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.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Sorry, Not Sorry: Penny Arcade and the Deeper Roots of Apology (Alex Lifschitz)
- With Great Power Comes Dickwolves: Penny Arcade Trips Again (Dorkadia)
- Bullies, Dickwolves and Apologies (Or: The Problem with Penny-Arcade) (Paging Dr. Nerdlove)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- Gabe: We Made a Mistake Removing Dickwolves Merch (makemeasammich.org)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
“Don’t get offended.”
“People are so easily offended.”
“It’s the ‘in thing’ to be offended by something.”
It isn’t about offense. It’s about acknowledgement, disappointment, and standing up for change. Every time you say some version of “don’t get offended,” what you’re really doing is trying to control the conversation. By painting my words with the “offended” brush, you strip them of their worth and value, and often create a straw effigy that looks and speaks like me, but sounds like a whiny child.
I’m onto your game. You cannot control this conversation anymore.
What you so abrasively call offense is often first the acknowledgement of a social issue that needs change. Let’s take a recent example I posted to Twitter.
Posted to forum: “Do you plan to add any non-white characters?” Answer: “No need for it.” Hilarious.
— Sid (@SeeSidWrite) April 22, 2013
This was for a game that I enjoy quite a bit. You have a handful of playable characters, and you can switch them up pretty often, because you usually die a lot. It’s part of the charm of the game. All the playable characters are white. I posted on the forum, not because I hoped to get an insightful answer from the playerbase, but because I like to go on the assumption that things like that aren’t intentional—that they’re oversights.
Now, once I saw a couple of replies to that forum post, I didn’t go back to it, because I know what will be there—scathing remarks about offense, political correctness, and so on. But all I did was acknowledge that the game world does not reflect the real world.
I acknowledged it, I was disappointed, and I stood up for change.
Now, one forum post isn’t a movement, but standing up for change doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. In fact, most of the time, it can’t be. Big gestures (marches, protests, and the like) get a lot of attention and can definitely raise awareness, but without the small gestures—the day-to-day standing up that we can each individually do—the larger ones are meaningless. Change can be inspired on a large scale, but must be implemented piecemeal, bit by bit, as we slowly seed it into the culture around us.
You keep telling me not to get offended, but I’m not. We hear or say “offense” and we think of pearl-clutching and people who say, “Oh, my stars!” and people who can’t hear the word “fuck” without casting a disapproving look. None of those are me. I’m not “taking things too seriously” when I politely wonder why a movie fails the Bechdel test. Rather, I’m acknowledging that a film could not have two named female characters talk to each other about something other than a man, I am disappointed in that, and I am standing up for change.
You can’t strip my words of value just because you would rather I stay quiet. I know how to counter you now. You can keep telling me I’m offended, but you’ll keep being wrong. And if your goal is to make me stop talking, you will fail.
I’m not “one of those people who has to bring race and gender into everything.” I’m one of those people who acknowledges there is a problem, and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m one of those people who is disappointed there still is problem, and I’m not ashamed of that.
I’m one of those people who stands up for change in the small ways that I know how. I will never be ashamed of that.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article contains spoilers.
Dishonored is a game about choices and the effects of those choices. It’s also a game that had a lot of really visceral horror, which I noticed within the first several minutes as I watched rats murder and completely devour two guards. Holy shit. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it for that (on a personal level, not a larger level), but I came to really enjoy what it brings to the table on the whole. There were two things about the game that really stood out about my playthrough, though—the castration torture we never actually mention and the rape boat.
The former is something that’s super easy to miss. You find someone on your side, Overseer Martin, chained up in the middle of a courtyard. He has clearly been imprisoned for a while, and is guarded by a single smack-talking dude when you find him (why every single guard is male is a discussion for another day). Once you dispense of the watchdog (I believe I set him on fire in one of my playthroughs), you let your target out. As soon as he stands up, you can see that his crotch is bloody. He babbles some quasi-cheerful (for a guy in his position) lines to you, then heads off to your base to meet up with the people who sent you while you go on ahead to incapacitate the high overseer. You can talk to Overseer Martin later, you can talk to other people who know him, you can even aim your creepy magic “I’ll-tell-you-everyone’s-secrets” heart at him, but no one ever talks about it. He just walks around with this bloody crotch, almost casually unaware of it himself. I’ve tried to see it as a trick of the light, as maybe something else—as anything, really—but every time I look at it, I see the same thing. Blood. It’s blood. Whoever imprisoned him castrated him as a form of torture, and the only way to even pull that out of the story is to look. I think that’s great storytelling, but overall, that’s some terrifying visceral shit.
Which leads me to the rape boat.
Or, hey, maybe it’s not really a rape boat. Maybe I just handed an unconscious woman over to a man who tells me that she’ll learn to love him—“after all, she’ll have her whole life”—because he really wants to have totally consensual sex with her. Or maybe he really just wants to get her out of harm’s way and then set her free into the wild. Like a mongoose. As one does. And hey—as my roommate pointed out—maybe she’ll escape!
Let’s set this up. For this mission, you’re to go to a party and dispose of the hostess. (There are three, actually, and you have to figure out which is your target. Also, cool fact: your target changes on multiple playthroughs.) Your assignment here is just to incapacitate her. Nothing fancy. Same with every other target, really. Each target also has two methods of disposal—outright homicide or various no-kill options. The game also has a no-kill achievement, so if you’re after that, you need to figure out how to get her out of this crowded house with no one seeing you.
Luckily, as you talk to party guests, you find a man who would like to help. He knows you’ve been sent to kill her, you see, and he explains his undying love for her. It’s important to him that she live. If you could just bring her unconscious body down to the cellar, he promises that “you will never hear of her again.”
“I won’t harm her, I swear. I’m a man of means. Just bring her to the cellar and I will keep her safe with me. Forever.”
“WHOA”,” was my initial reaction. “That sounds…but you can’t really be asking me to…no way, obviously I misunderstood. This is her boyfriend. He just plans to take her somewhere safe, and is going about it in a fucked-up way.”
Hanging on to this thought is the only thing that makes me feel like I can actually complete this mission. So I do. I deliver her to the basement where he places her in his boat and delivers the line that I’d been dreading. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to love me. After all, she’ll have her whole life.”
WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. So I have not only just assisted in a kidnapping, I have sent a woman off to…what? He’s obviously planning to keep her full-on against her will. He doesn’t see her as a person so much as a trophy, because you want consent from fully autonomous people. Will she be tied up? Chained up? Merely locked in? Or maybe—and possibly even worse?—he really does want sex to be consensual, so he plans to mentally and emotionally abuse her until she begs for his comfort. I don’t know, but to me, every option sounds like hell.
Now, let’s be clear: torture is featured heavily in the game. I have zero issues with that because it highlights how terrible the world is, and you don’t actually see most of it. You see the effects, and come to realize that this is a horrible, horrible place.
There were so many angles Dishonored could have gone with their (only) female target that include torture, and I wouldn’t be annoyed because torture in general fits the world. But instead, we went with sexual torture—the clichéd and “acceptable” punishment for women who step out of line.
On top of all that? It is just damn lazy writing.
“Wait, Sid, so you’re saying castration is totally cool? Why do you hate men?”
Nooooo…I brought it up because it was one of the two truly horrifying things that really stood out for me. Also, it’s super interesting to me that no one in game ever talks about it. But I didn’t expound on it in this particular article because, while unquestionably horrible, it isn’t a cliché. It isn’t an “accepted” way to handle an out-of-line man in our society. It doesn’t exacerbate an existing viewpoint.
The thing that gets me is this: I’ll bet if you asked the designers why they didn’t subject Lady Boyle to any other kind of torture, they would tell you that made them uncomfortable. The idea of allowing someone to hit or torture a woman in a video game would be in bad taste, but allowing her stalker to rape her (“No, just force her into an unwanted intimate situation!” To-may-to, to-mah-to.) for the rest of her life is totally fine.
Something is deeply wrong with that line of logic.
As soon as the two of them floated away, I reloaded the game and immediately played through this mission again specifically to avoid sending her off in the rape boat.
“Trust me,” I said, killing her in front of hundreds of partygoers. “You’re better off.”
I work for a game company. Of late, I’ve taken issue with some of the content we’re receiving, and I’ve been everything but quiet about it. I’ve written letters to management and blatantly refused to work on it. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talk about it.
I was actually the second person on our team of three to get up in arms about it. The first was my boss (we’ll call him Joe for ease of storytelling)—the only male on our team. Joe was far and away the angriest person in the building about it—up until the day he quit over it. Before he quit, though, Joe made plenty of noise about it himself. We were deep into this discussion before we realized the higher-ups thought he’d been raising such a fuss on behalf of his team, comprising two females.
I spoke to HR about the content a few days later, and many aspects of my most recent letter came up. As we spoke, however, I discovered that everyone assumed my female coworker and I were the truly upset folks—despite the fact that Joe never implied a single thing to that end. When I corrected HR, she was shocked. “Joe??”
She said he needed to tell the company how he felt about this content. As a man.
Yes, he was my boss, and had she said “as a manager,” that’d be a whole different story. But those weren’t the words, and that wasn’t the intent. He had written numerous emails, attended a number of meetings, and made his feelings very plainly known, but the whole time, management assumed he was batting for us—myself and my female coworker. His words would have inherently carried more weight if he had made it clear that he had been speaking for himself as a man rather than speaking for two women.
So here’s what I can discern from this:
- The automatic assumption is that a man simply wouldn’t disagree with this content; therefore, he must be speaking for a woman.
- When the assumption was that he spoke on behalf on two women, his words carried almost no weight.
- Were he to speak explicitly for himself as a man, the words would carry significantly more weight than when he was thought to be speaking for two women.
At the end of the day, when his resignation letter made it clear exactly who he was speaking for, the content still went through. Even so, that doesn’t negate everything that came before it. It doesn’t take this bad taste out of my mouth.
How many women equal one man? Obviously more than two, but how many? Three? Five? How many female voices carry the same weight as one male voice?
How many of me do I need to be taken seriously?