(trigger warning: rape) (skip it)

I vaguely remember dinner with Corvus Elrod, a smart indie game developer who sports a monocle and finely-waxed mustache. More than that, I remember him getting hit on by a muscular African American transvestite while waiting to be seated, outside the Taphouse Grill.

“Got any coins for Hot Chocolate?” Asked the transvestite, referring to himself in the third person. 

After Corvus politely deferred, Hot Chocolate could not help but persist.

Hot Chocolate whispered, “I want to see you twitch.”

Neither Corvus nor his wife, present, obliged Hot Chocolate. This left me with the impression that if something were to get under the skin of this man, that it’d need to be pretty fucking bad.

Enter the Dickwolf, a fictional wolflike character with phalluses for arms and legs. In an otherwise incisive comic, making fun of the sorts of quests which only allow heroes to save five slaves, though there are clearly more, we’re presented with the “sixth slave.”

“Hero!” says the chained slave. “Please, take me with you! Release me from this hell unending!

“Every morning, we are roused by savage blows.

“Every night, we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves.”

The hero looks anxious. “I only needed to save five slaves. Alright? Quest complete.”

“But…” Says the slave.

“Hey. Pal. Don’t make this weird.” Says the hero.

The response, via Twitter, tumblr, and other social media, was enormous. In a large part, because this wasn’t just some backwater webcomic making rape jokes. This was Penny Arcade, the franchise responsible for what gamers saw as one of the theretofore safest, most inclusive gamer gatherings: PAX. Where for four days, almost a hundred thousand gamers flood downtown Seattle. To address that, the next comic featured Penny Arcade’s two main characters, Gabe and Tycho (meant to represent Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the cartoon’s artist and writer) sitting, talking about Dickwolves.

Gabe says, “We want to state in clear language, without ambiguity or room for interpretation: we hate rapers, and all the rapes they do.

“Seriously, though. Rapists are really the worst.”

Tycho says, “It’s possible you read our cartoon, and became a rapist as a direct result. If you’re raping someone right now, stop. Apologize. And leave.

“Go, and rape no more.”

Some responses were deep, thoughtful, and academic. Even the most disappointed critics seemed to care deeply that these gaming icons (who sponsor a float in the Seattle Pride parade, and run a massive charity for sick kids) understand what was at stake. Maddy Meyers probably best captured why the response comic was so awkward, writing “It’s almost impossible to tell Penny Arcade’s apology from a parody of an apology.”

Not everyone on the internet was so calm, and things escalated. One Twitter user posted, “A Funney Joke: Go to Mike Krahulik / @cwgabriel ‘s house, Literally Murder His Wife and Child #jokes #funny #murderwolves”

Fresh from the death threats, Jerry Holkins posted his On the Matter of Dickwolves. He cites a talk given by the science fiction author Philip K. Dick called How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later. Jerry suspects that no conversation is possible because, “The perspectives in play, the lenses, are too different.” Holkins’ frame is that of the creator, “…that when it comes to expression nothing is off the table. It is the creator’s prerogative to create something - even something grotesque - out of anything they can find.” Philip K. Dick’s thoughts do work for that, sort of.

Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn't we really be talking about plural realities?

Philip K. Dick, in How to Create a Universe, ultimately decided that, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

One in thirteen college-aged men report committing rape, or attempted rape. Read that twice. One in thirteen. In 2012, the FBI tracked 84,376 reported rapes in the United States, though even the US National Crime Victimization Survey (which was shown – in late 2013 – to be undercounting) estimated 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults in 2012. We can say this chilling pattern of human indignity exists in a bizarro dimension that doesn’t affect reality, that the perspectives and lenses “are too different,” but that sounds suspiciously like an excuse not to listen.

If you want us to respect your creative rights, respect our reactions. Melissa McEwan, on the feminist blog Shakesville, writes, “To say, “I was triggered” is not to say, “I got my delicate fee-fees hurt.”. . . A survivor of sexual violence who experiences a trigger is experiencing the same thing as a soldier who experiences a trigger, potentially even including flashbacks. Like many soldiers who return from war, many survivors of sexual violence are left with post-traumatic stress disorder. Unlike soldiers, however, they are not likely to receive much sympathy, or benefit from attempts to understand, when they are triggered. Instead, triggered survivors of sexual violence are dismissed as oversensitive, as hysterics, as humorless, as weak.”

The second comic leaves a weird aftertaste, for we gamers who hear the word thrown around nightly. By dilapidated trolls who aren’t plying any constitutionally-protected art. In the heat of the win, when passion and adrenaline are running at peak levels, there’s apparently no word more potent, more devaluing of another player, than “rape.” I was surprised, at one academic conference, to hear it defended by a well-respected, middle-aged woman who works as a games professor. She took a break from signing her textbooks, and came to sit outside the USC Film School with our group of younger educators. She claimed that it was part of our culture.

Saying with a grin, “I rape my husband all the time, the noob.”

The games journalist Patricia Hernandez, a rape survivor, discusses an evening in an online shooter game in her incisive piece Three Words I Said to the Man I defeated in Gears of War That I’ll Never Say Again.

She writes, “Once the pre-game banter made it obvious that I was a woman, it was like Sam, my character, now had a bullseye painted across her forehead.”

They didn’t just force her teammates out, and then kill her.

“When you don’t fully kill someone, they go into a state called ‘Down But Not Out.’ This state is when a character model goes on all fours…a new, unintended dynamic arose in multiplayer: players would take down characters and pretend to rape them.”

They tried to get her to leave, sent taunting messages. See, the more players they could wedge out, the more the game would replace them with mindless AI, easy kills to make their scores look great. A tidy reward being assholes. Their ringleader sent Hernandez an audio message of himself cackling. She focused up, found him, “and, screw it all, I wanted to make it clear to him that he would not hold power over me. I downed him, and instead of mercifully killing him, my character raped his.”

Alone, she won the match.

“I raped you. I fuckin’ raped you.” She said.

They just laughed. As if for them the word, seeing it acted out, had no weight at all.

Gamers often wonder aloud whether the word ‘rape’ is worth enshrining as an indispensable cultural artifact, elevating it from out of the muck of private conversations and the routines of crass comedians.

The answer is no. This word represents one of the most caustic, dehumanizing acts that can be inflicted on a person short of killing them. If you’re raping face all over your husband, in the privacy of your own home, I have no beef. In random rooms, where you could be playing with just about anyone? Hell no. It’s the last thing we need to normalize. Nobody has carte blanche to flaunt words – whether racism, sexism, or homophobia – which will trigger some players. That makes games less fun.

To say nothing of what it does to games gatherings.

In the midst of the Dickwolves debacle Corvus Elrod wrote, in his Yes Virginia, There Are Nice Guys, that, “the majority of rape isn't done by raving lunatics in alleys. And that makes it tough. Tough to be a nice guy? Perhaps. But even tougher, for a rape victim, to accept nice guys at face value.” Conferences like PAX, where words like rape get thrown around with casual ease, are consequently not easy.

So-called Nice Guys know that they aren’t rapists, so they don’t understand the big deal with making the jokes. In fact, as a matter of personal freedom, they feel a certain obligation to make them as loudly and as often as possible. I suspect such champions of artistic freedom have never comforted their female friend, or sister, or girlfriend, or wife, when she’s asking questions like, “Do I get a rape kit?” or “Do I go to the police?” Though a number of women I’m close to have been raped, their stories aren’t mine. I just sit on the sidelines, hearing about the incurable STDs and the anxiety.

It’s not just that the first comic used rape as a humorous zing. The second Dickwolves comic very personally pokes fun at readers for reacting a certain way. A reaction they cannot help, and whose catalyst was chosen for them. This in an atmosphere saturated with gamers who are quite attached to throwing the word around, because it has shock value.

Gamers need to realize that for a large, often silent population, the voltage is too high. They turn off the game, or stop reading the comic, and feel unwelcome to enjoy a thing that had figured into their identity. Whether or not a joke perpetuates rape isn’t knowable. What’s completely fucking obvious is that it makes games, and certain games gatherings, less welcoming places to be.

That’s the reality. That, even if you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.

(2/26/14) I'll post most of the chapter where the above appears, eventually. I wanted to post this out of order, and early, because I still hear it in games once a week. Used lightly, by perfect strangers who think it's 1000% hilarious. If asking them to stop isn't yet a thing, it really should be.

(3/7/14) Gee, I happened to rant about just that in the chapter introduction. And all it took was a few straight hours of abuse. Go figure. 


A Wild Book Appears!

Print copies are here: https://www.createspace.com/4617177

And on Amazon in 5-7 days. 

And the kindle copies are here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I3X7MRK

Crossing the Ts and dotting the Is took, like, effort.

(edit) Happy birthday to me, rohoho. The paperback is up on amazon! The LOOK INSIDE even shows the back cover's clever red devil.