Penny Arcade and jokes about rape

So, I somehow missed this whole controversy last week about Penny Arcade getting in trouble over telling a joke making light of rape. For those you you catching up as well, PA recently did a strip that was more, shall we say, blue than their typical recent ones. The Shakesville blog took strong offense:

Yesterday’s Penny Arcade,a webcomic centered around video gaming and its culture, featured a joke a lot of World of Warcraft players make, in a sense. In WoW, you’ll often get quests like “Kill 10 of these terrible people” or “Save five prisoners”. Because the game has millions of players all existing in the world who will do that quest, even if you kill all the bad guys and free everyone, they’ll reappear against quickly, so the next person can do their good deeds. It’s a silly conundrum if you let your suspension of disbelief lapse.

Penny Arcade took it to another level. In a strip titled, “The Sixth Slave,” the comic features a (white, male) slave begging for rescue from another character. “Hero!” he pleads. “Please take me with you! Release me from this hell unending! Every morning, we are roused by savage blows. Every night, we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves.” The hero tells him, “I only needed to save five slaves. Alright? Quest complete.” The prisoner protests, “But…” The hero interrupts him, “Hey, pal. Don’t make this weird.”

Rape isn’t a part of the game, so for the slave to explicitly state he is being raped is a “humorous” exaggeration. When he hero tells the slave his quest is complete and instructs him not to make it “weird,” we’re meant to laugh: “Haha, what a strange underreaction!” (Or not.)

The problem is, I just don’t find rape funny. Because rape survivors exist among us, and after being victimized by rapists, they are revictimized by a society that treats even real rape like a joke, forced to live in a culture that actually has a lot of rape jokes, including those about rape victims being actively denied justice for no other reason than because people don’t take rape seriously. I don’t find rape funny because rape victims are often doubted, mocked, and insulted openly.

The very next strip, the guys issued an apology (albeit a snarky one), along with the following response in their news section:

What surprised me most about some of the reactions to our Dickwolf joke was not that people were offended. But that this was the comic that offended them. In each case the emails I got started with something like “I’ve been a long time fan” or “Been reading the comic for years…” and then they go into how this particular comic really bothered them.

I just don’t understand that. Did the comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them? Or how about the fruit fucker? I mean, we have a character who is a literal rapist. What comic strip have they been reading all these years?

For the most part I think that people are perfectly happy to laugh at offensive jokes until the joke offends them. Then it’s not funny anymore. There is no way we can know what each and every person who reads the comic has decided to find offensive.

In the end I just disagree with these people about what’s funny and that’s perfectly okay.

The apology actually managed to tick off some people who had been defending them earlier, like Amanda Marotte of Pandagon.

I found the blog post an annoying rationalization for disliking humor in general, which the blogger admits she does. I find the “but rape is real!” argument against jokes of this nature to be a disingenuous one. Slavery is also real, as is murder and general violence. But there’s no way that the blogger would have gotten mad about jokes in those veins, but a joke about a form of torture that is supposed to sound over the top and mystical got her into offended mode.

I also didn’t like the post because I object to people who use survivors as a rhetorical device to shield their arguments from criticism. I feel, as a rape survivor, way more dehumanized by this post that purports to speak for survivors than I ever could by the Penny Arcade comic. I reject and resent the suggestion that having been sexually assaulted in my past makes me unable to see that this joke for what it was.


That said, the guys at Penny Arcade responded in officially the worst possible way to respond. As Melissa correctly notes, they attacked strawmen, and this time they really did make light of rape. Jokes where you condemn rape in a sardonic tone really do imply that rape isn’t a big deal. In the time it took them to write the response, there were probably like 10 rapes in the U.S. alone. The cartoon implied that rape is less common than it is, that rape culture isn’t real, and that the whole subject is beneath you. This was tone deaf, sexist, and stupid.

Both sides have legitimate arguments, I think, and I strongly agree with Amanda that the PA guys handled this badly. It’s also a sign that popularity is a double-edged sword. In part, webcomics got to where they are today because they could get away with being “edgier” than the mainstream. But you’ve got to brace for the backlash when, all of the sudden, you’re the mainstream.

About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on August 17, 2010, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 73 Comments.

  1. It’s a delicate situation I’m not sure Mike and Jerry are going to handle well.

    You can’t act socially responsible by promoting a charitable cause, then brush off a particular group because they are offended by a misinterpreted and crudely written comic.

    Humor does have to be off the cuff to keep its edge – but sometimes, it goes a bit too far and you have to reel it in and eat crow. The problem is, PA is too proud to do that and will stand behind the joke and argue that is all it is, a crude joke.

    The offended want an apology and removal of the comic – that won’t happen, so the bickering will continue and be a mark in the comic’s history.

    You can’t win em all.

  2. “I just don’t understand that. Did the comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them?”

    Look here’s the deal: everyone understands the impact of murder, suicide, etc, everyone knows how bad those things are, and thus there is a communal understanding that when someone jokes about killing they are just joking– the audience automatically knows that the teller of the joke understands how bad murder is and thus it’s okay to joke about it. There is a communal understanding. This is how we achieve catharsis in humor, by joking about things that we ALL are upset about.

    The difference with rape is quite simply that a lot of people DON’T understand it, and so this “apology” in its current form is meaningless (the comic i didn’t really pay much attention to, it’s the apology, ironically, that was far more offensive to my intelligence, and, I suspect, to that of others). With rape there unfortunately is NO communal understanding to predicate the ability to laugh about it. A lot of people just aren’t educated on the subject (and sadly, often because of their gender): they don’t understand the seriousness of rape as a crime, the impact on the survivors, the issues with the justice system, and the almost unbelievable prevalence of rape and sexual assault (you are pretty much guaranteed to know someone close to you who has been sexually assaulted, though they might never tell you). Unlike murder, unlike suicide, a lot of people simply DO NOT UNDERSTAND rape, and so you have to take THIS as the context in which anyone makes a rape joke. Because so many people don’t understand rape, you CANNOT assume that the author of any such joke is enlightened on the topic because, frankly, the odds are that he/she is not, and thus any such joke is basically a losing situation for everyone.

    The issue here is that people need to be educated on rape, plain and simple. People need to read the statistics, and the stories of survivors, and they need to understand the impact of the crime and then they need to speak up when someone else tells a joke about it because We Are Not There Yet. As a society we are not yet at a point where it can be joked about because not everyone is enlightened about it. If you can’t assume the joke-teller’s feelings on it then it’s no good as material for jokes. Right now there is that underlying doubt because ignorance about rape is so prevalent in society.

    That’s the issue here: there’s too much ignorance on the subject. But don’t mock the ignorant: tell them to get some empathy, get some compassion, go somewhere like and do some reading, whatever it takes. Fight the ignorance surrounding the topic and then we can maybe have cause to assume the best of people in the future.


    • People understand the impact of pheadophillia yet don’t understand the impact of rape?

      I’m not defending Penny Arcade here Winston but in Europe I’m pretty certain that PA’s peado-tastic strips would cause far more offence than this one on rape simply because nobody understands what goes through a person’s mind when they touch a child.

      Hell, the UK has only just grasped the concept that women can molest kids and have reacted with the usual violent outrage and yet somehow we’re meant to believe we understand this better than rape?

    • Just a thought – perhaps the term “Rape Survivor” doesn’t help people understand rape.
      I understand it makes victims/survivors feel better about themselves, but I think it also makes other people less willing to offer help or support. In the worst cases, the term “Rape Survivor” does this:
      – I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.
      – Oh good, so you’re doing fine. No need for my help then.
      I’m simplifying here, but basically when you hear “Survivor” you think of a strong person who is coping well. That lightens how painful an experience sexual assault really is.

      Second, it feels like offering to help someone who describe themselves as a survivor might be interpreted as taking pity and might be offensive to the person calling themselves a survivor.
      I would like to show empathy and offer support to rape victims/survivors, but as soon as I hear “I’m a survivor” I just think “OK, I doubt this person will be happy if I offer any support… Better I let them ask for it if they want it”.
      In my opinion it is entirely possible to be a victim and yet be strong.
      Also, “survivor” was intended as a coping mechanism to help victims. So at least when trying to get people to care about rape, the word “survivor” should be replaced with “victim”.

      Another thing – I think we’re putting too much emphasis on victims/survivors when we try to educate people about rape. Have you ever felt like you aren’t really allowed to speak about disabilities because you don’t have the disability you want to talk about? For example: Do you feel like only deaf/blind people or their relatives can debate about deafness/blindness?
      The same goes for rape. Rape can happen to anyone, any woman who has never been assaulted should worry about it. Anybody who has close female relatives should worry about it (and I do know men are also victims of rape). But if we emphasize victims/survivors too much, we create a situation where people feel like they have no right to speak or care until it happens to them or a relative.
      Also, ads that seem to try to teach people a lesson should be avoided. I’ve recently seen an ad aimed at fighting stereotypes about disabled people – it comes from a good intention, but ultimately it sends the message “I am disabled, you have no idea what I’m going through, so shut up”. Mostly because the ad looks like a disabled man saying to the reader “I’m not this, I’m not that… you have it all wrong” (and for example, I never thought people in wheelchairs were stupid, but I felt the ad was accusing of thinking they were) – having a non-disabled person say “Mike is not this, Mike is not that…” would have been much better and helped non-disabled people connect with the ad.
      So again, emphasizing victims/survivors makes it seem like only they have authority on the matter. Rape should be brought to people’s attention not through “She was raped, this is her experience, please care about her trouble” but through “it could be you, your wife, your daughter, even your father/son. This is YOUR problem too”.

    • People don’t understand rape? Really? You’re going to have to really strain to prove that. I guarantee that a majority of people understand that rape is non-consensual sexual activity. You know, the definition of rape. I guarantee that a majority people also realize that obtaining pseudo-consent by coercion or drugs also constitutes rape, or that people who lack mental capacity due to unconsciousness or extreme drunkenness (yes, EXTREME–otherwise we should also call rapists females who sleep with drunk males) are raped when unwanted sexual activity is forced on them. I can also guarantee that a majority of people realize that rape carries horrific personal and societal consequences. Sure, a small minority of people don’t get it, but the EXACT same can be said for murder, slavery, etc. That’s what PA is getting at, and your argument is disingenuous at best.

    • You wrote ” A lot of people just aren’t educated on the subject (and sadly, often because of their gender) ”

      Excuse me, I do belive you have made a sexist remark. Rape affects everyone and there are victims of every gender, age, race and sexuality. A persons genetles do not deterime their ability to understand ethical concepts or their ability to empathise.

  3. I thought both strips were funny. I don’t think the second one was making light of rape, I think it was pointing out how ridiculous the criticism of that strip is. The first one wasn’t making light of it either, because again, it was just a funny concept taken to an extreme.

    • I’m also assuming both the Penny Arcade guys and the AUDIENCE knows that rape is bad.

      C’mon. We’re not stupid. Of course rape is bad.

      • See PA’s “Reach Out and Touch Someone with Your Steel Penis.” A comic dated 11/19/2003! This type of joke has been PA’s M.O. forever! Why are people now making a big deal about it? The Internet has gotten out of control with the hyper-over-reactive idiocy. These guys have been doing this same shit for years, but when they did that comic, no one went crazy like they did with this new one about Dickwolves. It is a little silly really. People need to toughen up and realize that they were only doing a comic and it tangentially mentioned rape. Jesus Christ you can’t say anything now a days without offending someone, somewhere with a fu*king blog and videocam.

  4. I think the original statement of the PA guys is a good one. That is to say, we’re dealing with very selective outrage here, where a joke about one subject is somehow worse than another joke about similar subjects (in this case morally reprehensible acts). I suppose we can at least be glad they didn’t draw Muhammed.

    • Yes, but lines do get drawn. Notice there’s very few jokes that are outright racist or homophobic … at least in the highly-read webcomics, anyway. I think, at the root of the issue, is that the writers at Shakesville feel very strongly that jokes about rape should belong in the same category because, like those issues, it’s something people must currently deal with and suffer in everyday life. On the other hand, there are those who don’t think it’s a big deal, since jokes about rape rarely do advocate the act itself (which is what Tycho and Gabe were getting at with their apology).

      • But the problem is that racist and homophobic jokes make agressive fun of other races and homosexuals. The fact that someone has different skin colour or is attracted to the same sex IS the joke (whether or not it advocates certain behaviour). The same isn’t true for the joke in the comic. Nobody’s laughing at rape.

        • Right, asshole. They’re laughing at the victim — the victim IS the joke.

          • You had a year to figure out a comment, but you just went with “asshole”? Wow.

          • Strange, and here I thought the comic just made fun of the game mechanics by using an extreme example. If you really think the victim is the joke here, maybe that’s just how you interpret it?

  5. they just a bunch of people that just wait the hate bandwagon and jump in,

  6. I’m a pretty aggressive feminist who considers herself someone who is more concerned than average about the subject of political correctness, and I think the reaction of people was over the top. You can’t laugh at the idea a slave being horribly beaten in the morning and go up in arms over them being raped by dickwolves in the night. There are jokes about sensitive subjects that are inappropriate, but this wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t, say, demeaning the experiences of people raped while in prison or implying that a guy grabbing a woman’s breasts is engaging in goofy, harmless fun.

    Amanda Marotte is right about the Penny Arcade guy’s response being less than sensitive, though.

    People need to start looking at the more nuanced aspects of how rape is treated in the media, jokes, etc. instead of just attacking any mention of rape in a humorous context because rape+joke=wrong.

    • I’m very much in the same boat as you. In fact, it was sort of off guard: the strip itself is fairly indistinguishable from other PA strips, yet it touched off this wave of furor. So, some people were affected. And yet, “Still Missing,” which is a cheesy crime novel about a woman who is kidnapped and raped for the span of a year, gets critical acclaim and robust sales.

  7. from gabe´s twitter
    the item
    the questions and answers
    ypu can see what kind of person is the seller

    • I’m actually a bit more disappointed at the questioners and the seller, to be honest. The seller sounds legitimately upset, while the questioners are clearly trolling. Who’s to say what the seller’s been through, after all? Perhaps he or a loved one had been raped, and the experience affected him greatly.

      On the other hand, $84.00 and 34 bids for that stuff? Assuming that’s legit, that’s not a bad haul so far.

    • Que ondiux Pilli 🙂
      Ya estan llegando mas lectores mexicanos al Overlook jeje!

      • In other words, El Santo’s mexican readership is growing

        yeah yeah i know! Before somebody starts complaining that this is an english language website and-or the ocassional typo.

        • Actually, I kinda liked having a non-English comment on this site. 🙂 I don’t understand Spanish, but I did go over to copy-paste your comment in the local free translation site for fun.

          And yes! Please come, Mexican readers! Though I must warn you, while the handle is Mexican, I am not. (I’m Filipino, actually.)

  8. Every few years the “big names” of webcomics posts something idiotic… Or in some cases, *AHEM*kurtz*HEM*, every few weeks… And people get justifiably pissed off.

    But the fanboys continue to feed their bank accounts and these guys continue to realize out they don’t really have to care and everyone else discovers they’re better served kissing up to them and nothing ever changes except for the tiny few who give up and walk away from the medium in digust.

    And the world continues to spin.

  9. Now having expended my ire over the immunity even micro celebrities get…

    They did nothing wrong. They did not portray rape as a positive. The use of the word in a facetious way does not make less of the crime any more than using the word “murder” does.

    To claim otherwise is idiocy.

    Or an insidious attempt at thought control.

    But I prefer to assume honest idiocy over intentional insidiousness most of the time when it comes to things on the internet.

  10. It was a joke done in poor taste, and it was handled poorly.

    The ones that were offended will remember and hold a grudge. The ones who it didn’t affect will continue reading and go to PAX and in a year won’t even remember the great rape debate.

  11. Rape in the offending strip is to REAL rape as violence in video games is to REAL violence. I.E. One has little to no influence or even impact to the other.

  12. Kacey Gustmosko

    I was once raped by a dickwolf…

    • see this is the sort of stupid fucking comment that keeps this debate going, all it does is piss off the Anti-PA crowd.

      all that needs to be done is let the matter finish. it was a joke end of story.

  13. rape is horrible, and nobody in mainstream society disagrees, but the outrage over this comic makes no sense. it’s unfair to arbitrarily impose a new standard for PA’s humor, when, as PA points out, didn’t the prior comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them? i say we give artists latitude to make their art, and save our outrage for the catholic church.

  14. Tycho had a point when he expressed his doubts about the critics being “long-time readers”. Off the top of my head, I can recall an attempted rape of Gabe by a Hobo, a customer service robot who breaks into people’s houses and rapes them, and a fiction-within-a-fiction man being raped to death by hungry velociraptors. These were all featured in previous Penny Arcade strips.

    • That’s kind of beside the point, isn’t it? Setting aside the validity of dismissing complaints as trolls and “noobs.” the original complaint from Shakesville never mentioned that this was a new thing (rather just the lastest in a long line of rape=funny humor).

      Isn’t it be possible that it’s a case of a few long-time readers thinking that Gabe & Tycho went to the well too many times? I’m not in full agreement with the Shakesville bloggers on their grievances, but I do sympathize with the sentiment.

      As an example, I’ll give you a similar situation from my own experiences: I’d say I was a fairly long time watcher of The Venture Bros. I wasn’t bothered by the rather racy humor. In fact, racy humor was one of the great assets. But, by season 4, I felt that they’d gone a little bit overboard with the pedophile humor — namely by making the pedophile Sgt. Hatred a member of the main cast. Now, they’d done similar pedophile jokes before, but I felt that this time was one time too many. I sorta resented the creators for trying to force me, episode after episode, to find pedophilia humorous. So, I stopped watching it.

      Gabe & Tycho’s response would be like me airing my complaints to Jackson Publick and James Urbaniak and getting a response along the lines of “Well, we did a whole pedophilia thing back in Season Two’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner,’ and now you’re complaining? Obviously a troll and not a real fan.” Sort of a cheap side step, if you ask me.

      • Since you mentioned that you stopped watching Venture Brothers because of Sgt. Hatred, I figured I should tell you that in the second half of the series coming up in September, Brock’s coming back as a lead and Hatred will not be an important character.

      • ::shrug:: Just saying that this wasn’t exactly the first time that PA used the topic of rape in a joke, and that some of those who are e-mailing them that they lost a “long-time reader” are probably exaggerating for effect.

        As far as your comparison to the Venture Bros., I can’t comment on that, never having watched the show. However, if you say the problem was that pedophilia jokes became more and more common over time: It’s a bit of a stretch to compare this to PA, isn’t it? There have been a few jokes involving rape (none of which, as I recall, was specifically about rape) over the years, of which this was merely the latest, and certainly not the most drastic, example.

        The one thing I can agree with is that their follow-up comic was very much unnecessary. Not because I found it particularly offensive. But it’s obvious to me that they attempted another joke here, not an actual apology, by intentionally stating ridiculously obvious things. Problem is, it was not that funny or interesting. They should’ve just stated something to the effect of “Sorry if some of you were hurt, but we’re not gonna cease making offensive jokes” and moved on.

  15. I remember reading a one-page comic by R. Crumb called (if I recall correctly) “A Word to You Feminist Women.” Similar to the Penny Arcade “apology” strip, it also was framed as an apology but actually an insult. I’m reminded of it now because Crumb’s, while still offensive in a typical Crumb vein, also managed to be intelligent and humorous. This strip does not really accomplish anything other than making a mockery of rape–exactly the opposite of what they claim to be doing. Stick to the videogames, guys, this social commentary thing isn’t working for you.

  16. Okay, so, like I play WoW. When you rescue your allotted number of slaves, you cannot rescue any more. Clicking on them does nothing once the quest is done. While you know this is so other players can rescue some slaves too, you do have this lingering guilt in the back of your mind because you feel like you should be able to rescue more slaves.

    So, the first comic is horrible, but hilarious because it is horrible. And maybe you just can’t get the joke if you haven’t played the game.

    The second strip isn’t funny. It’s angry. And I totally get their point of view. I don’t agree with people here who think that rape is taken lightly in this culture. If it were actually taken lightly by anyone the writers would not find themselves in a no win predicament of being accused of taking rape lightly. It’s not an apology at all. It’s a “Well, thanks for putting us in this boat now, out of the blue. Whether we deserve it or not simply doesn’t matter to anyone now, does it?”

    I’m just recalling how I felt when, after trying very hard to approach racism sensitively and realistically in my own work, I got written of as “relying on racist stereotypes.” You can’t predict how people are going to react and you’ll die trying to defend yourself.

    Is the apology insensitive to rape victims? Yes, but the intent is more to attack the people who think the authors could possibly condone the act of rape. It’s a defensive reaction, but what are you going to do?

  17. For me reading PA has always been the equivalent of watching “Jackass” so i simply don´t read it.
    That said, being a former gamer geek and having outgrown it after going to college abroad and living with non-gamers, i´m quite disgusted of most things asociated with video gamer culture and the foolish man-childs that have spawned it.

  18. Slightly late here, but just thought I’d add: I thought the original comic was quite funny, but didn’t think much of it and moved on, without thinking anyone would be offended by it. But I found the follow-up strip hilarious, and the funniest Penny Arcade’s been in a long time. I don’t know if that makes me a bad person.

    Having said that, perhaps the reason strip #2 is so funny is because it relies on the reader’s knowledge of Jerry Holkins (Tycho); if you’re a long-time reader (as I am), you’d know that he’s pretty liberal politically, and strongly against any kind of sexism or negative depiction of women. The humour comes from the incongruity of him saying ‘rape is bad’, when that’s so obviously fundamental to his worldview that he should never need to say it.

    But I can see that if you hadn’t read much Penny Arcade and didn’t know much about the writers, this strip could come across as unfunny and angrily defensive, implying that any criticism of rape as a topic for humour is illegitimate. That’s clearly how the critics see it, and how I would probably see it if I didn’t read the comic. As I say above, it’s only because Tycho has established himself as a person who respects women and would never rape in real life, that he can make jokes about it.

    (See also, Randy Milholland of Something Positive.)

  19. If Alasdair was “slightly late” to this conversation, it seems I’m getting here while the janitor is about to turn off the lights.

    I only very occasionally read Penny Arcade, but I did see that first strip in the week that followed its publication; then I drifted away, unaware of the controversy, and I did not see the second strip until today.

    As you can see, I found nothing particularly offensive about the first strip; and, based on the controversy that followed, it’s far more acceptable to be “roused by savage blows” than to talk of rape, not to mention be maintained in a state of slavery.

    Just as Slyeagle, I did play World of Warcraft, in addition to other MMORPG’s and single-player games all featuring the same inane questing; in all of those, this text would have been part of the “narrative”, but to every gamer (including the demographic to which PA caters), it amounts to nothing more than icing on the cake, the stuff you skim through just to find out what you have to do, and what’s your reward.

    In this line, I’m tempted to see the first strip as a mild jab at what I’d call the utilitarian pursuit of morality, where doing what’s right never really matters as long as you get loot at the end of it; in which situation, it’s seen as perfectly acceptable to stick to the minimum, as you’ll get your reward anyway. And, usually, the game, to paraphrase Slyeagle, intentionally and artificially limits how much do-goodery you can do, in this case, how many slaves you can rescue. It’s not limited by circumstances (e.g. lifeboat places on the Titanic)­, which would have been the realistic option, but rather by the divine fiat of the game programming.

    So the targets of the first PA comic, I’m guessing, were both the game writers/programmers who seem to be remarkably ambivalent on questions of morality, and gamers who go through the motions of questing without really bothering to know what it’s about, as long as they get their chunk of cheddar at the end of the maze.

    When the World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King came out, late 2008, it included a quest called “The Art of Persuasion”, where “persuasion” was pretty much what they did at Abu Ghraib. In fact, according to Richard Bartle’s exposé of the matter, you are not even provided with an alternative course of action — you *have* to torture the person to complete the quest at all, and to be offered the quests that come after it.

    To quote Bartle: “I don’t mind having torture in an MMO — it’s the kind of thing a designer can use to give interesting choices that say things to the players. However, I do mind its being placed there casually as a run-of-the-mill quest with no regard for the fact that it would ring alarm bells: this means either that the designer can’t see anything wrong with it, or that they’re actually in favour of it and are forcing it on the player base to make a point. Neither case is satisfactory.”

    I did play WoW after Wrath of the Lich King was released, but without trying the expansion myself (it only added material for high levels, and I quit the game long before I reached that point); but I’m quite sure that players were just running through the entire quest without asking themselves whether there was any morality involved in their gesture. Except maybe role-players, and, to quote Bartle once more, “Gawd knows what the people on role-play servers will be making of it…”

    So that was what PA was trying to denounce, players whose gofer mentality and the the carrot dangled in front of them makes them oblivious to questions of morality, and dilettante game designers (especially in games designed that way, MMORPG’s above all) who don’t care about morality, who put stuff in their game with no regard for consequences because it meets the requirements of their cool meter, or, worst of all, who believe that offering and even forcing players to commit reprehensible actions is a shortcut to intellectual depth and philosophical significance. It’s never meant to make you stop and think, or make for more complex characters, but just another hurdle you need to jump over to get ahead.

    And you can find examples in other games. And I wonder what those people crying rape would think of certain elements of the old game “Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”, set in a fantasy world that went through an industrial revolution. Fittingly, you get a lot of references to Victorian society, including mentions of phrenology, a visit to a penal colony, and even a quest where factory workers want to unionize (three options: start a bloody worker riot, get the union leaders shot by police, or bring the parties to the table), but one quest stood out: the so-called “Half-Ogre Conspiracy”. You gradually uncovered facts that human women, including the female members of a defeated nation’s royal family were abducted to a desert island, and there forcibly inseminated by ogres. It was the origin of the artificial “half-ogre” race, prized as bodyguards by the wealthy gnomish industrialists who backed the venture, because of their strength and docility. Rape allright; and due to the size of the child, the woman never survived the birth.

    It’s probably one of the longest side quests in the game, with clue upon clue being leaked out to you as you progress. It must reach the most epic of conclusions, right? Actually, no. The only way to “finish” the quest is for you to turn over your material to a journalist who promises to publish the story; except that the journalist is a fraud, and he vanishes with your evidence. Even the half-ogre breeding facility disappears. That’s it. No way around it. No way to expose the elite behind the conspiracy, or even get it to end. You’re supposed to shrug and move on.

    It might have worked; downcast endings appeal to me because they are realistic. You can’t win all the time, or even most of the time. Authority stays on top, the status quo triumphs, Goliath makes short work of David, and so on. It might have succeeded all the better because of the stifling Victorian setting. But no, the intent of the designers was apparently to pull an X-Files on the player, just for giggles. Not everyone approved, including someone putting together a walkthrough of the game who quit halfway through because of it; I’m not making this up.

    Why aren’t video games regarded as art? Not because of the reasons Roger Ebert gave out (he’s too enamored of linearity to fully measure the opportunities provided by the medium), but because of hijinks like those, by designers who won’t even weigh the consequences of their actions as long as they deliver in the shits-and-giggles department.

    Unfortunately for Penny Arcade, it tries to have it both ways, because it knows that it is a gaming comic, aimed at gamers, read by gamers, and made lucrative by gamers. Whatever gamer self-deprecation it does (such as the first comic) must be hollow, lest it offend the gamer demographic. But that’s just the marketing side of it, as I suspect Holkins and Krahulik are not assuming the gamer mindset as a lucrative façade, I think they genuinely think like gamers (no less embarrassing, at their age). Otherwise, they would never have printed the second strip.

    The second strip is a maladroit attempt to rectify a situation that required no rectification, a tempest in a teapot. It’s beyond maladroit, it is offensive, think “Buckley’s comment after the C+A+D miscarriage strip” level of offensive. Worse, it’s delivered from the two characters assumed to be Holkins and Krahulik’s alter egos. Worst of all, Gabe and Tycho do not appear in the controversial first strip. It’s not as though one of them had delivered the contentious remark that now required an explanation; the only link between the two strips is that they were authored by the same webcomic artists.

    To further break down the second strip: The first square is fine, it’s just a summation of the controversy. The second square is where it begins to go awry, because it reads like a “public service announcement”, and especially because it seems to stem from that insincere branch of public relations, where it’s all “let me state for the record”.

    The third square, besides its dismissal of rape as a casual matter, is crass gamer mentality at work, tongue-in-cheek and straw-man in its argumentation. Note that you could replace “rapist” with “gun killer”, and it would read like classic gamer rhetoric on violence in video games; in its dismissal of the issue, Penny Arcade might as well be responding to Jack Thompson. But the real message is the classic “we gamers can do no wrong”. Gamer mentality does not ponder how far is too far; secure in their thinking that whatever they do in a game has no impact on real life, they believe that *nothing* ever goes too far, whether it’s shooting prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto or ganking players in MMORPG’s. Beneath it all, it’s another pointless exercise in self-validation as far as the gaming lifestyle is concerned.

    Why won’t video games be regarded as art any time soon? Because of stuff like this.

  20. I just can’t help but wonder why people react to this and not from the previous month.

    It’s like their eyes zoom in on the word ‘rape’ or they only pay attention due to the dick wolves, but when it is implied using words like ‘sodomy’ people ignore it.

    • I’ve only just heard about this whole thing as there was a story about the length of rape sentences here in the UK. Basically, between yourselves, Amanda whatshername, that anti-humour idiot at shakesville and all of you I don’t know how any of you could seriously discuss a topic that involves the word ‘dickwolves’ – It really did take effort to even type that. I just had one of those ‘I literally can’t type for laughing’ moments. Sometimes I forget how funny Americans can be. Thank you.

  21. I am a regular Penny Arcade reader, though only for the last few years. It might be due to my blackened soul, but I never saw anything wrong with the second strip. Sure they could have let it go, or at least handled things more maturely, but it always struck me as an aggravated response to what essentially amounts to an insult.
    Please understand, I’m not defending them. They acted immaturely, but I understand where they’re coming from. Most people who spend any length of time on the internet have become inured to being called names, and most of us live a fairly confrontation-free life, so we tend to forget how hard it is to react calmly to something like this. Gabe and Tycho may lack boundaries, but they are not bad people. To say that they advocate and make light of rape, or anything that permanently damages someone’s psyche, is an egregious attack on their character.
    tl;dr- They handled the rebuttal poorly, but they shouldn’t have had anything to rebut.

  22. As a dickwolf, I am angered by Penny Arcade’s portrayal of my people as (1) rapists and (2) mythological. This anti-dickwolf bigotry must end.

  23. I don’t really get why this one comic annoyed people so much. The rape mentioned in the comic isn’t even the joke. Its not the punch line, they weren’t trying to turn rape into a funny situation, and they certainly weren’t advocating rape. The entire punchline was about how MMO’s (and RPGs in general) tend to leave you with quests were there really are a whole slew more of problems, but just because you got just enough of the requirement to complete the mission, its effectively solved. They could have substituted rape with just about any other negative thing, and the punchline would have been exactly the same.

    That being said, they could have handled this so much better.

  24. It’s turning into a proverbial case of the issue that never goes away.

    The Penny Arcade guys did it again: I suggest you read this blog post for the updates.

    • I had sorta had an idea of what was going on (my site was surprisingly getting a LOT of hits for “dick wolves” in the past few days). Kinda disappointed that the Penny Arcade guys can’t let this go, but that’s the gamer culture for you. Thanks for the link! I’m going to elevate it to a news post.

  25. I think you’re kind of missing the point, which is that the scenario described is SUPPOSED to be awful. It’s not making light of it, it’s saying “yes, this is truly a horrible thing.” It’s an element of this character’s story that describes the trauma of his situation and brings the reader to a greater understanding of his pleas. There’s no way this could come across with something like “oh, it’s awful, they, uh… do generally mean things to us and poke us with sticks.” That just makes him sound like a whiny crybaby. In order for his begging to sound convincing, he kinda has to depict some sort of traumatic event or another. But he can’t, apparently, because it’d be perceived as “making light of [traumatic event]” or whatever.

    For instance, if he said “we’re forced to cook and eat our own fingers at gunpoint”, I’d say that that’s far more traumatizing than rape. At least, to me — I’d rather be held down and sodomized once than be forced to mangle my own hands and ruin the rest of my life at the behest of some psychotic sadist. Or even being torturously murdered and brought back to life repeatedly. That definitely sounds worse than rape.

    But by your logic, there is literally no awful, traumatizing scenario, rape or worse, that the character could have brought up that would have been acceptable. So the entire narrative just breaks down, because whatever the character describes is bound to be such a trivial thing that the other character’s dismissiveness seems entirely warranted and the whole thing just becomes pointless. “Whiny dude complains about mild annoyance; adventurer doesn’t care.” Welp!

    Fiction is REALLY boring if nothing bad ever happens to anyone, and authors aren’t allowed to include rape as part of a character’s back-story because real rape victims might get offended.

  26. Shakesville sucks on this matter, and is full of shit, as usual:

  27. I dont know whats funnier, most of these comments speaking like they are better than Gamers or the fact they actually thing they are better or the fact they missed the joke.

    Viva La Dick Wolves.


  29. Okay, personally, all this, all this shit going on about a single web comic whose only job was to make people laugh, but enraging a few spoiled apples. This shit needs to stop, and now. This is the kind of shit where both sides bitch and moan cussing at each other because they are too blinded by their own personally opinions of what is funny or offensive.

    The side against the humor presented in the comic obviously missed the joke, and saw the word rape and went “conditioned-mind-zombie” all about it. “THATS TOO FUCKING FAR! RAPE ISNT FUNNY!”, and began a crusade.

    The other side that are supposedly “defending” PA but really are only making it worse getting all nerd raging with their own opinions on how rape isn’t as nearly as horrible as murder, bestiality, pedophilia, etc. They only incite the other side with even more rage and disgust. Fueling that fire into a BP oil-shit-storm.

    Everyone needs to chill the fuck out, grow the fuck up. Stop censoring artists because you don’t like what they make or say. Making death threats? Really? Most of you sound like a bunch of angst up highschool kids.

  30. I just wanted to say, I thought the comic was drawing attention to video games like World of Warcraft and others that seem to send players the message not to care about people in trouble by asking players to save only 5 of them and leave the rest in the mess they’re in.
    I know gameplay-wise you can’t ask players to save everyone in an MMO since hostages or prisonners or whatever must respawn often so other players can complete the same quest. But whether this is justified by gameplay or not, it still sends a message. I’m also not criticizing this, I don’t have a problem with it. I’m just observing that this thing occurs in some games, and I thought the comic was drawing attention, perhaps even criticizing this flaw; I did not think the comic was making light of rape.

    Otherwise, I think the reason why society is so sensitive to rape and less sensitive to murder is because rape violates people deeply. Taking someone’s life is also a form of violation, it’s also a lot more radical, but it doesn’t violate people deep in their intimacy. Having one’s own intimacy violated is also the reason why rape is so horrible to experience.
    Also, death is quite common. We all die one day, we all could be killed at any moment and in many ways… And we all lose people we love. We all live with death so we are less sensitive to it.

    Finally, I don’t like humor that sends a message that rape is no big deal or is even a good thing to do. Teenagers joking about “I want her so bad, what can I do? -Rape her!” isn’t something I find funny (but coming from teens I don’t get all upset either).
    Yes, rape is serious and way too common. We get all upset about speeding, even slightly, and yet 1 in 4 woman in North America and Europe is a victim of sexual assault in a form or another at least once in her life and 1 in 10 is a victim of actual rape, but we don’t talk about it.
    This is too big a deal to ignore, in my opinion it’s irresponsible to make light of it. I wouldn’t have a problem with rape jokes if I knew the people who laugh also realize how serious rape is. But I think people don’t realize how bad the problem of rape is and until things change I think rape humor just teaches people to ignore the problem. To be clear – I think everyone realizes how awful rape is but few people seem to be aware of how often it occurs and this is the biggest problem because it means many women will be victims.

  31. sure is special pleading in here

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