PAX Problems – Over The Line
So PAX happened last weekend. And apparently it was a lot of fun with a lot of good stuff. And then a thing happened on the final day, as Mike Krahulik, Jerry Holkins and Robert Khoo were on the stage talking Penny Arcade. I had heard it repeated many times, though I only recently watched it myself to get a ‘first-hand’ account. You can see it here, if you’d like.
The Dickwolves were brought up again, and anyone familiar with Penny Arcade in the slightest might have caught what occurred with this a few years back. That Mike would dredge that up again now shows an astonishing lack of tact and empathy, so let’s try to analyse the situation a bit.
The original Dickwolves comic was not that offensive. It was pretty lame, but it was meant as a commentary on the absurdity of MMO quests where you have to free a certain amount of slaves or captives, but as soon as you’ve done the prescribed amount there is no incentive, or in many cases even an option, to free more. And in there was a rather in-poor-taste joke about how the slaves were raped to sleep by the aforementioned Dickwolves. It was entirely unnecessary that it had to be rape, and rather tasteless that it was picked, but mistakes can be made. Things only really got bad later.
See, there were several people, a lot of them rape survivors, who objected to this rather poor joke, and it’s not that hard to see why they would be offended. Perhaps you could make a case that their response was a little over-inflated, but considering the severity of rape and what it does to the victims both during and after, I can totally understand reacting a little harshly to anything reminding you of it.
Mike apparently couldn’t understand this and went on the defensive, and then on a counter-offensive, ridiculing anyone criticising his poor joke, getting his whole fanbase in on it, and really did a number on the critics. Considering the fanbase involved, there was probably death and rape threats to go along with the ridicule from one of the most influential men in webcomics and gamer culture.
And then he made Dickwolves merchandise to directly mock rape survivors and anyone else who didn’t like the things. This was thankfully pulled shortly after, though Mike protested publicly and swore to wear his Dickwolves shirt to the next PAX, showing that he had learned nothing. And then he brings it back up at this PAX, saying he still feels it was a mistake to pull the merchandise, and a large part of the audience cheers and applauds. See the problem here? What had started as a lame joke, had been turned into a targeted campaign against rape survivors. And Mike just doesn’t seem to have grown or learned at all from it.
Human beings are complex creatures. You will rarely find anyone who is 100% good or 100% bad. I have seen Mike’s good side. Watch Strip Search if you’re doubtful that he has one. And honestly it just makes his handling of this subject all the more disappointing. He can do good, but he’s choosing not to. And it seems like no one else at Penny Arcade are willing to have a chat with him about it. After this long they’re basically complicit.
I have read a lot of articles about this over the past few days, and one of them pointed out that in all likelihood, Mike sees himself as The Hero. The Good Guy. Why wouldn’t he? He endured bullying as a child, and then went on to help create the titan that is Penny Arcade. He helped get Child’s Play going, he helped start PAX, both of which are generally thought of as good things. He’s a self-proclaimed hater of bullies. How can he be the bad guy?
The problem seems to be that he hasn’t really grown out of his underdog phase. He hasn’t really realised the position of power he now finds himself in, and the responsibility that comes with that. Any perceived criticism, real or not, is interpreted as ‘bullying’ to him, and he strikes back at the ‘bully’. Even siccing his entire fanbase on whoever dares speak against him, anyone who DARES threaten his FREEDOM OF SPEECH. It is said that most bullies were once the victims of bullying themselves, and it seems like Mike has joined those ranks, unfortunately.
He sees himself as the underdog hero, striking back at the internet bullies that want to censor him. In reality he’s the big dog, stomping down anyone who says a word he takes offense at. He hasn’t learned how to take criticism, and that can be dangerous.
So regardless of all the good that Penny Arcade has done, there is too much shit to ignore. I’ve given them too many chances as it is, especially because of great projects like Child’s Play and Strip Search. I don’t blame everyone who goes to PAX, or works with Penny Arcade. It’s a harsh world, and money has to be made. But if you have the option, please think very closely about who you’re working with.
I used to tell myself that this is all bigger than just one man. And it is. There’s also the large audience cheering him on.