I’m not always a very good person. I’m mean and I recognize that. I know exactly where it comes from too. As a kid I moved schools a lot. I was always the new kid and I was a weird looking new kid which made it worse. There was no nationwide movement to stop bullying back then. The advice I got from teachers was to “ignore them” or “try and make friends with them”. It is hard to ignore or become friends with someone who literally sets your hair on fire on the bus. 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.
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 counselors 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.
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.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching this year. I’ve tried to figure out what sort of person I am and what sort of person I want to be going forward. I know I don’t want to be this angry kid anymore. I take medicine to control my anxiety and depression but there is no pill I can take to stop being a jerk. That’s a deeper problem and it’s something I’m working on. I love the gaming community. I’ve dedicated the last fifteen years of my life to it. I’d very much like to believe that the good things I’ve helped build will continue far past Penny Arcade and me. 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. If a person is bad they must be all bad right? How could someone who writes comics about beastiality also want to help children? We decided at the time to distance ourselves as much as possible from the charity. it has its own site and its own people in charge of it. We promote it but it exists on it’s own and I want any gamer regardless of how they feel about me or Penny Arcade to feel comfortable supporting it.
I feel the same way about PAX. You’ll notice that it is no longer the Penny Arcade Expo. It’s outgrown us and it belongs to the gaming community at large now not just PA fans. Someday I expect to attend a PAX and not even be recognized. That’s honestly fine with me. I don’t want the material on PA or who I am to keep people from attending and enjoying PAX. During the Q&A at PAX Prime we actually talked about slowly removing ourselves from the show over the next few years. We’ve been doing it for a decade now and I’m happy to step out of the way and let the show grow without me rather than inspite of me. That’s only part of the problem though. The other part is fixing some of my own issues and that’s something I need to do on my own.
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.
I’ve learned a ridiculous amount this year. About myself and about other people. It’s been a difficult year, probably the hardest in my life and I realize I brought most of it on myself. That’s a sobering realization. I also realize that I’ve made it harder for the people I care about, my friends and my family. I can’t be this guy anymore. I have every intention of taking the things I’ve learned this year to heart and changing. I’ve said I’m sorry for the things I’ve said but I’ve never apologized for who I am. 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.