The argument over the cartoon rapists had now metastasized into a full-scale Internet melee, and the combat turned nastier than ever. It didn't matter that Stanton wasn't leading an organized boycott of PAX. Nor did it matter that she had decided to stop selling the Dickwolves Survivors' Guild shirt — the reason, she says, was that some rape survivors had commented on her blog to say they found any mention of Dickwolves to be in poor taste.
"It stopped being people who would have read my blog anyway and disagreed with me," Stanton told me, "and became people who thought that I should be dismembered and all of my limbs should be raped. Which was, literally, a suggestion that I got. And that's where I think the reasonable debate kind of took a dip."
I began reading Penny Arcade in 2001. I was 15 years old. Until that moment, games were just games to me — a tangential hobby, not a part of my identity. Seeing my life and the lives of my friends reflected in this external space affirmed gamerhood for me. I began to use the word "gamer" to refer to myself, and Penny Arcade was a massive part of how I chose to define my identity as a gamer. After all, the characters in the comic were gamers. They acted the way gamers acted.
I wasn't the only one who saw Penny Arcade this way. When I started reading it, the Web site already had become a popular online space for gamers, even though it didn't get nearly as many pageviews as it does nowadays. But the Internet as a whole felt like a smaller, cozier community back then.
By the time I got to college, I had re-read the entire archives of the comic multiple times. Whenever I felt bored, depressed, or lonely, I'd read the backlogs of Penny Arcade. The absurdist, dark humor of the interactions between Tycho and Gabe reminded me of the interactions I'd had with my old high-school gaming clique. I had trouble finding anyone else to relate to at college, mostly because I didn't try. I say with great shame and sadness that the main way I assuaged my intense loneliness was by obsessively re-reading Penny Arcade, gaming, and talking to people online, rather than leaving my dorm room and trying to make friends in the real world.
Eventually, I decided I was going to make a Penny Arcade fan film. Not dissuaded by the fact that I didn't have enough friends to play any of the roles, I went ahead and did my closest read yet through the comic's archives. I transcribed all of the situations and jokes, created original content to fill in the gaps, and tried to come up with an overarching plot to tie the screenplay together. I'm ashamed to even admit how much time I spent on this fruitless project; not even my long-distance high-school boyfriend, who was my only reliable friend throughout college, understood why I was doing it. None of my other acquaintances would agree to be in the film. "I don't know," they'd say. "I'm just . . . not as into Penny Arcade as you are."