Dickwolves and False Equivalency

So… Been a tough week for women in gaming .

The most recent controversy to hit gaming concerns Penny Arcade, and a comic concerning the Dickwolf.  Check out this link for a very detailed timeline, including links, of this debacle.

I think by the tone of this blog, you may get where I stand on this issue. However, I have been trying to figure out the other side’s argument. I gotta practise what I preach.

Let’s see: A piece of art is accused of promoting rape culture. Accusations of censorship arise.

Wait. I think I have heard this one before.

A piece of art is accused of promoting violence. Accusations of censorship arise.

Is this JT (Jack Thompson, noted anti-gaming activist)all over again? Is this why members of the gaming community have circled the wagons on this one? If this is the reason why some gamers are supporting PennyArcade, here is why the dickwolves-promote-rape-culture controversy is a false equivalent to violence-in-games-make-people murderers controversy.

1. Bringing down the dickwolves t-shirts or even calling for a retraction of rape jokes is not censorship. Calling upon the judicial system to make it harder to purchase games is censorship.

Remember, you or I can’t censor anything. We can make our displeasure known. We can implore others to boycott. But we can’t censor anything: only the government and the lawmakers can censor. The dickwolves controversy is some gamers stating (loudly) that certain actions aren’t okay, in their eyes. There was a business decision in response to stop selling the offending merchandise.

JT bringing an argument before the Florida judicial system is trying to censor games. Not the same thing.

2. One argument stated that the art would cause an individual to act in a reprehensible manner. The other argument stated that the art in question adds to a culture in which reprehensible acts are minimized, such that victims no longer come forward to report crimes, and thus further victimized. The minimization of the act makes it easier for reprehensible people to justify their reprehensible acts.

No one said that the dickwolves joke, or the t-shirt would make a person rape someone. Rape culture is a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women is common, where sexual violence is excused and encouraged. A quote from shakesville on a description of rape culture:

… Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what they wear and how they wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you are in a group, if you are in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you carry something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you are wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what kind of jewellery you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door for the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sounding-machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert, to always pay attention, always watch your back, always be aware of your surroundings, and never let your guard down lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and you didn’t follow these rules it’s your fault.

The argument in a nutshell is that the dickwolves controversy is one of a multitude of things that promote this rape culture, a culture that we all live in, and why promote it if we don’t have to? Art A (plus C, plus D, plus E, etc) leads to a place in which act B is minimized to the point where B is normalized and then brushed aside.

The violence in games argument was such that playing a violent game would make individuals who played that game more predisposed to violent acts. Art A leads to individual performing act B.

Again: these two arguments are not the same.

3. The arguments against the controversy in one case held up the theory as true and on one case did not.

The arguments that were made, that the PA guys were in the right and that there is no such thing as rape culture contributed to rape culture. What did we hear? That rape victims should get over it, thus minimizing the effects of rape. That rape victims weren’t really raped and should provide evidence supporting the fact that they were raped. Strawman arguments from PennyArcade saying that rape culture means that guys will go out and rape a woman if he reads a comic. See- rape culture is idiotic! There were people who sent disgusting emails to rape victims saying that they wished that they would be raped to death. Victimize the victim for speaking out. That feminists should get a sense of humour – deflecting the actual argument by attacking the person making the argument.

On the other hand, when JT was making his arguments, no gamer went out and assaulted him and thus confirmed his theory.

All this to say, sometimes gamers, we are just too sensitive to anyone telling us that our passion is somehow wrong. I get it. We have a supreme court date to decide the fate of mature gaming and all that. However, the way in which we can respond to criticism is telling. Why can we not sit back and think for a minute? Why are we incapable of saying that the criticism is correct and maybe yes- we need to clean up our act. When it comes to sexism and gaming, why do gamers deny that it exists?

There is nobility in self-reflection, contemplation and change, it’s not a weakness.

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  • Welp  On February 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I’d like to point out that the shakesville definiton of rape culture seems to morph on a daily basis, as as of today according to Melissa McEwan it means anyone trying to “silence” her with a contrary opinion, who seem to be the “jack-booted enforcers of this fucked-up culture”. This borders on the same logic as conspiracy theorists who refuse any scientific bases that disproves that planes aren’t actually dumping mind control “chemtrail” chemicals into the air.

    I don’t think anyone should take shakesville as a legitimate reference.

    • yellingatpixels  On February 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm

      True, which is why I also included the wiki definition. The quote that I used resonated with me. Thanks for this comment.

    • gordeaux  On February 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      Yikes, couldn’t agree more.

    • Donna  On February 9, 2011 at 12:53 am

      You’re twisting Liss’s words. To put those words in context, she said: “This, then, is the rape culture at work: Men who want to harass me by violating my boundaries, and men who see that retribution taken on me and don’t want to experience the same, intimidated into public silence by the jack-booted enforcers of this fucked-up culture.”

      She was referring to the violent, misogynistic, hateful comments she receives on a daily basis, as well as the men who thank her for doing the good work she does. You can read the entire post at my “website” link.

      Let’s just be honest here, okay?

      • CK  On February 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

        That is all well and good, Im not sure i would go so far as to say Shakesville is not a legitimate reference, but certainly I would support the statement that they have bias on the subject. (Welp feel free to correct me here)

        For better or worse the content at Shakesvilles is heavily moderated and censored (it has to be in order to provide the safety that is its mandate). Its not a bastion of free speech, nor should it be. I think we have to consider here that the content may have a certain bias, as much as any blog/viewpoint does.

        As far as Welp might be saying to take things from Shakesville with a grain of salt… I have to agree with him. (i can cite some examples of why I believe this to be the case if anyone wants clarification of my viewpoint, but I’d rather leave them out of this conversation to keep things civil.)

  • Karl  On February 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    “There is nobility in self-reflection, contemplation and change, it’s not a weakness.”

    Very well said.

    I think it takes a great deal of bravery to look at oneself, take stock of your decisions and beliefs, and if necessary admit where you have been in error, and change those very decisions and beliefs. If your beliefs cannot survive criticism and introspection, then they were not worth having in the first place.

    Unfortunately, I think that we exist not only in a culture that depreciates the impact of violence against each other, but one that equates self-reflection and change to indecision and, as you say, weakness.

    I cannot help but think that both sides have backed each other into positions that neither is comfortable championing, all the while asking themselves how they got to this point.

    If the original intent was to bring awareness to the situation and affect a positive change in peoples treatment of each other, Look how far from that goal we are with this exchange as an example.


  • rew  On February 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I like reading the opinion of smaller blogs like this, because frankly they’re the only ones with reasonable comments and conclusions.

    The issue of concessions somehow being horrible – and that a change in position is somehow a sign of weakness – is indeed the worst part about debates like this one.

  • Elucidate  On February 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I disagree 100% with point #2.

    “No one said that the dickwolves joke, or the t-shirt would make a person rape someone.”

    This argument has been made by those defending shakesville, shakesville themselves and even some defendants of Penny Arcade.

    But if we look at the definition you yourself provided by Wikipedia: “Rape culture is a term used within women’s studies and feminism, describing a culture in which rape and other sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence.”

    AND IN WHICH prevalent attitudes, norms, practices and media CONDONE, NORMALIZE, EXCUSE OR ENCOURAGE SEXUALIZED VIOLENCE.

    See, it’s important than when people use words or link to definitions, they read those definitions themselves and understand the words.

    The big deal about blaming PA – or anyone – for contributing to rape culture, by the very definition listed, is that you are AUTOMATICALLY saying that they are condoning, normalizing, excusing or encouraging sexual violence.

    “The violence in games argument was such that playing a violent game would make individuals who played that game more predisposed to violent acts. Art A leads to individual performing act B.”

    Saying Art A (“The Sixth Slave”) leads people to condone, normalize, excuse or encourage (I guess one could say “more predisposed” to sexual violence thereby increasing likelihood of performing) Act B (rape) is precisely what the definition is saying.

    You erroneously indicated that the worse that can happen when promoting rape culture is that it is “minimized to the point where B is normalized and then brushed aside,” which is a fallacious regarding what really happens. The reason feminists – or anyone supportive of women’s rights – care so much about this is not that things get “normalized” and “brushed aside,” it’s that rape culture directly leads to misogyny at “best” (for lack of a better term) and toward violence against women (up to and including rape) at worst.

  • Andy  On February 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    First off, thank you SO much for writing a post that rationally deconstructs the arguments being slung around. I have a few points to make, but it’s most important to me to support what Welp said: Shakesville’s definition of rape culture is wildly inconsistent, both with the definitions on wikipedia and marshall.edu, and with their own previous definitions.

    The false equivalency didn’t originate with PA, or with PA supporters. It originated at shakesville, and at a dozen other blogs across the internet. Contributors to shakesville are the ones who alleged that:

    1) All things that support rape culture, by virtue of being part of the rape culture as a whole, increase the incidence of rape.

    BECAUSE they trace a logical line from promoting rape culture to higher incidence of rape, RC => IR, I think it’s also valid for respondents to such criticism to re-frame the argument in terms of that conclusion. I’m not an expert in propositional logic, but I believe I understand enough to make this point: (if not I welcome further education)Shakesville makes the allegation:

    Comic => ++ Rape Culture

    PA takes this given:

    ++ Rape Culter => Incidence of Rape

    and re-frames the argument as

    Comic => ++ Incidence of Rape

    Perhaps I should just rephrase the question:

    What thing that supports the rape culture does not also (eventually) lead to higher incidence of rape?

    • yellingatpixels  On February 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks for the comment. This is the kind of rational back and forth we needed. First bear with me, I am chronically overtired these days and may not make the point properly.

      The way I can explain it is that it’s a many to one ratio. Many many things support rape culture, but any one of these things will not lead a person to rape (unless you know, they are rapists). The comic is not going to make anyone say hey! I’m going to commit a felony tonight, but by flippantly stating that this was the intent of the (strawman) argument l, all they did was further isolate and infuriate feminist gamers. And insult them. And part of rape culture is making light of people who take this stuff seriously.

      Am I making my point? Do you see what I am trying to say, whether or not you agree?

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 12:29 am

        … no, but possibly that is because I am also running on not enough sleep. I’ll think it over for a while.

      • noelz  On February 8, 2011 at 6:58 am

        “And part of rape culture is making light of people who take this stuff seriously.”

        But humor generally has as one of its traditions the function of making fun of people who take anything seriously, whether they be right or wrong, in power or marginalized. See for example King Lear or The Name of the Rose or Kundera’s The Joke. The morality in humor comes in poking fun at all subjects each-in-turn.

        I don’t know, it seems that there are a lot of different sides to this matter, and these sides (feminism, humor, the idea of railing against any form of real or perceived censorship) might be inherently at odds with each other. This seems to be what Jerry was saying in his Feb 3, 2011 ‘on the matter of dickwolves’ post.

      • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

        For me, it wasn’t the joke. We are a comedy household and my husband (a humorist and writer) and I debated this one for a while. No joke should be off the table. I may write about that but not for a long, long time.

        It was everything after. The nasty strawman non apology. The dickwolves shirts. mike saying that he was going to wear his dickwolves shirt. All of that. Not the comic.

        I think they should have said “we stand by our joke. Here is why comedy, even the offensive comedy is culturally important. Some people say that this contributes to something called rape culture. We don’t think so, but here are some links. Go make up your own mind. We thank kirby bits for the debate And if you are trolling those sites stop it now. You do not represent us or what PA is about. Thank you”

        If it was me I would also have off line chats with Kirby bits or other leaders because this seems like a big deal and I would really really try to understand the other side.

        I *think* I understand the other side in this debate but I think we are debating two different things. One is the joke which I think should stand. The other is all the crap that came after.

        Does this compute with you?

      • Ratty  On February 8, 2011 at 7:03 am

        I don’t think the comic trivializes or normalizes rape so the idea that it contributes to “rape culture” to me seems ludicrous (I’m not sure there is a rape culture but that’s another debate). Rape was presented as something terrible in the comic.

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 7:41 am

        On further reflection, it seems to me that the distinction is less about many-to-one, and more an issue of degree.

        Many people can rob a bank, they would all be charged with ‘grand theft’, or what have you.

        It seems that the charge leveled at PA is that of ‘aiding and abetting’. The allegation is not that they contributed to a given act, but that they ‘made life easier’ for rapists, and ‘made life harder’ for rape victims.

        Is that what you’re trying to say?

      • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 9:28 am

        Yep. Aiding and abetting. Great analogy. They didn’t do the crime, but they (and lots of others, I’m sure myself incl) make the crime easier and the criminals get help justifying crimes.

      • Azuravian  On February 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

        This is very clear and concise and is exactly what I think most people on the rape culture side of the debate are claiming (they just may not make it as clear). The problem, as I see it, is that is almost exactly the violence argument. Very few people, JT excluded, actually believe that a single violent game would cause someone to assault or kill someone (unless they were going to do it anyway). However, a lot of people believe that it may desensitize someone to violence and a lifetime of that may make them more likely to become a violent person. I think the problem stems from going from that argument to therefore we should remove these things from society.

        The other problem I do have with your post is in your definition of censorship. If someone attempts to use their standing, authority, or anything else they may wield in order to remove something that they find offensive, that person is engaging in the act of censorship (or at least attempted censorship). Government censorship is the kind that may be illegal, but I believe any form of censorship is a bad move. I think the PA guys do as well, which is why their argument has always been: If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

        OK, so PA was accused of ‘aiding and abetting’, but they responded to ‘encouraging a specific act’.

        Somehow that makes a huge difference, even if ‘aiding and abetting’ still leads to higher incidence of, well, whatever it is that the person being ‘aided and abetted’ does.

        Initially, I thought of this as more a straw-figure fallacy, but it may indeed make more sense as a ‘false equivalency’ issue. Either way, the response comic is committing _some_ fallacy.

        Haha, this is what I love about this issue, in fact, the second comic now becomes a microcosm of the whole debacle:

        1) PA do something that is OK, they get accused of doing something that is NOT OK (thing A)
        2) They respond as if accused with something else that is NOT OK (thing B)
        3) Despite the fact that they have done neither thing A nor thing B, they have now done thing C, which is to commit the fallacy of false equivalency, perpetuating said false equivalency, to the great frustration of the larger community.

  • Rochelle  On February 8, 2011 at 9:53 am

    IMO, this whole mess could’ve been avoided if both sides had handled things more civilly from the start. I’m guessing the Penny Arcade guys had no clue what “Rape Culture” was until they were accused of supporting it, and, like most people would, they thought it meant what it sounded like: actively endorsing rape. Since they’re basically not horrible people, this accusation probably made them feel angry and defensive, not to mention thinking that their accusers sounded nuts. So, of course, they did what they do: they held up what looked like the weirdo fringe for mockery. And it all went downhill from there.

    Not saying Penny Arcade was *right* (though I’d call them more immature and thoughtless than outright misogynistic), but I do see where it came from. If the original chastisement had been more along the lines of, “Guys, I went through X, and this comic really hurt me,” well…. Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t see PA’s reaction to that being nearly as dismissive.

    • Attempt to Understand  On February 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      You would understand PA’s actions better if you understood that they merely gave feminists the same treatment as they did when Furries has a similar reaction over a comic, or when Jack Thompson tried to intimidate them.

      If someone or a group is going to throw a fit over something so petty (male slave mentioning beatings and eventual death is ok, rape is an outrage) it alienates the rest of the world, they should be ready for criticism or outright mocking, and handle it. Feminists should be been able to handle it with dignity or at least explain their relatively (compared to your typical “gamer”) extreme views rather than throwing a fit and burning bridges, which is counterproductive.

      All the rape jokes and tshirts that will show up at PAX this year won’t be caused by PA, who will likely condemn them, but by “gamer’s” reactions to what they feel are unreasonable and hateful people (“feminazi’s”).

      • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

        Can you please define Feminazi? I’m confused, that’s all. I mean it sounds like you don’t want any feminist issues being raised and once again claim equivalency when there is none.

        The chance of any of us being enslaved in north America is slim to none. Chance of sexual assault is reported as being as high as one in six. Even if it isn’t that high, rape is a problem that we must face, here and now.

      • Attempt to Understand  On February 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

        I clicked the wrong link, it wasn’t meant as a reply to Rochelle, sorry for the confusion.

  • Attempt to Understand  On February 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    You’ve failed to understand my point, which is understanding the views of others in order to explain your point without alienating everyone.

    When I quoted “feminazis”, often used to describe extremist feminists who have absolutely no respect for the rights of others, I was summarizing how feminists seem to be portraying themselves to the gamer community.

    The idea of slavery being ok simply because its far away from you, and rape being more important than death, and the solution to the rape problem being a 6 month conflict over a word in a comic can be easily be seen as narrow minded.

    For example, informing them that it was an offensive word and perhaps encourages rape culture (and therefore indirectly causing rapes) would have been a more reasonable response than simply labeling them rape apologists or part of what sounds like a rape conspiracy.

  • Kai Samuelsen  On February 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    From what I’ve seen a lot of people say, it was the second comic that really helped this thing catch fire. So let me put in my two cents on my interpretation of that comic:

    Penny Arcade has a long history of responding to people arguing that videogames either a) cause violence, or b) desensitize people to violence (i.e., that they promote a culture of violence.) They reject both of these arguments, and to a lot of people, these two arguments have become conflated.

    So they make a comic, and then get accused of contributing to rape culture. They look at that, and it is as ridiculous to them as the idea that videogames promote a culture of violence. Add to this the fact that a lot of people who are offended are emailing them saying “this really came out of left field for me” and you can see them being confused as to what comic, exactly, people have been reading for the last decade. So they did what they do: they made fun of people who they saw making sensationalist claims about the effects art has on culture.

    A lot of people say the non-apology comic was tone-deaf, or that they are ignorant of the difference between rape culture, and rape apologia (though at least a couple of blogs (fucknopennyarcade.com?) are apparently equally unable to distinguish the two) and that may be true. But I want to submit that it is just as possible that they read the criticism, and not only disagreed with it, but rejected the entire rape culture paradigm. This also, does not make them rape apologists. There are feminists who disagree with the idea of a rape culture – who see it as a subset of a larger culture of violence. (Rape, interestingly, is not correlated terribly well with misogyny, but very well with violence – there are fewer rapes in highly female-oppressive societies with low violence like Japan, than there are in highly violent societies like the US. Also US men’s prisons.)

    So, while it’s possible Gabe and Tycho just didn’t care about the rape survivor’s who were offended by the first comic, it’s also possible to see this as a situation in which they didn’t feel they had anything to apologize for, and were rejecting the hyperbolic claims being made of them.

    And this approach works down the line. The T-shirts? Made because the penis-joke aspect of the dickwolf appealed to fans. Gabe being flippant on Twitter? He didn’t take seriously people who thought he was indifferent to rape. It’s possible to see this situation through different lenses, and if you try and see it in the best light possible in every scenario, you start to wonder why it got so big.

    (Sorry to go on so long – this thing has taken over my life. I’ve been googling third-wave feminist critical theory without having a paper to write on it for the first time ever.)

    • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      I like your take on this.

      Any way we can see your paper once your done? Would love to read it.

      Maybe this also exploded because women are just tired (fed up with?) the overall sexism in gaming. My husband (a non gamer) said that it seems as though in every other medium people acknowledge the sexism. They may not do anything about it, but they recognize it exists. Gaming SEEMS to deny that it is sexist.

      Thoughts from commentors? Is he off base?

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm

        I think that you’re both spot on. It’s what Jerry said. Shakesville contributors and others can’t see where PA is coming from, in exactly the same way that they claim that PA is ignorant. They’re not just speaking different languages, they’re thinking and feeling different languages, all superimposed on the same words.

        Jerry saw that and said “There’s nothing to be gained by going there.”

        Mike either didn’t see it, or chose to engage anyway.

        I can also see where, as a feminist in a very feminist-unfriendly/blind environment, your patience can be worn permanently thin.

        Shakesville wrote a post about the inevitability of the outcome. I don’t think they can see, from their vantage point, that the inevitability isn’t just that M & J would respond the way they did, but that M & J would respond to _Shakesville_ the way they did, and back and forth and so on.

        If M & J had been called out by yellingatpixels, for example, and this kind of respectful back and forth had happened, it would have played out completely differently.

        Of course, yellingatpixels wouldn’t have called them out in the first place. It’s hard to forgive Shakesville for that. Though, they’ll never apologize for it.

      • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

        Question: you are at PAX. Do you wear a dickwolf shirt? What do you think of a guy wearing a dickwolf shirt? A woman wearing a dickwolf shirt? A guy and a girl wearing dickwolf survivors guild shirts?

  • Attempt to Understand  On February 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I should also add that even if feminists claim to be only reacting to PA’s reaction to their reaction, it will still be seen as a 6 month fuss over a single word which was used as a stock “bad thing” to happen to a character, and feminists will be judged by the “gamer” community based on that.

    • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      That’s true, and sadly, I think you are correct: the initial fallout is very anti-PA, but there will definitely be a silent, long-term fallout that is very anti-‘feminist’.

      Rather, the sentiment is anti-the kind-of-feminist-that-made-false-accusations-and-then-added-gas-to-the-fire, but I doubt that many will make that distinction when encountering feminists in the future. Everybody loses :(.

    • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      Note: sometimes “gamer” and “feminist” overlap.

      But do you think that this PA debacle was/is the straw that broke the camels back? I mean just this week we had Jim sterling call a woman a Feminazi slut and a cunt, we have fatuglyorslutty and we also have a demo of duke nukem at a strip club

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm

        Oh, not at all. First of all, there are going to be misogynists forever, so if the camel’s back is broken, then we’re doomed.

        More to the point, I think that, despite the many rage-filled blog posts, there are pockets of rationality where people such as myself are learning new things. A week ago I had no concept of rape culture or triggers.

        I also think that what makes this particular debacle more painful than Duke Nukem, or fatuglyorslutty, or Jim Sterling messing up*, is that we LIKE Mike and Jerry. They’re our heroes, and not in a childish way, in a lot of “I wish I had a job playing video games.” or “They host my favorite convention.” or “They taught me that it was OK to get treatment for depression and anxiety.” kind of way.

        When our heroes fuck up, it’s hard. I think that’s part of the reason that Shakesville isn’t getting as much heat. Nobody expects better from them. Maybe that’s not fair, but then again, they don’t enjoy the kind of reputation and fan base that PA had up until recently.

        I also think that this too shall pass. I keep hoping for the one open letter, the one blog post, the one timeline that will lead everyone out of this mess and back into the light. This blog is the best I’ve found so far. How do we get you more readers? 🙂

      • CK  On February 8, 2011 at 11:57 pm

        “When our heroes fuck up, it’s hard. I think that’s part of the reason that Shakesville isn’t getting as much heat. Nobody expects better from them. Maybe that’s not fair, but then again, they don’t enjoy the kind of reputation and fan base that PA had up until recently.”

        Agreed, I know i had a huge deal of respect for two guys who have stated multiple times how uncomfortable they are with publicity coming forward to describe their own experiences with mental illness and medication in the hopes that any other ppl they could reach might be helped in the same way.

        Having fought my own personal battles with depression and violence this really hit home for me.

        With regards to Shakesville, I fight hard to keep their purpose in mind when I read there (sometimes infuriating) posts. Im not so sure its that no one expects better of them, but perhaps that no one outside their community understands them or their motivations very well.

        As I see it

        Shakesville is a blog for survivors of rape, a place where they can safely speak without fear about their experiences/feelings/thoughts

        The admins there take their job to be not only keeping that space safe for their readers, but also to “take up the sword for them” when they may not be able to do so for themselves.

        If I look at it from this perspective I can start to understand some of the sentiment and anger coming from Shakesville’s admins

        I don’t condone it, and I don’t think it helps their cause, but I think i better understand it.

      • yellingatpixels  On February 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

        Re: shakesville. Yeah that is her “mandate” to create a safe place on the web. I say go for it. I respect her- it can’t be easy, it’s something she believes in strongly and she ain’t backing down. Kudos. It’s her blog, her rules.

  • yellingatpixels  On February 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    As an aside: everyone commenting has been awesome, even when we don’t agree. When I created this blog, this type of rational discussion was what I wanted to see.

    Thank you.

  • CK  On February 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    “Question: you are at PAX. Do you wear a dickwolf shirt? What do you think of a guy wearing a dickwolf shirt? A woman wearing a dickwolf shirt? A guy and a girl wearing dickwolf survivors guild shirts?”

    Personally, I dont wear the shirt, although I might very likely wear a shirt that advocated free speech, or perhaps a “dont be a dick” shirt.

    I am fairly certain we will see both shirts at PAX if only as an expression of support for their relative causes, just as we will likely have many ppl who might have otherwise worn them choosing something else to lower the level of rhetoric.

    My concern is that the whole thing is so polarized now that just wearing either shirt will paint you as a “Misogynistic Rape Apologist” or a “Radical Feminazi”.

    • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm

      “My concern is that the whole thing is so polarized now that just wearing either shirt will paint you as a “Misogynistic Rape Apologist” or a “Radical Feminazi”.”

      For some people, that is exactly what wearing the shirts will mean.

      I think that there are actually several other reasons people might wear both shirts. You could wear either ironically, you could wear either because they are now a limited edition shirt (Dickwolf Survivor’s Guild Shirts are obviously more valuable). I’d like to see someone wearing both shirts, maybe sew the front half of one onto the front half of the other.

      Actually, I bet at least one person will walk around with a vaginasheep shirt. If I saw that shirt, I would laugh.

      • CK  On February 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm

        Thats Hilarious, where did you read that or is that your own take on the shirt controversy?

        Yes exactly my point, We are going to see the examples of good and bad ppl wearing these shirts for different reasons (including no doubt the “dont be a dickwolf” ones generated in community.)

        By that same token we are going to see people with good intentions mistakenly taken for people whose sole purpose it is to cause pain or incite conflict, as well as ppl wearing their respective shirts specifically to incite and inflame the situation, and every possible variation in the spectrum between.

        Im sure though that someone is going to take offense no matter what happens at this point, even to shirts like the ones you mention. I hope that they take every possible precaution to diffuse the situation at PAX, pride be damned at this point.

        I see it this way, you have two sympathetic causes represented for the most part by people passionate about what they believe in. Then you have the worst elements of both viewpoints taking the opportunity to cheer on behavior that I don’t think any of the original parties would even dream of condoning.

        Makes me feel horrible to think these groups who have demonstrated a desire to make the world a better place through the actions they take and the things they say have allowed it to escalate to this point. Thats likely too strong, perhaps more accurately they have not actively taken it upon themselves to diffuse the arguments and rhetoric from each side.

      • Andy  On February 8, 2011 at 10:49 pm

        Haha, no, that’s all my own twisted thinking :).

        People have also made allegations that external groups, such as 4chan, have engaged in some of the more extreme rhetoric and attacks on either side. Does anyone have a sense of the degree to which this may be true?

      • E. James  On February 10, 2011 at 7:38 pm

        Regarding the shirts at PAX:

        It wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one couple with her wearing a dickwolf shirt and him in a survivors guild shirt.

        Some tongue in cheek acknowledgments of the situation, but a reminder that the PAX community is still a community.

  • CK  On February 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    I just read that from the alternate timeline that was put up. Hard to find much information on 4chan ill have to do more digging. Seems like the internet version of a mob, in both the best and worst sense. (It could be the mob that liberates a nation, it could also be the mob that lynches an innocent)

    If i understand correctly they are famous for this sort of anonymous mobilization and for using hyperbolic/inflamatory language (with the expectation that they will be banned, but the massive flood of comments will keep coming)

    That article cites the difficulty in documenting these sort of organized attacks due to the temporary nature of the posts on that site. If there is anyone that has credible evididence of that activity one way or another I would love to take a look at it.

  • wat  On February 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    A post that wouldn’t be approved on shakesville, apparently I’m a rape apologist, though I don’t remember doing it.

    Reading the first shakesville post that started everything I have to say I’m disgusted with the way “Shaker Milli A” trivializes death and murder, going on to brag about her apparently dark sense of humor and how she finds it funny, then to go on a rant about the word rape and start all of this.

    It’s selfish to demand that society and the internet be policed and reshaped to cater to the sensitivities of rape victims yet have no sympathy for those facing other forms of suffering or strife in the world or even next door.

    Knowing that I can’t see how feminism and gaming, let alone any form of artistic expression, could really intersect.

    • Andy  On February 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      Well, to be fair, just because someone has no sympathy for others, doesn’t mean that they can’t demand change for their own plight.

      It’s just selfish. 🙂

  • Kai Samuelsen  On February 9, 2011 at 2:42 am

    “Question: you are at PAX. Do you wear a dickwolf shirt?”

    No. There was a point where you could go to PAX with a dickwolves shirt, and make a good case that it is not a “pro-rape” t-shirt. I think Mike is still stubbornly clinging to that idea. But this is the problem with appropriation – now that a highly visible group has made a push to claim the meaning of that shirt, if you wear it you risk being identified as part of that group.

    I’m not saying a counter appropriation couldn’t happen – if I saw a large number of women wearing dickwolf shirts, I’d be inclined to think that’s what happened. And I’d love to wear a dickwolf survivor shirt (or a dickwolves against rape shirt, which Penny Arcade should commence production on) but at this point, for the near future, I can’t see a way to wear a dickwolf shirt without giving the impression of supporting @teamrape, and that kind of thing.

    Actually, it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. At first, I think, being uncomfortable at PAX because of the shirts was a somewhat extreme reaction (by which all I mean is, you’d have a low probability of identifying someone in said t-shirt as pro-rape culture.) But now, due to a series of events started by complaining about the shirts, it’s actually a very reasonable reaction.

  • Andy  On February 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    CK, I wrote up a bit on Rape Culture, and I’d really like to know what you think. I fail at the internets, as I could not find a way of directly messaging you. Mind taking a look?


  • 2Belts  On February 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    First off I must agree with a lot of the people here that you’ve done a really good job of presenting a complex and, for a lot of people, series of events. To be honest I didn’t here about the controversy until near its conclusion. As a fan of PA I read the comic question and really didn’t think about it until I saw the tail end of the controversy surrounding it and then I became quite curious about it and tried to read whatever I could about what had transpired.

    Its a real shame that neither PA or Shakesville were willing to actually talk to one another until their supporters reached the point of horrific comments to rape survivors and threatening murder over a cartoon. It really seems that this should have been settled in 2 days of e-mails rather than 6 months of escalating rhetoric and threats. Once the dust had settled and people were communicating like adults I learned quite a bit “rape culture” and “triggers” which I genuinely didn’t know anything about. Expanded horizons: always a good thing. Again you did a fantastic job of presenting a very balanced view of the feminist view point.

    Here’s were all you’re good work stopped:

    “All this to say, sometimes gamers, we are just too sensitive to anyone telling us that our passion is somehow wrong. I get it. We have a supreme court date to decide the fate of mature gaming and all that. However, the way in which we can respond to criticism is telling. Why can we not sit back and think for a minute? Why are we incapable of saying that the criticism is correct and maybe yes- we need to clean up our act. When it comes to sexism and gaming, why do gamers deny that it exists?”

    This is the single most condescending paragraph I’ve ever read about my hobby and its not even the first time you’re guilty of it YAP. It’s quite clear that you don’t “get it”. It’s not just the supreme court or Jack Thompson. It’s politicians using us to score points, disinterested parents ranting we’re corrupting kids because their son plays a warlock in World of Warcraft, know nothing religious types and youth workers condemning us because they’re too lazy to learn why Dungeons and Dragons is an escape for us (and why some of us need that escape), every psychologist ever for some reason because a few developers think gamers can handle adult relationships between characters. When we don’t “circle the wagons” or “man the ramparts” or whatever every time some one under 30 uses a firearm to solve a problem we get blamed, any suicide where D&D books are found is on us. No questions or retractions when the actually cause is determined because nobody cares. You want to see us openly discuss and acknowledge gaming’s short comings? Go to G4, Adam Sessler has a video every week about various gaming topics or the feedback podcast for something similar. 1Up and Escapist Magazine routinely write solid articles about the same thing. The Game Show has great informal conversations about gaming, same with Jessica Chobot from IGN. Hell even this blog provides ample evidence of gamers willing to discuss the shortcomings of gaming and how we can further the evolution.

    You know you had a legitimate opportunity to explain both the feminist POV to gamers which you did really well, and to explain our POV to them and foster a discussion. You chose to score points off us like everyone else. Anyways wall of text…read it or don’t.

    • yellingatpixels  On February 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm

      Yeah, maybe I was harsh but man it has been crazy for the sexism in gaming and so few people really seem to call it, k ow what I mean?

      Seriously, I love the comment. I will think on this more (jbelts and I know each other in real life and it’s great having a buddy who will call you on things rather than let it slide. Its kinda how we learn and all)

      Thanks buddy for realz

      • 2Belts  On February 15, 2011 at 7:44 am

        It was harsh but sometimes I think you’re a little quick to toss our entire community under the bus. that said there are several frustrating aspects of out community (ie. how certain groups get treated) so I can see us needing to get called out on BS. I admit that I’m willing to rally to gaming’s defense before all the facts are in.

    • Kai Samuelsen  On February 10, 2011 at 12:35 am

      “Its a real shame that neither PA or Shakesville were willing to actually talk to one another until their supporters reached the point of horrific comments to rape survivors and threatening murder over a cartoon.”

      Gabe tried to talk to them, pretty early on – Aug. 13th, the same day that “Breaking it Down” appeared. His point was that a lot of people seemed surprised by the comic, which in turn surprised him – this is exactly the same stuff they’ve been doing forever. Anyway, Gabe went to Shakesville’s forum to talk, and they couldn’t have been less interested. I think that’s where some of his hostility toward trigger warnings came from.

      Melissa McEwen: “Did you literally respond to this post by linking to a series of strips you’ve done making light of pedophilia and bestiality?

      Fucking unbelievable. You are a grade-A asshole, dude.

      ETA. And I’ve added a trigger warning to your comment, since you couldn’t be bothered.”

      And, lest anyone confuse what the Shakesville community thinks about jokes: “@CWGabriel: Just because you’ve done a joke or jokes in the past doesn’t make them OK topics, whether it’s pedophilia, bestiality, rape, murder, whatever. Some shit just isn’t funny and shouldnt’ be made light of. Way to fail.”

      So you’ve got people telling them they should never make jokes about anything violent, sexual – basically anything that could possibly be offensive – and we wonder why they dismissed it out of hand?

      Some of the other things in the comments there about rape culture seem really naive to me. “murder isn’t overwhelmingly a women’s issue. Rape is.” In fact, though due to the unreliability of all rape statistics (and the under reporting thereof) we’ll never know, there’s evidence that the number of male rapes and female rapes are pretty similar. When you look at the situation in men’s prisons in the US, where the average rape victim is victimized over and over and over again, the total number of male rapes may be higher, even if the number of victims is lower.

      Sorry for another novel.

      • CK  On February 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

        Very happy someone took the time to find the exchange between Mike and Melissa early in this confrontation.

        Thanks Kai.

        I have been thinking, a lot of this comes down to perceived intent, and how people react to that perceived intent. Let me see if I can draw a picture here.

        To use a Driving Analogy (hopefully innocuous)

        I am in my car, waiting at a stop sign, and the car behind me rear ends me. No one is seriously hurt, we both get out of our cars to investigate the damage (there is very little if any) and we approach each other.

        At this point I as the driver probably start to make some assumptions about the other drivers intent. I might chose one of the following.

        1. The driver is malicious, and deliberately rear ended
        me to provoke a confrontation/injure me.


        2. The driver is incompetent, and clearly didn’t care about my safety.


        3. The driver is negligent, but not malicious, they didn’t intentionally rear end me


        4. The driver was aware, and despite taking the appropriate cautions still ran into me. (perhaps they were also rear ended and pushed into me)

        Depending on how I decide to frame this action… my entire outlook and behavior will change.

        For the sake of argument, lets say I assume the first intent (malicious deliberate attack) when in fact the third is the case (negligent, but not malicious).

        If I aggressively approach, yell at the driver that they could have killed me, and tell them they should be ashamed for their disregard for my safety I immediately place them in a position where they are defensive, and perhaps Angry/Afraid.

        In fact I would argue that I increase the chance that they will behave exactly as I would expect someone would if they had Malicious Intent (1.) in the first place. If they do react in a way that I might expect a malicious person to, it re-enforces my original (mistaken assumption) that they had malicious intent in the first place.

        At this point you could add in bystanders yelling from the Curb etc, but I think you get the picture.

        I truly believe that this is what has happened in this case. An incomplete understanding of viewpoints, with an escalation of reactions based on misunderstood intent.

        The comic gets drawn
        It offends some ppl and they voice their offense
        The second comic gets drawn mistakenly assuming ppl are censoring or “just dont get it” and ridiculing their lack of understanding
        The ridicule is interpreted as being directed at rape victims, rather than at the lack of understanding

        From here incremental misunderstandings and input from third parties that may or may not have a complete understanding of the situation serve to further escalate the situation.

        Bringing us to now, some 8 months later with neither side backing down until threats of violence both ways finally shock the original parties to the realization as to just how far this has gotten out of hand.

  • noelz  On February 10, 2011 at 6:21 am

    One other factor to this that might not have been brought up as much involves how the PA comics, though they function as works of videogame journalism are fundamentally just comics and thus serve as works of literature. Thereby, the criticism of the comics perpetuating a rape culture by normalizing rape isn’t necessarily valid since one of literature’s usual functions is to serve as a mirror to society. Any of the criticisms thrown PA’s way (at least for the comic strips in question) with regard to the perpetuation of a rape culture can also easily be used to accuse other works in the comic medium like Watchmen or Sandman or V for Vendetta. And couldn’t the criticism of the dickwolves shirt arguably also be used against Watchmen smiley face merchandise?

    • yellingatpixels  On February 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Well, I think that’s part of the point, many things contribute to a rape culture, literature, movies other art forms. So saying “the other guys do it too. ” doesn’t help the argument much

      I really just think that PA were jerks and they could have handled it better. This point is about maybe why they were jerks ( defensive due to years of gaming causes violence “debate”) and why it’s nit the same as what is happening here.

      • CK  On February 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm

        Plenty of credit to go around for being jerks.

        I don’t think we need to fan the flames any more, we are past the point of blaming any one party for this.

        These are groups that have common shared goals IMO, it still maddens me that these two ideologies are working in opposition, where I could much more easily see them working side by side.

      • Kai Samuelsen  On February 12, 2011 at 12:09 am

        I’m curious as to why you feel this incident is different than all the other videogames-cause-violence debates. And while I agree they were jerks in this situation, I don’t think they were jerks first – i.e., they were jerks only in reaction to people who were jerks. I don’t feel that they ever responded as jerks to someone who didn’t deserve it. (But of course, many people disagree with me, which is what I’m curious about.)

      • yellingatpixels  On February 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm

        Hmm… I will have to think of a decent reply. Tonight isn’t the night (busy) but I just wanted to let you know I saw and am thinking on this.

      • Andy  On February 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm


        I have thought about this a lot, and I there are two differences that I can see so far.

        1) Evidence – People don’t routinely shoot up buildings full of people and/or rip off their heads. People routinely blame rape victims and there have been a couple of news articles recently on rapists in various branches of the military that successfully avoided punishment

        2) Delivery – Our minds process IN PERSON things differently than things we see on TV/Film/Etc. Blowing someone up in a game is a cognitively different action than hearing someone you know, like, or trust tell the joke “9 out of 10 people love gang rape.”

  • Eric Buhr  On February 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’d like to make a point about the “aiding and abetting” analogy made above. I’d put it as a reply, but it’s been a few days and I fear it would not get noticed.

    I get the “many to one” ratio idea about rape culture and how it’s used, but to say that it qualifies as “aiding and abetting” or “accessory” is inaccurate. Those charges are always in relation to a specific act, and intent has to be proved. What I mean is, that if I give a hitchhiker a ride into town, and he then goes and robs a bank, I’m not an accessory. If I give a ride to a guy leaving town, and read in the paper the next that he had robbed a bank and I was his getaway car, I am not an accessory. (Assuming, of course, that I was unaware and couldn’t tell by his actions that he had just committed a felony.)

    Maybe I’m being pedantic and taking the analogy too far, but the analogy itself is problematic. “Aiding and abetting” or “accessory” are criminal acts, but not of the same degree of seriousness as “grand theft.” Using that analogy implies then that making a rape joke like PA did is wrong, even if it’s not wrong to the same degree as rape or sexual assault are.

    I don’t deny that a real, institutionalized rape culture exists, where victims are re-victimized and their attackers are punished lightly. I’ll admit that far too many people hold to the “Well she was dressed provocatively so she really had it coming” attitude (which is an attitude that is not only abhorrent to me, but mildly offensive, as it assumes that all us males are so consumed by our base desires that we can’t help but assault any woman who’s showing some cleavage). But to say that every instance of rape or assault in a joke or conversation (without an immediate disclaimer as to “Why I think rape is awful and should never happen”) is an addition to this overarching rape culture is disingenuous.

    “Violent video games normalize violence, leading to a greater instance of real life violence.” “Rape references normalize rape, leading to a greater instance of actual rapes.” I’ve been reading about this issue for most of the week, and I’ve yet to come across anyone who has convinced me that there is any inherent difference between those two ideas.

    • Andy  On February 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      “it’s been a few days and I fear it would not get noticed”

      You might THINK that, but the people commenting on this post are the most respectful and insightful people around. I check back here fairly regularly, even when I haven’t made a new comment myself 🙂

  • Andy  On February 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Dear yellingatpixels et al,

    I wrote up a bit on what I think we, as members of the gaming community, should do from here to start fixing what’s been broken. I’d love to know what you think, especially about the tone etc. I’m not a very practiced writer, but this is a cause that I believe in, so if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.


    • yellingatpixels  On February 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      This is good stuff. Gimmie a few days: life both baby and preschooler is a special sort of insanity

  • Kai Samuelsen  On February 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    @ Andy

    Thanks for your reply. I have a couple of responses:

    1) This is not evidence. In fact, I would suggest that we hear about rape victims being blamed in the news for exactly the same reasons we hear about buildings being shot up – both events horrify us, and don’t happen that often. When I see a news story about a judge blaming a rape victim, I am outraged – but that’s why the paper ran the story. It’s an outrageous story. In fact, if these incidents got little to no coverage, I’d be far more worried – these things let people know that society disapproves of these attitudes.

    2) There are two problems with this: one, there’s no evidence that this is true.

    Rape is a difficult crime to prosecute for a number of actions, reasonable doubt being the biggest stumbling block. Without external evidence, if the man says it was consensual and the woman says it was rape (or, you know, the other way around, or any of the myriad other options) it’s very difficult to prove that it was rape (even though you may be convinced of it.) I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but the fact of the matter is that just because rape has a low conviction rate does not necessarily mean that we as a society have a high tolerance for rape.

    Two, I’ve not seen any psychological study that shows a correlation between rape, and exposure to anything that “supports rape culture” – I’ve never seen that people who listen to jokes that really do normalize, desensitize, or minimize rape are more likely to commit rape, less likely to convict, and more likely to look down on rape victims.

    And three – even if the two above were correct, the joke in question that started all of this (the sixth slave) was not minimizing rape. To have that comic truly being supporting rape culture, you’d need to prove me wrong on every point above, and then go on to prove that any joke that involves rape, no matter the treatment, makes people more likely to commit rape, less likely to convict rapists in the face of irrefutable evidence, or more likely to treat rape victims harshly.

    This discussion, and the rape culture paradigm in general, is not about evidence.

    • Andy  On March 1, 2011 at 9:26 pm


      These are good points. I think I misrepresented my evidence.

      1) I have come to very much dislike the term ‘rape culture’ because it is inherently counterproductive to effective discussion, so I will try to use clearer, more focused terms.

      The news stories I was posting about were not about individual cases, but about _systemic_ abuse. Evidence that many people in an organization engaged in victim-blaming and coverups over a long period of time.

      I was using them as evidence that in large portions of US culture, (in this case, military culture) victim blaming is commonplace enough in general conversation that it takes the form of ‘cultural wisdom’ (see Wikipedia), such that people presented with charges of sexual assault actually engage in the act of victim blaming.

      The equivalent would be finding out in a news story that police had not taken action against a serial mugger/killer, despite being alerted several times that he had killed, because the authorities felt that ‘hey, those people were walking around downtown at night. They were asking for it.’

      The difference is that while victim blaming does exist in violent crime, it _doesn’t_ exist in violent video games or movies to any great degree.

      In other words, the violent-media-causes-violence is really a different kind of argument, but it doesn’t look that way because feminists keep talking about ‘rape culture’, which includes both victim-blaming and rapist-glorifying things, whereas the violent-media-causes-violence is almost completely concerned with violence-glorifying stuff.

      2) I haven’t seen any studies either. I’m not sure that they haven’t been done, I just haven’t seen them. In fact, I did not find nearly as many hits on ‘rape culture’ in a basic literature search than I thought I would. I wonder if feminist scholars are actually using different terms to discuss this kind of thing. I hope so.

      3) QFT. In fact, I wonder if I accidentally made it seem like I disagreed at all with this point. I don’t. 🙂 I was just trying to wrestle with why I think that the violent-videogames-make-people-violent argument is mostly bogus, but I think that there’s something to the idea that victim-marginalizing attitudes can be reinforced through prose, art, etc.


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