Your Guide To The Most Recent 'Penny Arcade' Controversy

As you may have heard recently, Penny Arcade, or more specifically its artist, Mike Krahulik, was caught up in a controversy about transgender people and how they should be addressed. So much so that at least one developer is actually pulling out of PAX over it. Here’s what’s going on, exactly.

So, Gabe from Penny Arcade acted like an ass and we’re surprised because?

Let’s start out by saying that Gabe was in the wrong here, but he wasn’t coming from a place of malice.

Soooo… what’s the problem with that?

Well, it’s like this: A transgender person is an individual whose personal gender identity (i.e. how they see themselves) doesn’t line up with their biology. Even a transgender person who grows up in the most open and accepting environment is going to struggle, because they literally are not who they are supposed to be, and to be frank, a lot of transgender people really get treated like crap. I have a few friends who are transgender, and pretty much once a year at least somebody who really should know better says something absolutely horrid and cruel to them.

Furthermore, sexual reassignment surgery isn’t a realistic possibility for many transgendered people: It requires at least a year of therapy, hormone treatments that can screw with your mental and emotional state, and surgery that likely isn’t covered by health insurance and would scare the hell out of damn near anybody. Also, it costs, minimum, $40,000. So, yeah.

In short, a person may be female, but not have a vagina, so for somebody who has spent their lives dealing with this, they would reasonably be very upset over having their emotional difficulties blown off or being told they’re not a “real” man or woman because of their parts. That’s pretty much what Krahulik did.

So was he being a douchebag?

Well, no, at least not deliberately. Krahulik said some things that were dumb and accidentally hurtful that a sheltered guy who doesn’t know many transgender people would say. Stuff like this did not help his case, though:

And the resulting Twitter fights he got into definitely didn’t help his case. As Krahulik himself notes in a post on the controversy:

My reaction when I feel backed into corner is to be an asshole. It’s essentially how I defend myself. It’s been that way since was in elementary school. I’m 36 now. Maybe it’s finally time to try and let some of that shit go.

So will there be any fallout beyond one or two indies bailing on PAX?

Probably not. First of all, Krahulik made a point of apologizing. Secondly, Krahulik also made a point of trying to understand why people were ticked off at him. And thirdly, unlike the Dickwolves controversy of 2010, the actual serious concern was not hijacked by a bunch of concern trolls who promptly turned it into “Your strip is bad and you should feel bad!” Not for lack of trying, mind you, but they thankfully failed and real, honest discussion was had.

But it’s good for gamers, who can be an insular bunch (and I include myself in that statement), to know about this stuff. It makes us better as a community. Or at least less likely to say something hurtful and dumb.