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An archival post about dickwolves.

1 February 2011

This post exists because I don’t believe in deleting or retracting things I’ve said online. This is the original “Dickwolves” post from my blog. No, comments are not allowed on this post. If you’d like to comment, please visit this post instead.

Honestly, I will read your comment, however I must insist that you actually read that second post. If you ignore the rules I lay out there, I’ll ignore your comment. The discussion has moved on from here. Some of the points I make here are unclear, and I’d rather you went to the new post. My core point is made quite succinctly (That means it’s short).

Now, if you want to know what I SAID instead of what I am SAYING, you can read it all below. Because arguing an old issue is always a good idea. Remember, bring this up without reading the rules in the real discussion post and I will ignore your comment. Honest, you can just skip forward.

Now, a bit of history:

Stop snickering, this is serious.

What happened:

On August 11th Penny Arcade posted a comic called “The Sixth Slave”. The comic was about video game morality. More specifically, about MMOs and World of Warcraft. The comic features a hero arguing with the sixth slave in a dungeon. The hero saved 5 slaves, he’s finished his quest, and he doesn’t feel like saving the 6th one, because saving slaves takes work and the quest only required him to save 5. That’s the punchline right there, and it’s typically clever. Penny Arcade is mocking us fellow gamers for running quests by the numbers.

But there’s a minor sidetrack here, to lend the gag it’s usual hyperbolic Penny Arcade flair, the slave describes his horrible lot in life while begging for salvation. On top of his other embarrassments, he closes his claim by adding “Every night we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves”.

Fan reaction was polarized into two categories, people who thought it was offensive in a hilarious penny arcade way, and people who thought it was a rape joke, and that rape jokes aren’t funny. Ever.

The blogosphere caught hold of the story and started to talk about it. The reaction got loud enough that Penny Arcade felt it necessary to respond. On August 13th they posted a reaction comic where they mocked people who had a problem with the first comic. The blogosphere moved on in it’s typical 24 hour newsworthiness cycle.

That’s not actually the bad part, that’s background. I’m just catching you up to current events. Just recently, Mike Krahulik, artist of Penny Arcade, posted this pic of their warehouse. Notice anything in that photo? Look closely at the shirts. Yeah. Team Dickwolves shirts, because apparently rape is hilarious.

Some background context regarding geek culture:

I thought the first comic was funny - Penny Arcade was pointing out the fundamental ridiculousness of giving role-playing quests laundry-lists. It’s bad writing and bad design. Shouldn’t the quest be “Save all the slaves?” Why 5? If you’re setting it at 5, why not 4, or 6? It’s arbitrary, and it reduces a heroic act to a job where you make quota. Yes it featured that juvenile bit about Dickwolves. That’s part of what makes it so funny. What hero would leave someone to such a fate?

I even thought the response comic was appropriate - People complaining about how the first comic promotes or trivializes rape clearly didn’t get the joke. The entire point of the comic is that it’s stupid to leave this poor wretch to such a fate. Further, I don’t really buy into the idea that humor has to avoid being offensive or abrasive.

Gamer humor is offensive and insular - think “Raped to sleep by Dickwolves” is inappropriate? Let’s offer up a baseline here. This is the kind of comic you can typically expect from Penny Arcade. Gamers are tightly knit community. We’re friendly towards our own kind, and good people overall, but we’re also fiercely competitive (hello, gamers), so our humor tends towards the rude, the offensive, and the downright cruel. The meta joke of gamer humor is that we don’t mean it when we threaten horrid fates towards our cohorts.

Gamers protect their own - Attacking gamers and gaming is a simple “acceptable target” to politicians. And that feeling of being forced from out of the mainstream is a ready-made recipe for some really really offensive humor. It gets more offensive as a counteraction to constant attack, it gets more offensive because of gaming’s competitive edge, and it gets more offensive because gamers stop listening to what the “mainstream” thinks and deliberately isolate themselves.

So what about that shirt?:

You’d think, after everything I put into the context section, that I’m about to go into a long and impassioned defense of the Dickwolves shirt, right? After all, I thought the comic was funny, and the reaction comic appropriate. That makes me a bad person doesn’t it?
Well, not quite, half bad. After all, I think the shirt is a horrible and stupid mistake. It’s a slap in the face to female gamers everywhere. Why?

Context.

The comic is funny because of context, the defense of the comic basically boils down to “We’re not going to explain the context to people who don’t get the joke”. The shirt though? Consider the context. Where will we see this shirt? On gamers, probably at gamer gatherings. This shirt will be worn to cons. This shirt will show up at PAX, adorning the chests of male gamers.

Clothing isn’t just protection from the weather and t-shirts aren’t just billboards for jokes. Clothing is a language. When you put on an outfit, you’re sending a message to everyone around you. Geeks wear clothing that identifies themselves as geeks. Consciously or otherwise, we’re saying “I will behave in a geekish way if you talk to me.”

The dickwolves shirt is designed like a team jersey. Now think about the context. What does that say in the language of clothing? Who wears jerseys? Sports fans supporting their teams in their favorite sport. The dickwolves shirt? Team Dickwolves. Do I really have to explain what sport that insinuates?

Looking back at the rebuttal given in “Breaking it down”, the logic from Penny Arcade is clear: This shirt won’t make you a rapist, so it’s okay to publish it. This is a classic mistake of debates about sexism. They’re right, this doesn’t promote a “big S” Sexist act, but this isn’t about Hollywood sexism. This isn’t a Lifetime special. This is the real world, and this shirt definitely promotes “little s” sexism. It says to everyone who can see it: “Rape is goddamned hilarious.”

A guy can say that because the odds of him getting raped are astronomically low. A girl doesn’t find that funny because her odds of getting raped in her life are 1 in 6.

1 in 6. Let that sink in for a minute.

How many women do you know? You don’t have to be friends with all of them, just ask yourself how many you know. More than 6? You have the same odds of rolling a 1 on a D6. Just consider those odds for a moment.

Again, no, this shirt doesn’t make rapists, but it trivializes a very real fear. It doesn’t make cons dangerous for women, but it does make women feel unwelcome at cons. It says “Your fears are funny and I don’t care”. It says, “Someone here will give you shit for being a woman. Someone here will mock you”.

Think back to the last con you attended. It doesn’t matter what kind of con it was because the all share a very important feature: Think about how you felt. You’ve gone to this hotel somewhere or another, and maybe the staff understands you and maybe they don’t, but the con; The con understands you. That dude in the Klingon outfit isn’t a freak, he’s awesome. That guy wearing the batman costume isn’t a psychopath, he’s a fan, just like you. Sure, there can be drama at cons, but you’re not going to be called names here. No one will ask you “Why are you dressed like that?” unless they really DO want to hear about your outfit.

You are safe.

Cons are a welcoming environment to you, because they’re gatherings of people just like you. Think back to your first con. Think back to the first time you told a geek joke to a stranger in a hotel and they laughed. Laughed. At a geek joke. A stranger who’s name you might not even know. This is your tribe these are your people.

For you, a con is a safe space. Given how good that feels, why would you want to make that space unsafe for a woman? Why would you want to put them on guard? Why would you want to put them on the defensive? Sure, they’re not about to get attacked. Sure, you’re not out to rape them, and even wearing this shirt doesn’t change that, but given a consistent history of sexism and even sexual assault in our subculture, why would you make them doubt your intentions? Shouldn’t it be obvious? Shouldn’t they be safe too?

(Edited to reflect Littleroo’s valid point in the comments)

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