A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk

be-cool-and-do-good-thingsTrigger warning for discussion of rape.

Dear Gabe,

I’m going to write this letter as though you’re a friend, because that’s how I used to think of Penny Arcade—people on the Internet who got what it was to be a gamer and a misfit geek. Who got what it was like to be me. People I wanted to hang out with. My cool Internet friends. And stuff that has happened over the last few years has made me not want to be your friend anymore.

I don’t hate you. The things you do and say often hurt me and I’m often sick and afraid to think of all the young people who listen to your words and emulate your actions, and yeah, often that pain and fear manifests in anger. Anger and hate are not the same things, and most of us expressing anger about what you said at PAX are not expressing hate. (I understand that you have been the target of hateful speech, and I understand that even a little hate can seem like an avalanche. I do not condone that behavior.) Most of us are expressing anger that is borne from disappointment, sadness, pain, and a fear that you don’t understand the power your words have over others.

Since we’re friends, you’re aware that I’ve worked in the games industry for about 25 years, and that I’m a woman. You probably also know about my history of sexual abuse and rape, or maybe you don’t and this is the first time I’m letting you in on it. I’m not going to go into detail, but it’s a part of my history and when people make light of it, especially people who I thought were my friends (people like me, people who get me) it really hurts.

For many years I said nothing when friends made rape jokes or used rape as an analogy for a bad beatdown in a game. I’d discovered years ago that my discomfort with group behavior would be met with ridicule at worst or dismissal at best, and I wasn’t really in touch with my feelings about it anyway. And then I learned about triggers and I realized what it was that was happening to me—that thing I kept having to swallow down on every time people joked about rape or tossed the word around like it meant nothing, the shoving down keeping those feelings distant. And I found out that I have a very mild reaction to these things compared to people who experience everything from panic attacks to being mentally transported back to their rape. And I stopped being silent about it because there is a cost to such things.

In your response today, you acknowledged causing pain and said that you regret it. Then you stood by your statement without really explaining how continuing to sell t-shirts mocking rape survivors belonged in a list of “mistakes” which included things like making the follow-up strip and creating the merch in the first place. Then you pointed out that both you and Robert Khoo had given an emphatic “No!” in response to a fan yelling “bring it back!” None of this adds up for me. I do the math, and the result I get is that you still don’t understand the damage that merchandise did if you don’t understand that continuing to sell it would have compounded the problem. Taking those t-shirts off the market was the only thing you guys did right in this timeline up until today when you really, truly acknowledged—for the first time I’m aware of—all those other mistakes and the pain you caused. But you still don’t seem to have acknowledged the cost vs. whether it’s “worth it” to exercise the right to use rape in your humor or what the cost would have been to continue to sell those terrible t-shirts or what the cost will be now, in the aftermath of that PAX Q&A.

And you once again played the reluctant role-model. This is the part I really hope gets through to you because while you are just one person, your words reach so many, and so many of the people you reach are young and/or otherwise impressionable and look to you for cues as to how to respond to criticism, how to deal with conflict, and how to treat people. Your actions three years ago didn’t just hurt rape survivors—they spawned a little pro-rape movement that still surfaces now and then to troll survivors. Many of us have been working to change the industry—to make it a place where everyone is accepted, respected, and represented. With #1ReasonWhy, #1ReasonToBe, and #1ReasonMentors, we were making progress. PAX was making progress. And by taking to the stage at PAX and saying that PA’s mistake with Dickwolves was not selling t-shirts, you set us back years when it comes to those for whom you are the Cool Kid. And as for women who do the things I like to do—game and write on the Internet—who are treated as though we’re “asking for it” every time we open our mouths? You just told the types of people who thought Team Rape was a good idea—the kind of people who troll us—that they were right. Whether you meant to or not, that’s the message they got. That was the applause you heard, and believe me, in the dark, wet recesses of the Internet, that applause continues to echo.

You may not want to be a role-model. You may not like being a role-model. You may wish fervently that you didn’t have to be a role-model. But you are a role-model whether you like it or not, and as long as you sit at the helm of Penny Arcade, you will be one. You are a major industry influencer and you are doing harm in the industry you love and to the brand you love and to the people you claim to care about. And reading your words today, I believe you when you say you don’t want that. I believed you the last time you said it, too.

So I’m asking you to make this one of those times when you change it up a little. Instead of a) stepping in it, b) apologizing, and c) pretending it never happened until the next time, I’m calling on you to take some real action to counter the message you sent three years ago and the message you just sent again this past weekend. Think about ways you can reach those young people who listen to your voice and help them understand the things you’ve learned from this. (And learn more, please, because you still seem to be missing some important pieces of the puzzle where this issue is concerned.) Do some interviews or better yet, scripted PSAs. Maybe meet with some of us to discuss solutions. Acknowledge the damage and do some real work to counter it, and then your apology will really mean something.

I want us to be friends again, but I need you to be a better friend to people like me (who are also people like you). We need you to be a better role model for young gamers, and we need you to help repair the damage you’ve done. I think you can be the superhero you seem to want to be, but only if you use your powers for good. I really hope you’ll try.




Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

30 responses

  1. Anthea Brainhooke

    I would like to sincerely apologise for my part in the firestorm earlier today. I’ll be more careful next time.

    September 23, 2013 at 2:58 am

  2. Pingback: With Great Power Comes Dickwolves: Penny Arcade Trips Again - Dorkadia

  3. Pyran

    The reason he didn’t say the shirts were the mistake, on stage, was because on stage Robert Khoo was asking him specifically for an instance where Mike thought _Robert_ had made a mistake. Robert wasn’t involved in the creation of the shirts, only in suggesting the take down. The reason he thought taking the shirts down publicly, rather than letting the shirts and the controversy die a quiet, quick out of stock death, was a mistake, was for the same reasons you’ve mentioned- the take down incensed the trollish, slimy corners of the internet and was what inspired the creation @teamrape, @dickwolvington, etc into a firestorm of harassment against those that had agitated for the removal and apology.

    September 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    • not broken

      he could’ve been A LOT clearer about it. Either way his intent is dead, a rumor, a poltergeist now. what matters is how he made us feel. team rape felt welcomed and powerful. the rest of us felt like the home we’d been invited to as a safe space for misfits had suddenly turned violent. that’s bad for our health in really important ways that are easy to research on internet (where he spends all day) and we have given him every chance to educate himself and correct his message. It’s on him now. he has the power to put out PSAs about rape culture. team rape would gladly help circulate them with frothing commentary so we can all see PA’s stance. he has the power to put out PSAs about cissexism and transmisogyny. he has so much power to put out a video of an interview with a trans* rape survivor so we can explain what he did wrong and how he can do it better, and he can clarify his and PA’s position.


      September 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm

  4. So… I don’t know if these even really matters to you, you all really seem intent on just bashing Mike for having the temerity to speak about rape at all… but if any of you had read the comic, it is there in order to punch home the darkness of the situation and to point out the absurdity of the quest system. it was not supporting rape culture. and to scribblegurl, he was not being a dick. until the dick’s started in on him, then of course it devolved to fighting dick with dick. I do not think I have used the word dick so many times in so few sentences before.

    And as to the pulling the merchandise thing, this is just a theory, but by pulling it it kindof looks like they are saying “yeah, we were supporting rape culture, our bad” when they were not.

    September 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    • Anthea Brainhooke

      Thank you so much for coming in and mansplaining to us silly wimmens how we should have reacted. We feel so much better now.

      September 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm

  5. scribblegurl

    Thing is, he doesn’t have to be a role model. He just has to not be a dick. What’s so frigging hard about that?

    September 7, 2013 at 4:37 am

  6. Marl

    Making “rape jokes or used rape as an analogy for a bad beatdown in a game” is no different than using the N word and it has to stop.

    September 6, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    • not broken

      I think you’re on point regarding the severe and violent effects of the word. the n word (except where reclaimed by black people) is short for “we want to see you harmed for public celebration” and telling rape jokes or making light of rape in a public game is very similar. most people don’t drop n bombs in public because they think they’ll be shamed for it. we need people to feel that shame about rape jokes as well as things like ableist and sexist slurs, transphobia (also a big problem with Gabe that I’m furious about) etc

      September 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm

  7. My 4 y.o. says “hate” is a bad word. She’s kind of right, but I still feel full of hate for these man-babies that cry censorship any time they get called out on their fraternity asshole behavior. (See Kojima models) I don’t know Gabe/Mike personally and have no interest in getting to know him. In my petty little world you don’t get to spend YEARS profiting from being a relentless fuckwad and then when your livelihood is suddenly on the line (and you KNOW that the PA powers sat his ass down and made him write that “apology”) hang your head and say sowwy. I ain’t falling for it.

    September 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  8. The thing I’ve noticed about Mike Krahulik, in all of his interactions with fans,(or detractors) on social media or what have you, is that he just has this knee-jerk “how dare you? fuck off!” kind of reactionary mentality. I honestly believe him when he says he’s sorry, or that he’s trying to be better. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to change that defensive way of thinking and actually listen to people instead of just assuming you’re right.

    HOWEVER! That doesn’t excuse the behavior in the first place. I feel like maybe PA needs to hire an intern or something, whose sole job is to stand behind Mike whenever he’s at his computer without a tablet in hand, and read all his tweets, forum posts and emails before he sends them. someone to say “hey man. Maybe sit on this one for a few minutes until you’re not so mad.

    I’m pretty sure the apology was genuine, He doesn’t seem malicious, just like he’s a clueless moron with no social skills and too big a platform for expression sometimes.

    September 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    • not broken

      “moron” is a slur against autistic people. don’t fucking tell me the word has evolved either, when you’re using it to reduce this to Krahulik’s social skills and then insult him for it. I seriously doubt he’s autistic and if he is, that’s not the problem. we’re more likely to be slurred by him for our politics and gender presentations.

      put your money where your mouth is. check your allistic privilege.

      [Edited Comment Notice: This comment was edited slightly to remove language I felt did not contribute to respectful discussion. I’m trying hard to keep things civil around here to the degree I’m able (though I will continue to let trolls show their asses in some cases before banning them and will probably police responses to trolls far less than responses to regular folks). I believe we can debate and educate one another while maintaining civil discourse, and that is my goal here on MMAS. Your cooperation is appreciated. Love, Rosie.]

      September 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      • The word “moron” has been used for quite some time to describe developmentally disabled people of all kinds, and yes, it has become a go-to word for describing someone whose behavior we think is substandard. I’m learning a lot lately about ableist language, and am personally trying to work my vocabulary a bit harder to come up with alternatives.

        September 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      • Anthea Brainhooke

        “Moron” has nothing to do with autistic people and never did. It was a term used in psychology to describe people with an IQ of 50 to 70, and nothing more.

        September 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm

        • not broken

          it has been historically used to justify violence against people with, yes, intellectual disabilities, and other developmental disabilities and differences including autism at all levels from the playground to, as you so brilliantly ablesplain, professional psychiatry. so yes, IT’S A FUCKING SLUR, GENIUS. if you’re so much fucking smarter than intellectually disabled people, how about you step into the mid fucking 20th century or so, and start blaming bad things on arrogant and evil people instead of on disabled people? how about you use one of the million fucking words out there for a bad, vicious or undesirable person INSTEAD OF RELYING ON THE BIGOTED SHORTHAND OF COMPARING THEM TO US? i mean, do i need to fucking hold your hand all the way through the concept of a slur?

          and hey einstein, if you respond to someone pointing out an ableist slur by lying about its scope and trying to make them look delusional or hypersensitive, that’s pretty fucking widely known to be mental abuse, so don’t you tell me when to be offended. jfc.

          though I’m sure you could have used the ever-expansive power of your protean mind to find this link, O Wise Master, here are some alternate fucking words for you: http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/node/54

          i can’t believe i had to do that for someone so much more intelligent than i, but what do i know of such things? i’m just some

          September 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm

          • NB, I think you’ve got important things to say, but I’m going to respectfully ask you to leave off the personal attacks (please see my note on your earlier comment). AB is not the original commenter who used the slur. Di get that you strongly disagree with what she said, but keep it civil, please.

            September 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm

            • not broken

              tone policing much?

              oh yeah, a civil discussion. where i can be slurred at random everywhere on the internet until i break, and it doesn’t matter how much anyone hurts the retard as long as we all refrain from cursing when we have a civil discussion about these slurs.
              but let that idiot moron express a moment of frustration at being constantly forced to defend their humanity, and the gates of hell hath broken loose. right. civil.

              you’re a coward and a bully, applying the same colorblindness ideology to ableism that perpetuates racism. oh great, let’s all have a civil discussion about my humanity and exchange slurs against me in calm and even tones.

              that’s not a moderated discussion, that’s you siding with the oppressor because you’re uncomfortable seeing my pain. you need to do some googling. start with the terms “tone policing”, “colorblind racism” and “civilized discussion” (i could hardly believe you would throw that unreconstructed bullying garbage at me straightforwardly, it’s so obviously a joke when hurtful slurs are the topic of discussion).

              civil left the building a long time ago. I’m not the one who made me bleed all over your precious discussion, and your mental abuse is not going to make me take the blame. if you care at all about civil discourse, you will take it upon yourself to moderate the use of slurs first. collect your people. That’s your job. if someone gets angry because they were gaslighted on your forum, moderate gaslighting. if you’re not going to put half an effort into that side, your side, you have no business (ethically speaking) policing my reaction to the hurt that you perpetuate with your passive reaction to our suffering.

              the cultural shorthand behind the slur is one of the exact unjustly discriminatory ideas that keeps me and millions like me unemployed and simultaneously unqualified for disability insurance. it’s the same idea that beats us on the playground and behind locked doors while you dally around with your fingers stuck in your ears (if you weren’t the one beating us). don’t you ever stop to think maybe this person is reacting to a real social process that’s been put into place, which you did nothing to stop, and which hurt them so bad they couldn’t accomplish anything else that day? if you think enforcing a civil discussion (oh excuse me for not expressing my retard ideas in your preferred non-troubling manner) is ethically possible in that context, you’re the biggest ableist in the room. think about what you’re asking, and from whom, for one second.

              i cannot believe you would expect me to find something meaningful in bigot #2 being a different person than the bigot who said the slur originally. i won’t even justify that poppycock with a response. what the ever loving what.

              September 22, 2013 at 9:35 pm

              • Ok, I’m very sorry you don’t like the way I moderate my blog. I don’t know you or anything about you and have made no assumptions. You, on the other hand, have made a lot of them about me. I am doing my best to educate myself, but you are not entitled to scream at people or at me on my blog because you don’t think I’m learning fast enough. I have to moderate this blog in a way that allows me to protect my own health. So, yeah. Sorry to disappoint you. I’ll keep learning, but I’ll also keep asking people not to attack one another on my blog.

                September 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm

                • Anonymouse

                  The problem, Rosie, is that you censured not broken for reacting with justified anger against jonny Borron’s use of an ableist slur and Anthea Brainhooke’s defense of the use of the slur, but said nothing to jonny Borron and Anthea Brainhooke for using/defending the slur in the first place.

                  You’re trying to learn; I get it. I am also CAB (Currently Able Bodied) and I have a lot to learn, too. You’re trying to keep safe while blogging; I get that, too. I am commenting as an Anonymouse for much the same reason. I have a lot of sympathy for you and your position. And because of that, I’m telling you that the way you handled the use of an ableist slur and not broken’s response was wrong. That was not the act of someone who is trying to learn; that is the act of someone blaming the victim for screaming at people who are crushing their foot.

                  Was not broken’s responses hostile? Of course. But what you don’t seem to be understanding is that it was a normal response to hostilities already in play. And because you are CAB, and have the privilege that goes with it, you only saw not broken’s hostility (and not the cause of it) and chided them for not being “civil” enough (an oppressive tactic called the tone argument, as they pointed out) while giving the people who caused the hostilities a free pass.

                  This is your blog and you can moderate it however you want. But if you are–as you repeatedly said you are–trying to learn, then you need to take a step back and think about how your privilege caused you to reinforce oppressive structures because of the unequal application of “asking people not to attack one another on my blog”.

                  September 28, 2013 at 9:02 pm

                  • Thanks for the feedback. I honestly don’t have a clue how to handle this and I truly appreciate the input. I have been thinking a lot about this and how to handle similar issues in the future. This is new to me and I never claimed that I’m doing it “right,” just that I’m doing it the way I need to in order to maintain my own mental health. I don’t know what I was supposed to say to JB about his use of the word “moron” because I don’t know enough about the issue and I fully admit that. I responded to NB’s initial criticism in a way that I hoped said I understood the issue and was personally attempting to do better.

                    I’m aware of the foot-stomping analogy and it’s not lost on me. I guess I don’t know what I’m supposed to do if I stomp on someone’s foot accidentally and (assuming I apologize) they attack me. Am I supposed to accept any kind of behavior in response to the injury? This is a sincere question because if my only recourse (in order not to be wrong) is to allow it, then I’m probably going to end up shutting down my comments section, which would make me really sad. If it’s really a matter of applying the policy equally, then my challenge is knowing how to do that when I don’t understand the issue.

                    I have been out of my home state for three weeks helping family and I admit that I have not given this the attention it deserves in terms of figuring out what I’m supposed to say in response to JB and AB and NB’s last. I meant it sincerely when I said that I appreciate the feedback. I understand that I could have handled this better, I’m just not sure I could have (in my current circumstance) handled in in a way that would have satisfied everyone. I really hope to make myself better equipped to handle similar situations in the future.

                    October 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm

                    • Anonymouse

                      Thank you for your reply, Rosie. Practicing good intersectionality and being a good ally is hard, mentally exhausting work, especially when mistakes are made. I don’t know it it will be helpful for you, but in the past it has helped me to remember that the people–even the angry ones–who were calling me out were doing so because they believed in me and wanted to help me do better.

                      I don’t know what I was supposed to say to JB about his use of the word “moron” because I don’t know enough about the issue and I fully admit that.

                      Your original response to JB about the slur wasn’t bad, but it lacked some firm “this language is not tolerated here” type language (especially since it came after not broken bringing the subject up). Personally, I would have given a warning. Probably something along the lines of, “As not broken has pointed out, ‘moron’ is an ableist slur. Please refrain from using it on this blog in the future.”

                      I guess I don’t know what I’m supposed to do if I stomp on someone’s foot accidentally and (assuming I apologize) they attack me. Am I supposed to accept any kind of behavior in response to the injury?

                      This is one of the trickier things about ally work. I think the two key points for learning how to manage these situations is to remember that: 1) apologies only go so far, and 2) your privilege gives you a skewed view of what is, and is not, an attack.

                      Firstly, even a genuine apology can be undermined by further actions that continue the behavior that necessitated an apology in the first place. The fact that you are still in the early stages of the learning process here is an explanation not an excuse. Ultimately, you are still responsible for the hurt that you cause when you make a mistake. Your heart is obviously in the right place, but it’s not always easy for those of us with privilege to align our actions with our intentions.

                      The problem with setting the communication standard at “no personal attacks” is that enforcing that line without enforcing proper standards for non-oppressive behavior will automatically skew against marginalized people. It’s incredibly hard to see our own behavior when we have privilege standing in our way, so I’m going to talk about some specific things that happened on this thread. I’m not trying to single you out; the reason that I recognize this behavior is because it’s a common pattern (and one that I have perpetuated in the past).

                      NB’s comments on this thread really weren’t “any kind of behavior”; they were typical reactions to certain oppressive dogwhistles that JB, AB, and you all unknowingly threw into the conversation. For instance, when you replied to JB your response was very generalized and it didn’t read to me as if you were specifically addressing him, but your reply to NB was targeted directly at them and included a strongly worded warning that included tone policing dogwhistles like “keep it civil”. In your next reply you also stated that NB was acting “entitled” (which is a word aimed at people who are being oppressive) and used “I’m doing my best to educate myself” as an excuse/shield from criticism.

                      Now, let me preface what I’m about to say with: I get where you were coming from. NB’s reply to you was harsh; they both implied and outright stated some nasty things about you and it is completely natural to have a bad reaction to that.

                      But, as I have said before, NB’s reaction was both a justified and typical reaction the nastiness that JB, AB, and you had directed at them. After they had their foot broken, you had chided them for swearing at the people mashing their broken foot while you also engaged in foot mashing. From your perspective, NB brought an unacceptable level of hostility to the comments, but from NB’s (and my) perspective, NB was just reacting to the already unacceptable level of hostility.

                      Instead of defusing the situation, the way you responded made it worse. The good news on that front, is that you will get better at defusing those situations (or at least not making things worse) with experience. Some of the experience will come from continuing to moderate your blog, but here are a few specific guides that should help you figure out the best response(s) the next time you and/or your commenters get called out: How to deal with being called out, How To React When You’re Called Out For Transphobia, and Getting Called Out: How to Apologize [YouTube video].

                      I apologize for the ridiculous length of my comment, but I took the time to write all of this because I believe in you. I believe you care about doing better. I believe that you are willing to do the self criticism that is necessary for being an ally to people, even when that process is painful. I wish you luck both on your future blogging endeavors and on your ongoing effort to learn.

                      October 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

                    • Anthea Brainhooke

                      Putting my reply here because there’s no “Reply” button under “Anonymouse” due to formatting.

                      Okay, whoa, the “nastiness” I directed toward NB by saying that “moron” referred to an IQ range rather than a diagnosis? That was NOT intended as a “defence” or “nastiness” and I have apologised for it.

                      I still do not believe I deserved the scream-and-leap response I got from NB but I let it go because I’m not going to tone police on anybody else’s blog.

                      October 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

              • I’m very sorry. I honestly had no idea that ‘moron’ was ever actually a slur to begin with, since I only tend to hear it in the context of “this guy said something stupid or thoughtless.” I’m more than willing to admit that I was completely ignorant on the subject, and wish I hadn’t contributed to the pain you feel. I will do everything I can to educate myself on the matter so I won’t further exacerbate the situation.

                September 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

              • NB: Over the past couple of months I have given a lot of thought to our exchange here and I would like to apologize, if you’re still listening, for my defensive reaction to this comment. I am sorry that I handled this thing the way I did and I would definitely make different choices if I had it to do over again. I do understand that ableist language is harmful and I’m not ok with doing harm. I also understand that giving you a hard time for your tone without also being willing to give others a hard time for using (or defending) a word that was hurtful to you caused you even more pain and I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that I hurt you.

                November 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

          • Anthea Brainhooke

            I never said it’s not a slur, just that I have never seen a definition of it — current or past — that even _mentioned_ autism. That is not to say it never applied to people with autism; it almost certainly did, but that was not and is not part of any definition I’ve ever seen.

            I don’t call people morons _because_ it’s a slur, for pity’s sake.

            September 23, 2013 at 1:40 am

  9. Very well said. I’m sick to death of the “Oops, my bad,” sad-assed apologies.

    September 6, 2013 at 5:38 pm

  10. Pingback: Moving Forward with PAX: A How-To

  11. What is with you people? Who makes rape jokes? I am nearly 6 decades old and I’ve never heard a rape joke or anyone use rape as analogy to winning a game. (Well that’s not entirely true, I know 1 rape joke involving a little girl mouse and a combine harvester, but it’s a pun and not a joke about rape) It’s not as though I have led an especially sheltered life.
    How does anyone make rape funny? But I don’t want to know it would be appalling.

    September 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    • Anthea Brainhooke

      “You people?”

      September 7, 2013 at 12:10 am

  12. Well done. I also feel personally hurt by his actions. It can be so hard to get people to understand that rape jokes aren’t just jokes. They can be traumatic for survivors, and there is research that supports the fact that rape jokes allow rapists to think that it is okay to violate someone else.

    September 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm

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