Those of you breathing your sigh of relief that the war is over, those of you hoping to get back into your PAX routine, those of you hoping to never have to hear about this again, those of you who are still frustrated and angry, all of us, let’s sit down a moment and talk. Calmly, please. Here we go.
In the original aftermath of the comic (you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t here’s a great history and the details; also thanks for adding Pretty Gamer to the list, DT!), a divisive shock wave spread across our community, fracturing us and creating deep cuts in our collective gamer family. A comic meant to portray the irony of “heroic” gathering missions in online (and really, most RPG) games was immediately condemned as an obscene portrayal of “rape culture” and was largely perceived as advocating rape as a punchline to a sardonic joke.
Now, almost 6 months later, after countless blog and forum posts, eruptions on IRC and Twitter (cause that's useful...), and angry statements from all sides, our holy leaders finally issue their response. And the response is somewhat surprising, no matter what stance you’ve taken so far. Both Mike and Jerry decided to make their statements after receiving death threats (threats which have been lobbed at both sides of this divide and were also directed at several outspoken individuals, including Kirby Bits, a blogger who has been carefully, and vocally, monitoring this disaster). It is shocking that only the threat of physical harm induced Jerry and Mike into a response, and also shocking and disappointing that individuals felt they needed to make violent threats in order to be heard.
Mike’s terse plea essentially amounted to “can we all shut up about this NOW?”, a sentiment of suppression that has been echoed from the onset. Obviously, at the beginning as it is now, not everyone is willing to let this go, and appeals to smother the entire situation probably aren’t going to do much. Nice try, Mike, but the argument isn’t really convincing, especially given how badly you've been fueling these fires. Although I would grant that any violent idiots making stupid threats should just shut up and go away so the rest of us can have a real conversation. Perhaps Mike should stop talking for awhile too.
Jerry’s comment is much more conciliatory, and I was impressed that he included a section about his own education on the subject of rape culture after hearing and reading others’ concerns and stories. Since last August, I’ve been asking myself why there wasn’t any discussion or explanation from Penny Arcade? Why no apology, or at the very least, an acknowledgment of the situation (besides the asinine “follow-up” comic)? Why the dickwolf t-shirts; was it supposed to be funny, or a passive-aggressive jab at a perceived adversary? And now, why did you wait until the situation had escalated to death-threats before saying anything??
Jerry proclaims that his silence was borne out of the belief that there can be no dialogue or conversation about this topic. The ideas are too different, the perspectives are to polarized. That is pure bullshit, spun into gold. There is always an opportunity for dialogue, as long as individuals are willing to engage in it; the trouble with this situation was that something was thrown out into the world and once it sparked a controversy, its creators disappeared, allowing their followers and their opposition to fight it out. Wow, it’s almost a literal God-is-Dead analogy. Protesters on either side had no direction or leadership to facilitate the dialogue, so what could have been a very enlightening and powerful conversation deteriorated into, well, death threats.
If someone would have had the courage to rise above the vitriolic assumptive fighting, the patience to assuage angry and hurt individuals, and the political power (wide-ranging or celebrity status) to reach an audience, this could have been a vastly transformative event that could have re-shaped the very framework of our community, and would have given us (gamers, women gamers especially) something to be proud of.
But are gamers really inept at real, thoughtful dialogue? Do we suffer from an aphasia that is cured only by controllers and computers (my apologies for the dramatic comparison)? Is the ideology above our heads? Is our community inherently unable to have intelligent conversations, or are we just more concerned with having fun? At some point, we have to realize that we aren’t isolated (as much as we can try, through our computers and in our basements) from the rest of the world, and what we say in one place may have repercussions, and that sometimes we have to come to terms with our actions.
Honestly, these past months have violently dislocated multiple aspects of my beliefs and identity; on the one hand I am ashamed to call myself a female gamer in a community that is so unforgiving towards women and victims of rape, and on the other hand, I’m forced to return to the feminist/gender equality/social justice closet, for fear of being labeled--once again--as a reactive, over-sensitive, liberal bitch. I have been appalled and, at times, physically nauseated, by the callous and hateful nature of many people who I had, for some time, considered my good friends. I’ve been forced to re-think my own past, my own identity, and reflect on what is really important in my own life. For some, this was a stupid argument easily forgotten, for others, it was painful to the core, and for me, it’s made me disappointed and ashamed both for my community and for myself, in ways I never imagined.
This conversation and this “issue” should not be GAME OVER. We shouldn’t sweep this under the carpet and pretend it never happened. What we should do is use this situation, and the responses on either side, to BEGIN to have the dialogue that should have started from the beginning. We should acknowledge what happened and instead of raw anger, raw emotion and ignorantly reactive statements, perhaps we could all stand to have a little humility and patience with each other, support each other and different points of view, and maybe this gamer culture can evolve, just a little.
Jerry mentions his attempts to view the overall dialectic, the arguments on either side and how they come together to form a dialogue (as opposed to a debate where one side has to win) in an attempt to discover the heart of a situation. A dialectic assumes that a single, universal truth can be gained from the discussion. The truth could be that rape culture exists and that by selling dickwolf t-shirts, PA was exploiting it. The truth might be that the internet is full of things that could trigger trauma or PTSD and victims should be prepared. The truth could be something else entirely, or nothing else entirely, but it would be a universal, dialectically-derived truth.
I propose that we evolve our discussion and begin to think about this hermeneutically; there is no truth, there is no right or wrong and no one can “win” the argument. There are only ideas and perspectives that exist because of our unique experiences and backgrounds. Instead of a dialogue to search for a universal truth, we can engage in a discussion that seeks to explore our relationships with this conflict, and truly listen to each other to create a real community. Let’s talk about social justice on the internet, let’s discuss freedom of speech and rape culture, and let’s see what we come up with.
Are you interested, or would you rather go play Halo? Is this too progressive or too philosophical for gamers, or too much effort? Is “being open to other perspectives” too much to ask? Is true dialogue on the internet even possible?? Let us hear your thoughts (not your anger).
Writer’s note: after I finished writing this post, I read Lesley Kinzel’s incredible blog post deconstructing the situation through the lens of social justice and humanity. Read her post, “On dealing with dudes: an open letter to Penny Arcade”, her writing is eloquent and insightful, and is everything I've been "kind of" trying to say all along.
Note #2: I'm starting to read through the timelines, and blogs, and tweets again, after having tried so hard to ignore all the asshat(t)ery and not let it get to me. The more I read and look back, the more pessimistic I become that anything good can ever come of this. Especially if Mike keeps giving ignorant trolls an excuse to be dicks. Unless he begins to realize the impact he has, and his own part in perpetuating this violent and oppressive rock-throwing--and actually, it's probably already too late--then there's no chance we'll see any growth or development of dialogue any time soon.