Why PAX is no longer a safe space

Sep 5, 2013 | Video Games

If you’ve been around the video gaming related internets lately, you’ll be aware of the re-emergence of the Dickwolves shitstorm. Here’s a recap, for the interested:

The recent controversy, i.e. Mike Krahulik is an asshole.

The timeline of how it all went down

The Problem

If it wasn’t obvious, the problem with all this is that the boss of Penny Arcade and PAX is a relentless douchebag.

I recall the original comic, and I thought it was fucking tasteless at the time, but hardly the most offensive thing I’d read that week. Up to a point, I see shit like this happening in the games community and it does not surprise me. It annoys me, yes, but mostly it’s par for the course, and I know – believe me, I know – that it is a sad, horrible thing for this kind of crap to be common enough for me to see it as such. So, also not surprisingly, rape survivors and feminists who pay attention to this kind of thing pointed out that it was fucking tasteless in a public place where other people could also read and comment.

But then… oh man. Then, shit got serious.

Mike and Jerry (the guys behind Penny Arcade) doubled down and pretty much openly mocked the people who criticized the comic, instead of paying attention to the fact that rape survivors were telling them that this rape joke was not cool.

Then their enormous fanbase began to harass the critics, sending rape and death threats to rape survivors.

Mike kept going, and kept mocking the critics (again, rape survivors, don’t forget) instead of calling off his fans, which made the harassment worse.

The PA guys created and started selling a T-shirt that mocked the critics, thus making money off Mike’s relentless douchebaggery.

Mike only called off his fans when his own family was threatened. Not when his actions instigated a storm of rape and death threats against rape survivors, no – only when a single tweet was sent to him threatening his family.

Which Brings Us to Today

Okay, Krahulik never really stopped being a relentless douchebag, even though someone got him under control long enough to pull the T-shirts. His earlier comments on trans people are also fucking offensive, and made me seriously doubt coming to PAX this year. I had some hope that he’d change, because change is possible, as we all know.

And then he came out with this bullshit: on stage, in front of who knows how many people, he said that he regrets pulling the T-shirts. And the crowd cheered.

This means that I am officially done. No more chances. No more hoping for something different. A room full of my fellow gamers cheered this. Mike Krahulik mocked rape survivors, allowed them to be abused by his followers while he did nothing, made money off that abuse, and he regrets the one decent thing he did during that whole stupid debacle. And they cheered him for it.

They cheered him for, I dunno, standing up to those nasty feminists who clearly have all the pow- okay I’m sorry, I can’t even finish typing that. They cheered him for kicking the weak and the vulnerable and profiting from their pain. You know what this tells me? It tells me that there are gamers who go to PAX that are dangerous creatures, the kind of people who value shitty humor over the most basic kind of human decency. Who think that a few lone voices disagreeing with something they like merits a war of abuse, and death threats, and rape threats, and the worst kind of viciousness, just to shut them up.


Out of arrogance, and ego, and… who knows? Because it’s easier to rain down abuse onto the heads of a few outsiders than it is to acknowledge that the thing you have invested so much of yourself in has issues – the very same issues that keep those outsiders away and alienated. Because it’s easier to wrap a bubble of narrative around yourself, say you’re not sexist or racist, even though the people most affected by those things are beating their fists on the door and trying to tell you that you are, you are, and you are making the thing you love so much worse for it.

They did the same thing to Anita Sarkeesian. And Jennifer Hepler. They will do anything to silence the voices outside the bubble. I know, now, that PAX is not safe, because of those creatures in the room who cheered. They may be walking around and talking like people, but I know – I know – that there is a point at which my humanity means less to them than their right to make a joke. There is a risk, and I have no idea how big or small it is, that I will not be treated as a full human being if I walk among them, and there is no way to distinguish them from the good people who are just there to have fun.

It terrifies me.

Mike Krahulik is only one person, even though he’s a relentless douchebag. I do not fear him. But I am scared of what he has done, and what he encourages and allows to be done in his name, to the culture of gaming. That cheer speaks of a deep and lurking kind of evil, the same that sent death threats to rape survivors, the same that made a game where the player could punch a woman in the face because she had the temerity to have an opinion on gaming, the same that treats female characters as less than human in many mainstream games. It says that women must tread carefully in gaming culture, least we draw its attention. It says that we’re not wanted there, that we’re allowed in this space on sufferance, that the inviolability of our person and our mental health is not absolute, and if we get out of line… well, anyone can see what will happen.

Can anyone be surprised, then, if women decide to avoid PAX as a result? If compassionate people of all kinds walk away from it, because they would rather lend their support to rape survivors than a large, commercial enterprise? If those with strong principles spill many thousands of words in criticism, lending their voices to the singular concept that our community should be better than this?

You may not have an obligation to make the world a better place, but you sure as hell have an obligation not to make it any worse. Especially for the most vulnerable among us. What Mike Krahulik has done, even though he’s involved in all the Child’s Play stuff, has made his little slice of the world a worse place for women and rape survivors. All because he made a joke, and some people didn’t find it funny.

Thanks for the memories, PAX, but I’m done.