In August 2010, Penny Arcade posted a comic strip involving a character who said he was "raped by dickwolves" as a setup for a punchline about the unusual morality of MMORPG quests. Some people pointed out that casual use of rape in jokes isn't funny, which lead to a follow-up strip where the creators sarcastically told people not to let the strip turn them into rapists. While the prior one was in questionable taste, this strip actually did propagate rape culture by deliberately misinterpreting why people might take issue.
Two months later, Penny Arcade decided to sell "Penny Arcade Dickwolves" T-shirts and pennants in the style of a sports team. There were more complaints about this. Courtney Stanton was one of those who objected, and started to offer Dickwolves Survivors Guild T-shirts of her own. She was later invited, and declined to speak at, PAX East, a convention run by the Penny Arcade folks.
Arguments over whether or not the "dickwolves" meme was a joke or not and whether it was offensive or oppressive flared up in late 2010 and into January and February of 2011. Penny Arcade supporters created Team Rape to harass anti-rape activists. Numerous threats were made against women who complained about the "dickwolves" comics and merchandise (Stanton documented the frequency of people saying they hope she's raped, in her troll data analysis post.) Similarly supporters of Courtney Stanton proceeded to message Mike Krahulik asking if he would find comedy in them coming to his house and murdering his wife and children.
The debacle came to an initial end when the Dickwolves merchandise was removed from the PA store and Mike Krahulik made an apology for the statements made during the arguments that had occurred on blogs and Twitter. Jerry Holkins made a final post on the matter summarizing that while Penny Arcade know they create a crass, snarky webcomic that is reliant on this type of humour, they were in no way supporters of rape culture.
On September 2nd, 2013, the controversy reemerged after a Q&A panel at PAX Prime. Panel speaker Robert Khoo (the business manager of the company) asked Mike Krahulic what he felt was the biggest mistake the company ever made, with the answer being the removal of the Dickwolves merchandise. This lead to some cheers from the audience and a ton of discussion about how Mike still doesn't understand what made the shirts problematic in the first place. He apologized again, saying he regret everything he said and did past the initial comic.
The entire situation is documented in great detail and in timeline form at The Pratfall of Penny Arcade - A Timeline
Notable posts to read
- Original comic
- Following apology
- Penny Arcade announces tshirts
- Penny Arcade mocks trigger warnings
- Courtney Stanton: Why I'm not speaking at PAX East 2011
- Data analysis of pro/anti dickwolves comments
- Feministing: Gaming with the wrong controller