Penny Arcade, Dickwolves, and Censorship – Why I’m Not Disappointed That I Skipped PAX

Penny Arcade Gets Censored

PAX was this weekend. You wouldn’t know it around here, what with GeekParty covering MetaCon all weekend, but PAX is one of the biggest gaming conventions in the US. So things like “not going to PAX” have become something of a statement. Those of us who didn’t attend this year weren’t making a statement, though. We just didn’t have the money to go to PAX and MetaCon was practically in our backyard.

Thankfully, Mike Krahulik has decided to make it incredibly simple for me to not regret giving my time and energy to MetaCon instead of PAX. People have been bringing up how he shat in the punch bowl this past weekend, deciding to bring up the “Dickwolves” situation yet again (if you don’t like Kotaku, you can see the original video on Twitch), but I think it’s more like he proudly pointed out the shit he took three years ago.

Oh, he said he was sorry back then, certainly. Then we all tried to move on. The comic, and, more importantly, the reaction they had to the outcry at the comic, had had the effect it was going to have, and we all called it a day.

Right up until some fan in the audience asked Mike if there was anything he regretted, and he went and brought it up again. Then the moderator (who also happened to be the business manager for the site, Robert Khoo) was quick to put a stop to that. He said:

Clearly it would have been better to just not say anything, and that’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage, and in fact pulling it was a way of engaging…

Oh, wait, no. He did the opposite of making things better. He tried to use policy as an excuse to make it worse.

See, I agree with a policy of “we don’t say anything about that sort of thing.” That’s a reasonable policy. It was not, however, the policy to quote on pulling the shirt. It was the policy that should have been quoted when you made the shirts in the first place, which could only happen by engaging the discussion on the strip in the first place. The merchandise itself was the engagement, pulling it was a way of saying that you had no more to say on the matter. Creating it said “we like this topic and want to encourage more of it.”

Penny Arcade DickwolvesNaturally, the cries of censorship run soon after, which, quite frankly, enrages me as both a lover of language and of free speech. See, censorship means something. It is specifically referring to a person or organization using greater power to shut down discussion on a particular topic.

That is not remotely like what’s happening here. I, you, anyone and everyone who enjoys video game humor, we are customers. We are the target market for Penny Arcade, a humorous web comic about video games. They want our patronage, and thus, our money. This is what’s called capitalism. They own the means of production (the product, in this case, being Penny Arcade), and they are attempting to profit off our desire for that product.

When a segment of customers loudly decries a particular action you have taken as a business, that’s called market forces. They are not telling you that you are not allowed to make that decision. They are informing you that making the decision will result in a loss of their patronage. They are giving you a choice, a choice that you agreed was their right when you went into business. “Part of the good we want to buy must be decency,” they are saying, “or no supply you can sell will be good enough.” That’s not greater power to force quiet, because it’s a situation that Penny Arcade agreed to in the first place. They agreed to it when they went into business, because you can’t have a capitalist economy without an understood freedom of contract.

You know what is a lot like censorship, though? The head of a cultural phenomenon, powerful enough to create not just one local multi-thousand-person trade event, but multiple international multi-thousand-person trade events, publicly saying to everyone that your opinion doesn’t matter and you don’t even have the recourse of the standard capitalist contract to protect you. Mike Krauhlik is a bully flailing about out of fear of being seen as weak, so I don’t expect him to understand this. Robert Khoo, it seems, is too stupid to comprehend “don’t pick at a three-year-old wound,” so no great loss. But as a lover of language and subtext, I at least expected better out of Jerry Holkins.

Penny Arcade Cen

In the end, I don’t think any of them are bad people. I think they’re people. I also think, however, that they’ve shown themselves to be no different from the trolls they constantly berate save for being more erudite. That’s the exact boil upon the ass of gaming that we want to excise, not encourage. A slur is still a slur, a bully still a bully, no matter how purple the prose being used to beat down their victims. Since Penny Arcade, as a business, seems incapable of understanding the simple concept of public relations or of censorship, I see no reason why we should afford them the courtesy of our hard-earned dollars.