The long-running Dickwolves controversy involving popular web-comic and convention organizers Penny Arcade took a new turn this weekend following comments from the strip's artist, Mike Krahulik. The artist said he regretted the pulling of shirts related to the controversy, a comment that stirred strong reaction for and against the Penny Arcade team, and also received a clarification from the group's business manager to Kotaku.
In 2010, the popular team at Penny Arcade ran an online comic where a hero is reluctant to save more slaves than a video game quest requires—even though the remaining slave mentions that every night, he is "raped to sleep by dickwolves." The comic caused controversy: some folks felt that it was insensitive, and some thought that it was fine because humor shouldn't have boundaries.
In response to the criticism by journalists and readers, Penny Arcade ran another comic that claimed that Penny Arcade did not condone rape, but also came off as sort of flippant, fueling some of the criticism. Two months later, Penny Arcade announced that they would sell dickwolf t-shirts in the Penny Arcade store (and later, Dickwolf pennants). This, too, drew criticism and support alike—much of which is chronicled in great detail here. Ultimately, Penny Arcade dropped the merchandise from the store. By the time that decision was taken, however, some of Penny Arcade's critics had undergone much harassment by some Dickwolves supporters as a result of speaking out against Dickwolves. Additionally, not all Penny Arcade fans were happy with the decision to pull the merchandise, including this supporter.
The Dickwolves T-Shirt, image via siliconsasquatch.
"If jokes about violence, rape, aids, pedophilia, bestiality, drugs, cancer, homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic," Mike Krahulik, artist behind the Penny Arcade comic (pictured on the left on the picture up top), wrote.
"We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause," he continued.
Krahulik drawing the Dickwolves beast, much to the crowd's amusement.
Despite that sentiment, this weekend, during a candid interview with Robert Khoo (the business manager for Penny Arcade) at the Penny Arcade Expo—Krahulik made it obvious that the decision to pull merchandise wasn't one he was entirely happy with.
At one point during the interview conducted by Khoo, he asks Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the writer behind Penny Arcade, if there's anything that they wish Khoo would do better, or anything they resent him for.
"You know that I don't hold grudges, like I can be incredibly mad and then fine the next minute, as long as I get it out. And I feel like we got this out, so I'm not mad about it anymore, but, I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake," Krahulik said. The lament was met with audible praise from some of the crowd.
"Clearly it would have been better to just not say anything, and that's sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it's just better to not engage, and in fact pulling it was a way of engaging," Khoo responded. Kotaku contacted Khoo about the interview, and he offered the following clarification:
It wasn't meant to be a comment supporting rape or sexual assault, but rather one about censorship and the shirt-pulling pouring gasoline on a sensitive discussion. I know we did a poor job of elaborating on that on stage, and as the guy moving the discussion along at the Q&A, I'm really sorry for that.
You can watch the original exchange below, at around the two hour thirty five minute mark.
Krahulik's admission has also been met with criticism on Twitter by game developers and game journalists, sparking some discussion of whether or not developers should attend PAX—particularly amongst some notable indie developers. Some critics feel that developers should stop attending the show, and there has been some talk amongst developers about what alternatives exist and whether or not alternatives to the show can be created. A few people have even boycotted the show. Unsurprisingly, the controversy has also brought supporters of dickwolves out of the woodwork as well, with some still supporting the idea that dickwolves is a harmless joke, or that the entire controversy has outlived its welcome (it's been three years since Penny Arcade ran the comic).
Last month, The Fullbright Company, a small studio behind the first-person exploration game Gone Home made headlines when they announced they would be pulling their game out of PAX due to rising discomfort with the show's organizers. The decision was a result of a variety of decisions, most notably the Dickwolves debacle, along with a more recent gaffe where Krahulik made statements that were exclusionary toward transgender people.
"I’ve never hated anyone for their sexual orientation or their gender situation. I don’t hate people for superficial shit like that," Krahulik stated in response the controversy, also revealing that going forward, he wouldn't comment on similar issues around sexuality—lining up with Khoo's assertion that Penny Arcade's new policy was simply refusing to engage on such matters.
Although not many have taken a stand like The Fullbright Company did with Gone Home, but whether or not indie developers should attend PAX is an ongoing discussion that some developers have on social media around PAX time—the concern being that, despite Penny Arcade's repeated missteps when it comes to certain issues, the expo is too important, exposure wise, to miss.
It should be noted that despite these controversies, Penny Arcade not only hosts a variety of inclusive panels during the expo, it also founded a charity that organizes toy drives for children's hospitals called Child's Play. Further, during the interview, Penny Arcade made it clear that they would not be bringing the Dickwolves merchandise back.
It's also worth noting that how rape is handled in jokes is an oft-debated subject, although even those that consider it to be a touchy subject say there are acceptable ways to make a rape joke.
Top image: Wikimedia Commons