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”.
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.