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Penny Arcade readers take offense to rape reference

Last week’s Penny Arcade has upset several readers. The comic used the phrase, “every night we are raped to sleep by dickwolves” in the build-up of a joke (not about rape) but the its reference was enough for some in the blogosphere to point out their outrage. Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have posted a response in cartoon form, that many are calling the, “worst possible way to respond”.

Maddy Myers writing for The Boston Phoenix tries to make sense of it all inside the gaming culture where Penny Arcade is widely read.

The word “rape” is obnoxiously overused in gaming culture; just listen to a few episodes of the otherwise-great Idle Thumbs podcast if you don’t believe me. Generally, it’s used to mean “beaten badly by a better player or by the AI.” The term’s much more innocent synonyms, “own” and “pwn,” seem to have fallen out of fashion.

I try to limit my own use of problematic words, even in my most competitive, belligerent moments. If someone points out to me that I have offended them, my first response is … well, to assume that I did. Does it matter if I didn’t intend to?

That initial PA comic probably isn’t going to cause any rapes — but the problem is a tad more complex than that. It’s not hard to understand the concern that including casual mention of rape in one of the most popular gaming websites on the internet might encourage gamers to continue throwing it around. But it’s also not hard to see that the PA comic isn’t using the word in the same casual way that the Idle Thumbs guys use it; after all, the comic’s joke doesn’t work if rape isn’t interpreted as horrible and anything but light-hearted.

Community Comments

#1 Barney Dillweed
August/18/2010
@ 9:26 am

This is why good comics don’t work in newspapers. jk :P

Auuuck I hate fat Mondays….

#2 Jules Rivera
August/18/2010
@ 9:39 am

Um, Penny Arcade has been making jokes similar to the “offending” one for years. I offer the following example which, appropriately, is why PA will never be in newspapers:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/01/07/

If the blogosphere wants to get mad at Penny Arcade for offensive or inappropriate humor, they probably need a time machine. To angry now is a bit much.

#3 Mike Krahulik
August/18/2010
@ 11:14 am

I always get so excited when we make it onto the Daily Cartoonist!

#4 August J. Pollak
August/18/2010
@ 11:25 am

Welp, this one’s ending well.

#5 Jason Smith
August/18/2010
@ 12:57 pm

I hope none of the folks complaining ever go see “The Fantasticks”. Or read a dictionary…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fantasticks#Controversy

#6 Brian Powers
August/18/2010
@ 1:22 pm

I blame Kurt Cobain.

#7 Dave Stephens
August/18/2010
@ 2:18 pm

Complaining about a description of hell on earth? Seriously? Wow.

#8 B. Root
August/18/2010
@ 5:03 pm

Yeah, the problem with that cartoon isn’t that some readers were ‘offended’ by a rape joke, but that it was potentially triggering for abuse survivors, which is a significantly different sort of thing.

It’s easier to laugh off somebody for being ‘offended’, though, so.

#9 Bearman Cartoons
August/18/2010
@ 6:52 pm

I wasn’t smart enough to get the joke so I wasn’t offended.

#10 Shane Davis
August/18/2010
@ 7:36 pm

Ugarte: You despise me, don?t you?

Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

And if most of us ever gave any thought to webcomics like this…

#11 John Read
August/18/2010
@ 8:03 pm

Um, Shane, who are you replying to?

#12 Gar Molloy
August/19/2010
@ 5:26 am

The “dickwolves” strip was your standard “people behame differently in videogames than they do in real life!” kind of gag. The setup needed to be particularly horrible for the “Hero’s” callous typical-gamer reaction to be funny.

Well…I thought it was funny :/

#13 Tom Heintjes
August/19/2010
@ 7:12 am

People who read webcomics have sex? Who knew?

#14 Nate Bramble
August/19/2010
@ 7:28 am

Shame on PA for this. I was very offended by this comic strip too. Their callous depiction of dickwolves was very hurtful. I’m tired of the “evil” stereotype they get. As a proud owner of two pet dickwolves I can assure you all that once trained properly they can be very loving companions.

#15 Gar Molloy
August/19/2010
@ 7:48 am

O_O Not sure you’re saying what you’re intending to say there Nate.

#16 John Lotshaw
August/19/2010
@ 8:04 am

Careful, Tom… Your question could be asked of people who read any kind of comics, as well… :)

#17 Johan Karlsson
August/27/2010
@ 7:08 am

Well, the abuse survivor response is understandable. But everyone who entertain people (comedians, cartoonists etc) knows that there’s always a chance that someone gets offended by their jokes. If one had to take that in the calculation every time you were to write something funny jokes would be like this;

“Hey, that spoon is kind of dirty. Did you forget to clean it? That’s not very smart.”

Which isn’t funny at all. And even so, there’s a chance that someone’s offended by that to.

#18 Adam Casalino
September/3/2010
@ 7:52 am

I don’t understand why regular fans of Penny Arcade are suddenly upset about this. Have you not been reading the comic for 12 years?!? This is nothing new for Gabe and Tycho. In fact this particular comic is mild compared to some of their stuff.

I honestly believe it was just one a-hole blogger who found it and made a big stink about it–and that spread to others. The fact that this enraged regular readers to suddenly stop supporting PA (and even selling their PA merch on ebay) is just ridiculous.

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