Satire is an art. Like all art, it is very difficult to master. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the founders and creators of the Penny Arcade (PA) comic strip have set themselves up as satirists on gaming culture. When I say gaming culture, I mean all of its forms. Be it Pokémon to League of Legends, none of it goes unscathed by PA.
One fateful day in August 2010 it was the turn of MMOs to get a scathing rebuke at the hand of these self styled gaming satirists.
Titled ’The Sixth Slave’
, it features an adventurer in an MMO walking away from a slave after rescuing 5 of his fellow unfortunates and declaring his quest to be complete. The slave begs to be released as he is raped every night by creatures known as ’Dickwolves’
The adventurer refuses to help as far as he is concerned the quest is complete and he must return to quest giver to get his experience points and move on. PA was attacking the conceit of MMOs that have quests completed but really don't have any effect on the world they are adventuring in. The slaves will remain and in most cases respawn for the next player to free over and over again.
Some groups took exception to the use of rape as a kind of punch line to the comic strip. They thought it insensitive and belittled the plight of rape victims to the point that it effectively encouraged the act of rape.
PA rebuked this protest by posting a rather defensive and short sighted strip that countered this position in a rather glib manner.
Things escalated further to the point where Mike Krahulik commissioned a T-shirt with the word 'Dickwolves' emblazoned across it as a protest against those who he thought did not get the joke of The Sixth Slave.
It was this that he and Jerry Holkins were enraged about and lashed out. So much so that their original grievance became diluted to the point where they were accused of misogyny, insensitivity and incredibly short sightedness. Under this barrage PA eventually relented and pulled the sale of the Dickwolves shirts and the furore died down.
Fast forward three years later and PAX Prime 2013 is drawing to a close. During an interview with Messrs Krahulik and Holkins the subject of 'The Sixth Slave' strip comes up. Mike was asked what his biggest regret was and he said the pulling the sale of the Dickwolves shirts was a mistake and that they should have remained on sale.
The reaction in the crowd watching the interview was supportive, with many yelling that they should be sold again. It was this that started the Dickwolves issue to flare up again, with many declaring that they will be boycotting all future PAX events as attending them would imply their support for PAs apparent attitudes.
Which they perceive to be misogynistic, insensitive and incredibly short sighted. Examples of such articles include those written by Leigh Alexander entitled 'Still never going to PAX’
and this, entitled, “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade” Expo by Rachel Edidin on Wired Magazine
All of this sprang from a piece of satire that used shocking imagery to get its point across. It is this that I believe is the crux of the problem and has had me initially taking the side of PA in that it was satire and as such there are no sacred cows as far as using disturbing references are concerned in order to make a point.
By way of comparison the celebrated 18th century satirist Dr Jonathan Swift wrote an essay titled 'A Modest Proposal’
that suggested that Irish people should eat their children in order to reduce ever increasing population levels. Clearly infanticide and cannibalism are abhorrent and exceptionally rare and repugnant acts, neither of which Dr Swift was endorsing.
He was using impactful imagery to drive his point across as a means to attack those in power. He was horrified by the state of poverty in Ireland and set about using his established platform to improve the conditions many of his fellow countrymen were suffering under. Those familiar with Dr Swift's work quickly recognised this and did not take offence to the essay; whereas those who were not and could not recognise satire, did.
History has a tendency to repeat itself and now the makers of PA have suffered a similar fate. Those that are familiar with their output found 'The Sixth Slave' to be very funny and thought nothing more of it. It was those who were not familiar with PA tone and output and the fact that they are satirists were offended by what they read.
The reaction from the authors was indignant as they regarded their critics as 'idiots' who did not recognise satire. The problem here is the means by which PA reacted to this criticism. They came across as the very monsters they so despised by lashing out at feminists and anti-rape pressure groups for being ignorant idiots who couldn't recognise a piece of satire if it did little jig in front of them while wearing a hat emblazoned with the words 'I AM SATIRE' written on it.
What PA should have done is nothing. Discretion is always, and I mean always the better part of valour. This is especially true in terms of satire as both those that are targeted by it and people who cannot really understand its nuances tend to attack the author of the material. Like all art, satire provokes a response from the audience in some form and for that PA should have taken some solace. What they shouldn't have done is go on the offensive in reaction to that response.
PA are now once again on the defensive and Mike Krahulik has offered an apology (he calls it a ‘clarification’)
for the remarks made and expresses regret over all of his actions since the release of 'The Sixth Slave' strip.
Despite this many commentators are standing their ground and refusing to attend PAX or have anything to do with PA. They regard the creators of the strip as abhorrent individuals who have little empathy for their fellow human beings and as such should be chastised. All of this because PA reacted poorly to people who didn't recognise a piece of satire.
Many would argue that it was poorly constructed and clumsy satire, and that is a valid position to have. But to vilify the authors and accuse them of supporting the horrific imagery they described in the script is a stretch too far.
PA have protested against those who do not understand satire, not those who are against rape. It is this that has been lost the continued arguments for and against PA and while I support them on the original point of The Sixth Slave strip I do not, under any circumstances, endorse their actions following its publication and neither does PA.
Least of all the creation of the Dickwolves shirts as that was insensitive and needlessly combative. I'm happy to say I'm not the only one who has this view as MC Frontalot
expressed similar opinions on the matter.
In light of all of this I say PA have made some serious mistakes in how they have reacted to this whole debacle. I sincerely hope they learn from this and their critics provide them space in order for them to do so.
The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.
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