Penny Arcade surprised to find that rape jokes offend people

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, artist and author of Penny Arcade

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon has already highlighted the key points of Penny Arcade's recent run-in with feminist blog Shakesville, not to mention the e-mails they've apparently received from readers who are upset about last Wednesday's comic.

Marcotte does not interpret PA's joke to be "a 'rape joke' in the classic sense of the term, which is a joke where the punch line expresses the idea that raping is awesome."

I happen to agree with her interpretation:

The joke of the comic was that the moral universes painted in video games are often horrific in a way that contrasts with the light-hearted nature of gaming.  That strikes me as a perfectly appropriate thing to make fun of, tame even.
But other people are still upset, which begs the question: is it ever okay to talk about rape in a joke, even if ultimately the joke is making fun of something else? I'd say that if you plan to cavalierly throw a word like "rape" around, you'd better expect some people to be upset about it. And you'd better not be too bratty when they are.

Unfortunately, Penny Arcade wrote a comic in response to the criticism they'd received.

Is that response comic sarcastic, or not? Are they making fun of people who take offense to rape, or not? After all, look at Gabe's angry face! Look how angry he is about rapists! He's certainly serious about condemning them. Isn't he? ... Hm.
Remember Poe's Law, which asserts that it's almost impossible to tell a parody of a fundamentalist from the real deal? It's also impossible to tell Penny Arcade's apology from a parody of an apology. But the response comic was an awkward choice either way. Leaving well enough alone would've been a better idea.

The word "rape" is obnoxiously overused in gaming culture; just listen to a few episodes of the otherwise-great Idle Thumbs podcast if you don't believe me. Generally, it's used to mean "beaten badly by a better player or by the AI." The term's much more innocent synonyms, "own" and "pwn," seem to have fallen out of fashion.
I try to limit my own use of problematic words, even in my most competitive, belligerent moments. If someone points out to me that I have offended them, my first response is ... well, to assume that I did. Does it matter if I didn't intend to?
That initial PA comic probably isn't going to cause any rapes -- but the problem is a tad more complex than that. It's not hard to understand the concern that including casual mention of rape in one of the most popular gaming websites on the internet might encourage gamers to continue throwing it around. But it's also not hard to see that the PA comic isn't using the word in the same casual way that the Idle Thumbs guys use it; after all, the comic's joke doesn't work if rape isn't interpreted as horrible and anything but light-hearted.
I predict that fans of Penny Arcade will happily tell offended parties that if they can't take the heat, they should get out of the fire. That argument is one that the Penny Arcade creators could stand to hear, as well. I'm often surprised at Penny Arcade's complete inability to take criticism maturely. If you're going to exist on the internet, you're going to come across people who hate you, and you're going to have to learn how to ignore it or be polite. (Take, for example, the pair's childish responses to Ebert's notorious claim that "video games can never be art.")
I hate to see two of gaming's biggest celebrities make such immature missteps. It gives gamers a bad reputation, and we do bad enough in that area as it is.
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