In Defense Of Offense

Apparently, a lot of people are angry that Penny Arcade did a comic where a slave is being beaten in the morning and raped to sleep by dickwolves, while an uncaring Worgen disdains to do anything about it. The comic’s a comment on questing apathy– if you’re really a hero, wouldn’t you empty those caverns? No; to this worgen hero, everyone important has been accounted for, since he’s got that ‘quest complete’ ready to turn in. What matters is you’re one bubble closer to ding, because you don’t really have to think about how you’d act if you were the prospective liberator of brutally abused slave.

This is a comment about the way MMOs work and how the immersion fails and game mechanics take over. The flavor text–that the slave is being beaten and raped — is just that, flavor. It’s to give an idea that the Worgen’s callous, and the slave is in need. The Worgen is laughable, stripped of nobility because of his actions — reduced from heroic action figure to simply a player in a wolfskin trying to play at hero when he’s probably just as apathetic in real life. Maybe, though, I’m reading too much into it. It’s a three panel comic, after all, not Tolstoy. (I have, I note, read Tolstoy. Just for the curious.)

People are reading too much into it; just as I suggest meaning and symbolism into this three panel comic, some people are just going all out here. People are sending the boys at PA hate mail. Some guy is eBaying all his PA stuff–signed books!– off and promising the proceeds go to charity. Feminist blogsare getting up in arms.

This should, after all, be a day in the life of Penny Arcade. After all, you don’t rise this high without occasionally stepping on someone on the way up.

What I don’t understand is two things:

A: Why, if you read Penny Arcade, why THIS particular comic offended you that you read the comic at all, because there’s been much worse and,

B: Why the PA Team sunk to the slightly more verbose 4Chan-esque ‘U Mad’ rape joke defense.

In response to A — you have the right to be offended. You have the right to be offended by anything you like, and do whatever is legally appropriate in response to it, whether it’s blogging about it, selling your stuff and forwarding the proceeds to an anti-rape charity, writing to the authors of the comic to let them know you’re displeased, and generally whatever it is you need to do personally. If it makes you feel better to voice your displeasure, by all means, exercise that right! It IS your right to express yourself in a way that communicates your point across. (You don’t have the right to threaten a cartoonist, or set fire to anything, though- – so please don’t carry this to an extreme.)

However, they have the right to offend you. Their speech is protected, just like your letter of complaint is. Is this part of rape culture, as some might suggest? Yes, possibly. Does Penny Arcade engage in some level of rape culture? Yes, though they often mock it as much as they mock anything else. This doesn’t get them off the hook — and their less then adequate rebuttal to their dickwolf faux pas doesn’t excuse that they engage in something that isn’t funny to a lot of people.

But nothing is sacred in comedy. We see our sacred cows — whether they be of suvivorhood or religion or political affiliation — sacrificed on the alter of comedy on a daily basis. Somewhere, someone is mocking you or something you love, endure, or are passionate about. That is the nature of life, at all times, everywhere. There are no exceptions. Your personal tragedy is someone’s laugh track. So I expect Penny Arcade to keep doing what it’s doing — comedy, often at the expense of others.

However, in response to B: I expected better. I expected Penny Arcade’s team to let this roll off their proverbial backs like juice off the Fruit Fucker’s glistening spout, and let it go. The smarmy response was unneeded and just as callous as their worgen ‘hero’. While I understand why they’re defensive, it doesn’t actually help them. It simply makes them look like defensive teenagers trying to justify why they just called Jeremy a flaming faggot because he has lisp. It doesn’t actually clear them of anything, and it is not at all an apology. It’s just another rape joke. They’re not going to stop making them, and they’re not going to worry that they offended a reader. After all, if you’ve been reading the comic, offense is their stock in trade a lot of the time. For all that they’re philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and yes, gamer nerds — they’re still human beings. Human beings who have never had to grow up past the base gamer humor that they perpetrate — the same humor that pays for their charities and other ventures.

So, they have the right to offend you, and this right to offend you goes only so far as you will let them. Do you want to rock the boat? Vote with your dollars and clicks. Don’t go to their site. Don’t write about them. Don’t acknowledge their comic. Because it’s just a comic. A comic that started a small empire, but still a comic. Low hanging fruit is just that, and most of the people who are engaging Penny Arcade over this could probably do better with their time.

All in all, this is a minor incident. Neither Mike nor Jerry condone or encourage rape. Do they participate in rape culture? Debatable, but probably on some degree– because American culture is STEEPED with it. Should you START with Penny Arcade? No. If the cultural shift happens, it won’t START at a comic, but it will be REFLECTED in a comic.

So aim higher, activists. Aim a lot higher.

2 responses

  1. I agree with you. I thought that the joke was more aimed at World of Warcraft than it was rape. I don’t particular like jokes that make rape victims or rape the punchline, but this joke didn’t fall into those categories.

    I think the PA guys should just have let it blow over, which it likely would have done pretty fast. It was just one blog post on one feminist website out of hundreds. Instead they launched a defense that showed they didn’t really understand why the joke had upset some people in the first place. It made them look pretty dickish.

    They could have just said “It’s a shame some people don’t enjoy the humour but we think it was a good joke and stand by it.”

    You’re right, it’s a minor incident. However, I think it is possible to comment on rape culture within small comics at the same time as tackling “bigger” stuff. If everything is steeped in it then surely everything is worthy of critique? After all, it’s the small stuff, the little messages we get constantly from comics, games, tv, adverts, movies, lyrics etc. that adds up to the big stuff, I think, not the other way around.

    But this time I think the critique was mis-aimed.


    August 18, 2010 at 10:02 am

  2. Kristina

    The PA dudes seem to attract a lot of attention lately. Not just for their strip that time, but they have this huge campaign against buying used games or something now. It’s getting ridiculous.

    Also, this is a very well-written post. Good job, lady!


    August 26, 2010 at 7:12 pm

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