The Conversation of Sexual Assault from E3, Penny Arcade, and Kickstarter

4 min

I didn’t want to write about this, I didn’t want to beat a dead horse, or a live one, for that matter.  I am as exhausted by the conversation as I think many people are by now.  The conversation which I am referring to is that of the abusive world women face every day in the gaming industry.  To be fair, the gaming industry is not the worst perpetrator of sexism and misogyny, but it definitely has the most unrest and an inspired chorus that is calling for change.  The real reason that I find myself dragging my mind back through this muddy road, my wagon wheeling treading the well worn ruts, is that prominent people in the industry keep finding new ways of sticking their feet in their mouths, brave people keep calling them out for it, and those of us who write about games reconcile the pieces because it would be irresponsible not to.

Let’s start at the beginning.  The world of video games was riding a high coming out of E3, wowed by the promise of new consoles, brave new IPs, and plenty of exciting games coming off of the industry’s biggest stage.  It had been such an exciting prior week, people were lamenting the slow news cycle by Tuesday.  It is a well-worn cliche about a calm before the storm, but often times there is an equal calm that follows the storm.  That calm was broken when Kotaku published an article by Tina Amini which recounted a handful of disturbing incidents at this year’s E3.  These incidents ranged from the generally creepy to straight up sexual assault.  The flames were further stoked as people began pointing to a Kickstarter where a man, Ken Hoinsky, sought funds to publish his book where he encourages men to molest women in pursuit of sex.  This sketchy individual started on Reddit, and while Kickstarter and Reddit are (obviously) not exclusive to the world of video games, they are prominent veins of the industry.  At the very least, it was a cause and effect moment as one could read the writings of this author and see its direct effects in the actions committed at E3.  Journalists, developers, and pundits from all over the industry engaged each other about these issues and it seemed like the kind of story we couldn’t get away from.

Then Microsoft announced its new policies about the Xbox One.  As quickly as these issues had surfaced, they were buried beneath a behemoth of a news story, bumped from the digital front page and relegated to a dismissive placed between previews and podcasts.  It seemed like the issue has been dropped, why bother with it any further?  That was when Penny Arcade posted a new panel to their PAX Australia line-up titled, Why So Serious?  The panel contains the description:

Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic, and involve any antagonist race aside from Anglo-Saxon and you’re called a racist. It’s gone too far and when will it all end?

This panel quickly drew ire from industry professionals on all fronts.  It also brought the oft-plagued history of Penny Arcade back into the spotlight and sparked a debate about Mike “Gabe” Krahulik’s views on transgender individuals and rape culutre.  It was not the first time Penny Arcade has found themselves mired in controversy–a condition they seem to crave–but things escalated quickly when the Fullbright Company announced they–and their game, Gone Home–would be skipping PAX Prime this year as they could not attend a conference ran by individuals that take such a lackadaisical approach to touchy issues.

Feminism is a long-running, oft-misunderstood battle. Even being the son of a feminist single-mother, and friends with numerous members of a feminist-focused Chicago theatre company, I still struggle to remind myself of innate, inconsiderate comments that come from years of high-school locker room talk. When watching the FX Comedy, The League, I would laugh at their “trade rape” jokes, and even make some of my own in confidence.  It is the same kind of mentality that causes many high-schoolers to still use the offensive phrase, “That is so gay.” I feel the same way about the Penny Arcade guys, even to a lesser extent about Hoinsky, they think their jokes and methods of procuring sex are relatively innocent.  Sexists and misogynists never labeled themselves as such, it is something born of ignorance.

I have never been sexually assaulted. When I go up to a girl’s apartment, I never have to wonder how I would get out of a dangerous situation.  I have never attended a party and had worry about someone slipping something into my drink, or locking me in a room upstairs. One in every five women suffer sexual assault, an interesting number when you think about the stories coming out of this year’s E3, which is not the first gaming conference to have these problems.  More of these stories came up after the Game Developer’s Conference and PAX East, earlier this year.  Cases of sexual assault and sexsim seem to arise every handful of months in the gaming industry.  Unfortunately, it is the neglectful attitudes of the people at Penny Arcade who allow these actions to become humorous, rather than refuse to acknowledge that there are complications regarding these serious issues.

Which leads us to the question of what needs to be done?  How can the gaming industry learn from these issues and change so to become a better atmosphere?  Sometimes it takes actions like that of the Fullbright Company, simply refusing to present at a convention until it becomes a safe and accepting atmosphere.  Another thing is that we can start treating these issues with a serious demeanor, not make unimpressive and crassly written jokes about them.  Let’s face it, while some of us might find Penny Arcade humorous, they aren’t writing Shakespeare or getting picked up by any late night comedians this decade.  The other thing that we can do is write, talk, and read about these issues.  While I oftentimes find myself not agreeing with all that is written, or talking with people who have conflicting ideals, every time I walk away from an article or conversation, I feel like I have a better grasp on the issues at hand.  That is why I felt like I had to write this piece.  So whether people agree or disagree, they can simply be reminded that this is an issue, an important issue, that reflects on a culture that I care a great deal for.  We all do, which is why we should be working to make it better, for everyone.

*Author’s Note: Kickstarter has posted an apology about the Above the Game campaign.  It is definitely worth a read.

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  1. What a winy pathetic article nobody was raped (except maybe your single mom) why are you complaining about it? Another idiotic whiny blogger this site really sucks

  2. One comment in, and already, “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”. Or anything even vaguely having to do with feminism, I suppose.

  3. Gabe didn’t do anything wrong here, people are allowed to have diffrent opinions and he even said he if a MtF wants to be acknowledged as a female he is happy to do so.

  4. How in the world can you write any of the above with a straight face when to the immediate right of the article are links to pages that do nothing but objectify and degrade women? So its ok to support the very things you pretend to be against when you are trying to make money but its a problem when anyone else does it? Cut me loose.

  5. Posts like these should come with a disclaimer.

    “Warning, this post intends to have a mature conversation about the nature of sexual assault in the video gaming community. Expect the inevitable flood of juvenile dipshit immature comments to follow”.

  6. This has already been stated, but what kind of pathetic linkbait aggregator blog are you running? “Sexism is bad,” followed by “You might also like… cosplay boobies!” I had a serious, well-considered post I was going to make but now I’m just going to troll your site and leave.

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