An Open Letter to Penny Arcade, from a Feminist Gamer

Sep 7, 2013 | Video Games

Hi Mike Krahulik,

Seeing as Jerry doesn’t say much, this letter is for you, more or less.

I posted about the PAX thing already. You should go read it, maybe take notice of some of it. I read your apology on the Penny Arcade site, and it turns out that I got some more to say about it, and I figure I might as well say it to you.

First of all – you are still a douchebag.

Are you offended by that? Good. You should be. You’ve acted like a douchebag before, wrote up some pretty apologies before, and still went ahead and continued to act like a douchebag. So, sorry, I’d have to be a colossal idiot to take you at your word and forgive you, AGAIN. There are only so many times you can get away with that, and you’ve had enough chances. You’re gonna have to do a hell of a lot more than apologize to get back my trust. My default position going forward is that you are a douchebag, unless and until I see significant evidence of non-douchebaggery for at least a year or two.

That includes the transphobic shit. “I’m okay with you identifying as a woman but sorry, blah blah blah biology”? That’s transphobia. Stop bleating about how it isn’t when actual transgender people are telling you that it is not okay. You’ll be entitled to a fucking opinion when the world has evolved to the point where transgender people are NOT attempting suicide at epidemic rates.

Secondly – stop talking about how you’ve worked to make PAX a safe space, and your policy of no booth babes, and the great harassment policy etc etc. Guess what? When you got a cheer out of a room full of gamers because you said you regretted pulling the T-shirts that you specifically put up in order to bully rape survivors, you wiped away all that work. Boom. Gone. Just like that.

I guess you didn’t intend to do it, but sorry, intent isn’t fucking pixie dust that magically reverses the consequences of your actions. You said you regretted pulling the shirts. You may have meant something else, but the room took that to mean ‘I regret bowing down to those mean feminists and I wish I could bring those shirts back.’ The gamers who agreed with that sentiment are the ones who frighten me, because – like I said yesterday – they value a joke over the comfort and mental health of rape survivors. They make PAX unsafe. And your statement, whatever your actual meaning, was validation of that. So you can say whatever the hell you want about your policies, but they don’t mean jack shit while your fans can’t be trusted to respect the safe space you’re trying to create.

Those are your fucking fans, man. Please tell me you’re horrified by that.

Thirdly – for gods’ sake, stop saying you never intended to be a role model. You ARE a role model, idiot. Do you have any idea of the power you wield over your fans? You don’t think any one of them would give anything to BE you? You’re a leader whether you wanted to be or not, so you better start fucking well acting like it. You cannot, CANNOT, say shit like that on stage at PAX and then go ‘whoops! We’re just average guys!’ You are NOT just average guys. You are the heads of a giant commercial enterprise that has the power and clout to shape huge swathes of public opinion on gaming. When you say stuff, thousands of gamers sit up and listen. If all you’re going to do with that power is cry and moan about how you never wanted it, then fuck off and let someone else take center stage who will use it to improve the community.

Fourthly – you brought this shit up again. You didn’t have to, if you had thought for two seconds before opening your mouth at that panel. There’s brutal honesty, and then there’s shitting all over rape survivors AGAIN and alienating tons of people who thought maybe we were getting past this, as a community. If you can’t help saying stupid, offensive stuff, then maybe you should consider not talking for a while in order to halt the damage being done to your brand.

Finally – here’s a list of what I would consider to be a good step towards atonement for said douchebaggery.

  • Take down the Dickwolves comic, and the response comic you posted the day after. Let your fans cry about censorship or whatever, I don’t give a fuck. Just make it clear that you’re doing it as a gesture of solidarity, because the whole controversy has gone beyond the comics themselves, and you want to go the extra mile to make things right.
  • Tell your fans that the Dickwolves T-shirts are never, ever coming back, and you will be burning yours, and they should burn theirs too if they care about rape survivors. Tell them that you were wrong to make them.
  • Tell your fans that anyone who wears a Dickwolves shirt to PAX will be escorted out of the con. Again, go ahead and let them cry about censorship. You’ll probably lose some assholes who whine about how you’re bowing to pressure or some shit. You know what, though? This sends a message that PAX values the safety and mental health of rape survivors over someone’s right to wear a shitty T-shirt. If you really want to make it a safe space, then you need to put your money where your mouth is.

Yes, I realize that all this will net you a lot of bad press, but frankly, you brought this on yourself when you decided to bully the innocent whose only crime was disagreeing with you about whether a rape joke was funny.

MovieBob has posted a really awesome long post all about this, and I’m going to quote one part of it here for reference (seriously though, go read the whole thing, it’s good.)

Speaking as one internet-humorist about another, I sympathized (and still do, to whatever extent it matters) with Penny Arcade about the reaction to the initial strip. I can even sympathize with their desire to say “fuck you!” in response, the first time…

What I don’t get is continuing to do it (and I’m talking about the shirts and such) after it’s been demonstrated that this is A.) now bigger than you and your joke and B.) that whether they misread your comic strip or not, you don’t “battle” rape-survivors and women’s rights activists the way you battle some asshole lawyer from Florida because they’re not the same guys. Doing so makes you the bad guy even if you started out “right,” and bringing it up again – unprovoked! – when the vast majority of your “enemy” had moved on… that really makes you The Bad Guy even if you are not, in fact, a bad guy.

I want to say this again – the end result of all this dumbfuckery is that you have shat all over rape survivors, and allowed your fans to shit all over rape survivors, repeatedly. REPEATEDLY. Regardless of your intent, and regardless of how much you regret it. You are driving people away from PAX because we can’t trust you to not be a total douchebag (see track record, again) and we can’t trust you to rein in your fans when they start following your fucking lead and acting like total douchebags. And if you’re hurt by our mistrust, well…

Too. Fucking. Bad.

I don’t hate you, but I am seething with anger that you pulled this shit again, and that is where much of this rant is coming from. My hope of change in the gaming community has taken a knock yet again, and that undercurrent of spiteful sexism still runs deep, and I was wrong to believe that things were getting better. I should not have to fight for my place in this community, and stuff like this makes me feel like even the fight itself is futile.

(I’m going to tell you a story.

Way back in the mists of time, before there ever was a PAX, I was a lonely, awkward young woman.

I had some friends, but I also had a creeping sense of never truly belonging, as if my place in the world didn’t fit right and never would. I don’t think I was a very good friend as a result, so I wouldn’t be surprised if people were not all that interested in hanging around with me. I went to university alone, and, by chance, I met a group of gamers. And when they said, ‘Come and play with us!’, I felt like I belonged, like this was where I was allowed to be myself and think strange thoughts and generally act a little weird, and no one would think less of me for it.

To this day, they are my closest friends, my comrades-in-arms, and my allies. Most of my life has been shaped by gaming in some way since then. This hobby – and it is only a hobby, more or less – is as much a part of me as my own name. So I want you to understand, when I say that I should not have to fight for my place in the gaming community, just how deep my rage goes.)

Yeah, yeah, I’m only one blogger – and not a very articulate one when I’m angry, let’s be honest here. I’m sure this’ll pass eventually, and I’ll become hopeful again, and I’ll eventually be capable of reasoned discussion and all that. But not now.

Now, I’m going to switch on my PC, fire up Skyrim, and beat the snot out of everything I see.


Claire Ryan