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September 5, 2013

Telepath Tactics, PAX and the Indie MEGABOOTH

This PAX Prime was my first PAX Prime. It was incredible.

We won a Drool Award from Twinfinite.net, one of only 10 they give out at the event; TotalBiscuit stopped by my booth and played a live 1-v-1 match against the AI for 30 minutes; I got to do interviews and present my game to numerous members of the press, including the eminently talented Tracey Lien of Polygon; I saw old developer friends and made many new ones; I got to try Owlboy and see Dead State played live.

Above all, though, I got to ride the cresting wave of ecstasy that is sharing your game with hundreds of enthusiastic people. There is nothing quite like watching someone’s face light up as you rattle off the features of your game. I gave away one thousand business cards, ran out, then started taking down email addresses by hand on a notepad. I have pages and pages of them now. I high-fived each and every one of the Kickstarter backers who came to my booth. I have absolutely no idea how many new fans I made or how many existing fans I reached, but I can confidently say that the experience was like nothing I’d had at any other convention. In many ways, PAX was nothing short of a godsend.

I wish I could end this piece here. But I can’t. At the airport, waiting for my flight back to Chicago, I learned that on the last day of PAX, Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade went and reopened the old Dickwolves controversy.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, the whole thing is catalogued in exhaustive, chronological detail right here. It began with some criticisms about a Penny Arcade comic. Those criticisms could have been dealt with sensitively and expeditiously, and the whole thing would have gone away. Instead, they were fanned into a flaming conflagration through insensitive needling by Penny Arcade (including via the offering of Dickwolves merchandise), then by a small army of Penny Arcade fans who felt emboldened by that needling. Rape survivors felt insulted, ignored, and unwelcome; worse, Penny Arcade fans harassed people who spoke out about it. It was really ugly. Eventually, Krahulik apologized and Penny Arcade pulled the Dickwolves merchandise from its stores. The conflagration receded.

On Monday, seemingly for no reason, Krahulik resurrected the controversy again. The crowd cheered him for it. It has taken me a few days to put together what I want to say about it, but now I feel ready to speak.

First: I am deeply disappointed in Krahulik for dredging up the Dickwolves controversy again. The fact that he did so only to express regret over one of Penny Arcade’s few acts of contrition makes it even worse. I don’t know if Krahulik will ever grow out of his apparent need to keep ripping out the stitches and poking around inside that gash. Nor do I know if his subsequent clarification is accurate or sincere.

It doesn’t matter. That’s all beside the point now. By repeatedly screwing up and making people feel that their concerns are unimportant–even after seemingly heartfelt apologies!–he’s made a significant portion of my potential audience feel deeply, irreversibly uncomfortable showing up at PAX. Maybe it’s not Krahulik himself so much as the people in the crowd who cheered for him; but one way or another, the bottom line is that those fans don’t feel safe or welcome at PAX anymore. That’s what matters. And it makes me angry.

It makes me angry that Penny Arcade would so carelessly poison such a brilliant venue for reaching gaming fans and press. Despite a few assertions I’ve seen to the contrary, there really is nothing of comparable scope, popularity and affordability out there right now for fans and small developers. It puts people like me in a profoundly bad situation: either I pass up the best available opportunity–by at least an order of magnitude–for getting my game known by a general audience, or else I show up and grant legitimacy to an event that has alienated people I care about.

I do not want to be seen as endorsing what Krahulik said on the last day of PAX Prime this year. I do not endorse what he said; I detest it. I know that many of my fellow developers from the Indie MEGABOOTH feel similarly. So I’m coming out to publicly support moving the Indie MEGABOOTH to another event. Perhaps we can help that event grow into a viable alternative, one where everyone feels truly welcome.

While this year’s PAX was incredible for me, nothing is worth alienating my fans. When the Indie MEGABOOTH moves, I will follow it.

  • Lunar Neil

    Neil from Lunar Giant here. I’ve got similar feelings. PAX is a hugely advantageous venue for smaller developers like us, and it is tragic to lose out on such a valuable asset because one of the major founders persists in making really awful comments that seem to imply he just can’t understand that this is bigger than what he thinks is funny.

    Penny Arcade, the comic, is a frequently offensive venue for off color gaming commentary and some game journalism. If that’s all it was, then this wouldn’t be a big deal. But because they run PAX and they’re heavy hitters in the game world, their jokes matter a bit more. People who want to develop the persona of a edgy oft-offensive shock comedian are going to have an uphill climb if they also want to be a social-justice advocate running an “Everyone Welcome” convention. I’m surprised they’ve not run afoul of this more often, but this is just one of those issues that hit the right mix of latent nerd support from the creeper division and whip-crack anger from a sizable minority that had been specifically courted by PAX previously.

    Why reject booth babes if you’re still going to be totally tone-deaf?

    Even in the context of “It’s just a joke, calm down and watch some George Carlin” you’re hitting issues because, even when Carlin was joking about rape, he specifically said you gotta make one thing way out of proportion. It’s the extremeness that helps make it funny. I found the original strip funny enough for that reason. What wasn’t funny was the follow-up and everything else, and everything else, and everything else…