Monday, January 31, 2011

Dickwolves and Why They Are a Problem

WARNING: This entry contains terminology that some may find triggering in terms of sexual assault post-traumatic stress. Please be advised. Scroll to the very last paragraph to avoid the triggers and get to the crux of the issue, should you feel the need. Thank you.

I've been watching the Dickwolves issue unfold for a while now, and I have to admit, I'm shocked at some of the behavior exhibited by members of the games community.

For those who have yet to catch up, this particular Penny Arcade comic started quite the uproar a few months back, and then fuel was added to the fire when PA released a t-shirt associated with said comic. Many have said they cannot understand what the problem is, as they found the comic to be humorous, and the shirt moreso. To me, the issue isn't so much the comic itself. My issue is with the rather asinine "apology" (so called) they offered in response to said uproar.

Now, many have coverd this issue much more eloquently than I ever could. That said, I feel I must add my 8-bits here, as the only way to learn from a situation such as this one is to speak up and share the knowledge we have.

People who are not familiar with the aftermath of non-consentual sexual activity and sexual assault don't know that even the word "rape" itself can be a "trigger" to those who have been through such a traumatic event. It's like a car backfiring behind a war veteran near a crowded sidewalk: "Triggers" can send a person with PTSD down the rabbit hole of their own personal hell, head first, and it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days to come back out again.

Anyone who has any experience with post-traumatic stress disorder will tell you triggers fall into three categories. The first is things that will most certainly set you off. I have a friend who was assaulted while in the military, and this individual experiences a PTSD event whenever the scent of motor oil is in the air. The poor thing can't even take a car into JiffyLube to be serviced; this person's spouse has to do it, so ingrained is the connection between that smell and the experience that changed them forever.

Then there's the things that have a 50/50 shot of setting you off. The song that was playing in the background during the event. The color of the shirt the assailant was wearing. The texture of the surface on which the act took place. Sometimes, they do nothing to a victim; s/he can encounter these things, and depending on the circumstances, things will be just fine. Other times, the victim comes in contact with one or a combination of those things, and The Event comes roaring back to the forefront of his/her mind, causing untold mental, and sometimes physical, anguish.

Lastly, there are those things that no one ever, in a million years, thought would trigger an episode of post-traumatic stress. Once, while out shopping with a friend, we passed by a pretzel stand, and out of nowhere, my friend stopped dead in the walkway and began to shake violently. I was completely unprepared for the experience, as I couldn't for the life of me understand what was going on. After calling my then-boyfriend for help, he called our friend's other half, who came and retrieved us from the mall more than an hour later.

It wasn't until we had returned home and my friend was given a sedative and put to bed that it was explained to me that this person whom I had known for years had been sexually assaulted by a family member in the past. When I asked if the pretzel shop had any significance in regard to the event, my friend's husband said, no, not that he knew of. When asked later, my friend couldn't pinpoint what it was about the location that triggered the response, only that one minute, we were walking through the food court, and the next, we were in a pink-painted bedroom with white crown molding, and there was no way out.*

This, ladies and gentleman, is why "trigger" warnings are important. Do I think the pretzel shop should have had a trigger warning posted on their door? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous. I do, however, believe that once it was made clear why a trigger warning would have been prudent on a comic such as that one, Penny Arcade should have added one. Instead, they chose to take the low road, and fan the flames of controversy. That is my main issue with this entire situation. While I, myself, do not find the word "rape" to be a trigger**, many men and women (and yes, men can be victimized in this way, whether we want to believe it or not) cannot speak the word, let alone hear it or read it without reliving very painful memories.

Why is it so wrong that we show some compassion to a portion of our community (people we raid with, spawn camp with, swap in-game items with on a daily basis) by adding a simple warning when it comes to discussing something this serious? Why is it so wrong to hope that someone's financial bottom line isn't as important as making their demographic feel safe when reading their website or paying to attend their conventions? How could doing such a thing possibly be a threat to you or anyone else?

It isn't. And that's why we're angry.

*I posted these annecdotes with the permission of the people involved. I mentioned no names, nor did I get very specific, to respect the privacy of people I love and adore.

**In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I was nearly a victim myself at the tender age of fifteen; I just happened to be lucky enough to be within reach of a tire iron at the time. I'll let you draw your own conclusions, there.