Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk
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.
- 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)
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