PAX may find that they experience a dip in income until these alternative conventions attract more attention.
Nonetheless, some companies have already made the difficult decision not to show at PAX, including The Fullbright Company, behind the recent indie game Gone Home. Whether this will be the event that pushes others to help build a more inclusive space for gamers and creators remains to be seen.