Normally on Fridays I review a game or share a video, but I’ve been cheating a bit with extra fun content, so today’s post is going to be a bit more serious. I’ve been following the Penny Arcade “Raped by Dickwolves” controversy for a while, and this past week it’s gotten completely out of hand.
Last August they created a comic that made reference to “being raped to sleep by dickwolves” to exaggerate the pitiful state of NPCs that are ignored by MMORPG players in only freeing a set number of slaves for a quest. When I read it, I laughed, because the humor was fairly dark, but also fairly out of touch with anything based in reality, and totally in keeping with the spirit of Penny Arcade. Feminists and rape survivors, however, were not pleased, with some speaking out against the strip, and others questioning whether the “male-dominated” video game space was fostering rape culture.
In their usual “it’s the internet, it will blow over,” the creators of Penny Arcade made light of the criticism, creating Dickwolves t-shirts, and selling them online and at PAX. Commentary and criticism got a bit more heated (see the full timeline here). In the past week, at least one speaker pulled out of PAX because of the t-shirts, and suddenly there were twitter accounts accusing rape survivors of lying about being raped, and calling for attacks on the wives and children of the Penny Arcade creators.
Did Penny Arcade respond badly to the first controversy? Yes, no question. They dismissed concerns and played up the sarcasm regarding a very real problem. Did they eventually remove the shirts from the store? Yes, which is good. Have they totally lost control of the vitriolic attacks? Yes, meaning that yesterday’s call for sanity is probably not going to have that much effect. Even Jerry Holkin’s reasoned and intelligent post is probably not going to do much to calm the waters at this point. Part of the intelligence of that post is his acknowledgment that the whole thing is out of his hands.
While with PAX having a creation take shape and become self-sustaining could be a great and positive thing, so that they could step back and be lauded like royalty, this contretemps has taken on a life of it’s own in such a way that their inattention and instinctive responses (twitter can be a bad thing) during the early days may haunt the rest of their legacy.
So let’s spend a moment talking about legal issues. Threats of physical violence can be considered a crime if there is a reasonable chance the person making the threats (or inciting the violence) could actually follow out on those threats. Insults and name-calling, while petty and juvenile, are generally not actionable, unless they are intentionally harmful because the attacker knew that the insults would cause serious mental damage to the specific target. It’s the problem of “which part of the mob started the mob?” Hopefully nothing will happen, and no one will be attacked or injured as a result of the comic, on either side of the fence.
But in the same way that people tried to blame explicit lyrics for juvenile delinquency, and violence in video-games for violent anti-social behavior in teenagers, if anything does happen here, the fingers are going to be pointed at the people behind the webcomic. I don’t think that’s entirely fair, but I’m not in charge of people on the internet. I can only hope things will calm down on their own, and apologize for the potential extension of the discussion that this post causes.