Trigger warning: rape. 

Penny Arcade is the webcomic that got me into webcomics, which is saying something. The first truly geeky friends I met at school showed it to me almost as a rite of passage, thereby hooking me not only on the strip itself, but webcomics generally. For years, PA held pride of place with all of us: most quoted, most referenced, most likely to be shown to yet more newcomers as an offer of subcultural goodwill. A friend and I once spent an entire all-day Latin seminar staving off boredom by writing PA quotes to each other in a shared notebook; at college, I introduced my hallmates to it and ended up participating in several cardboard tube samurai battles on the front lawn; I still sometimes wear my Div shirt. In fact, my email signature contains a Tycho quote – not from a comic, but from a now-ancient newspost about the Playstation; so ancient, in fact, that I don’t think it’s even online any more, and which was so obscure originally that I’m probably one of the few people who actively remembers it, let alone ascribes it personal relevance.  The quote, which I have memorised, goes like this:

People seemed to prefer this, but only marginally so, the way one might prefer to be stabbed than shot. Optimally, one is neither stabbed nor shot. Optimally, one eats some cake! But there are times when cake is not available, and instead we are destroyed. This is the deep poetry of the universe.

You’d have to perform an impressive feat of archaeological psychology in order to understand the relevance of this statement to my sixteen-year-old self; or rather, in order to understand why, of all possible quotes from all possible PA newsposts, it was this one she chose to take to heart. Nonetheless, it’s a line I’ve always liked, because even though it originally appeared in context as a form of poetic sarcasm, it still manages to convey something important about life, the universe and everything, viz: sometimes there are just no good options available.

At the time of the dickwolves controversy - that is to say, slightly less than two years ago – I had never heard of rape culture. So when I saw that PA was being accused of it, my first reaction, rather than to get angry at the strip itself, was to try and get my head around what rape culture actually was. By the time I’d done this, enough time had passed that the furor had died down, which left me in sort of a weird headspace. On the one hand, the dickwolves joke made me uncomfortable even before I encountered criticism of it, and after I’d done so, I thought the critics had a point; on the other, I had a deep-seated trust and affection for all things PA, and as I’d come late to the argument, I didn’t feel much personal impetus to weigh in. Instead, I resolved to become a more critical reader, and to keep my eyes peeled for any future offences.

And then, today happened.

Basically, the trailer for the new Hitman game involves hypersexualised BDSM assassin-nuns being beaten to death by the male protagonist, and a significant proportion of the online gaming community has risen up to point out that this is both textbook rape culture and completely, grossly offensive. So when I saw that PA’s Tycho (aka Jerry Holkins) had followed up their latest strip with an explanatory newspost, I was understandably curious as to what his stance would be.

To quote:

I saw a single still used to promote a Hitman: Absolution trailer, a phalanx of leather-clad Battle-Nuns, and decided to skip it.  I felt like I had probably seen something very similar at some point.  But being mad at it is apparently a thing, a compulsory thing.  Except I don’t do compulsory, and I also don’t do infantilizing chivalry.  So I don’t do well at these kinds of parties…

It’s fight choreography, and it may set an “erotic” stage but it quickly – and I mean quickly – gives way to a gruesome, life or death, septum obliterating struggle that might be hot for somebody but I suspect that’s a very specific demographic.  Only a necrophile could be titillated by something like this; by the end, it literally defies the viewer to maintain an erection.  As spank material, it leaves something to be desired; specifically, spank material.

I think that once a nun produces an RPG from her habit, we have passed through a kind of “veil” critically speaking.  We can certainly talk about it for a long time if you want to.  But she did pull out a rocket launcher, seriously just right out of there.  It came out.  And then people still wanted to talk about this as though it were some kind of haunted obelisk around which an entire medium whirls.

I don’t understand what it is about the idea of a “medium” that people find so confusing; it’s a conceptual space where works that share certain characteristics may occur.  Nobody is going to approve of the entire continuum.  There’s no shortage of games for the broadest possible audience – there isn’t, and grotesque sums are being made seeking the wide part of the curve.  There are also niches, as in any ecology.  You can certainly find things you don’t like, but those things aren’t anti-matter; when they come into contact with things you do like, there is no hot flash which obliterates both.  This totalizing dialogue, where “everything” and “everyone” is this or that, and here are the teams, and morality is a linear abstraction as opposed to its three dimensional reality is a crock of fucking shit.

The swooning and fainting and so forth about this stuff, the fever, is comical in its preening intensity.  There is clearly some kind of competition to determine who is the most scandalized.  It reminds me of church, frankly; I don’t do church, either.  I have no common cause with perpetually shocked viziers of moral pageantry.  Indeed, I think it is fair to say that I am their enemy.

The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art.  If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over.  That’s not the side you want to be on.  The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work.  The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring.

That’s basically the whole post, right there; and as I read it, I experienced this sort of terrible wrenching in the part of the brain that houses our idealised past, our youthful idols, and all the naive perfection and nostalgia we ascribed to them first at the time and then later in memory. It only lasted a moment, but it was profound, because it irrevocably signals the point at which Jerry Holkins transitioned from being “geeky figurehead I respect” to “stubborn, selectively insensitive ass on the internet” in my personal lexicon. Which isn’t to say that these are forever and always mutually exclusive positions; it was just disappointing as hell, however heralded by his response to the dickwolves incident (or even to the fact that he thought it was acceptable in the first place).

When broken down, his argument basically runs as follows:

  • compulsory things are bad – or rather, compulsory outrage linked to what he seems to think of as political correctness is bad;
  • he personally doesn’t find the video arousing, so therefore the argument about it being hypsexualised is  moot;
  • because the nuns are doing something physically impossible (withdrawing big weapons from skintight clothing), the setting is confirmed as unreal, which means nobody can sensibly complain about anything else it gets wrong;
  • any problematic elements that still conceivably exist aren’t representative of gaming culture as a whole, but only of a niche section of games whose existence constitutes a healthy part of the creative ecology;
  • complaining about the influence or subject matter of such games is missing the point, because we should all be able to just respect each other’s tastes; and
  • bringing any moral or social complaint to the table is not only tantamount to the advocation of censorship, but something people only do when they want to be scandalized, as opposed to actually having a legitimate complaint.

Let’s address these points in order, shall we?

1. Compulsory things are bad – or rather, compulsory outrage linked to what he seems to think of as political correctness is bad.

Disparaging something lots of people care about as ‘compulsory’ and thereby refusing to participate is an act that tends to fall into one of two categories: childish contrition, as per a toddler refusing to eat their vegetables, or hipsterish disdain, as per anyone who refuses to read a book, watch a movie or listen to a song solely on the basis that it’s popular. Applying this attitude to politics – or, more specifically, to problems of inequality – is pretty much the genesis of hipster racism and ironic sexism, which (funnily enough) are both completely indistinguishable from actual racism and sexism. So straight off the bat, anyone who says they refuse to get angry about rape culture because that’s what everyone else is doing – or, to use Tycho’s words, because they “don’t do compulsory” –  has, much like the hipster racist, completely sidestepped the issue of whether bad things are genuinely happening in order to try and look cool. Which, yeah, no.

2. He personally doesn’t find the video arousing, so therefore the argument about it being hypsexualised is  moot.

Every time I hear someone arguing that a particular sexualised or negative representation of women is neither problematic nor offensive because they, personally, don’t find it sexy, I die a little inside. Dear straight men everywhere: case by case, the hypersexualisation of women is not definitionally dependent on your getting a boner. It’s not even necessarily about what you consciously find attractive or erotic. Subconscious bias is a real thing: the images we see, the stories we absorb and the cultural narratives in which we participate all have the power to change our unconscious assumptions about the world. Anyone who thinks that our conscious reactions and preferences are all that matter is missing the point by quite a substantial margin. The Hitman: Absolution trailer isn’t problematic because somehow, magically, the majority of straight men who watch it will feel conscious arousal and/or actively think about hurting women as a result (though doubtless there’s a concerning minority who will); the problem is that the majority of people who watch it, regardless of orientation or gender, will subconsciously absorb the message that violence and sexuality are linked; that images of beautiful dead women are normal; and that there’s nothing sexist or problematic about the image of a man gratuitously killing hypersexualised nuns being used to sell videogames. The argument, in short – that games can’t change us, and that their content doesn’t matter – is one that PA have actively pilloried when reactionary politicians have used it to say that games aren’t art; to argue that games can only change us for the better, however, seems just as ignorant. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too: if games are truly a valid means of cultural expression with the power to effect real change in those who love them, then that means they can impart both negative and positive development; can be dominated by negative or positive trends. Asserting otherwise is an act of willful blindness – and not only because fiction has an actual neurological effect on our brains.

3. Because the nuns are doing something physically impossible (withdrawing big weapons from skintight clothing), the setting is confirmed as unreal, which means nobody can sensibly complain about anything else it gets wrong.

Seriously, this isn’t a point I should need to explain to anyone who regularly grapples with SFF, but as I apparently do:  the presence of unreality in a story no more renders it immune to criticism on the grounds of sexism than it excuses a lack of narrative cohesion, poor writing or offensive stereotypes. The fact that a story isn’t ‘about’ sexism doesn’t prevent it from being sexist, and the presence of one flaw – improbably concealed weapons – certainly doesn’t obviate the presence of others – hideously sexualised violence and dead BDSM nuns. Honestly, I’m not even sure what Tycho meant to convey with this point: that because one visual element of the trailer was problematic or unreal, calling the whole thing out for sexism and rape culture is redundant? That because the game isn’t very good or original, nobody should comment on how offensive the trailer is? Neither of those arguments makes any sense at all, unless your sole purpose in deploying them is to try and argue that accusations of sexism and rape culture are less important than poor visual continuity in a second-rate game.

Oh. Wait.

4. Any problematic elements that still conceivably exist aren’t representative of gaming culture as a whole, but only of a niche section of games whose existence constitutes a healthy part of the creative ecology.

The assertion that sexism and rape culture aren’t part of mainstream gaming culture – or even that they’re problems worth discussing with reference to gaming culture as a whole – is both hugely problematic in its own right and deeply baffling when you consider that not long ago, the PA site was providing coverage about the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment and rape culture in fighting game circles when Aris Bakhtanians said they were fine and necessary aspects of it. And it’s not like PA has traditionally been oblivious to the sexualisation of women in games, online and by geek culture generally –  although they’ve definitely perpetrated sexism as well as criticising it. Or, put it another way: Penny Arcade has been around now since 1998 – that’s the better part of fourteen years – and has been considered a preeminent voice in gaming culture for most of that time. So if I can dip into their archives and, over the course of fifteen-odd minutes, find regular references to sexualised depictions of women in games, sexual insults in gaming and sexual harassment generally, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that sexism in gaming and the hypersexualisation of female characters has been an ongoing issue for at least the past decade. I mean, seriously: it’s one thing to argue that all this bullshit belongs to a niche area of gaming that has nothing to do with the mainstream, and quite another to say so when your own history of creative output  - which itself constitutes your professional livelihood – contradicts you.

5. Complaining about the influence or subject matter of such games is missing the point, because we should all be able to just respect each other’s tastes.

Respecting other people’s tastes is generally a good rule to live by, but acknowledging that some depictions are problematic and actively contribute to problematic cultures is still necessary. More than once, PA has referenced the prevalence of homophobia and homophobic insults in the gaming community; in fact, they’ve arguably taken active steps to destigmatise it. This being so, I can’t understand why, when it comes to the issue of rape culture, the whole issue reverts to this wishy-washy stance that people should be allowed to like what they like. The only possible explanation is either that Tycho just doesn’t see rape culture as an issue in the same way homophobia is, or that somehow, he doesn’t see it as an issue at all – neither of which is exactly encouraging.

6. Bringing any moral or social complaint to the table is not only tantamount to the advocation of censorship, but something people only do when they want to be scandalized, as opposed to actually having a legitimate complaint.

Similar to the above, it would be ludicrous to suggest that attempts to counteract homophobia in gaming represent active censorship in terms of what stories can be told and the destructive presence of a ‘compulsory’ political agenda – by which I mean, the only people suggesting it are themselves homophobes. So why, when it comes to an identical issue of language, bias and prejudice, is PA suddenly fearmongering about how acknowledging the existence of rape culture in games is somehow the same as arguing for the creation of ‘less art’?

Well, I guess Tycho was right about one thing: there are certainly times when cake is not available, and instead we are destroyed. Or at least, our faith in humanity is.

Comments
  1. Antmac says:

    Offenses?.

    You set yourself up to judge “any future offences” ?.

    Did you also set yourself up to judge ( and reveal to the world in a thousand word post ) any future laudable ( in your opinion ) acts?.

    Have you spent a thousand words on the charity work he does?. On the many instances week after week, of his expressed support of people who have suffered harms in our society?. Of his often expressed contempt for prejudices society sadly still has?.

    Or is it simply that his refusal to devote any of his time (the man is entitled to choose where he does that, he is a businessman with dozens of things to tend to) to actively fighting for a cause you support wholeheartedly, is somehow a crime in your eyes?.

    Not enough that he decided to skip a game because he saw a clip and obviously judged it offensive to a moral person. No. You insist that he spend his outrage alongside you.

    We are all going to be judged on our choices of where we spend our efforts, by you, and found guilty even if we run an annual charity for ONE cause, because we don’t type daily in support of another?.

    Grow up.

    • fozmeadows says:

      The fact that someone does lots of things we like doesn’t mean we should give them a pass when they do something shitty – and suggesting that rape culture is in any way acceptable, unimportant or nonexistant is pretty fucking shitty. I enjoy a lot of Mel Gibson’s films, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be insensible to the fact that he’s a domestically abusive anti-semite and a generally vile human being. I like Doctor Who and Sherlock, but that sure as hell doesn’t stop me from criticising Steven Moffat’s penchant for sexism. I’m not pissed at Tycho because he’s had the temerity not to actively decry a one particular problem among many; I’m pissed because he’s disputing that the problem, which is widely acknowledged to be the single biggest obstacle to women gamers, even exists, despite the fact that so much of his work makes reference to it.

      Yes, he runs an awesome charity. And yes, he speaks up about lots of shitty stuff that happens in the gaming world, particularly social issues. But given those credentials, that only makes it more offensive that the giant, excruciatingly obvious problem of how women are both depicted and treated in the gaming world is one he seems not to consider relevant, significant or even extant. And when that’s the public opinion of someone whose opinions genuinely matter to gaming culture, it has a tangible negative effect: namely, that however many hundreds of thousands of gamers who read that post and agreed with it will carry on participating in gaming rape culture, viewing hypersexualisation as normal, and generally acting like ignorant sexist trolls.

      Only children think their idols are perfect. You grow up.

    • Nick Kiddle says:

      It’s not so much that he refused to devote his time to the cause, it’s that he chose to devote his time to explaining how the cause was just an excuse to be outraged. No, no-one can fight every cause, but none of us has to dismiss a cause as not worth anyone else’s time.

    • This was an elegantly written argument, and a damn educational one, too. Really, really well done!!!

    • J says:

      You seem pretty upset that other people are upset dude

  2. lysana says:

    To paraphrase, “Children throw rocks at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest.” Tycho can’t seem to connect that laughing children don’t negate the dead frogs.

  3. Good Gravey says:

    “Complaining about the influence or subject matter of such games is missing the point, because we should all be able to just respect each other’s tastes.”

    To me, one’s “taste” can be for any sport of objectionable material. But to spread it about, to present it as in any way acceptable to the general public is another matter altogether.

    If their taste is for hyper-violent, hyper-sexualised material, then they are welcome to it. Just so long as they keep it to themselves.

    And we hear this “compulsory” bullshit all the time. It seems that they are allowed to be party to a massive culture of harm, yet when someone calls them out on it, they are the ones victimised. I expected these people to be more articulate than this.

    In debates like this, the comment is often made “What sort of world do we want to live in? One where we are so afraid of speaking for fear of offending someone? That we always have to check what we say or do?”

    The sort of world I want to live in is one where nobody is afraid to say what they think. Just that they think about what they say first. One where people are not afraid to take part in PA events. One in which we don’t have to actively think about what other people might feel because it has become such an ingrained part of our culture and nature. Where thinking about others is simply what we do.

  4. potsherds says:

    [sarcasm]Really happy to see Holkins now proving himself as big a rape culture denying asshole as Krahulik did two years ago.[/sarcasm]

    I have rarely felt so much contempt for someone as I do for those two.

    Great post on the topic.

  5. G says:

    I don’t understand the rage in this post.

    Are you raging so hard because you’ve slowly discovered how big a part of life sex is? Is it clicking that everyone is really just out to have a satisfying life, preferably with lots of (consensual) sex? That’s why sex sells, in Hollywood and video games, because it’s part of being alive. A good part!

    People are animals. Notice I didn’t say men. People. Are. Animals. and sex is part of our being. News flash, the “hyper-sexualization” you keep talking about is just humans being humans. America spends far too much time vilifying sex.

    Here’s a biology lesson for you:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene

    (Summary: Our Genes are built to reproduce, at the expense of society and self)

    For the people who commit rape, it isn’t about sex to them. To them it’s a power thing. Rape is a terrible terrible thing, and we should do our best to curb it, for society’s sake. But sexy nuns with rocket launchers in a video game, as offensive as it is, don’t cause rape. You’re attacking the wrong things.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Firstly: yes, I agree that rape to rapists is vastly more about power than sex. And yes, I agree that sex is a big part of life. But hypersexualisation in the media isn’t a thing that happens to men – or at least, to nowhere near the extent that it happens to women – and it definitely doesn’t happen in ways that are quite so negative or problematic. Hypersexualisation is not the same as humans enjoying sex, because women don’t enjoy it: the term itself literally means excessive sexualisation – above and beyond what’s normal. That’s why hyper is right there in the prefix. Hypersexualisation isn’t – or rather, shouldn’t be – normative. It’s the cynical exploitation of a very specific, unrealistic, titillating form of female sexuality designed for and marketed to an exclusively straight male audience; which is in no way, shape or form synonymous with a positive celebration of the native wonder and diversity of human sexuality. I’m neither American nor vilifying sex; the rage in this post, as you put it, comes from people not recognising that female hypersexuality in games is problematic.

      Secondly: like I said in the post, I’m not trying to draw a direct, causal link between the Hitman trailer and people becoming rapists. I’m saying that images of sexualised violence against women contribute to rape culture, which is the creation and maintenance of an environment where images of the rape and abuse are normalised, and where both are tied to hypersexualised and problematic notions of female beauty.

      • Gonzo says:

        Sorry but where I come from, we know that what happens behind closed doors, stays there. That said, I’m about to violate that convention in telling you off. Real people in real life, not digital representations and not hyperspace projections, beat each other, cut each other, burn each other, choke each other, ride each other, and then fuck each other senseless.. and they enjoy it. Where’s the correlation between any sort of aberrant behavior and attitudes at all and video game content featuring “hyper”sexuality (which I don’t suppose I have to remind you, realistically represents some very very sexy women in real life, some of whom I’ve worked with in fashion)? Where are the studies that indicative any sort of effect whatsoever that would compel a reasonable individual to take your stance as more than just one of a wounded disciple broken by their own expectations clashing with the reality of a pragmatist.

    • beep boop says:

      pahaha, did someone just link the selfish gene as a modern biology lesson? doofus.

  6. G says:

    Also, I gather from many of the comics you’ve posted, in the context that you’ve posted them, that you’re terrible at picking up satire. Just about every single thing you’ve posted has made fun of the “hypersexuality” of the industry, while also touching on the fact that “men like boobs!”.

    And as for their apparent “sexism” in this comic:

    http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/05/14

    Is it because they’re satirizing the exploits of some women at a bar, and calling them a whore?

    If the situation were reversed, and it were a guy at a bar trying to pick up a woman and being overbearing… would you be complaining about PUA tactics and how men are pigs?

    again, news flash, people want sex. Quit getting hung up on word choice, and go picket things like mandated mandated transvaginal ultrasound in order to receive an abortion instead. That can QUITE LITERALLY be rape.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I’m not terrible at satire; I know that most of those strips are meant satirically. That’s actually the point: that Tycho has actively commented on the hypersexualisation in games multiple times, but is, in this instance, seemingly unwilling to acknowledge that it happens.

      I chose that particular comic for its use of the words ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’, both of which are gendered insults. Which is sexist.

      Also, for the record, if I lived in America, I’d be out protesting the transvaginal ultrasound law; as it stands, I’ve signed as many petitions against it as I can. The suggestion that I’m wasting my time complaining about one area of problematic sexism when I should be out protesting something else is the assumption of a derailer: firstly, because it assumes that I’m not doing both already; secondly, because it implies that the two are mutually exclusive; and thirdly, because it misses the point that culturally endorsed sexism is ultimately the root cause of both problems.

      • Cavoyo says:

        Also, look at the title of the comic: “Level 25 Drunk Bitch.” This frames the woman as a mindless NPC whose only purpose is to allow the real, human players to gain experience and level up. So right off the bat we have objectification. Furthermore, the comic uses killing (the way one gains experience in an MMO) as a metaphor for picking up women for sex (the way Gabe gains “experience” in the comic). This links sex with violence, just like the Hitman trailer. So the comic is much more sexist than it might appear at first glance.

  7. Jon says:

    “But given those credentials, that only makes it more offensive that the giant, excruciatingly obvious problem of how women are both depicted and treated in the gaming world is one he seems not to consider relevant, significant or even extant.”

    Tycho is not disputing that the game is bad. His first sentence at the outset underscores that the game is not worth his time.

    What he *is* disputing is the notion that the game is somehow representative of the industry, rather than an outlier. Just as a bad film doesn’t make us write off film as a whole, this very stupid game should not make people write off games.

    He is not satirizing people who groan and roll their eyes at this game, but people who are triumphantly saying: “You see?!? Gaming is wholly nonredeemable.”

    If you are not saying that this, you can relax and stop being offended. His post isn’t about you.

    • fozmeadows says:

      But that’s the thing: the game itself might be an outlier in terms of content, artistic value and intended demographics, but the sexist culture the trailer both perpetuates and panders to is not. The very fact that sexist slurs and rapetastic language are common in videogaming parlance is part of it; the frequently hypersexualised and deeply problematic depiction of female characters in games as diverse as Super Mario Galaxy, Gears of War, the Final Fantasy franchise (which I love) and just about any fighter game you care to mention is part of it; and the unwillingness of gamers to acknowledge that any of this is a problem is certainly part of it.

      The argument isn’t that we should write off gaming as an industry; the argument is that we should take responsibility for changing the sexist, toxic culture that surrounds it. And when someone like Tycho of Penny Arcade publicly fails to understand this distinction, then that, too, is part of the problem.

  8. kazei5 says:

    Good lord, I think the Penny Arcade crew just need to shut up instead of mansplaining to people why they should be upset over some rather ugly, sexist game content.

    I’m honestly not too surprised at this outcome, truth be told, considering that it was one of the PA guys who said he had no problem with the classes that taught men how to seduce women, the same classes that George Sodini in Phillidelphia took before he walked into a fitness class filled with women and gunned them down for not dating him.

    It’s honestly this kind of attitude that made me leave PA, because I didn’t want to give them the time of day.

    And frankly, I’m having the same concerns over the new Tomb Raider game, the latest trailer of which featured attempted rape on the lead character after showing extensive footage of her getting the absolute hell beaten out of her. Talk about majour squick!

    Of course, according to PA logic, we probably shouldn’t follow the crowd and be concerned about that either.

  9. Rick says:

    We must all remember that depictions of women trying to kill men with rockets are okay because we are disposable. We should also never kill women that are trying to kill us.

  10. Yarl says:

    I find it bizarre that so many people who play games that make sport out of murder and terrorism are chomping at the bit to be offended by the depiction of other violent crimes.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Does that actually make the argument about rape culture invalid, though? Or are you just hoping it does?

  11. Jon says:

    “The argument isn’t that we should write off gaming as an industry;”

    Actually, it is.

    That *is* the argument he is responding to, and satirizing. The argument you’re referencing is not. You are getting upset, because you’re acting as if he’s trying to discredit or argue against this:

    “…the argument is that we should take responsibility for changing the sexist, toxic culture that surrounds it. ”

    He is not. I mean honestly, do you think he would disagree with that idea? The Jerry Holkins who argued that people of all sexualities and preferences ought to be appealed to equally in dragon age two, irrespective of their purchasing power? Of course not.

    To the contrary, he simply suggests that rather than foaming at the mouth, making sweeping statements about the gaming industry as a whole, and flirting with misandry as so many of the responses to this have done, the solution is simply to A: Not give the bad guys your money. and B: pull in the opposite direction via design and/or give your money to the good guys.

    I think its a good solution, and a lot less likely to give you an ulcer.

    • I’m late on this, but I think you’re correct, this specific post by Jerry is about a Kotaku(?) article in which someone looked at the Hitman trailer and said something to the effect of “Come on, entire gaming industry and entire gaming community. We have to do better than this.” Which is a ridiculous thing to say. If you asked Jerry Holkins point blank if he thought the Hitman Absolution trailer was sexist and lazy, I imagine he’d respond in the affirmative.

      This video expands a bit on where the idea for the comic and the newspost came from:

      http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/turnaround-4th-panel

      Honestly, I think the author was responding to a lot of strawman arguments in this post. As an example, nothing was said about “political correctness” until the author brought it up.

      If someone wants to criticize IO Interactive and Square Enix for putting that trailer out, by all means go ahead. Just don’t look at it as an indictment of an entire medium and don’t start blindly yelling at the entire industry for one poor choice by one development team. In my opinion, it will be far more beneficial to promote quality work than to deride work of a lower quality.

      That isn’t to say “don’t talk about sexism in games at all,” but if half the effort gaming journalism spent on deconstructing Hitman Absolution’s trailer, only to say “Yup, that’s sexist,” was spent on analyzing the trailer for Watch Dogs or Quantum Conundrum or Dishonored or The Last of Us, I think gaming would move a little bit closer to being perceived as a medium for many different types of art, rather than as a hobby for boys and manchildren.

      All of that being said, there are certain things Mike Krahulik has said and done in the past that are pretty indefensible, and the dickwolves fiasco was indefensible for both of them. I have hope that they’re learning from some of their past controversies, but I don’t see this newspost as being that’s worthy of this kind of response.

  12. There is a reason I haven’t gone to PAX or read a single Penny Arcade since Dickwolves. Its not that people aren’t allowed to express an opinion, it was their reaction to the people that were upset that showed me what they were really like.

    Doing things for charity doesn’t erase someone’s treatment of others, otherwise we would be back to accepting indulgences for sins (not that I actually believe in sins, but you can’t buy off bad action with a good action).

    The problem is, a lot of the guys (and some gals) don’t get it. I have seen what has happened to women who are victims of rape (my wife is one of them), and his reaction to it is disgusting. I am not sure if I am desensitized to it or if I now expect his reaction, but I found his Dickwolves issues more horrifying.

    Thank you for the article, I am linking it so some of my friends can read what I thought was a very well written blog post.

  13. Steve says:

    I can’t help but feel that if some people here had their way, we would be facing censorship galore. For the record, I stopped gaming a few years ago, but I still feel very passionately about these sorts things. Namely: the inability of some people to separate fantasy from reality and their seeming desire to censor and destroy that fantasy.

    My mind is boggled that you feel righteous in condemning something people enjoy, especially when it’s not even real. Do you realize that’s what you’re doing? You’re standing up and telling all these people, people you don’t know, that what they’re enjoying is *wrong*. You don’t have numbers or statistics or any sort of fact behind you quantifying how what they do is wrong. None. Telling people that what they enjoy in the privacy of their own homes in a virtual reality contributes to a Rape Culture is crazy. What’s next? Telling people what sort of porn they can watch, what sort of books they can read?

    Seriously, show some facts. Show a concrete link between this and that, between playing the computer game and a rise in rape statistics. I know, I know, it’s not “Rape” it’s “Rape Culture”, so you conveniently don’t have to show *any* facts. Which is the one saving grace in all this. In the real world, for laws to pass and things to change, you have to show concrete evidence of your position. I remember how they tried to do that with Computer Games and Violence, and how no one was able to draw *any* sort of factual link between one and the other that would stand in any court of law.

    Huzzah for real life, I guess, and the ability to separate our personal and private pleasures from the things we do in the real world.

    • Priscilla says:

      Rapists enjoy rape and murderers enjoy murdering. Yet most of us still condemn those activities. Is your mind boggled?

      No one mentions here telling people what sort of games they can play. But it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable to point out how some games are problematic and contribute to rape culture. The same goes for some porn and some books abd some movies: if they contribute to rape culture it is acceptable and in my opinion, desirable, to point those things out. Criticism is not censorship, and frankly, equating the two is both stupid and offensive. It makes light of the struggles of those who have truly experienced censorship. You are not a victim.

  14. What I am not seeing here is your take on the Hitman trailer. This is a anaysis of a critisism of certain outrage over the trailer and as such gets a little to close to Duty Calls for my comfort.(and here I am commenting on your critique… sigh)

    It may have been a mistake to link to the Critical Damage blog since Brendan admits to doing precisely what Tycho was complaining about. He said very loudly that the Hitman trailer is what is wrong with the whole gaming industry. I probably wouldn’t have cut the two lines you did from Tycho’s missive since it was only two lines and makes it seem that you didn’t belive your argument would stand your audience knowing Tycho’s artistic take on what he thought the promo’s creators were trying to do.

    I am holding off reading your Prometheus blog till Thursday since that is the first time I will be able to see it.(Double sigh)

  15. Egaloc says:

    I feel like you’re missing the whole point. I really don’t see at what point Holkins was endorsing or even defending the trailer. A reasonable person may even think that he was objecting to it, even if perhaps not with as much vigor as you might prefer.

    But, really, the point was this:

    “The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work. The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring.”

    He was absolutely not encouraging people to just shrug and accept the views of others – rather, he was actively encouraging others to participate more actively in the creation of culture.

    And why did you cut the line that offered his take on the style of the trailer?

    • Sarah says:

      That’s a very lovely sentiment. Except that’s not all he said.

      The argument isn’t against his non-endorsement of the trailer. She’s criticizing the fact that he’s dismissing negative reactions to the trailer. He’s criticizing people who are offended by it for the reasons the blogger has listed above. His solution is, instead of being offended,to create more art in response. There are plenty of people who do this already, but that doesn’t mean the trailer gets a free pass from the gaming public’s criticism. (And considering art is often created for public consumption, it is absolutely bizarre to expect that debate isn’t going to, or shouldn’t, occur.) She’s not arguing against people contributing more to art and culture, but dissecting PA’s immature and unreasonable analysis of the situation.

      He doesn’t have to defend the trailer to make a horrible argument, as illustrated when he stated, “the problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work.” Actually, that kind of is the problem. But he dismisses the reactions to this trailer as forced, insincere, and overblown. She is challenging that argument.

      To the author: Well done. I loved your blogpost and I’ve shared it with my friends. :)

  16. [...] scandal last year. I won't describe their coverage much further, as there's someone (specifically, Foz Meadows) who's already done so in a fashion far more eloquent than I could hope to emulate. Long story [...]

  17. Adrian Olafson says:

    I can’t wait to play the game, it looks awesome.

  18. Mechtroid says:

    First off, I want to thank you, this post was the first to actually go into depth about *why*, exactly, Tycho’s dismissal of the contreversy over the Hitman trailer was so aggravating. (Though I believe he wouldn’t agree with some of the implications you pulled from his post, but that’s neither here nor there.) I was never into the strip or the people that much, I still can’t tell Tycho apart from Gabe on the strip. From what I’ve gathered, there’s a lot of good things about the both of them; they’ve set up Child’s play, made many great strips and spoke out against plenty of things they saw wrong with the industry. And I know I’m not well-versed in their antics and beliefs like you are. But going from “childhood idol” to “stubborn, selectively insensitive ass on the internet” seems a tad excessive to me. I’m not sure what about his comments push him past “Intelligent man who has no idea what he’s talking about on the topic of gender and misogyny” into “stubborn ass who kills my faith in the human race”. Maybe it’s just because I’m a diehard optimist, but (to blatantly steal from doctor who) I’ve always thought people are a pile of good things and bad things. And his good qualities don’t make his bad traits any better, but conversely his pile of bad things doesn’t take away from his pile of good.

    Looking at the other comments, I just realised Antmac said these same things (in a more abrasive way), and you gave a fairly impassioned response. I’m not sure though that it answers *why* his transgression is so much more severe, only restating that his offense *is* severe. This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up, but I have one last thing I want to bring up and ask. You say he denies that sexualization in gaming exists. But if that’s true, why did he and Gabe ban booth babes from PAX? Like I said earlier, this one action doesn’t make his handling of the dickwolves or hitman any better or excuse it at all, but claiming he denies sexism in gaming exists completely is quite an accusation to leverage on anybody.

    I guess in the end, I would really just love to hear more about this topic from you, as I find your analysis and explanations top-notch.

  19. I think some of your summaries of Tycho’s position on this are misleadingly amplifying his intent, and/or result from a misunderstanding of his position.

    “He personally doesn’t find the video arousing, so therefore the argument about it being hypsexualised is moot”

    My reading of the relevant section of his post, particularly “Only a necrophile could be titillated by something like this; by the end, it literally defies the viewer to maintain an erection” is that he is arguing that no one who is not mentally ill or seriously sociopathic would find it sexually appealing, not simply that *he* doesn’t find is sexually appealing. I’m not sure I think he’s factually correct in that position; however that position is not ‘I don’t find is sexy, thus…’ Also, this section strongly implies that he *does* find the content objectionable.

    “Any problematic elements that still conceivably exist aren’t representative of gaming culture as a whole, but only of a niche section of games whose existence constitutes a *healthy* part of the creative ecology” – emphasis mine.

    In this section of the post, his argument is about the *target* of the accusations of offensiveness, not the *existence* of accusations of offensiveness or actual offensiveness. The dialog on this subject is substantially “X game is very offensive, thus games as a medium are offensive.” I see nothing in his post that argues that this content is “healthy”, in fact the argument reads as ‘a despicable member of a medium does not make that medium despicable, and to argue such is to defame good members of the medium.’ An example in another medium: I find the “Saw” movies horrifying and indicative of a terrible part of our collective consciousness; I condemn them utterly. I do not then take the next step condemn movies as a medium. That argument, “Saw (and similar films) are horrible, thus movies are horrible” should be rejected as a ridiculous line of logic, and the same should apply to analogous video games arguments.

    In short, he’s defending his medium of expertise from a generalized attack on it which is based on a specific offensive instance of that medium. There are legitimate conversations to be had about the tone and content of video games, but the argument of ‘one (or some) specific bad game(s) makes games bad’ is not only wrong, but undermines the legitimacy of those who object to the content in question.

  20. Hawk says:

    I’ve just reread the post on Penny Arcade again, and I don’t see what you see. Here is what I see:

    1. Compulsory things are bad – or rather, compulsory outrage linked to what he seems to think of as political correctness is bad.

    I heard him say “ I don’t get mad because people tell me to get mad.” The implication here is that we shouldn’t get mad because other people suggest it either. I further take this to mean “Think for yourself. Review ideas critically.”

    2. He personally doesn’t find the video arousing, so therefore the argument about it being hypsexualised is moot.

    I heard “The video is gross.” He doesn’t say anything about it being OK anywhere that I could find. He does not say “games can’t change us.” He does not say that watching this video will not have an effect on your subconscious. He does not reference any argument.

    3. Because the nuns are doing something physically impossible (withdrawing big weapons from skin-tight clothing), the setting is confirmed as unreal, which means nobody can sensibly complain about anything else it gets wrong.

    “The video is unrealistic and being unrealistic makes it different from something that is realistic.”

    4. Any problematic elements that still conceivably exist aren’t representative of gaming culture as a whole, but only of a niche section of games whose existence constitutes a healthy part of the creative ecology.

    Well, I do see where you could get “Any problematic elements that exist aren’t representative of gaming culture as a whole, but only of a niche section of games whose existence constitutes part of a normal creative ecology.” But really what I feel he is saying is more “Don’t act like this Hitman trailer is some horrible thing and then claim that Modern Warfare III is some holy object. Don’t try and burn Hitman at the stake and then go back to downloading the Penthouse girls for Saints Row III. There is no line in the sand where Hitman is on one side of it and every AAA game for the last five years are on the other.”

    5. Complaining about the influence or subject matter of such games is missing the point, because we should all be able to just respect each other’s tastes.

    He says “The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work.” so clearly he is implying that the unrealistic gross video is offensive. I see that you would like him to go a step further and “acknowledge that some depictions are problematic”. Maybe that would have made for a better post, but missing that statement does not mean that he doesn’t agree with it. He does not seem to advocate “respecting each other’s tastes” as in fact he has nothing good to say about the video. But he does want you to know that the existence of Hitman in no way makes good video games somehow less good.

    6. Bringing any moral or social complaint to the table is not only tantamount to the advocation of censorship, but something people only do when they want to be scandalized, as opposed to actually having a legitimate complaint.

    I heard him say “I recommend that you be the change you want to see. Support the products you like. Create the art and expression that you think is appropriate. Make video games, blogs, hats shaped like Ms. Pac-man, whatever it is that you think is the good stuff, because creating the good stuff is the only way these things will really change, not by focusing our attention on the bad things.”

    Thanks for reading. As a side note the article titled “Rape Culture in Gaming” is spot on correct. We have a long ways to go as a culture to reverse this situation.

  21. Eric says:

    I came here from your excellent followup post about rape culture in gaming, to which I have no response beyond sharing with my own friends.

    Regarding your disillusionment with PA here, though, I thought Tycho was making a more broadly constructive (and less disillusioning) point with his paragraph about “The answer is always more art…” Specifically:

    1. The problem isn’t the existence of such content (as the Hitman trailer), but the surrounding culture that legitimizes and normalizes such content. (I think this is a similar premise to what you’ve discussed?)

    2. The (well, one) solution isn’t to react against such content (though that might also be useful on certain levels, such as creating a discouraging atmosphere for similar content in the future), but to make better things, to create content for the community and the culture you want to strengthen. Build the better cultural standard that makes obsolete and replaces the current norm.

    Obviously it’s a vastly more complicated situation than such a simple problem/solution can account for (like discussions, such as yours, about understanding what’s going on in the first place), but as far as a piece of a solution to put forward, it seemed pretty in line with PA’s role as creators themselves. And by that reasoning, they put themselves on the line to be judged by the art they produce – whether they model the culture they claim to desire.

  22. ThingsandStuff says:

    The comic attached to the newspost with the ‘cake’ quote (the reference about there sometimes being no good option was about the price of Rock Band), featured the news anchor character Randy Pinkwood talking about how his band “The Sex Generals” had a song that could literally disintegrate a woman’s panties.

    Just sayin’.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2007/05/21

  23. Gonzo says:

    He made a convincing argument and you strawmanned sections of it.

  24. [...] Penny Arcade vs Rape Culture, 2 June 2012: A precursor to the rape culture in gaming post, this was a specific assessment of [...]

  25. […] have, as I’ve previously had occasion to mention, been reading Penny Arcade since I was about fifteen; which is to say, for twelve damn years. […]

  26. […] a week ago, I wrote a post on Penny Arcade vs. Rape Culture, which sent my blog traffic skyrocketing after it was linked on Reddit. However, both in comments […]

  27. […] About a week ago, I wrote a post on Penny Arcade vs. Rape Culture, which sent my blog traffic skyrocketing after it was linked on Reddit. However, both in comments on the post itself and elsewhere on Reddit, quite a few people seemed to be missing the point: or, more specifically, misunderstanding what rape culture actually is and how it applies to gaming. One commenter, in fact, responded thusly: […]

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