PAX East, Day 3: Telltale Games, Indie start-ups, and - unfortunately - Dickwolves

Be sure to check out my PAX East recaps for the first half of Friday, the second half of Friday, and all of Saturday.

When I woke up this morning, my gamer-filled Twitter feed was full of condemnations of Daylight Savings Time. Poor PAX attendees are typically short on hours to sleep as it is, and taking away an hour really did a number on us all. I spent most of the morning in a sleep-deprived haze.

I managed to drag myself to the line for the Telltale Games panel about their game Poker Night at the Inventory, and I got there an hour early, assuming that I'd have as much trouble getting into this panel as I did every other time I've tried to attend a panel at PAX. On the contrary, the theatre was only a quarter full. While waiting in line, I mentioned that I hadn't even played Poker Night before and I was only there to hear from the two panelists who also used to be on the now-defunct Idle Thumbs podcast. As soon as I said that, two other guys next to me in line piped up to say that the same was true for them. Poker Night is an obscure game, and the Idle Thumbs podcast isn't exactly popular either, so this was definitely a niche panel. Or maybe no one was there because everyone was hungover and/or grumpy from two busy days of gaming, partying, and not sleeping enough, especially with Daylight Savings Time kicking our collective butts.

While we waited in line, one of the Telltale guys gave us pins with Strong Bad from Homestar Runner and Max from the Sam and Max games on them. Telltale Games is the developer that made the Strong Bad video game, as well as the Sam and Max games. Poker Night at the Inventory actually includes the characters of Max and Strong Bad, as well as the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and Tycho from Penny Arcade. It's a mash-up, and as the panelists explained, the random cross-franchising had more to do with lawyer agreements than the dev team's vision.

We also had the chance to win t-shirts while waiting in line, and I won one of them by doing an impression of Homestar. Even at PAX, this still made the rest of the line give me the "what a weirdo" side-eye. They were probably just jealous.

The panel itself involved a lot of visual gags via power point, as well as some explanations of the game's in-jokes. Even though the devs were quick to tell us that the game was an unmitigated disaster -- they had to make the game in 80 days, so they didn't have nearly enough time to work out all the kinks -- I found myself wanting to play it. Yes, even though I had listened to people talking about the game's problems for an hour. Could there be something wrong with my brain?

The second panel I attended ended up being significantly more crowded because it was one of the only interesting things left to do before the con closed. It was titled "Start Your Own Damn Company," and it was intended for would-be indie games developers who hoped to strike out on their own and pull a Jon Blow. The panelists were Eitan Glinert, Damian Isla, Chris Oltyan, and Scott MacMillan, with Ichiro Lambe moderating. (Props to Lambe, by the way, for being the only good moderator out of all three panels I attended. Lambe avoided annoying audience rambling by making everyone write their questions on index cards; then, Lambe chose which ones to ask. This was the best possible idea and should be used for every panel, at every con, for all time.)

The panel's advice was both simplistic and contradictory. Any time one of the guys put forth some solid advice, another guy would jump in to vehemently disagree. This would have been frustrating if it weren't so hilarious, and if anything, it served as an exercise in proving how many different paths there are to leading a successful indie games company. When Lambe asked the panelists what the best first step would be for the people in the room who wanted to make a game but didn't know how, MacMillan suggesting downloading Unity 3D and learning how to code. Then, Glinert jumped in to say he completely disagreed, and that networking with other developers was best, since you could always play another role on your future team besides coding. And then Oltyan interrupted to say he disagreed with both of those statements, and he instead believed that people should try to build a playable prototype of their game on index cards first. He explained that he had tried to make a video game and had never finished it, and he instead made a board game out of what he had. At this, Isla quipped, "That's great -- if you want to make a board game." The lesson of the day? There's no foolproof road map for starting your own business.

I headed out of the panel and planned to dash over to the expo hall for the last half hour that it'd be open. I took out my phone and glanced at my twitter feed, and I was struck to see that the satirical Twitter account for Privilege Denying Dude (@privilegedenyin; explanation of the meme here) was mentioning @teamrape and linking to my article about Dickwolves. Turns out @teamrape had attempted to follow @privilegedenyin, but the latter would have none of that; it may be a satirical account, but it's not that in-character.

I warily went to @teamrape's profile page and saw that he was (still) determinedly harrassing Courtney Stanton and updating folks about his PAX presence. I already had heard that he was organizing "Dickwolf flash mobs" at the con. Apparently, the flash mobs did happen, with 15 attendees on Friday and 18 on Saturday. Not exactly a "mob," but okay.

@Teamrape had a little encouragement from on high, of course. On Saturday, Mike Krahulik drew a "Dickvagina" at the Make-A-Strip panel, similar to the way he drew a Dickwolf at the Make-A-Strip panel at PAX Prime last year. Of course, both of these were drawn at the audience's request, so that makes it okay. Right? Uh, right. That totally justifies further fanning the flames.

I wasn't offended by the original strip. I'm not offended by Dickwolves in a vacuum. But they're not in a vacuum, definitely not anymore. They're media that is absorbed by a society, a community that has people like @teamrape in it, people who want an excuse to bully other people. Maybe only 15-18 people agree with his bullying, or even know about him at all; that's nice to hear. It's probable that a lot of people who were laughing about the Dickwolves at the con don't know about @teamrape, or Courtney Stanton, or that most people -- like me -- are offended by the subsequent harrassment and not really the Dickwolves at all. It's very easy to laugh if you don't do your research and find out why so many people started getting upset. Would people still think the word was funny, if they knew that their laughter was encouraging crueler people to harrass anyone who wasn't laughing hard enough?

As I finished reading the Tweets about Mike's latest drawing and @teamrape's antics, I looked around me and suddenly felt like I had to get out as soon as possible. As I jogged across the sky walk, I thought about what my ideal gaming convention would be like. It didn't seem like it would be that hard to not ostracize people who don't think every damn thing you say is hilarious. I guess I just don't understand.

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