To catch up anybody not in the know — last August, Web comic Penny Arcade posted a strip commenting on the absurdity and moral ambiguity of MMORPGs. Basically, in most MMORPGs, a lot of quests are numbers-based. You have to collect a number of items, dispatch a number of bad guys or save a number of victims. When it comes to saving people, things get weird. Once you save your five or 10 or however many people, you leave and collect your reward, even though there are more victims still left behind. Often, the game mechanics actually prevent you from interacting with those victims once you’ve hit your target.
This is why, in my days of playing “World of Warcraft,” whenever I was in Feralas, I’d see if anyone was doing the quest chain to save the sprite darters and help them out. I loved the sprite darters, and it always made me sad that once you finished your quest with them, there they’d be again, caged up and dying.
A group of readers found the strip’s use of rape as part of the scenario offensive, and that’s kicked off an escalating online battle that has become increasingly hostile on both sides, to the point of being hateful, unproductive and sometimes threatening. In a lot of cases, the most fiery rants contain some really good points — but those points are being overlooked in the wake of all the vitriol.
At the same time, it’s an important conversation, both because of Penny Arcade’s influence in the gaming community and because it centers around rape awareness. It touches on how gamers treat one another, how men and women treat one another, and, as Chanel pointed out to me, the intersection between feminism and gaming. And it brings up ongoing conversations in the gaming world about everything from sexism to gay jokes to how women are portrayed in games.
So, I’ve read through all the coverage (and have been reading it since the strip and the response appeared last year), and I’ve rounded up the most objective, neutrally toned posts I could find discussing the issue, because I’d rather contribute to a productive discourse than fan the flames. An important note: Since this is Penny Arcade we’re talking about, and since this is such an emotionally charged conversation, and because of the subject matter of the original strip and the merchandise that followed it, please expect some NSFW language in the links below:
- From Dennis Scimeca, BitMob, a run-down of the events and an appeal for sensitivity
- From Amanda Marcotte, an exploration of the comic and commentary on Penny Arcade’s handling of the fallout
- From Denis Farr, perspectives as a rape survivor
- From InfoWire, a discussion of art and censorship in the context of the comic, the response and the merchandise
- Debacle Timeline, a nuts-and-bolts play-by-play of all the relevant events and coverage
My point of view is this: I’m absolutely not saying that survivors should be calm or that fans of the strip don’t have a right to be angry. But if you act like a jerk while trying to make a point, nobody is going to remember the point that you made. They’ll just remember that you were a jerk. I don’t remember who told me that, but it’s become one of my rules for life.
Edit to add: Jerry/Tycho of Penny Arcade today made a statement in the Penny Arcade blog that is reasoned and articulate, which followed a call from Mike/Gabe for the threats and harassment on both sides to end. This I’m glad of.