Recently, popular webcomic ‘Penny-Arcade’ pulled a line of merchandise from their stores centered around fictional creatures called ‘Dickwolves’ whose only known attributes were that they were a: wolves and b: raped people. The Dickwolves originated from a comic satirizing the casual way that certain videogame genres interpret moral choices within their universes; ie, a character the player controls is ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ to the extent they complete largely arbitrary tasks that the game can evaluate, rather than any true, deeper sense of morality (which a videogame cannot evaluate at any rate).
That comic was interpreted by rather humorless people as being a joke about rape, rather than a joke about videogames and their internal mechancis, despite the fact that one of the two characters in the comic was not human but rather a bipedal, clothed, talking Wolf creature.
Because in real life it is frequently the case that magical talking animals fail to stop other mythical creatures from violating human beings.
Penny-Arcade’s official response, in comic, drew humor from this odd fixation on the imaginary misdeeds of a fantasy monster.
Later, the Dickwolves were subsequently re-imagined as a mascot animal of a hypothetical, yet generic, professional sports team (ala the Bulls, the Rams, the Falcons, etc) emblazoned on shirts (like those sold by pro-sports teams):
These shirts in turn offended the previously mentioned humorless individuals even further, and led to, in essence, a call to boycott the Penny Arcade Expo, a gaming-themed convention hosted and organized by the ever-growing Penny-Arcade apparatus.
At which point, Penny-Arcade caved, and has now pulled the shirts from sale:
It’s true that we have decided to remove the Dickwolves shirt from the store. Some people are happy about this but a lot more of you are upset. You think we’ve caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you’re not entirely wrong. let me at least break down why we did it though.
First of all I would never remove the strip or even apologize for the joke. It’s funny and the fact that some people don’t get it, or are offended by it doesn’t change that.
PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable.
Now for some people removing the shirt isn’t enough. They don’t want to come to PAX or support PA because of the strip or because they think Tycho and I are perpetuating some kind of rape culture and that’s a different matter.
1) Caving in to a vocal minority because you’ve upset them, rather than the fact that they changed your mind, opens the door to any other group applying similar pressure in hopes of a similar response (as we shall see shortly).
2) The accusations of promotion of a ‘rape culture’ by selling a shirt with a wolf logo on it are utterly farcical, especially considering that the ‘Dickwolves’ merchandise is itself satirical of the professional sports industry, a real cultural movement/business culture that is, in fact, plagued with actual depravity, violence and abuse, and whose fans often erupt into violence or rioting at the drop of a hat, particularly after big games.
However, the die is now cast, as they say, and The Zombie Rights Campaign is nothing if not punctual, so in the spirit of this capitulation/consideration of a minority point of view, we have decided to strike while the iron is hot with our own reasonable demands, in the hope of receiving similar consideration from these icons of the gaming community:
To Tycho and Gabe, aka Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik:
Greetings from The Zombie Rights Campaign, the world’s premiere and preeminent advocacy group for the rights and concerns of the Differently Animated, who you may better know as ‘Zombies’.
We are writing you today to voice our concerns in light of your recent decision to modify your merchandising operation out of sensitivity toward attendees of your popular gaming convention PAX.
While our organization feels the decision to stop selling the controversial ‘Dickwolves’ merchandise was neither justified nor required by good taste, we applaud your willingness to meet your audience halfway on accomodating minority viewpoints and making the holders of said viewpoints feel at ease.
Toward that end, we are writing you today in the hope of bringing our concerns, no less valid than those voiced over ‘Dickwolves’, to your attention in the hopes of receiving similar consideration.
First, the Zombie Community has long felt slighted, insulted and looked down upon by your comic and your organization. It does not take great effort to provide evidence of these slights and insults (for example, here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2000/2/4/ or the storyline beginning here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/8/9/) within your body of work.
Given this obvious animus, it is hard to interpret the sale of this particular garment in anything other than a discriminatory and defamatory light:
“Life’s a Lich”? The obvious punning of the common name for a subset of the Differently Animated community with the pejorative term ‘bitch’ is bad enough, but considering the treatment of Liches by the gaming and fantasy-oriented communities, the shirt is a borderline call for violence against them, reinforcing (as it does) the concept of a power-mad immortal creature, shambling upon the Earth in blind pursuit of its own eternal ambitions.
‘Where, oh where,’ this garment asks, ‘are the noble adventurers who can put an end to this abomination?’
In truth, they’re usually not far from the poor, innocent Lich, who only wants to shelter their phylactery in peace and continue with their charity work, perhaps the baking of cookies for a local orphanage. (The charity work naturally varies.)
Second, your efforts to promote inclusiveness and tolerance at the PAX conventions is a good first step, but we feel compelled to ask, at this juncture, that in addition to those who feel uncomfortable, rightly or wrong, around ‘Dickwolves’ merchandise, that you consider the many Zombie-Americans (as well as other Zombie nationalities of course) who feel great offense, and even personal threat, from the Anti-Zombie ‘games’ and merchandise often on display at conventions such as your own.
You took the initiative to ban ‘booth babes’; good for you. However, when was the last time a ‘booth babe’ ever made someone fearful for their Unlife? When have ‘booth babes’ ever, even in fiction, slaughtered entire crowds of Undead individuals, say, in a mall or other semi-public space? Is the objectification of paid female models somehow more offensive than the wholesale massacres of the Differently Animated shoved into the public consciousness by the videogaming industry?
We of course know the answer to be ‘No.’
So the Zombie Rights Campaign calls upon you to take similar steps to make Zombies feel at greater ease attending your fine conventions. First, might you consider moving the Anti-Zombie games on offer at future shows into a separate, but functionally equivalent, space on, or even off of, the main floor? Zombies who seek to attend your show and gather news and sneak peeks at, say, the next generation of Wii games or a hands-on trial of the 3DS shouldn’t have to shuffle, downtrodden, between banks of monitors displaying the savage murder of their virtual brethren while caffeine-fueled nerds cheer the carnage on all around.
It’s a distinctly hostile environment for our clients, as you might well imagine, and one that only you have the power to ameliorate.
Finally, your efforts to provide inclusive panels at the conventions is a laudable goal, but we have to ask if you have, in fact, been doing enough to include Zombie Friendly events and personalities at your conventions? Have you given the Zombie subset of the Gaming Community a chance to speak their minds and voice their concerns, as well as air their grievances about an industry that, more than any other, perpetuates negative stereotypes and perceptions of the Differently Animated?
Have you, in fact, done enough to make Zombies and their representatives feel at home at PAX? It’s a question that only you, yourselves, can answer, but I think if you look deep within your hearts, you’ll know there is more, much more, that could be done.
So, to summarize:
1) Penny Arcade as a comic has much to answer for regarding its depiction of the Zombie Community.
2) The sale of the Penny Arcade ‘Life’s a Lich’ shirt should be discontinued immediately as a show of good faith to said Community
3) Greater efforts to include Zombies and their advocates at PAX events should be made in the future.
We look forward to your response and continuing this dialogue, and thank you for your time.
John J Sears
President of The Zombie Rights Campaign