Penny Arcade Explains Why We Deserve The VGAs

Welcome to Gamer Culture, ladies and gents!

I’ve been working on a piece about questioning the existence of gamer culture, mostly because no one seems able to define it, and when I think of “culture” I think of an all-encompassing something that binds a people together. I don’t feel bound to other people who play video games just because they play video games any more than I feel bound to other people who also like cats or enjoy writing.

My frame of reference for defining the term comes from things like complaints about the Spike TV Video Game Awards “misrepresenting gamer culture.” That’s what I read on the twitter feeds and blogs of some of my colleagues the night of the VGAs and the day following, and when I wrote a First Person column on The Escapist about why I am patient with the VGAs many responses from the readers were along the same lines. They were angry about the way the award show “misrepresented gamer culture.”

Prior to PAX East 2010 I had never thought about the idea of gamer culture much less considered that I might have been a part of it, so Penny Arcade will, for me, stand as a bastion of this amorphous thing we call gamer culture until such time as I have a cogent definition. Watching the drama over Paul Christoforo over the last few days has taught me a lot about gamer culture, as said drama is emerging largely in response to the actions of Mike Krahulik from PA and it seems like “gamers” are right on board.

(I am posting links within this quick review of the Christoforo situation just so you don’t think I’m making any of this shit up, on the slim chance that you’re not aware of what’s going on, even though I’m ultimately feeding into the drama by doing so. Just want to make it clear that I’m aware of why this could be problematic considering where I’m going with this blog post.)

A quick review:

Paul Christoforo is a guy from Boston who used to do marketing for a company called N-Control, which produces a game controller attachment called the Avenger. A customer named Dave, who had paid in full for a pre-ordered pair of Avengers, contacted Christoforo asking where his controllers were. The exchange got contentious, and Dave copied Kotaku and Penny Arcade on the email chain. Christoforo then got into it with Krahulik, who plastered the exchange on the Penny Arcade website and included contact information for Christoforo. This resulted in the whole affair going viral.

Kotaku did some digging and suggested Christoforo might have suffered a ‘roid rage incident because his name was found on a message board where discussions of anabolic steroids took place. A webpage mocking the event popped up. Videos were made. Someone dug up a domestic abuse case involving Christoforo, who has said that he has been receiving death threats against himself and his family. And then Mike Krauhlik smugly washed his hands of the entire affair when Christoforo reached out to ask Krahulik for help in making it stop, even though Krahulik helped make that harassment possible by publishing Christoforo’s contact information, and Krahulik gave us all an explanation about being someone who was bullied as a kid who now has to fight back against bullies.

I heard about the email exchange with Penny Arcade on Twitter, of course, while on vacation in Florida earlier this week. The whole thing sounded pretty funny as Christoforo clearly sounded like an unstable individual, and seeing him rant in lowercase text that lacked punctuation made him out to be some sort of neanderthal and certainly made me feel smug for knowing how to employ the English language properly. We’ll get back to that.

I had retweeted some of this stuff on Tuesday, then traveled home to Boston on Wednesday and just got caught up on the situation tonight. It took a comment from game critic and my acquaintance Kate Cox to make me realize I’d been participating in something dreadfully awful:

I took Kate’s meaning to be first a reminder of the Dickwolves issue, wherein Penny Arcade showed a complete lack of remorse for making light of rape, and during which Mike Krahulik actually mocked feminist voices for their outrage. That’s an issue that I’ve written about and consider myself on the same side as Kate and other writersaboutgames who raised their voices in disgust. The second “wrong,” then, would be Mike Krahulik using his web presence to spearhead what now amounts to web bullying and harassment of the worst kind against Paul Christoforo.

Being a good Catholic I naturally passed Kate’s statement through my internal guilt generator and wondered whether I’d been participating in this internet mob mentality. Inasmuch as retweeting the event in any way, shape or form constitutes participation I guess I have, and the sobriety that accompanied this reality-slap brought me back to thinking about what “gamer culture” is.

Gamer culture, among other things, is making death threats against a man who sent an excessively rude email to a customer about a pair of video game controller attachments. If the average age of the gamer really is mid-to-late 30’s, I hope that most of the people who may read this post understood how completely fucking ridiculous this is. Game controller attachments? Really? This is an issue of such importance that it’s worth ruining a man’s livelihood over?

Gamer culture, among other things, is about entitlement. The entitlement to continue talking about rape with no expectations of consequences, and to make death threats against a woman who has actually been raped and who therefore has every right to express her anger about the issue being bandied about casually.

Gamer culture, among other things, is about banding together to pat ourselves on the back and feel cool for knowing internet memes and displaying the low form of wit known as “snark.” And all of that is in response to having ever been made to feel like nerds or geeks or other names for social rejects, and now being in an arena where we hold the greatest comprehension and thus wield the greatest amount of power, i.e. the internet. I reflect back on my reading Christoforo’s emails and feeling good about myself for having a command of the language. I would bet dollars to donuts I am far from the only person to have that reaction and enjoy the drama in part on that basis, and I’ll be the first person to admit I was being an asshole in that moment.

Which is worse? This, or making death threats? They're both part of "gamer culture," apparently.

Compared to any of those things, teabagging a video game developer on stage feels genteel. If Penny Arcade really is the bastion of “gamer culture” that others seem to hold it up as, the conduct of that website more than adequately explains why the VGAs were the lowbrow, immature broadcast they were. And I quote from one of Mike Krahulik’s responses to the exchange with Christoforo:

I have a real problem with bullies. I spent my childhood moving from school to school and I got made fun of everyplace I landed. I feel like Paul is a bully and maybe that’s why I have no sympathy here. Someday every bully meets and even bigger bully and maybe that’s me in this case.  It’s the same thing that happened with Jack Thompson. It might not always make the most business sense and it is a policy that has caused us some legal problems, but I really don’t give a shit about that. When these assholes threaten me or Penny Arcade I just laugh. I will personally burn everything I’ve made to the fucking ground if I think I can catch them in the flames.

There’s an argument to be made that when someone has suffered at the hands of a particular evil, the most important thing they should ever learn from the experience is why not to commit the same evil onto someone else. And the last sentence sounds like the raving of a petulant child. It also sounds like the sort of mentality one might attribute to “a gamer” based on shit like the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

Complaints against the VGAs are feeling much emptier today than they were when I wrote that column a few weeks ago. They’re also feeling entirely unwarranted. The sad thing is that when I hear tales of death threats being issued against the family of a man whose sole crime was being an asshole to a customer, and I hear that said threats are being issued by members of this so-called “gamer culture,” my response is to shrug and say “Well, that’s gamers for you.” Because apparently “gamer culture” is also all wrapped up in being a complete, fucking asshole, which makes the Spike TV Video Game Awards feel picture-perfect for “our” audience, doesn’t it?


  1. Kate says:

    I honestly didn’t have you in mind when I wrote the tweet, heh — but back-to-back comments from Paul & Storm and Ben Kuchera were leaving an unpleasant taste in my mouth. 🙁

    That said, although it was mildly passive-aggressive on my part I’m glad my comment made -anyone- stop and think about this whole situation. It’s just pretty gross overall, in the “two wrongs really don’t make a right, guys” sense. Mike’s egging on of the mob in particular.

  2. Angrypapi says:

    Great read Dennis.

    “There’s an argument to be made that when someone has suffered at the hands of a particular evil, the most important thing they should ever learn from the experience is why not to commit the same evil onto someone else.”

    There lies the issue.

    Look at the moment when Mike responded. He was making a statement about his take on “The Golden Rule”. I come down on the other side.

  3. David says:

    Good read, as usual, and thought-provoking. This whole thing was a rather spectacular flame-out but I had no idea people were taking it to the level of death threats. Really?

    One of the problems with today’s Internet culture of news, social media, etc is that we get so wrapped up in the immediate sub-24 hour news cycle that we forget larger patterns – until someone points them out, like you just did.

  4. Gerren says:


    As with most of your stuff I’ve read, loved this. I’m somewhat removed from a lot of the online community this year so this is the first I’m learning of the Christoforo incident and while I consider to some extent finding a sensational story to base a point upon, it’s very telling of the mentality of many within the subculture without even going that far into action.

    Look, I’m not going to fault a lot of the people whom would like a better representation of gamers and something that represents them over some of the more immature sides of the community because I as much as anyone know what it’s like to be painted with a broad brush on far more social significant and less voluntary matters than a hobby. I think part of it is that for what Spike is, it’s still has high profile a television presence any video game awards ceremony has had. Which is the industry’s fault, none of the other awards shows are remotely close to a good sell as a television product to advertisers. This business part of that reality most “purists” begrudgingly acknowledge if they ever do at all even if it’s their jobs to understand and take that into account. That said, I understand it. Because if Augustus Cole had no counterpoint as a black character in video games, I’d probably be railing against Gears of War and the industry about how my culture gets represented.

    Okay, well complaining more than I have in the past at least.

    I say all that to say if you’re boiling down video game culture to Penny Arcade and the worst of us you’re really making no better an argument than the people you’re criticizing for turning their noses up at VGAs because they’d like to pretend what Spike represents doesn’t have an audience and that aspect of the community isn’t there. I’d be me trying to pretend I didn’t walk everyday after school through a lesser version of what Boyz In Da Hood represented and wanting to act like it didn’t exist and you saying I’m wrong on the basis that’s entirety of my culture. I’m hoping for the sake of trying to make this once argument you’re not taking it THAT far. Not saying you are but it’s feeling like you’re close to over-correcting to that extent.

    But you’re perfectly right in pointing out that Spike is representative of something in this community, whether any of us individually want to claim or associate with that aspect of it. And it is terribly irresponsible for any of us, particularly those with the platform and responsibility as not just gaming but video game culture critics, to give the VGAs the business and then completely gloss over incidents like you’ve cited or just the general interactions we see on a regular basis that give the VGAs the material that makes it what it is.

    • Dennis says:

      Thanks for the comment, Gerren!

      To clarify, this is not about boiling video game culture in its entirety down to Penny Arcade, though I remind you that I am unconvinced such a thing as video game culture exists at all. If there IS such a thing, Penny Arcade is arguably the largest, most powerful bastion of such, therefore it is not unreasonable to look at the behavior of the PA outlet itself, and its audience, as important measures of what “gamer culture” may be.

  5. Dennis says:

    Its sad that the whole Christoforo incident should come to this. Yes, he was being an complete ass to the customer but that´s no excluse for burning his house to the ground (metaphorical speaking). Its equally sad that so many appearently feel justified in harrashing Christoforo under the protection of being in a mob.

  6. fanshawe says:

    Was Christoforo being a complete ass though? I mean, before the customer went nuclear.

    The tone of the 10:14 e-mail is pretty bad, but its bad in a boring way and seems like the kind of thing that would show up in an e-mail my grandma sent me whose subject line read “Re: FW: FW: FW: FW: Re: FW: Terrible, Remember When The Customer Was Always Right?!!1”

    Then the customer escaltes things about seven levels by writing an entitled screed (“interest free”, “I’m not going to apologize for holding your feet to the fire” really?) full of all caps text, explicitly threatening to sue, calling Cristoforo an ass, calling him douchy, including a p.s. that reads “welcome to the internet bitch” and forwarding everything to penny arcade, kotaku, etc. (And by the way, “rice rocket”? That’s crazy racist.)

    Then things get wild and, as it turns out, Christoforo is indeed kind of an unhinged loon. But the customer was the one who intiated the profanity, who intiated the name calling, and who believed that poor customer service and delayed shipment of a video game controller was worthy of sending out a blast e-mail to major news sites.

    Christoforo is obviously a bad actor in this situation. But I don’t really see any good actors, and I think Christoforo is pretty obviously not the worst actor.

    • Dennis says:

      I think “Dave” is having his hands washed, as well. I haven’t gone over the email exchange with a fine-toothed comb like you seem to have, but I do remember reading Dave’s statements about “holding my money interest-free” and thinking that Dave should grow up a little bit.

      When faced with bad customer service I do one of two things. I either let the transaction complete and then refuse to do business with the company ever again, or I cancel the order and accept the temporary loss of those funds while I make another purchase elsewhere.

      Either choice exemplifies the only real option someone has to express dissatisfaction in a capitalist economy: Speak with your wallet!

  7. Greg Kramer says:

    Dennis: You’ve [again] spoken my mind perfectly.

    My initial reaction was identical to yours, down to the writer-geek’s stalwart: smug superiority over spelling and grammar.

    So too was my mental evolution: by the time I read the “Roid Rage” piece, I could smell something ugly afoot. Unlike you, however, the reasons for my unease didn’t immediately crystalize. The symptoms instead presented as a world weary fatigue, a report from my mental gatekeeper that this donnybrook was not worth my time and attention. So I checked out, or tried to.

    It was Mike’s reaction that was the real, delayed trigger for me. It initially seemed natural and sympathetic, but something about it nagged me. I frequently thought of the Dick Wolves incident, but couldn’t conjure a clear enough memory of it to understand the association. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I think my conclusions about that bit of nastiness may have been slightly different from most (finding varying degrees of fault with nearly every major player), but the similarity is inescapable and you ably and eloquently distilled it. This led me to my own revelation.

    The source of this ugliness in “gamer culture” can be gleaned from an unconventional reading of a well known source material: Revenge of the Nerds . Watching that formative movie recently (as a post-40 year old adult), I felt something very different than when I first viewed it in theaters: the nerds weren’t heroes…they’re fucking sociopaths.

    Though their nemesis are clearly unsavory and guilty of terrible acts against the “protagonists,” does any of it justify invasion of the privacy and public humiliation of innocent parties (the crime cited by the Nerds as their own moral justification), a truly dangerous physical assault (the liniment “prank”), and something any court of law would consider rape (even in the absurd event the victim would fall in love with her perviously despised and uninvited violator).

    If this brand of disproportionate response to past and recent wrongs is part of our subcultural DNA, what differentiator do we subconsciously require to let slip the dogs of nerd vengeance and continue to see ourselves as the innocent avenging angels? Why this guy? Why don’t we react this way to everything?

    The answer: the target must either be a personal tormentor from our past or share some significant trait with our remembered foes. Without this, most of us know we’re just being assholes. So…

    Enter the “Roid Rage” article. Because we’ve all seen this movie before, we knew we needed this foothold before we could go truly nuclear. And Johnson, consciously or not, obliged: The dude’s a jock! All bets are off. I even had my own “ah! Now it all makes sense!” moment after reading this before coming to my senses.

    Seriously. I don’t see how this article even gets written except to provide this critical psychological prerequisite.

    Clearly Christoforo acted like an ass. And maybe enough of an ass to hold up for mockery the message thread that started it all. But, as you describe, nothing he did should rationally justify anything thereafter.

  8. A Spectator says:

    If this were an isolated incident or the following events had not unveiled that Paul is as close to a psychopath without acting upon it, this article might have some value.’

    This is not the first time Paul has treated someone like dirt while employed by N-Control. Why should we feel sympathy when his karma returns? Read some of the things he did in trying to extort money from the company he helped burn to the ground.

    The simple fact remains that Paul has not manned up to take responsibility for his actions. Until he does, I believe the internet will continue to punish him.

    All blame lies on Paul. If he had treated his customers with respect, none of this would have happened. Personal responsibility.

    • Questionmarkman says:

      I fail to see why the internet needed to go up in arms about this.

      Because Penny Arcade decided to intervened?
      Would Christoforo be fired if the customer simply decided to either sue the company or contact them asking for Paul’s resignement?
      Yes karma did seem to bite him in the ass but really what has been the point of it all?
      What are we left from this stupid situation?
      Personally im left with a bad taste in my mouth just thinking about the whole thing.

      Gamers have grown up but its supposed “culture” is still stuck in grade school.

    • Dennis says:

      One might argue that any article which inspires civil conversation on a topic has value, but that’s just those of us who would argue that, I guess. 😛

  9. Patrick says:

    I’m pretty sure the contact info Mike posted was, you know, his public business info.

    The steroid and assault stuff from other members of the press was pretty bullshit though.

    I am also reasonably certain that you are mistaking generalised anonymous-empowered internet culture for the specific subset known as ‘gamer culture’.

    • Dennis says:

      All the more reason for Mike not to post it, IMHO. Let people dirty their own hands by seeking that information out themselves. Unless someone has a better explanation for why Mike “just left” that information on the post, I’m going to suggest that it was for the explicit purpose of enabling his audience to more easily contact and harass Christoforo. I don’t think that’s a reaching inference.

      Again, if we’re going to hold Penny Arcade up as a bastion of “gamer culture,” I think the charge I levied was valid. I don’t think your point about gamer culture being “internet culture” is entirely off-base. Like I said, I’m still working out my opinion on whether gamer culture is even a thing or not. But if gamer culture does exist, Penny Arcade lies at the heart of it.

      • Aristabulus says:

        The “I’ll just leave this here” bit is A Thing they do on 4chan, last I recall. To me, that explains a lot of what happened afterward… To the PA reader base that also frequents 4chan (a non-trivial sum, I’m guessing), it was tantamount to an implicit declaration of war.

  10. Mark says:

    What’s wrong with putting up his contact information? Its not like any of it was private it was his business address and twitter handle.

    You seem to be wrapping yourself too much in a moral stance and looking for an excuse to attack “gamer culture” it wasn’t so much gaming culture but really the internet in general.

    Paul Christoforo has previously treated people asking legitimate service questions about their orders in same way, he controlled all aspects of dealing with this company so if you were to complain to a superior? Its just him again and he knew this and used it to mock those who would complain. If you read those e-mails with Dave again he’s pretty much laughing at him. He’s shown he’s not really sincere in any apology he says it was “one bad day” that occurred over a few days and has happened before with previous customers. He was even holding N-Controls domain names till he got paid additional money before it came out and he released them. As well as lying and pretending to be a previous PR employee in various e-mails to media outlets.

    When you have no way of going around these people you have to go public to show how awful the quality of service is and shine a light on their work.

    What came afterwards is just the internet and shows in detail why people need to be more alert to privacy issues. Paul could have also saved himself hassle if he wasn’t using work accounts for personal use (selling jerseys on ebay through the avenger controller account, tying his personal e-mail to company work)

    Paul is still the one to blame in this instance, he lied and his attitude and responses in the e-mails and previous e-mails were terrible. I personally didn’t like Dave and his response of “welcome to the internet” but he’s frustrated having been lied to for so long. Mike at PA knew what he was unleashing but when you have someone like that you lies and tries every trick they need to brought to public eye. I doubt he expected it would go as crazy as that but again that’s the internet.

    The whole article felt like you wanted to have a rant about a gaming culture that I feel doesn’t really exist and picked a topic that was out there but picked which parts you wanted to use so you could decry internet mob mentality and defending a liar and a fraud.

    • Dennis says:

      What’s wrong with tacitly advocating harassment of a human being? You’ll have to answer that question for yourself, Mark.

      See earlier responses in this thread per gamer culture and Penny Arcade.

      It’s not my business to hold Paul Christoforo to any “justice” for what he did or didn’t do. I think shaming someone can be effective, but as a result of this incident I have to wonder whether anyone can possibly wield that power without it going entirely out of control, and if they can’t, I have to say I’m against internet vigilantism.

      No one “had” to go public with anything. That’s specious justification. Again, Dave could have handled this numerous ways. I have to question his motives in CC:’ing two outlets notorious for their trolling audiences, Penny Arcade and Kotaku, on his private correspondence with a company.

      There are dedicated organizations for consumer affairs Dave could have sought out and submitted a complaint to. There were more mature, responsible ways to handle this. He didn’t “have” to do those either. But don’t get this twisted. No one twisted Dave’s arm and “made” him CC: anyone. He made a choice.

      No one is to blame for being harassed. That’s the worst kind of justification for a mob mentality.

  11. Janet says:

    After reading about the blown-up incident, I’m left to wonder why Dave felt he had to involve other parties in the melee. It made me think of a little kid who, displeased with another kid for some juvenile reason, runs home crying “I’m gonna tell my mom on you!!” And how old are all these people? Grow. Up.

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