Mike Krahulik, aka “Gabe” of Penny Arcade, has posted a new year’s resolution on the site, talking of some of the things he’s learned about himself in the last year amid various controversies he’s been instrumental in creating, and what he sees as the things he needs to start doing to become a better person. Or as he puts it, “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.”
I can’t and won’t defend Mike for the stuff he’s talking about in the resolution piece, because he was spot-on: He has been a bully, and whatever the underlying reasons for those bullying actions, at the end of the day the actions speak for themselves. Mike is a grown-up and needs to account for the things he does and if possible make amends to the people he’s harmed. Without follow-up action, none of the apologies and resolutions will mean much of anything. I think the folks who Mike has bullied have reason to be skeptical — and should be skeptical — of him. He’s got a lot to make up for.
I’m not a disinterested observer of either Mike or Penny Arcade. Both Whatever and Penny Arcade started around the same time. I was one of Penny Arcade’s early advertisers in 1999, advertising a self-published book called Agent to the Stars. Later, when the book was professionally published by Subterranean Press, we got Mike to do the artwork for the cover. I wrote the introduction to their book The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade. I’m a long-time and enthusiastic fan of Child’s Play, the charity they use to send games and toys to children in hospitals and shelters. PAX, their gaming convention, has been a launching pad or significant boost for the current careers of several of my friends, including Wil Wheaton, Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton. I like both Mike and Jerry and consider them friends; we’ve been mutual supporters of each other’s work through the years.
None of the above excuses Mike’s actions (or the actions of the rest of the Penny Arcade crew, for that matter, when they step into it as well). Nor does the good that Mike and PA do via Child’s Play and their other initiatives mitigate harm done elsewhere — when you’re an adult, you probably can hold in your mind the idea that a person can simultaneously can do good things and hurtful things, be praised for one and fairly taken to task for the other. People are complicated and occasionally broken. We all know, and most of us either like or love, people like that (hell, we often are people like that). It’s painful to see people you think of as friends and as part of your cohort, do things you know hurt others. You recognize both things can come out of the same people.
I’ve talked about apologies here on Whatever, and I’ve noted that in my opinion that while you apologize to someone, the apology is for you — you do it because your sense of morality, your sense of who you are as a person (or at least who you should be), demands you offer it. You recognize that the apology might not be accepted, and that merely offering the apology doesn’t excuse you from the hard work of both making amends for past action and improving your behavior and actions in the future. I’d like to think that what Mike has written here is him working on a similar level: Making an accounting of, and acknowledging the consequences of, his actions, but also recognizing that the reason to try to change is not because it’s demanded by others (or at least not only), but because he doesn’t want to be that person any more. He wants to be someone better.
And, well. We’ll see how that goes. I’d like to see Mike get right with himself; I’d like to see him work to earn belief from those he’s hurt that he’s trying to get away from who he’s been before. They don’t owe it to him and some people will never believe him, which is their right. But Mike shouldn’t be doing it to be forgiven, anyway. He should be doing it because it’s correct thing for him to do, no matter how anyone else responds to it.
I won’t wish Mike good luck with his resolution. What he wants to do isn’t about luck. I will wish him good work, because it will be a lot of work, and it will be hard. I hope he gets to where he wants to be, for himself and for the people he cares about, and who care about him. I’d like to believe he will.