Krahulik and the Dickwolves

Penny Arcade is one of the success stories of the internet; its creators, artist Mike Krahulik and writer Jerry Holkins, have said that their initial business plan of ‘hole up in an apartment and start making comics’ should never have worked, but their gaming-based webcomic quickly gained them a massive fan base who, with the help of current Penny Arcade President Robert Khoo, have made the pair of them rich men at the head of an incredibly successful business. Nowadays, the original comic is just one small part of an internet empire that includes video series’, a separate comic called The Trenches, the gaming charity Child’s Play and perhaps most significantly of all the biggest gaming expo in the world. The Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX) is now spread across three events and two continents  and is looking to expand, and thousands upon thousands attend the three events every year. In many ways, PAX and Penny Arcade speak for much of the gaming community as a whole.

Unfortunately, this fact does come from Penny Arcade being a safe, inoffensive comic; Holkins and Krahulik hold no shame in bad language, think that nothing is beyond mockery and Krahulik in particular will defend his right to publish what he likes to the hilt. As expected, this frequently causes controversy; Penny Arcade have in the past been accused of being corporate shills, of promoting violence in videogames (although on that count they are most certainly not opposed to it) and, following a controversial panel at this year’s PAX Australia and a highly inflammatory Twitter exchange shortly afterwards, of being transphobic*. However, right now the big news concerns something that happened just this weekend at PAX Prime in Seattle, but first we must get a little backstory.

In 2010, Penny Arcade released this comic, whose central joke revolves around having to save NPCs being raped by creatures called ‘dickwolves’. Technically speaking the joke is little more than a dig at the structure of MMORPG quests, but bringing up the subject of rape was hardly going to be ignored and the comic drew some pretty valid criticism (and some more hysterical stuff) that the topic of rape should not be trivialised as it was. This being Penny Arcade, their immediate response was a rather flippant response comic which unwisely chose to still try and make a joke out of an issue that had already shown itself to not appreciate having jokes made out of it, and the criticism only built. Krahulik and Holkins refused to back down, going so far as to release ‘Team Dickwolves’ merchandise in the PA store, but after criticism only got louder and companies started threatening to boycott PAX as a result, they realised things had gone too far, the comics were pulled and Krahulik published an apology (that it took company threats to get the shirts removed is one of the reasons that PA get the ‘corporate shills’ tag from some).

This, on its own, might just have been another episode in Penny Arcade’s history of pissing people off- until, that is, this year’s PAX Prime. At a Penny Arcade Q&A panel, Robert Khoo asked of Krahulik and Holkins what, if anything, they ‘resent’ him for, and Krahulik’s response was that he regretted the partially Khoo-prompted decision to pull the dickwolves merchandise (although, when asked by an audience member to bring it back, he did at least have the sense to say that that would be an awful idea)

Predictably, there has been a huge furore around this, and for some it’s the last straw after the rest of PA’s inflammatory history. Some, including some game developers for whom PAX is a massive marketing opportunity, have said they will boycott PAX, others that they will boycott Penny Arcade and all its related content entirely. Some have gone so far as to say this statement shows that Krahulik is a supporter of or at least an apologist for rapists, and even Krahulik’s well-written and revealing apology has barely abated the shitstorm. It’s not hard to see why. Even Krahulik will admit that the original furore surrounding the ‘dickwolves’ comic was an incident of incredible mismanagement on PA’s part, although it is a crying shame it took until his second apology for him to properly admit this, and even though his bringing up of the incident at PAX wasn’t intended to sound like he was condoning rape the very fact that it was pulled up in such an ill-thought out comment and not immediately retracted and rephrased shows a certain lack of growth in his understanding of the issue and just brought something that should have been dead back to the fore.

Those who know and/or work with Mike Krahulik will say that he is basically a nice guy, and despite the flippancy of his remarks in the whole ‘dickwolves’ fiasco his love of Penny Arcade’s anti-harassment and ‘booth babes’ policies demonstrate that he is not someone who feels women ‘just need to get over it’ or any of the other myriad of excuses made by people who ‘just think it’s banter’. To me, both this incident and the cis/trans incident at PAX Australia are merely evidence that he is nothing more than inexperienced in the fields of sexual and gender, too quick to say what comes into his head without actually thinking over what it’s going to sound like, and too willing to argue and fight when it would be better to back down (although his reaction to this latest scandal does at least show progress in this area). If people are starting to get tired by this then I can understand it, but until I have evidence that Mike Krahulik is genuinely a bad person rather than just somebody who screws up more frequently than he would care to admit, I personally am not going to boycott his stuff- but that’s just my personal view, do as you will.

To me, there is a far, far bigger, but related, issue at work here, and it’s something that is starting to come up a lot in gamer circles. After Krahulik’s ‘I think we shouldn’t have pulled the merchandise’ statement, large swathes of the audience broke out into cheers, and that is not something that can be taken as a misunderstanding. To these people, the pulling of the merchandise represented a concession to the demands of uber-feminists who want nothing more than to wipe out masculinity, and it is the attitudes of these people that are bringing to the fore the issue of misogyny and chauvinism in gaming.

Over a very short space of time, sexual harassment and the freedom of sexuality & gender have become major topics of conversation in our society, and we’re just starting to lift the lid on how institutionally chauvinist our society has been for a very long time. Now, that is starting to change, and stuff that once would have been normal but decidedly wrong are starting to be called out (hence the massive increase in sexual assault charges), but like all changes it’s taking place at different rates in different parts of society; what some groups still consider banter, others consider offensive, what some consider flirting, others consider sexual assault, what some consider a joke, others consider inappropriate. Gaming has this problem just like everyone else, but it has been exacerbated by the fact that it has traditionally (or at least stereotypically) been the preserve of the geeky white male, but the gamer bracket is currently expanding from a mere subset of ‘nerds’ to include more and more people, particularly of said white male bracket. This lack of gender diversity makes gaming very male-centric and means female issues don’t really penetrate into the gaming consciousness on a large scale. This has led to a worrying degree of institutionalised chauvinism in some sectors of the gamer community, and the evidence for this is only growing; the countless stories of quite shocking sexual harassment at conventions (including PAX), the abuse many women receive whilst playing online and the whole Anita Sarkeesian debacle from last year are just three that spring to mind.

To me, Mike Krahulik’s more inflammatory comments are a symptom rather than a cause of this or indeed a standalone issue, a side-effect of his being embedded in a world where issues of gender equality and of sexual abuse are often trivialised such that even a man who quite rightly abhors sexual abuse simply does not take the issue quite as seriously as others (particularly women) do and perhaps as seriously as he should. This is not to say that his actions are legitimate or justified, but then again they are far from representative of the worst that this ugly side to the gaming population has to offer. Frankly, hating on him and calling him an awful person are not likely to make a difference; making him and the rest of the gaming world realise that these things simply cannot be mentioned in such a flippant manner, even one not intended to be offensive, is far better achieved by just telling him and others when they have done wrong.

TL;DR, don’t be too much of a dick to Krahulik. When he screws up, just tell him and hope we can move on politely.

*The actual incident concerned was faintly ridiculous; when talking at this panel about a game designed to teach women how to masturbate (which is, although odd, probably a good thing on the whole gender equality front), some comment was directed to Krahulik complaining that he should specify that he was talking about cis-gender rather than trans-gender women. This, on its own, is rather a petty distinction and wouldn’t normally merit any comment, but Krahulik apparently, and not actually that unusually, didn’t know what the whole cis/trans thing was all about and said something to the effect of ‘I thought people with vaginas were women’. This (perhaps predictably) encouraged some aggressive tweets from people apparently in the militant wing of transsexuality directed to Krahulik who, rather unwisely, rose to the bait and began a furious argument with his aggressors.  Some of the comments he made in this exchange gave rise to claims that he was being transphobic, and the furore around this eventually forced him to back down and pay a large donation to charity. At least he knows what transsexuality is now.

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5 thoughts on “Krahulik and the Dickwolves

  1. When you think about how amazingly good for the gaming industry PAX has been since it came in and rivaled conventions such as E3 which are much more about maintaining the dominance of the big gaming corporations, it’s incredibly sad that some people are trying to bring it down over what amounts to essentially nothing.

    There are people in the mainstream media who make far, far bigger contributions to the “rape culture” than Penny Arcade ever has or ever could, who play a far larger role in what the detractors call the normalisation of rape. The trouble seems to be that the people who are responsible for those media products are unreachable. There’s no way of conversing with them in any meaningful way.

    The difference with PA? It’s an internet product. And on the internet, you can get people to listen. Thus, they’re an easy target for feminists to get attention (for the ones who do it for attention, which is a tiny minority of feminists). But really … we WANT Penny Arcade around.

    • I absolutely agree; Penny Arcade and PAX do a lot of great stuff, both in terms of providing a convention for fans rather than developers and in their attempts to move gaming forwards. So many PAX panels talk so much good sense and come up with stuff that more developers should be listening, and there are several of them (I hear anyway; never been to one, on the wrong continent) that focus on inclusivity and the social benefits of gaming.

      That said, Krahulik’s comments in both instances were out of line, even if I’m not sure they were always as bad as a) they came across and b) some people have taken them. Penny Arcade’s existence is in general, I feel, a force for good, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be told when they screw up.

      Thanks for commenting, by the way

    • Hello Big Murray,

      Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade has directly trolled comments section of articles, mocked survivors, antagonized people with PTSD, and his actions have caused companies, speakers and fans to do everything from voice feeling excluded and not safe to withdrawing support. I was commiserating with a few friends and wondered what would it take after everything he’s done for him to lose support. As it turns out, in 2006, satirist August J. Pollak came up with a thought experiment…Would supporters of President BUsh “still support him if he went as far as to kill a kitten with a hammer for no apparent reason? What if he killed several?”. In this spirit, I am conducting the 2013 Mike Krahulik Dead Kitten Thought Experiment.

      The survey will take a mere moment of your time, and consists of the following scenario:

      I would like for you to imagine the Mike Krahulik, killing kittens one-by-one with a hammer. When doing so, please keep in mind the following conditions of this hypothetical scenario:

      The kitten will be killed by Mike Krahulik. It will not be ordered killed, nor terminated in any way by a subordinate. You are to assume for the whole of this scenario that the reference to the killing implies a scenario in which Mike Krahulik will sit at a desk, place a small kitten on the desk, and kill it by beating it with a hammer until it is dead, and possibly for a short time afterwards. No other means or individuals will be employed in the death of the kitten.

      The hammer will be a standard carpenter’s hammer, of steel construction with a rubber handle grip. It is not a sledgehammer or any form of giant hammer that will guarantee the death of the kitten in a single blow.

      You are to assume that for every kitten death you accept, you will be willing to watch the actual act performed by Mike Krahulik. It will not be done privately or in any intimate conditions to which the act may be deemed “more humane” or “less graphic.” Assume you will watch the full act of him terminating the life of the kitten by one or possibly a series of blows with a hammer. You may determine the distance at which you are watching depending on your estimate of how messy the act may be and how much you may enjoy kitten parts being sprayed on you, if at all.

      You are not to assume the kitten needs to die, is already dying, or has a reason to require being killed with a hammer by Krahulik. In fact, assume that the kitten is perfectly healthy and of normal temperament, and would be perfectly suitable living a full life in any normal American household had it not been selected by Krahulik to die.

      Furthermore, no acknowledged benefit shall be suggested by death of the kitten nor any practical use be made of its remains. When Mike Krahulik has declared his satisfaction with his repeated blows to the kitten and a medical advisor concurs it is without question dead, an aide shall squeegee the remains of the kitten off the desk into a bag which shall then be incinerated.

      At no point will you be given a reason for Mike Krahulik doing all of this. The only statement that will be offered by Penny Arcade regarding the killing of kitten will be that Mike Krahulik was well within his authority. While you may personally surmise a legitimate reason, Mike Krahulik himself will give no reason for killing a kitten with a hammer other than his desire to do so.

      For the sake of this experiment, assume Mike Krahulik is not insane, nor of any unsound mind or condition suggesting a rationale for his actions above. Assume Mike Krahulik has decided that it is not only within his authority, but a necessity in his capacity as part of Penny Arcade, that he begin to murder kittens one by one with a hammer on the top of his desk.

      Given the terms of the scenario described above, this Survey presents the following three questions:

      Were the event detailed above to occur, would you still support Mike Krahulik?

      If the answer to Question #1 is yes, is there a number of kittens Mike Krahulik would kill with a hammer that would change your mind?

      If the answer to Question #2 is yes, what would that number be?

      At your earliest convenience, you may answer these questions by responding to this e-mail or by sending your answers to deadkittenexperiment13@gmail.com. While there is no established time limit to respond, the faster you respond, the faster an accurate assessment of the average stance can be established.

      I would venture at this point you’re assuming I’m mocking you. I assure you I am not. This is a legitimate survey using a hypothetical situation that, albeit gruesome and bizarre, is no less hypothetical than other surveys asking one’s opinions of a politician selling you a used car, or enjoying a drink with you at a bar- both actual survey questions used during the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. I am not asking all this rhetorically, and I am honestly accumulating all responses in the hope that all of you whom I have written will legitimately respond.

      That in mind, please understand that like any other legitimate survey, responses that violate the accepted guidelines of a response must be invalidated. While I expect some responses that violate these guidelines- likely in the form of verbal abuse- they may not be incorporated in the final statistical results, although they may be posted in a full account of all received data.

      I will be keeping a record of all persons I have submitted the survey to, and will update the results accordingly on my site. In addition, I will be preparing official Certificates of Participation in the Survey to any participant I solicit who honestly and accurately responds with a set limit of kittens they would tolerate the Mike Krahulik killing with a hammer. The Certificate will state the following:

      “Be it known on this day, ____ of _____ in the year 2013, that ____________ has stated for the record that, albeit a staunch supporter of Mike Krahulik, such support would cease should Mike Krahulik kill ______ kitten(s) with a hammer.”

      Again, I thank you for your participation in this survey. In a time when gaming culture semms divided as ever, I am hopeful that a honest consensus can be reached among the most left or right leaning of Mike Krahulik supporters: that regardless of our stances on gaming culture, Penny Arcade, or the Penny Arcade Expo, maybe, just maybe, we draw the line at killing kittens with hammers.

      Disclaimer: this is a one-time solicitation. Should you decline to participate in the survey, your name has not been added to any mailing list, nor will you be contacted again.

    • I don’t see this as an issue where feminist simply want attention. It might be that people, feminists and non-feminists, are disappointed and frustrated with what is now a 3 year car wreck of self inflicted stupid. Make no mistake, this is 100 percent self inflicted. PA has not managed this well at any moment. An initial apology, way back when, where they clearly stated that they were sorry to have offended, but felt that rape was a legitimate source for comedy might have worked. Instead, the got defensive and mad another comic that was a take that to critics.

      Also, the free speech is of paramount concern method of defense they use is amazingly short sighted. They have the right to say things. Others have the right to respond. Freedom of speech is not giving someone a megaphone and earplugs so that they can happily shout away while ignoring fallout.

      Really, I am burned out on the issue in that I am tired of waiting for them to address that they have a large contingent of people in their fanbase who tend to do sexists things. Three years is long enough to display personal growth. There hasn’t been much, if any.

      Let be honest, if they can’t keep that cancer from growing in their fan base (by actually addressing those fans that are sexist and chastising them) and if they can behave maturely and react to criticism without looking like a flailing bigot, I don’t care how much “good” they have done. They are the damn industry. They are not the little guys. They are the establishment. The example they lead, will be followed. Doesn’t matter if they don’t want that responsibility. They simply are not able to avoid it. It really might be a good idea to spin off child’s play and pax into separate corporate entities if they don’t feel like acting like leaders.

      Gaming has grown up. It’s about time they did.

      .

      • Again, I agree with you; trouble is, I also agree with the other dude. Pretty much all (or at least all who I’m prepared to take seriously) agree that PA dun ****ed up, and that parts of their fan base has sexism ingrained into it. From there, ideas vary; some say the chastisement they have received is sufficient to tell them of their screw-up, others that its not. Some say we should boycott PAX in protest, others that that will only allow spots to be taken by the kinds of people who are not going to help the issue. Trouble is, I have neither the experience nor sufficiently fixed moral compass (despite many hours of semi-productive thinking) to come to a definitive answer, for me, on this one. I suppose I’m quite glad I have no money to spend on merch, PAX tickets or anything like that, so at least that decision’s taken out of my hands.

        Basically, it’s a woolly one, and the only solid touchstone I have thus found has been mentioned below: we can probably draw the line at killing kittens.

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