Wednesday, September 4, 2013

YOU are the fake geek, and YOU are the problem. by Mike Fatum [UPDATE]

I've been back from PAX now for two days, and for two days I've been just slightly depressed that I'm back in the real world. It's a feeling we've all had before - coming back from a really good convention, and having to go back to a world where everyone for 300 miles isn't exactly like you and doesn't necessarily want to talk to you. It's the end of a weekend of making friends that you may or may not ever meet again. It's a bittersweet feeling, the sweetness coming from knowing that you'll be back next year, come hell or high water.

And I felt that way until I read this article:

Read the whole thing and come back. I'll wait.

So now you know the history of the Dickwolves saga. A saga that disgusted me at the time, but made me proud of Mike from Penny Arcade when he was a big enough man to admit that maybe his comedy wasn't as important as making people feel safe. And then this year, in the PAX closing ceremonies that I was so sad to miss, he goes and says he regrets taking down the T-shirt. He regrets changing his mind and becoming a bigger person. And people I respected, especially former Ace of Geeks Award Winner Jerry Holkins, agreed with him.

If it was my place alone to take away one of our little meaningless awards from somebody, god damn it, I would.

I've been saying it for years. I've posted article after article on here and elsewhere. And I'm so angry because I just can't seem to get through - nobody can. We're geeks. We exist because we all have one simple thing in common - we know what it's like to be bullied, to be ostracized, to be attacked by people who's only defense is that they think its funny. And yet, time and time again, we turn into those same monsters that created us in an attempt to emulate them. Because we think they're the cool kids, and deep down we still want to be them.

This. Is. Idiotic.

So let me lay this out for you, real simple: If you ever, ever bully someone or make them feel excluded, you are not a Geek. You are not a Nerd. You are not one of us and you don't belong here. If I could burn your Star Wars memorabilia in front of you, you're damn right I would. And let me tell you something - you're not a Jock or a Mundie either. I hang out with those people, and they have some common decency when they're not drunk. You're the worst piece of scum on the history of the planet, because you aren't just attacking us out of ignorance like they do. You know what it's like, and you still choose to exclude based on your personal desire to be that hip, cool kid who tortured you in high school.

Keep in mind here, I'm not talking about decent people who use shock humor. One of my good friends, who I spent a day at PAX with, says some truly god damn shocking things for a laugh. But I know in my heart if I ever said "Whoa man, you took that too far," his first response would be "Oh shit, I'm sorry," not "Fuck you, I can say what I want!"

And yes, it is a little hypocritical to say "If you don't want to let people into our club, get out of our club!" But dammit, these people don't even want to be here. You know them, they sniff and turn their noses at us, complaining about the smell and body weight at a convention, or how people dress. If they looked in a mirror or smelled themselves for ten seconds, they might know how much of a part of the problem they are. They are self-loathing, and until they can learn to love themselves and act like decent human beings, they don't belong.

I used to believe there was no such thing as a fake geek. But if you can't go without bullying somebody, you don't belong. Get. Out.


Most of the lively and spirited debate that this article caused yesterday was due to its initial target, the folks at Penny Arcade. Mike has now put a post up on his blog that clarifies what he meant to say on stage at PAX, and I think it's worth adding here:

"There have been a lot of assumptions about what I meant or thought at the panel last Monday. I wanted to clear that up, so get ready, let’s talk about Dickwolves.
Robert had the idea to host a panel at PAX this year that would be him interviewing Jerry and me. The thinking was that there’s stuff only he can ask us because only he knows about it, or if anyone else asked us we would tell them to fuck off. He got us to talk pretty openly about some very private stuff, from our finances and how we spend our money to our wives and details about the times we’ve been approached to sell Penny Arcade. It was a super intense interview but the one question that is getting the most attention is when Robert asked us to name a time when we thought he made a mistake.

That’s a hard question because honestly Robert makes very few mistakes. Although if he asked me that same question today I’d probably say “the time you asked us to be brutally honest in front of three thousand people.” So I had to think really hard about it and the only time I could remember really thinking he made a mistake was when he told us we had to pull the Dickwolves merch. I didn’t really get a chance to elaborate on why that was though, and unfortunately by not doing so it created a bit of a firestorm on the Internet.

So let me start by saying I like the Dickwolves strip. I think it’s a strong comic and I still think the joke is funny. Would we make that strip today? Knowing what we know now and seeing how it hurt people, no. We wouldn’t. But at the time, it seemed pretty benign. With that said I absolutely regret everything we did after that comic. I regret the follow up strip, I regret making the merchandise, I regret pulling the merchandise and I regret being such an asshole on twitter to people who were upset. I don’t think any of those things were good ideas. If we had just stopped with the strip and moved on, the Dickwolf never would have become what it is today. Which is a joke at the expense of rape victims or a symbol of the dismissal of people who have suffered a sexual assault. the comic itself obviously points out the absurd morality of the average MMO where you are actually forced to help some people and ignore others in the same situation. Oddly enough, the first comic by itself is exactly the opposite of what this whole thing has turned into.

There are people who were offended by or hurt by the joke in the strip and rather than just let it go we decided to make a second strip. That was a mistake and I apologize to this day for that strip. It was a knee jerk reaction and rather than the precision strike back at our detractors that we intended, it was a massive AOE that hurt a lot of innocent people. We should have just stopped right then but we kept going and made the merchandise. Had we left it alone, the ongoing tension about the whole thing might have subsided but Robert made the call to pull the shirts. In hindsight all this did was open the wound back up and bring on a whole new wave of debate. Any action we took at the time just dug us deeper regardless of what it was. What we needed to do was stop. just stop. I apologized for it at the time and I will still apologize for it. Everything we did after that initial comic strip was a mistake and I regret all of it.

If you saw the panel you know that someone in the audience shouted out and asked us to bring the merchandise back. Both Robert and I immediately said no way. We have worked very hard to make PAX a safe place. We have an incredible anti-harassment policy, a “booth babe” policy that you will not find anywhere else in the industry,and panels that cover all the social issues facing gaming today in a meaningful way. That’s the heart of PAX and that will never change.

I certainly can’t blame the people who still want to hate me. In that same panel with Robert he asked us how we feel about being role models. We don’t aspire to be role models, just normal people, but we try to do what’s best with the platform we have. I can’t promise I won’t piss you off again at some point. In fact I suggested to Robert a header at the top of the page saying “it has be x days since our last fuck up” but he shot me down. What I can promise is that we will continue to be honest with you. There’s no bullshit, no PR, this is just Jerry and I and we’re doing the best we can. Hopefully we will keep getting better.

I sort of see PAX like I see my children. Yes I helped make them and yes they have a lot of me in them but they can be better than me. They can take the good stuff I have and leave out all the bad. Like my kids, PAX makes me want to be better.

-Gabe Out"

Aaaand that's about all I wanted from them. Thanks for being the big men and admitting your fault here, folks.

This doesn't really change my opinion, mind you, just my target. I still think we shouldn't be celebrating the bullies that fill our culture as much as we do, we should be sending them packing. But at least I can count Mike as one of the ones with a conscience.


  1. Mike, not every geek or nerd has been bullied, at least not for that. Everyone has experienced being bullied as well as being the bully. I know you are upset by this, but to turn it to exclusionary anger isn't really going to help things out. We exist not because we were bullied, we exist because we have a passion.

    In years past I have personally known Mike Krahulik, and yes he can be a bit of a dick when his dander is up or he is feeling attacked. That said he really isn't anti women, pro-rape, or anti-Trans. A lot of these things happen to exist outside of his narrow and sheltered experiences. So he tends to fumble around in his reactions at times, but is at least honest enough to admit he is ignorant to a lot of these things. It certainly isn't malicious. If he and Jerry Holkins feel it was a mistake to pull the Dickwolves merch for reasons of integrity, artistic/comedic expression, or business then let them have their own conclusions.

    If art is has a purpose it is to make us think and challenging our beliefs and making us uncomfortable are two of the ways art does that. The Dickwolves are a send up of the fact that we prioritize something so monstrous as rape (the systematic rape of what is ostensibly a literal rape culture)soo low in our society that it doesn't even register higher than that of a quest chain. This is again what makes Jerry such a genius comedic writer, and from how own self professed feminist stance.

    TL:DR: I will quote from my partner and the unnamed shock jock you hung out with, "Comedy is tough... wear a cup."

    -Robert Fulkerson

    1. I appreciate the defense of the intent, and of a friend of yours, but my point still stands. Even though I'm a little calmer now than when I wrote this article, I still stand by my statement that you can't be a part of our warm group hug of geekdom and be a bully. The thing that separates a jokester like your partner from a bully is exactly what I stated above - the ability to admit when you've gone to far, or to at least apologize if you've hurt someone. To say "No, it's my right to make people feel bad," or "They need to grow some balls," is purely childish, and yes, we as geeks should be above that. Especially considering where we come from.

      I still don't buy the idea that there are geeks who lived in such wonderful, sheltered places that they were never bullied.

    2. I didn't say they weren't ever bullied, they just weren't bullied for being geeks. I was one of those people. I was teased and bullied for a multitude of other reasons but not for my passions. Usually it was based upon appearance in the form of my glasses or some such. I admit I had a great community that we produced in middle and high school that was able to enjoy our passions without being derided or ostracized for it.

      As for PA being a bully, they did publicly apologize in post and comic form just as you say a jokester should. Just because he regrets pulling the merch due to some peoples interpretation of their work and reaction to it I think is still valid and doesn't make them a bully. Once an artist releases their work to the public they have no idea how it will be perceived as we all view for ourselves and are not hand held by the artists intentions. After all nothing ruins a joke more than having to explain it.

      To the comment that it is childish to claim "No, it's my right to make people feel bad," I think that is a perfectly acceptable stance for an artist to take. Artists should evoke emotion in their works and not all works are going to be beautiful and cheerful. Some of the best art brings forth feelings of hurt, loss, shame, regret, fear, and pain. We want artists and comedians to be able to provoke these feelings within us to help us empathize and feel, to truly experience life.

    3. I agree with you - if, and only if, that is their intended reaction. If a comic sets out to just make people mad, period, then hey, that's their goal and while I think it's a stupid goal, whatever. But if your goal is to make people laugh, like the folks behind PA, and you stumble and miss, then its your responsibility to look at what you've done and see where you fucked up, and it's on you to fix it. Saying "Well, toughen up! God!" just makes you defensive and immature.

    4. I think they did succeed with a laugh. I think that comic is hilariously appropriate for the reasons I stated in my first comment. I personally feel, along with Mike, Jerry and Robert Khoo, that there is nothing wrong with the comic. It wasn't a stumble or a miss, it is funny and poignant.

      The audience is always free to interpret the work as they like. Some will love it, some will be offended by it. They shouldn't have to apologize or "fix it." This sentiment is limiting to artistic expression and even be akin to endorsing censorship. Just because you do not enjoy a work of art does not invalidate its importance.

      While I am a proponent of building communities and inclusiveness I know that not everything has to please everyone all the time. Artists, hell everyone, should feel free to express themselves safely. To thy own self be true.

  2. You seem to be really focused on this idea that I want to censor people, which is not what I've said or what I believe. Again, do whatever art you want. All I'm saying is, if you make someone offended or worse, feel unsafe, you should probably apologize.

    I thought the comic was funny, too. I thought their overly defensive reaction was the problem. There's no problem with creating art. And there's no problem with standing by your original intent. But there IS a problem with hurting someone and saying anything but "I'm sorry I made you feel that way." It's the difference between starting a conversation and continuing a fight.

  3. The problem that I have with the sentiment you proposed that it is the artists responsibility to apologize to everyone that has ever been offended, insulted, or hurt by their work of art is that it is stifling. It creates an atmosphere not necessarily of outside censorship but internal self censorship of the artist in their works. So yes I am a bit focused on your choice of words and intent in so far as I feel that it can be an unnecessary burden on artists.

    You and I are in total agreement when it comes to content versus controversy of what happened. The comics themselves are fun and funny and on point, the reaction of both camps was over blown, threatening, and insulting in ways that are difficult to reconcile even years later.

  4. I should rephrase my earlier sentence. "All I'm saying is, if you make someone offended or worse, feel unsafe, don't change your art, but do apologize."