Gone Home & the PAX Problem


PAX Prime is coming to a close, and the gaming industry and community are abuzz with excitement. But in one corner of the showfloor, there is a conspicuous absence. Indie sensation Gone Home is nowhere to be seen at the Indie Megabooth. In June, developer The Fullbright Company made an announcement explaining this. They were accepted, but they chose not to make an appearance. Co-founder Steve Gaynor wrote, “we’ve been bothered by the public stances that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX’s parent organization Penny Arcade, have taken on a number of issues.”

Mr. Gaynor was referring to a series of faux-pas statements, exacerbated by lashing out in response to criticism. They were enumerated in this announcement, beginning with the “Dickwolves debacle”. This points to an episode beginning with a Penny Arcade comic strip involving an MMORPG quest to rescue a number of slaves. The player in this scenario, having reached the quota set by the quest, callously refuses to aid an additional slave, who cries of torture and rape by “dickwolves”. This led to a protracted debate about the propriety of rape jokes, during which Krahulik responded to a question of how it felt “to be actively encouraging rape culture” by saying “it feels pretty good.”

The Sixth Slave

Gaynor went on to mention other incidents, including a Kickstarter project asking people to pay Penny Arcade for an internship, a claim that critical opinions of art (specifically, the sorceress of Dragon’s Crown) constitute demands to “censor yourself”, and the welcoming of a panel at PAX Australia that claimed calling out sexism and racism where they are apparent has “gone too far”. The final item on the list was a statement dismissing the identities of transgender people by asserting that genitalia are the defining trait of gender — a statement that he has not rescinded. In fact, Krahulik followed up with an unflattering email chain that reaffirmed and defended the position.

Criticism of all of these things arguably passed beyond what was appropriate. In fact, some of it was downright heinous and completely non-sequitur, including a “joke” threatening his family. But the true controversy began in most cases after Krahulik responded in anger to attacks on his character. After all, in one example, the joke in the comic, “The Sixth Slave” wasn’t even about rape. It was about the ludonarrative dissonance of morality-driven RPG quests that ultimately don’t support their alleged justifications in practice. Rape was rightly depicted as something horrible. The latest incident was born of ignorance, not malice, and he expressed genuine remorse for having hurt people: “it’s not okay when I make a bunch of people who are already marginalized feel like shit.” Beyond that, he pledged a $20,000 donation to The Trevor Project, and expressed a continued desire to make amends.

At the same time, however, he had this to say: “I’m not qualified to talk about the ambiguity of sexuality and frankly I don’t give a shit about it. I like drawing comics and playing video games. I’ll keep my mouth shut when it comes to all the other stuff.” And that would be fine, if he weren’t in a position of great influence and scrutiny. When he alienates people, he does it as a representative of the larger gaming community. He cannot escape that by ignoring it. He can’t know there won’t be another comic like “The Sixth Slave”, and if there is, he needs to be prepared to handle it with grace. If he wants to avoid hurting people in the future, and if he “[doesn’t] want to be the reason people don’t go to PAX or don’t support Child’s Play or don’t watch the shows on PATV”, he will have to start caring — actively. This is a burden incumbent upon anyone in his position. The alternatives are to walk away from Penny Arcade, or to accept that he will continue to damage the image of the organization with his apathy and defensive outbursts. And, if Penny Arcade continues to be important to the gaming community, he will cause the gaming community to be unwelcoming to marginalized groups.

As a transgender woman, myself, I don’t particularly want to be silently and begrudgingly tolerated, nor to be coddled or humored. That doesn’t make me feel welcome or respected. Mr. Krahulik doesn’t owe me an apology, by any means, least of all beyond that which he has already given. But closing his mouth and opening his pocketbook doesn’t resolve the issue, and I am not ready to forgive until I see that real inclusiveness, diversity, and respect for gamers of every stripe are among the core values of the Penny Arcade organization. To a grassroots movement focused on the community, this is essential.

The Fullbright Company’s announcement, signed by the staff, concluded, “We wish all the best to the organizers and participants in the Indie Megabooth, as we really do believe that it is an incredibly positive force for indie games and video games in general. // We just wish it weren’t at PAX.” All told, I respect that they are unwilling to compromise their principles in order to further their business. Refusing to appear at PAX Prime may have cost them exposure and potential customers for Gone Home, but it has gained them at least one.

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Lacking inborn social graces, Jane developed an academic interest in communication, culture, language, and art from a very young age. With the potential to unify all other forms of art, video games inevitably became her greatest passion. From the Atari Video Computer System and SEGA Genesis to modern consoles, mobile devices, and PCs from all eras, she has played — and studied — games of every genre. A writer, artist, would-be musician, and fledgling programmer, Jane is still plotting to make her mark on the video game industry and the world. She is extremely shy, but ultimately has a lot to say on most subjects.
  • Understandout

    Splendid article. I greatly respect them for doing what’s right and not supporting a platform that contradicts their principles. This actually got me interested in Gone Home. I’ll make sure to check it out.

  • Fantastic article. Considering the content in Gone Home, I see why they did this, and I’m glad they’re standing up to discrimination in the industry. We really have to be doing that; excuses that it’s “going too far” or “is just looking for an excuse” shouldn’t stop us.

  • Kyle

    Hopefully, the people feeling left out will respond with the sort of kindness and understanding they desire rather than shaming this person for not taking a firm or enlightened stance on an issue and inform him of his obvious misstep rather than calling him out. The internet and – to perhaps a higher degree – the gaming community, tends to treat vitriol with too little regard and end up tarnishing what they claim to love. Just look at all of the people leaving Bioware (Female DAII writer, Doctors) over despicable fans.

    What is needed is someone with the knowledge and levelheadedness you posses and perhaps a letter to Penny Arcade. 😉

  • Very good article, Jane! You always write pieces that make me think. That’s a good thing.

  • I don’t care who you are, what you stand for, what gender you identify as, or what faith you follow. If you like video games, PAX is the place to be and the video game community is one you should be a part of. I have never seen a more diverse community of women, men, homosexuals, and transgenders than I have at PAX this past weekend – and I have never had more fun at a convention. PAX isn’t just the creators of Penny Arcade, it is a gathering of a massive, diverse group of people who love video games. I guess what I am against is social justice warriors attacking whatever they can within a community I identify with and making it about them, as they have done with the atheist community as of late. This type of splitting down political lines does nothing to strengthen the community, it only serves to shatter the bonds between members by reinforcing divides and detracting from what the community is really about. I met a member of every major religion, every reach of gender and sexuality, every social class, and every age. I’m sure we all had differing opinions, we may even have fought over them, but all that didn’t matter. What mattered is that we all loved gaming.

    Gone Home’s booth and demo may have impressed thousands and sold many people on their idea. Instead they backed out, inadvertently making the assumption that the administrators represent the community as a whole. They don’t. We do.

    • We can do it somewhere else. Anywhere else. If PAX is really about the community, why does it have to be PAX at all? The Penny Arcade Expo is named that for a reason. Hours after I published this, I saw a video of Mike Krahulik saying it was a mistake to pull the Dickwolves merchandise, and the crowd howled and cheered. He followed up by agreeing with his colleagues that they’re not going to engage criticism. And you say that I’m being divisive?

      No. He’s being exclusionary, callous, and dismissive of the diversity of gamers you praise. If something is not a problem for him, he thinks it shouldn’t be a problem at all. And he is attracting people who agree with that sentiment. They cheered for Dickwolves. You’re asking me to suck it up and not rock the boat because you’ve got it good. Well, I don’t. At this point, it seems unlikely that I will ever set foot in any PAX. And frankly, you don’t want me there. No love lost.

      I’m not making this about me. I’m recognizing that it’s not, and staying away. And I’m far from the only one. If that’s fine with you, go on supporting PAX. Declare everyone who doesn’t a killjoy, and accuse them of dividing the community, if you must. The reality is that the community is already divided. That’s what happens when you ask minorities to live by the standards of the majority, and accuse them of making trouble when they try to explain why it’s not going to work. You can go on pretending that the video game community at large is welcoming to people like me. I don’t have that luxury. I experience the contrary on a regular basis, and I won’t be lectured about how it doesn’t matter by someone who doesn’t have to live with it. That’s what people mean when they talk about “privilege”.

      One more thing: “transgender” is not a noun, and neither is “homosexual”. Try to remember that.

      • You make some good points. I realize the comment is quite selfish, and makes me appear like quite the asshole. Oh well, it’s on the internet now. My point is that the articles I read proclaiming PAX to be a bucket of misogyny, rape culture, and exclusion clashed with the observations of myself and everyone I knew who attended. I usually comment to incite discussion but clearly this one crossed the line into pissing people off territory.

        • It’s a sensitive subject. I won’t call you an asshole, but I’d like you to be more sensitive in addressing it. And while I may have bared my fangs, there, I don’t want to be needlessly antagonistic.

          I don’t think I’ve read anything saying PAX itself is the problem, or that everyone who goes is part of the problem. But you can’t escape the fact that it’s connected with a man who regularly makes insensitive, dismissive, and exclusionary remarks, and that this connection makes those who are part of the problem feel welcome to behave badly at and around PAX. As a result, not everyone has good experiences with the event, to say the least.