Why I'm Still Supporting PAX, Even If I Probably Shouldn't
Chances are you've heard about the issues surrounding the promoters of PAX. Founders of PAX's namesake and parent organization Penny Arcade Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have made it very difficult to support them lately.
There is almost too much to sum up. For one, there is the dickwolves controversy, which had finally almost been put to rest since it's 2010 inception, brought back like a festering wound over the weekend. The comic that started the mess wasn't the worst part, but rather the way that Penny Arcade handled it, which was to say that it was just comedy, and to start selling "Team Dickwolves" merchandise. As you can imagine, the people originally offended by the rape joke were further incensed by the companies handling of the situation. There is a timeline here for those interested in reading more about it. To say that the whole situation spiraled out of control is to put it lightly. It famously included Mike Krahulik saying it felt "pretty good" to encourage rape culture, a quote that I'm pretty sure was meant sarcastically.
More recently the creators of PAX stirred up another controversy when Mike again insulted a marginalized group, this time transgender people. Whether or not he intended to do so, once again it was made worse by the continued fighting. What could have been an opportunity to educate or inform became a mud slinging contest with a great deal of controversy. Games backed out of PAX, including Gone Home, and transgender and allied attendees vowed not to return. The later apology was viewed as being "too little, too late."
Whatever good will PAX might have regained from hosting panels at Prime about transitioning in the games industry and diversity support, they managed to once again inflame the public with their Monday closing panel where Mike said that "pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake."
This was, at it's heart, an unnecessary jab at the people who were initially offended by the dickwolves controversy. They didn't have to mention it ever again. But they chose to. They brought it up again, long after it had died, and decided to make it a joke. They wear the blanket of satire, but are they just perpetuating bigotry?
At their heart, they are comedians and comic writers, but they are now the public face of a multi-million dollar gaming empire. Child's Play, the charity boosted by it's assocation with Penny Arcade, raised $5 million dollars last year. The PAX conventions are huge, both in terms of merchandising and in their support of the games industry. They have to realize that what they say has weight, and when so many are listening, they can offend. But instead of handling it professionally, they lash out and offend even deeper.
There are people who now want nothing to do with PAX. Brilliant, intelligent game designers who would've brought a great deal of diversity and creativity to PAX. They have been hurtful, offensive and dumb, all in the name of satire and a joke that wasn't that funny to begin with.
The people who are choosing to end all future involvement with PAX are well within their rights. They have been hurt. They have seen people they love be insulted with casual disregard.
I don't support Mike Krahulik, and I don't support Jerry Holkins. I can't understand how they could reopen this wound and taint an organization.
It isn't with some sort of sense of bravery that I say that I will be attending PAX East next year if I can. I wish that Mike and Jerry would resign and allow their business to be taken over by people who have more sense. I wish that they hadn't said all of the things that they said.
But I've seen first hand the massive good that the Penny Arcade Expo has done for indie developers, and it's an industry that I love. My friends are indie developers. My boyfriend is an indie developer. PAX gives them the opportunity to be seen. I honestly can't think of another convention with the scope of PAX, and it's distressing that it has been tainted by hate and bigotry, all in the name of comedy.
In a statement, Mike Krahulik said "We want PAX to be a place where everyone feels welcome....From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent our attendees." I think everyone is hoping for a less controversial PAX, and hopefully there will come a time when the people who have been rightfully offended feel comfortable enough to return.