The Blog of Erron K.
Thoughts on the Penny Arcade Thing

I’m going to apologize for the content of this blog up front. I do not have a background in any of the social sciences, so there is a very good chance parts of this post are going to be totally off base.

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I’m incredibly disappointed over this entire event; what has been labeled as the Penny Arcade Debacle. There have been vicious, reprehensible attacks being flung from both “sides” of this, but what almost bothers me as much is that people are finding it so easy to define what those sides are.

People who watched this unfold, as far as I can tell, are seeing this as “The Penny Arcade side” and “The Feminist Side”. Digging in a little further seems to elaborate slightly — it becomes “The Penny Arcade side” and “The Feminist Side and Rape Survivors”, which is where I’m going to make my first potentially off base objection.

It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that people are trying to paint this as a “Feminist” fight. The fact that one side of this happens to be largely comprised of individuals who identify as Feminists is incidental to the actual debacle — from day one, this has never been about gender. I say this because if this situation had sprung up and unfolded exactly the same way as it has, but the people who voiced their objections originally were a predominately male group of rape victims it would have played out the exact same way.

I’m trying to make that point with authority, because it directly leads into where I think the idea that it has been about gender is coming from — those atrocious attacks on the figureheads involved on both “sides”. People seem awfully quick to look at The Debacle Timeline, pass the link around to everybody they know, and accept it as a straight, unbiased collection of materials simply because it claims that it what it is.

That is stupid for numerous reasons. The first being they refuse to reveal who they are behind the scenes of the Timeline. That in itself is understandable — the assholes who are launching personal attacks on everybody involved make it quite clear it is the only safe option. Having said that — this person is not watching this unfold and collecting the information in the Timeline because they are bored. I would put good money that prior to opening it, they had a vested interest in one side or the other. This means that, short of reducing the entire thing into a collection of links with no personal input it is skewed towards one side.

Part of the Timeline:

Mike, responding in Shakesville’s comments, posts links to bestiality and pedophilia jokes in Penny Arcade comics.  When other commenters object, he responds with sarcasm.

This lacks any kind of context at all. When this was originally unfolding Mike posted the first comment to try and point out the fact that, yes, they have in fact done comics containing all kinds of taboo subjects. He was attempting to illustrate the point that Penny Arcade has always done comics like this, and that objecting to a comic they’ve done now after they have been doing these for over a decade was ridiculous.

If I can borrow a phrase I’ve seen used there to defend their own positions on things before; Penny Arcade, and the specific comic in question don’t exist in a void. There are years of material offering testament that shit like this is going to happen, including actual comics where rape is the joke.

His second comment was sarcastic because they were calling him a troll. For trying to illustrate the fact that if you are reading Penny Arcade there are certain expectations and acknowledgments of the content you will be exposed to.

Context is everything, people. The Timeline, in “trying” to use clear, succinct language has produced bits like the above which come off painting Mike as a complete asshole from the start. There is no elaboration on the fact that he wasn’t attempting to piss off Shakesville, he was attempting to defend the point he made in his newspost. But only looking at the timeline you aren’t going to grasp that.

The Timeline also includes other selections which are obvious attempts to grab anything that can be used to discredit Mike’s character, such as this one:

Mike draws a comic on UStream.  His music selection during broadcast includes Tori Amos (a rape survivor) and “Tiny Little Mustache” by Stephen Lynch, about a woman who is a Nazi.

I was there for the entirety of that particular uStream. His iTunes was on shuffle as he mentioned on Twitter once that bit was added. There are a few hundred other viewers who can attest to that.

After Mike commented on Twitter about the addition of his music to the Timeline, they added a second blurb:

Mike links to this page.  Please note that the music selection was mentioned, but without color commentary.

Calling out two specific songs that happened to play because they tangentially relate to the perceived issues at hand during the Debacle is the color commentary. It is pushing the idea that he maliciously added songs by “Tori Amos (a rape survivor)” because she is a rape survivor, and not just maybe because he likes her fucking music.

The Timeline makes mention of the happenings on Twitter once this entire situation erupted again, months later. It specifically calls out twitter accounts that had been utilized by assholes. It also offers this:

Mike privately tells DickWolvington to knock it off.

Twitter is not a private medium. Twitter is a public medium. Mike did not privately tell DickWolvington to knock it off — he publicly told him. You have the same screenshot seen above on your Timeline — if you, a third party, can see the exchange it is not a private exchange.

But here is the thing: While equally as reprehensible as some of the things that have happened, save for the exchange above and a few others Mike was directly involved in they are also incidental to the situation. Adding them to the timeline, already attempting (whether purposely or inadvertently) to paint Mike in a bad light presents the idea that somehow he condoned these people.

And I know the argument that could be made against that statement. “But they are Penny Arcade fans, so it is part of this.” It is an argument that could be made, except for one fact that everybody seems to be omitting — the vast majority of these fuckers are from 4chan.

Accuse me of trying to pass the blame if you want, because at the moment I only have anecdotal evidence to offer. But the legions of 4chan have been at the throats of Shakesville for a long time, and revel in the opportunity to keep it up.

I’m sure anybody reading this understands what 4chan is. As a concept it is a massive group of people who are completely anonymous, which presents them with two things: A mob mentality that gives them a cover for anything they do, and the willingness to use that anonymity for the betterment and detriment of society and culture.

But back to the Shakesville/4chan thing. They have been grinding an axe with Shakesville since this post, where writer Melissa McEwan attempts to denounce this XKCD comic.

I’ll state it again: I only have anecdotal evidence for this bit. 4chan moves so fast that as soon as a topic dies or reaches a certain number of posts it falls to the back of the pages associated with whatever section of 4chan it was posted in, and is ultimately erased — this tends to happen within minutes.

But 4chan did go after Shakesville for the XKCD thing, and this Penny Arcade thing provided them with another perfect opportunity to attack them for attacking something they like. It sucks that they did, but the fact of the matter is they did.

If I can use a D&D reference here, I see 4chan as an entity being the embodiment of Chaotic Neutral. They will unleash themselves and every resource at their disposal to do things like bring down justice against animal abusers. They will do anything they can to disrupt anything pertaining to asshole leaders of government. They will launch a war against a seemingly insane religion.

They will also bring about events like the Jessie Slaughter debacle. And they will attack places like Shakesville for attacking things they like, but with more numbers, more vitriol, and because of the anonymity more unbridled hate than anything else. They understand that they will be banned and their comments removed by Moderators — so they unleash with the most hurtful, acidic, insane attacks possible. Shakesville being a blog with an agenda (if that is the word I’m looking for here) only makes that easier for them.

The disconnect here is that these people are being lumped in with Penny Arcade supporters. The Timeline — the thing people are looking to as straight fact makes no mention of this. Regardless of how difficult it is, post-Debacle, to grab any kind of screenshot directly from 4chan rousing the beast into action is irrelevant. An unbiased account should be making mention that there is a likely chance they are participating.. but it doesn’t.

And so the people only recently tuning in are left to assume that these are regular Penny Arcade fans.

I need to be clear: I am not trying to argue that some of those people aren’t straight up Penny Arcade fans. Every collection of people has assholes, and as the number of people in any group grows, so do the chances of more of those people being total fuckers. But it is total bullshit to lump in the majority of people acting through 4chan with Penny Arcade and their fans.

Learning 4chan had a grudge against Shakesville specifically led me to wonder exactly why they did. I found half-thought out reasoning on censorship on that blog and the like, which I find relatively stupid. That blog is a place for like-minded and like-experienced individuals to read and discuss whatever gets posted. Whether or not I agree with things posted there doesn’t matter — I am aware of the content offered there and choose not to read them, as I know they will often write on things with viewpoints I would find offensive.

What I do think is relevant about Shakesville in regards to the Debacle is the fact that part of the Debacle is being seen as an attack on rape-survivors, where Penny Arcade is attacking rape survivors, and that selection of people is personified by Shakesville.

What I personally think is reprehensible is the treatment of people at the hands of Shakesville who had the audacity to not find equal outrage with the comics posted at Penny Arcade.

I want people to read that again, because I feel it is an incredibly important point here. People are looking at this as Penny Arcade has been flippant towards rape survivors, and I can understand how it might be seen that way. The other and more accurate way (in my opinion) to look at it is that Penny Arcade has been flippant towards the people who spoke out against their comics.

Yes, I understand that originally the people who spoke out against the comics (and later the merchandise) are overwhelmingly rape survivors. The fact that they have had to suffer that kind of atrocity is what led to the outrage in the first place, and it is completely understandable. However, I feel as though the response from Penny Arcade isn’t aimed at those people as rape survivors, but those people as people who expressed what I believe they believed to be ridiculous outrage. I feel like there is a disconnect there, however erroneously. Penny Arcade is a comic that revels in the obscene, and the people who enjoy Penny Arcade are people who also revel in the obscene.

Shakesville, however, is a place for victims to have discourse with other victims. Where Penny Arcade is a place for Penny Arcade fans to have shared experiences with other Penny Arcade fans, Shakesville is supposed to be a ‘safe place’ for the people who identify as such.

So, then, what about people I found on the (now locked) thread in the Penny Arcade forums? During the course of the debates in that thread, which ranged in both size and level of understanding the situations discussed, user ShrikeTheAvatar threw their experience with Shakesville into the ring.

This user made a comment attempting to present a well reasoned argument pointing out the leaps of logic it takes to relate defending the Penny Arcade comics with defending rape culture.

They were summarily banned for it, receiving this as the primary response:

blah blah blah stifle reasonable debate blee blahhh bloo ridiculous shmiff shmooff shmurff jumping to conclusions blorfle whorfle I’m sorry BUT.

Bye.

Frotty, another user from that thread on the Penny Arcade forums is a rape survivor. They similarly made posts to argue their point, and then were banned. Shortly after this, the first user attempted to make a second account, feeling they were unjustly banned for disagreeing with the opinion of the rest of the members there. They were banned again.

There is a key difference here in their bans versus the justified bans of the assholes making accounts for hurtful purposes — these were people who felt as if they were a part of the Shakesville community in part, and simply disagreed on this topic.

These events were promptly followed up by McEwan posting this after this same user registered a second account, where she equates creating new accounts with being a rapist.

Read that again. She is calling rape survivors who disagree on this matter rapists. That is vile.

Update: McEwan has confirmed her stance, that yes, you are a rapist if you attempt to make yourself heard. Completely disgusting, and what’s more is this snippet from that post:

..or treated being banned as an invitation to take up the issue with me personally via email.

I will address this by simply pointing back to a comment made by another figure from the same website, taken from the comments section.

If your commenting privileges have been revoked, and you think that was unfair — which is always possible! we mods are human, and we screw up just like everyone does — by all means email Melissa to discuss having them reinstated.

Just remember. If you feel you were unfairly banned, like ShrikeTheAvatar and frotty, you can email Melissa McEwan about getting your commenting privileges reinstated. Except if you do, you are a rapist.

/update-end

This is one of the biggest reasons why I fall onto the “pro-PA” side of things. Here is the breakdown, minus the months long timeline, as I see it.

  • Penny Arcade made two comics.
  • Offense was taken over the first comic, which prompted the second comic.
  • People saw the second comic as mocking rape survivors. I see the second comic as mocking people who misunderstood the first comic.
  • Penny Arcade made merchandise with the Dickwolf on it. People saw this merchandise as either again a mockery of rape survivors, or advocating rape. I see the merchandise as the response to a demand for it from fans, though in light of the beginnings of the Debacle a very distasteful choice.
  • Penny Arcade removes the merchandise in the efforts of placating people who didn’t like it for various reasons.
  • The removal of the merchandise provokes 4chan into action.
  • Mike responds to messages on Twitter with sarcasm and jokes. I happen to think these responses were in very bad taste.
  • Mike responds directly to DickWolvington, telling him to stop. I feel the sentiment conveyed here should naturally be applied to everyone involved.
  • Mike makes an apology on Twitter.
  • Mike further elaborates in a blog post, admitting he now realizes the poor decision some of his responses were.
  • Jerry also makes a blog post, his first on the current situation, and elaborates his thoughts, and calls for an end to the war.

His post also, perhaps inadvertently, points out something I feel is critically important here. People are seeing this situation’s escalation happening because they feel it is a mockery of rape victims on the part of Penny Arcade. I feel Jerry is still seeing it as unfounded outrage based on the misunderstanding of a comic, and the subsequent mockery is not of rape victims, but of people who misunderstood their comic.

The fact of the matter is that the strip that started all this is about how empty, amoral, and borderline vile electronic heroism actually is. When I look at it now, it’s hard to imagine the chaos this comic stands at the center of. To the extent that it discusses rape, it is in the context of men and an imaginary creature. It’s certainly not the “joke.” The depicted scenario seemed so ridiculous to us, so unmoored from reality, and its indictment of player “morality” so complete, we felt like it was worth doing.

This is the defining point, here. For Penny Arcade this hasn’t ever been about trivializing or mocking rape survivors. This has been about the situation where you tell a joke to your friends, and then laugh because one of them didn’t get it.

There are people who are deciding not to attend PAX/ PAX East because of this — this disappoints me as much as anything, partially for selfish reasons. The concept of finally attending a PAX event and getting to meet the people I admire and have been striving to work beside in the future is tantalizing.

PAX, to me, is not a convention about Penny Arcade. Not anymore. Penny Arcade is a part of it, to be sure, but it is also a place where people completely unrelated to Penny Arcade give panels; where smaller communities within the gaming community have a chance to meet one another, face to face.

In the same way that ComicCon has become something much bigger than just comics, but encompasses a variety of things all connected by a core concept, PAX is a convention put forward by a specific part of the games industry and game culture, and has grown to showcase aspects of that from across the whole of it.

Attending PAX/ PAX East and avoiding the things specifically related to Mike and Jerry I could understand. But PAX is so far beyond just them now, avoiding the entire thing seems, to me, somewhat akin to avoiding something like E3 because EA and Rockstar would be there, and you felt strongly about the EA-Spouse debacle or the Rockstar Spouses one.

So I am disappointed. I’m disappointed in that I have seen The Debacle Timeline being offered up as solid, clean proof of events. I am disappointed that I have seen Shakesville being portrayed as the victim in this, especially with regards to their actual treatment of rape survivors. I’m disappointed in the early responses from Mike, not thinking about what else those people might have been. And selfishly, I am disappointed that this entire event has made individuals I wished to have the pleasure of meeting decide to avoid PAX East.

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    substantial post...Arcade/Dickwolves controversy. Erron makes some good points
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