Trigger warning for discussions of rape and rape culture, both in the post and the comments.
It’s the time of year when I get asked at least a few times a week whether or not I’m attending PAX East. Since I’ve had this conversation several times now, I’ve decided to just write it down and point people to this post in the future, rather than have to hash all this out over and over for the next two months.
A couple of months ago, I got asked to be on a panel at PAX East 2011. I’d attended the IGDA Leadership Forum in October and been kind of a bitch (aka myself) on Twitter throughout the conference, mocking the verbal fuck-ups of men speaking about an industry that’s supposedly trying to be less of a sausage fest. (Free Tip From A Lady: Stop saying “guys” when you talk about your employees or potential employees. One of the men, from Sony I believe, even talked from the podium about the impact of employee relocation on, “girlfriends and wives.” I’m now assuming Sony has an all-lesbian development team on God of War 3.) This got the attention of someone who was (and maybe still is, for all I know) working with the PAX East team to put together some less sausage-fest-ish content for the convention, and I got offered a spot on a panel about women and video games in some way or another.
I said no, which given the circumstances probably doesn’t surprise you. Leaving aside the fact that I think it’s a little wrong-headed for people in the industry to get too tied into a fan convention in general, what I want to say is that as someone working in the game industry, I think the recent merchandising decisionsof Penny Arcade have made PAX and PAX East into spaces that I don’t want my industry to align itself with, and I’m not going to give Penny Arcade content as long as they keep selling that merchandise.
I’m not alone in this decision to not give Penny Arcade content for their events. I’m also not the person organizing this boycott. That person, for several valid reasons, doesn’t want to be identified or to publicize their protest, and I respect them and their decision. I do want to speak out a little about my participation. While conventions like PAX East are spaces for me as a fan in theory, and providing content to PAX East is something that I should want to do as a game producer in theory, Penny Arcade has, by their decision to market shirts that use rape as a punchline, made PAX and PAX East into events I won’t (and kind of can’t) set foot in. Which is ironic, when you consider that PAX began as the only overtly non-creepy convention to attend, as a woman.
For real, it is true! PAX and PAX East don’t allow booth babes, something I definitely noticed at the first PAX East last year. These conventions also actually have decent security and enforced sexual harassment policies — again, breaking new ground in the name of making the event less threatening to women. Awesome and appreciated decisions that I really value as an attendee. Now, if you’d taken a poll before the first PAX and asked, “Do you like booth babes?”, I would guess the majority of respondents would have said, “yes” because the majority of attendees at conventions like PAX are straight guys. I obviously don’t have data on this, I don’t think the Penny Arcade or PAX teams had data on this, but I also don’t feel like the statement, “straight guys who are active in video game culture like to look at semi-naked ladies,” is a radical or controversial statement.
ETA: Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve been linked to the results of a survey that Penny Arcade did in May 2010 regarding lifting or keeping their Booth Babe ban. The first PAX was in 2004, so I’m guessing this survey was a check-in to see if people still supported the ban. It’s been suggested that the PAX team did a survey before ever holding PAX, but I haven’t seen data supporting that. Also, to any straight men who are offended by my suggestion that there is an intersection between your enjoyment of video games and your heterosexuality, I’m sorry. Based on the lady characters that game companies design, and given that straight male gamers are the majority of players, I was under the impression that your market was the driving call for that type of thing. (Does Activision know how you feel?) So anyway…
And yet, PAX: No booth babes! Paying attention to the threat of sexual assault! It’s like the PAX team was interested in protecting and making room for the minority (women attending without being surrounded by objectified women), even if there was a small cost to the majority (straight men attending without random girl eye-candy).
I’m going to…not so much *make* this personal as *point out* the personal connection (I can’t really make this not personal)…as a rape survivor, the Dickwolves tshirt is disgusting as all hell to me. The idea of being in a room full of mostly men (if the demographic holds true to last year, anyway), where some of those men are wearing it, feels like a threat against me. (Which, given the shirt basically says, “Team Rapist!” on it, doesn’t seem too far-fetched). Penny Arcade has gone out of their way to make sure that the floor of PAX East is no longer a safe space for me.
This is not just me and it is not just women. One of the problems with rape culture is that there is a very rigid cultural narrative about who does or doesn’t get raped. So please let me assure you, if you work in the game industry, you probably know at least one male survivor of sexual assault. I’m not relying on statistics here — I’m saying that *I* know at least one male sexual assault survivor, and he’s pretty fucking popular. If we *do* look at statistics 1 in 33 American men has been sexually assaulted, and the video game industry is still rather male-dominated. I’m saying that *at least* one guy you know and count as a colleague is noticing your silence about this.
Penny Arcade’s continued use of rape as a punch line on their merchandise, and their sale of that merchandise on their site and at their events, is poisoning video game culture and video game fan events. If their charity work and structuring their cons to be less creepy to women were in the name of positively changing the perception of video games and gamers, then I do not understand their decision to pander to a puerile, sexist portion of their fan base, especially when it is so starkly prohibiting the participation of the people whose lives are being used as a punch line. In short: Why have they stopped following Wheaton’s Law?
This company doesn’t represent me or the type of culture I want to work in or create for. Fortunately, I can keep being a producer without speaking at PAX East…but I’m pretty sure that they can’t keep claiming to be a place for “all” of us if we stop showing up and stop giving them content to market and sell.
And for anyone saying, “but think of the women and girls you could reach out to who might be interested in the video game industry!” — the first monthly meeting of Women in Games Boston is tomorrow night.
UPDATE 01/26/2011: In the third paragraph of this post, the target for the link on, “recent marketing decisions,” now leads to a 404 Error on Penny Arcade. That link originally pointed at the page where one could buy a Dickwolves t-shirt. That t-shirt is no longer for sale on Penny Arcade. Even if Mike and Jerry don’t want to acknowledge it (the shirt appears to have been removed without comment), it deserves to be acknowledged. Thank you, guys. Thank you for listening to whoever you listened to, and thank you to whoever that was who spoke up and managed to convey what I, and a lot of others, have been trying to convey for months. Thank you, thank you, thank you.