Friday, September 6, 2013

The Penny Arcade Problem


This is a complicated issue. There are lots of emotions, feelings, and opinions wrapped up here. I've sat at my desk for hours going back and forth on whether or not to write anything about it. I've decided that silence is worse than anything well thought out and measured that I might write.

Video games are bigger than the games in isolation, its more than any singular part of the industry is anymore and what has happened with Penny Arcade, PAX, and Mike Krahulik.
I think that distinction is really important. To me, Penny Arcade is a comic, PAX is a convention, and Mike Krahulik is not a particularly nice person. I used to try to like the comic and I think the PAX conventions are still very important to games. However, now more than ever Krahulik's insensitive and irreverent comments make enjoying those other two things really difficult.

For a long time I said that I could keep those things all separate. PAX has become a massive boon to the industry, it gives tons of independent developers a chance to showcase their work. For some people, that might be the thing that translates to lasting success. It's not like PAX is make or break for every game developer but it can definitely help.

Up until recently, I kept on reading the comic as well. I think it's pretty funny and I think the satire points to a lot of really interesting things about the video game industry at large. However, the now infamous comic went too far. At heart, the joke might have been funny, however, presented as it was offensive and just uncool.

Mike Krahulik has talked about what's at the heart of the joke. Pointing out the artificiality and then the nonsensical nature of morality systems and goals. The two are seemingly incompatible. There are dozens of amazing comics to be written about the contradiction there. Mike Krahulik chose to not draw one of those. I know I'm being hard on Krahulik without putting any of the blame on Jerry Holkins. Let me be clear, Holkins is as much to blame for the Aug. 8 2010 comic-which-will-not-be-named  as Krahulik is. However, Holkins has not perpetuated the controversy. He has not made ignorant and flippant remarks. To reiterate what one developer said, this has been a continuing problem. A problem that I think has been exacerbated mainly by Krahulik.

In light of everything that has happened, a good number of developers have chosen to not be represented at PAX Prime and will not be showing their games at PAX shows in the future. I support them every step of the way in this. I've always been a strong supporter of independent developers and I will continue to support them whether they show at PAX or not.

However, I'm also going to support developers who do show at PAX. The show has become vital to the industry and some developers will not be able to turn away from the attention that PAX can give them. It's hard out there for a lot of people and sometimes, sadly, we do things that compromise our beliefs, morals, and standards in order to make a living. I respect every person, group, and organization that refuses to do that. However, I understand that there are people who cannot afford to do that. I don't think less of them at all.

Then there's Child's Play, the charity founded by the Holkins and Krahulik. While I don't think it's fair to totally separate the two men from Child's Play, I think it would be a shame for Krahulik's actions to negatively affect Child's Play. To date they've raised over 17 million dollars to buy toys, games, and books for children's hospitals. It's a great cause, one I'd like to see thrive despite an ill feelings towards Krahulik.

I understand the anger that's been and is being displayed. I understand all of the writers and developers who will no longer support PAX and Penny Arcade. I understand all of the writers and developers who will continue to go. Telling people that they're wrong for going to PAX is itself a different problem. People should go if they want, the same way the people can go to Coachella and shouldn't feel guilty.

I've stopped reading the comic. I've also put some serious thought into whether or not I will attend any PAX in the future. I'm still going to donate to Child's Play when I can spare it. I will continue to support games and developers whether or not they show at PAX.

Those are my feelings, they're mine and personal and I've thought about them. I think everyone should take some time and do the same.

Edit: This isn't about any one thing that Krahulik or Holkins or anyone did. It's about a consistent streak of not behaving in an ethical, responsible way.

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