On A Very Certain Type Of Wolf

If you’re not immersed in “video game culture,” this post isn’t going to make any sense to you. That’s okay; honestly, you’re probably better off, because sometimes, video game culture gets pretty weird. This is one of those times.

I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion on something. Generally, if I’m not writing about a particular topic, it’s because I haven’t researched the issue to the extent that I feel confident writing about it. Alternatively, it might be an issue that I don’t hold an opinion worth writing about either way. The health care discussion is one example of this; my opinion is cautious optimism, but I don’t argue strongly for it because it’s not a debate that I have anything new to say. There are other, more eloquent writers talking about it, so my response, if asked, would be to go read one of them.

However, sometimes there’s a topic that comes along that hits all the issues that I do care about and it seems like I should have something to say about it and I haven’t said anything. Feminism and gender issues are two of those particular issues. Video games are another.

If you’re still with me at this point, here’s your required reading to understand the Dickwolf controversy. I don’t even know how to distill it down to a paragraph at this point, but I’ll try. A comic strip that was created three years ago created a controversy that continues to this day. Its very mention is enough to create headlines on gaming news sites and blogs. Even mentioning it here makes me feel uneasy.

So why mention it at all? One reason is because of how much I’ve written about feminism already and how much I think about issues of gender equality. This is one of those issues that everybody is talking about. I should say something, right?

Except that I don’t know what to say.

It’s like watching your friends fight and it’s the kind of fight that you know is going to end the friendship between these two friends because of what’s been said. It’s the kind of argument where really hurtful things are said and it’s gone past the point of anybody really being “right,” although perhaps nobody was right to begin with. Worst of all, you can see both sides. You can understand where each one is coming from, even if you don’t necessarily agree with both sides.

In this case, one side is arguing for the freedom of speech to tell jokes without reprisal and they are defending this position. The other side is arguing that it’s not a freedom of speech issue and that’s an issue of making jokes about rape culture. The response is that the original joke wasn’t a rape joke and that the true “victims” of the joke were so-called heroes in MMORPGs, who are actually quite abominable themselves. And then came everything afterwards, when things got really messy.

So, what do I do? I feel very strongly about freedom of speech! I think the way rape is treated in our society is abominable!

And so we have this debacle. If I were to try to pinpoint where it all became so hopelessly entangled, I think it’s due to the various ideals that have been called in as part of the argument. Making it a freedom of speech issue is as problematic as making it a “rape culture” issue. It brings in a lot of material that creates a quagmire.

I don’t know. I guess I don’t have anything to say. I can see both sides. I won’t say who I am in agreement with, because people I respect and whose content I enjoy are on opposite sides of the issue. It feels like saying who I think is correct is like choosing between friends.

All I can really say is that I feel like I’ve failed both my ideals by existing in this sort of wishy-washy neutral ground. I feel like I should be supporting one side. There are a lot of wounded feelings all around. Standing on the sideline doesn’t feel right. But I don’t really know what to do.

And that’s where I’m at and why I haven’t written about it before. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care, very deeply, and I’ve followed the controversy since it began. I just didn’t know what to say then and I don’t know what to say now. The link, if you clicked it, gives you opinions from all the big names in game journalism and geek culture who have weighed in on this before me. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

As for me, I’ll just keep on watching, feeling like I should say something more substantial, but having no idea what that should be.

4 thoughts on “On A Very Certain Type Of Wolf

  1. Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

    Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

    I don’t know what to say about the whole penny-arcade thing, either. But I just figured I’d throw in my two cents.

  2. Reposting a comment with permission. This was was sent to me via due to technical difficulties:

    Original comment author: Mike Thicke

    Let’s say we 100% agree with the arguments about rape culture and triggering. And let’s say we agree that Mike just doesn’t get it, continues to not get it, and that’s bad. What should we conclude?

    (1) Mike isn’t a perfect person.
    (2) It would be better if Mike fully apologized, acknowledged that the original strip was problematic, and even pulled the strip.
    (3) But we can understand why Mike doesn’t want to do these things. The arguments that people have made about rape culture and triggering aren’t self-evidently true. It isn’t the case that every single decent and moderately intelligent person is gong to read about this stuff and immediately recognize that it is correct. We can also understand that he’s a stubborn and opinionated guy.
    (4) Mike can fail to understand these arguments and why his position on the issue is wrong, while still being a good person and even still being a good role model and internet personality.
    (5) People should stop inferring from his failure to fall into line on this issue to him failing to be a good person, good for PA, or good for gaming culture in general.

  3. You’re in an entirely reasonable position, which is why you feel so lonely. All the extremists have lined up to choose sides, portraying Penny Arcade as either flaweless hero-gods or despicable rape-happy monsters… when in fact, they’re just humorists who skate the line between edgy and offensive on a daily basis, and react defensively when someone gets outraged.

    Happens all the time. Did they get sarcastic and insulting when their critics cooked up an absurdly off-target criticism of their comic? You bet. Did they fan the flames by putting out “dickwolf” T-Shirts? Yessir. And did they make a mistake when they offered an apology (one that would never satisfy the fanatics) and pulled the shirts? Probably. But by that time, they’d missed their chance to handle the situation correctly–by ignoring the critics entirely. And there was no good solution.

    Personally, I understand the defensive need to insult your critics, especially when they make such a bizarre and irrational complaint. Fanatics deserve a good tweaking now and then. But in the long run, it doesn’t fix anything, and it just gives the haters more ammunition for a years-long hate crusade.

    1. “You’re in an entirely reasonable position, which is why you feel so lonely.”

      This is both incredibly amusing in a darkly humorous sort of way and also depressing as an indication for where the reasonable stand in the spectrum of extreme opinions. Neither of those make it any less true, though.

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