PAX Unplugged was this past weekend, once again in our own backyard, and once again we chose not to attend. We’re often asked why we don’t participate, and I understand why this might be a confusing position for the city’s oldest and largest game shop to take, so–despite largely keeping quiet about it in years past–I’ve decided to share our position. About a decade ago, one of the owners of Penny Arcade and founders of PAX, Mike Krahulik, made it very clear he was an indefensible bully. I’m not going to go into too much detail about his specific behaviour, because it’s well documented (here, here, and here, for instance), but he spent years crusading in support of a rape joke and made numerous transphobic comments. He subsequently issued a number of half-hearted apologies, most of which he later recanted, ultimately resulting in his 2014 new year’s resolution, after which point he has mostly kept quiet.
This is all old news, and he apologized, so why should anyone care? There are a few reasons why I still care, and still opt out of the biggest convention related to our industry on the East coast, despite being able to throw a stone at it.
Krahulik’s resolution isn’t really an apology at all. It’s introspective, sure, but it’s also pretty honest about the fact that most of that introspection is the result of his realization that he’s become a liability to the business he helped create, not because he cares about the people he hurt or even that he hurt them. He only uses the word “sorry” once, and it’s to say “I’m sorry for the things I’ve said but I’ve never apologized for who I am.” Well, he still hasn’t. Maybe he implied that he’s sorry for who he is, but he didn’t say it, and being sorry for the things he’s said (or even for who he is) isn’t the same as being sorry that he abused his platform and hurt people, repeatedly and intentionally. It’s true that he’s been much less controversial since 2014, but he’s also just been much quieter. It seems pretty clear to me that the early 2010s taught him that voicing unpopular opinions was bad for business, and I haven’t seen any evidence that he actually has changed or atoned for the harm he caused, other than a $20,000 donation to the Trevor Project many years back–the go-to “make it go away” tactic for wealthy and influential people. A one-time donation, followed by a transparent self-serving apology, then silence, doesn’t entitle anyone to absolution, and until his regret gives way to remorse and his silence gives way to support, I can’t see that he’s made right by the world.
PAX Unplugged didn’t exist until 2017. It had no Penny Arcade legacy that would be messy to disentangle from it. Reedpop started a new show, focused on a different (but related) industry, and decided to associate it with Penny Arcade, despite its history. As far as I can tell, Penny Arcade (and Krahulik specifically) don’t take a terribly active role in the shows anymore, but Reedpop has kept their legacy attached to the name associated with all shows, and even added it to this one. It could, and should, have been rebranded, and Unplugged could and should have had nothing to do with Penny Arcade in the first place. This is exactly the sort of enabling that Krahulik’s partners spent the early 2010s engaged in, quiet consent and endorsement, and I don’t feel comfortable doing the same.
I should note that I, Benn Roe, the owner of Redcap’s, did attend PAX Unplugged in 2017 in order to help run the show’s Pathfinder tables, but I did so out of ignorance. I don’t have a background or any significant interest in video gaming, I’ve never been a reader of Penny Arcade, and that whole world just flew under my radar. After Krahulik’s behaviour was brought to my attention in 2017 or 2018, I made the decision no longer to attend the show, and to keep my business away from theirs. I have also occasionally ventured down there to meet with manufacturers while they’re in the city. I don’t begrudge anybody their decision to attend, and the last thing I want to do is spoil anyone’s good time or make people feel bad for taking to the tabletop in Philadelphia, which is why we’ve quietly sat out previous years. People should feel free to disagree with me here, and support the people and organizations they want to support. I only took the time to write any of this as a means of explaining why we, and specifically I, choose to sit the show out each year. The show is obviously good for gaming in Philadelphia, and–by extension–for business at Redcap’s, whether we want to be involved or not. I know our failure to capitalize on that is ultimately poor business-sense, but it’s the only decision I currently feel comfortable making.
I invite discussion, especially if I’ve missed or misinterpreted anything. I hope everyone who attended enjoyed the show!