Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik reignites 'Dickwolves' controversy
At a paid panel at this weekend's Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), he told the audience and moderator Robert Khoo that he felt "pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was a mistake." In doing so, he once again embroiled gamers and fans in a new outbreak of a bitter, entrenched, and ongoing three-year-old fight.
Penny Arcade is a longstanding, almost invariably funny webcomic about gaming. Its creators have spent over two decades developing its popularity into a huge business and themselves into widely respected members of the gaming industry. "Dickwolves," however, remains a black stain on Penny Arcade's otherwise affable reputation.
Widely considered to be a major moment of reckoning in evolving discussions of sexism within gaming culture, the controversy over a 2010 Penny Arcade comic called "The Sixth Slave" was about far more than whether or not the word "dickwolves" was kinda funny when used in the context of sexual assault.
The joke centered on slaves seeking escape from captivity who were complaining that they're raped nightly by "dickwolves." But the real issue came when Penny Arcade's creators, Mike Krahulik ("Gabe") and Jerry Holkins ("Tycho"), responded to the readers they had offended. Instead of taking the complaints seriously, they repeatedly trivialized the issue, drew Dickwolves for a live audience at PAX, implied that critics were overly sensitive, and most offensively, produced "Dickwolves" T-shirts and other forms of merchandise. After weeks of sustained debate within the community, when they finally did pull the shirt, Krahulik and Holkins spent more time apologizing to their supporters for "caving to pressure" to pull it than they did apologizing to actual victims of sexual assault.
It's been three years since the Dickwolves controversy, but the gaming community is still not over it. It remains a heatedly discussed point of contention and is one of the first incidents to be brought up whenever the subject of sexism in gaming is discussed. Literally every year since Dickwolves has occurred, more and more readers, attendees, panelists, and businesses have lined up to boycott PAX as a result of the views of Penny Arcade's creators, even though it's a major convention that's grown into one of the gaming industry's main annual events.
Now Krahulik has essentially reneged on what was at best a half-hearted apology to begin with. The statement, which you can view here starting around 2:35, could be considered typical Penny Arcade in that it appears to cast Krahulik and Holkins as misunderstood victims of a backlash fueled by overly sensitive readers:
This is honesty time? You know that I don't hold grudges. I can be incredibly mad one minute, and fine the next, as long as I get it out. And I feel like we got this out. I'm not mad about it. But. But…
I think that pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was a mistake… Clearly had I known the following steps that would follow after that move, I would have never brought it up. Of course I wouldn't have.
Krahulik and Khoo went on to discuss what seems to be Penny Arcade's new policy of "not engaging." His comment, however, engages the whole debate all over again and comes after a summer of missteps for Krahulik and PAX.
In June, an approved PAX panel titled "Why So Serious?" offended basically everyone with a summary that complained about how "any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynist, and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you're a racist." After instant online backlash, Krahulik sidestepped the issue, then embarked on a series of angry, transphobic tweets. When that made people angrier, Krahulik responded with defensiveness, eventually apologizing and donating $20,000 to GLBTQ support organization the Trevor Project.
On the back of these events, everyone from Wired to the Financial Post took note of Penny Arcade's "Krahulik Problem." In an increasingly polarized Internet where gaming culture seesaws heavily back and forth from one "fake geek girl" controversy to another, it's possible that Krahulik has felt defended and buoyed by the support of the same sorts of gamers who have spent all year making Anita Sarkeesian into an accidental martyr for the cause of equality in gaming. It's equally possible that he believes the actual number of offended readers is small enough to warrant trying to turn back the clock and assuage his other fans instead.
Coming a full year after Daniel Tosh put the subject of rape jokes back in a national spotlight, it's difficult to see how Krahulik could not realize the new uproar his statements would evoke. Already the New Statesman has declared Krahulik to be a "contagion."
For now, like it or not, the rape joke stays in the picture.