Dear Gabe

Gabe,

I read your ‘resolution’ on the Penny Arcade page and it has me a little concerned. I see a lot of myself in what you said, but not 100%. You have a much higher profile than me but have fone through a lot of the same things this past couple of years, we seem to have come out of it differently though.

So what I did is decide at a young age that no one else’s opinion of me mattered. I had to in order not to kill myself. I had to flip a switch in my head and essentially decide that no one else could decide what I was or was not. I shut almost everyone out and decided that anyone who attacked me was an “enemy” and I began to attack back. I got very good at insulting people. Kids would come at me with some bullshit about my teeth or how goofy I looked and I would retaliate with insults I had custom built for them while lying awake at night and each one was a precision strike to their insecurities. This kid was short, that one had a hard time reading, this other one’s parents were getting a divorce. By 7th grade I could make someone hit me with a couple words.

I was horribly bullied for much of my school time too. Not for being the ‘new guy’ but for the more usual things kids get/got picked on for. Being nerdy, thoughtful, quiet, not liking sports and so on. Same as you on the advice front but where ignoring trolls works, ignoring bullies doesn’t because they’ll just hit you or physically aggravate you when you don’t respond

Like you, I used what I had to protect myself and others. Wit, intelligence, the gift of the gab. Most of the time that worked pretty well and being funny at the same time as insulting people was good protection because it turned the rest of the bully-pack on whoever you were insulting. Sometimes it didn’t work and you got beaten up anyway, but by and large it was the means I had to stick up for myself and for others.

They weren’t fights so much as they were beatings but I still ended up in the vice principal’s office. Eventually they started to realize I was instigating the abuse. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t just keep my mouth shut. Why I had to egg these kids on. “Why can’t you just ignore them and keep walking when they say something to you?” I can’t count how many counsellors told me “they are just words, they can’t hurt you.” but words can hurt and as a scrawny kid who couldn’t fight I learned the right words can hurt much more and much longer than a fist.

We are all products of our childhood and what came out of mine was an unrepentant asshole. This person wasn’t a great fit for the handful of retail jobs I bounced between. I’m not what you would call a “people person”. It was a good fit for making comic strips though. In 1998 I finally discovered an outlet for the the horrible skills I had. My disgusting sense of humor helped to create Penny Arcade and grow it to what it has become today. The same things about me that I used to think were an asset, something good that I brought to the mix have become a liability though. It’s a strange position to be in and I’ve spent a lot of time this year reflecting on it. The person I am isn’t good for PA anymore and in fact who I am and the way I behave has caused real damage to it. So this person isn’t good for PA but I’m not sure it’s good for me either.

I disagree.

You are – or were – still fighting back against the bullies, even if they don’t know that they’re bullies. The nature of the bullies has changed though. It’s a different era and the people trying to impose their will aren’t doing so with physicality but with shaming, guilt-tripping, and nastily worded attacks. Is it a genuine liability or has your audience been supportive? Should these bullies not be contested and argued back against? It’s hard, sure, because they cloak themselves in righteousness but they’re also hypocrites. As with the aura religion previously put around itself, protecting itself with blasphemy laws, so we need to pierce the bubble around any argument that is used to ward off any criticism or examination.

So what am I? As a young person I imagined myself a sort of vengeful spirit. A schoolyard Robin Hood who attacked the strong and popular on behalf of the social outcasts. I’m 36 years old now though and I realize what I am is a bully. I may have been the one who got beat up but I sent plenty of kids home in tears. I also realize that I carried those ridiculous insecurities into adulthood. I still see people who attack me as the enemy and I strike back with the same ferocity as that seventh grader I used to be. I’m ashamed of that and embarrassed. The crazy thing is I don’t even necessarily believe the stuff I say a lot of times. It would probably be more noble if I did. The truth is I just say them to be mean. I say them because I know they will hurt. It’s pretty fucked up.

And I think you were that vengeful spirit. I think I was too.

I still think you are, and I still think I am.

The bullies we face today are not the bullies we did before. Like us they’re damaged but they use their damage as a way to excuse and justify their own bullying. You, and I, have been reactive. We have responded to attacks on things we love with the same sort of venomous eye we turned upon physical bullies. If you’re a bully so are your critics, only more so. They’re not regarding your feelings in what they do, not considering your intent, not considering that others do not see the innocuous things that they are so worked up about in the same light.

A lot of these people are dicks – putting it mildly. You’re already the better man for being reactive rather than attacking out of nowhere. Ceding the ground will no dissuade them from attacking or rubbishing and may even encourage them. You can’t win this one, you can only maintain your integrity internally.

I like to believe that Child’s Play and PAX will outlive me and continue to be forces for good in the gaming community. Early on in Child’s Play’s life it became obvious that its connection to PA was hurting it. We had a conversation with a group that was going to dedicate a fountain to the charity here in Seattle but later decided against it because of the content on Penny Arcade. This was probably 9 years ago and long before any of the most recent issues. Even back then I knew it was going to be difficult to be the sort of person I am and make the sort of things I make while still trying to do these other things that I considered good.

This is their problem, not yours. Something that needs to change, not be accommodated . If charities are turning away donations because you make naughty comics (or are a sex worker or an atheist or…) then, well, fuck ’em. Take your help elsewhere.

I’ve seen some articles about the roll for diversity stuff happening at PAX and I respect that some people are hesitant to jump on board or see it as a stunt of some kind. I can tell you in all honesty that it springs from a desire on our part to do better and be better. Is there more we can do? Well to be fair we haven’t even done this yet. I’m sure it will need tuning and adjusting but every tweak and change will be done with the goal of making PAX a better show for everyone.

Nothing you do will assuage these people. They’re absolutists. The only ones who might are those who already ‘forgive’ you or don’t care in the first place. Personally I’m not convinced of the use of such an event in the first place. Setting out a separate, designated space seems counter-productive to ideas of mainstream acceptance and equality and itself an exercise in discrimination.

I need to separate the busted kid from the man I am now. I guess that’s my new years resolution. Might be harder than losing ten pounds.

The ‘busted kid’ fought back, that’s nothing to be ashamed of any more than it is in the here and now. If you want to be more moderate, sure, less ‘Punisher’ and more ‘Batman’, but we still need our vigilantes to stand against the super villains – even if they think they’re heroes.

One response to “Dear Gabe

  1. Yeah, end the shaming, I agree it’s another bully tactic. End the ‘privilege’ card as well.

    I refuse to be shamed, I’m a white male, but, I grew up with very little, I was abused as a kid, I survived; I grew up with racism around me, but I’m not a racist; I grew up in the 70s, but I’m not a misogynist. Just because I’m White and Male doesn’t mean I’m a republicrat or a WASP. I’m a Libertarian, not the Tea-Party kind, the original, the one without the hate. I also grew up with very little, and under the ‘Children are to be seen and not heard’. I had ‘issues’ but I lived through them. I’m better today than I was then, I’m a better parent than my parents were, I game therefore I live.

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