July 2nd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

the fullbright company

The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is one of the video-game industry’s biggest conventions. Appealing to both fans and industry people, it often sells out its annual occurrence at the Washington State Convention Center.

One game company, with a major new product to promote, won’t be there.

The Portland-based Fullbright Company has a “story exploration” title Gone Home. Set in a large, mysterious Oregon house in 1995, it includes musical tracks by ’90s Riot Grrrl-era bands Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy.

Fullbright got an invite to show off Gone Home at PAX’s “Indie Megabooth,” a portion of the Convention Center show floor dedicated to games from small developers.

Fullbright’s small staff turned the invite down.

They cite several reasons, but basically they’re offended by stances and “jokes” made by PAX founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

It’s a long story, but here’s the short version:

PAX, as anyone who’s even thought of going to it knows, is an offshoot of Penny Arcade, a web comic by Holkins and Krahulik. The strip is full of in-jokes about games and gamers.

In August 2010, PA ran a strip called “The Sixth Slave.”

The strip was a one-off gag about user challenges in multi-player games such as World of Warcraft, in which users challenge other users to “kill 10 bad guys” or “save five prisoners” in an allotted amount of time.

In the cartoon, a character pleads with another character to save him from slavery:

…The comic features a (white, male) slave begging for rescue from another character. “Hero!” he pleads. “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 tells him, “I only needed to save five slaves. Alright? Quest complete.” The prisoner protests, “But…” The hero interrupts him, “Hey, pal. Don’t make this weird.”

The above description comes from a post by guest blogger “Milli A”, at the feminist/political blog Shakesville. As you might expect, she didn’t like the gag at all.

She explained that she didn’t like any reference to rape in a context of attempted humor. Even in meta-fantasy situations; even with a male victim; even when it’s mentioned as a violent crime, within a list of other violent crimes.

Holkins and Krahulik’s attempted explanation in a subsequent strip merely further annoyed critics. Many of these critics interpreted the explanation as the product of game-geeks who didn’t “get” the experiences of real-life victims of violence.

Holkins and Krahulik’s subsequent responses to the increasing controversy seemed to depict their critics as outsiders who didn’t “get” gamer culture and the strip’s humor (which, admittedly, is sometimes morbid and often requires deep knowledge of gamer tropes).

Krahulik, in particular, seems to have gone “extreme” in condescending Twitter and email “jokes” about the critics. It’s as if he were consciously trying to affirm the common stereotypes of male game-geeks (and of male scifi/fantasy geeks in general) as socially-inept dweebs who can’t relate to anyone outside their own subculture, especially if that anyone is a female who’s not wearing spandex.

This is a shame for many reasons. One reason is that PA and PAX have been supportive of female gamers and game creators in the past.

Can they realize, and once-n’-for-all state, that there’s nothing daringly “politically incorrect” about their past statements?

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