first up, this might get heavy.
second up, this is gonna be personal, I'm gonna talk about my own feelings here and stuff. none of it is remotely gameable. it's gonna ramble. this is about me because it's my blog and I can be melodramatic if I want to, but whatever unhapiness I'm feeling is fuck all compared to what mandy, hannah, jennifer and vivka (and probably others) went through, which is just nightmarish.
but it's my blog so I'm gonna spew my feelings onto the internet.
To start, the statements by Mandy, Hanna, Jennifer and Vivka strike me as brutally honest and real and I don't doubt them for a moment. I woke up on monday morning and Mandy's post was at the top of my feed, and honestly reading through it just made me feel ill. It took me a while to process it.
'Cos here's the thing. In the past, I'd been a big fan and supporter of Zak. I'd argued his case online and supported him in his various bitch-fests on g+ and elsewhere. And he was nice to me, treated me like I was smart and valuable, and he recommended my work to people. Getting approval from him felt like I'd made it, like I was in the Cool Kids Club now.
Buuut. Periodically things would blow up and he'd be accused of something hyperbolous and I'd think "You know, maybe I should give an account saying I think the accusations are bullshit" but I never did. And the reason I never did was because in the back of my head there was a little voice saying "but what if actually he's done something dreadful". So, I suspected. And there are people who's work I admire deeply - Evlynn M, is a good example - who got driven away by him and I never examined why that was because it was uncomfortable.
The thing here is that many of these people who shied away from Zak were, I dunno, conflict-averse. Delicate, even. You know who's neither conflict-averse nor delicate? 4chan. There's an ongoing general-thread on 4chan for OSR stuff and a refrain I'd see come up on there was how people thought Zak and Mandy's relationship was suspect. There were a lot of misogynists being horrid of course, but not just that. Nothing concrete, but people would mention how odd it was that he never mentioned her anymore. Or mention that Mandy had tweeted that she didn't like looking back on her time with Zak. It's odd how a hive of scum and villainy seems to have picked up on this before somewhere nice like rpgnet did.
And, again, I put those rumours on 4chan to the back of my mind and didn't investigate, because it's just 4chan stirring up shit and it's not real, because I knew that Zak was a good guy, after all he was good to me.
And I'd gotten into debates with Zak but I'd never felt able to really push my side because, deep down, I knew he'd use Zak Logic to tear me to shreds and, you know... I know what happens when queer women on the internet disagree with powerful men, and frankly the thought of having a riled-up internet hate mob after me terrifies me. But again, all of those fears got pushed to the back of my mind. I never openly acknowledged that Zak frightened me and I was scared to get in his crossfires.
So then I read Mandy's account and things fell into place and my first thought was I should have known.
Like, one pattern that got hilighted was how the guy seemed to collect useful diverse shields. Scrap Princess, Fionna Geist, Keil Chiener, me. I remember being asked by him to keep tabs on 4chan to see if they were mentioning him, and the way he phrased it was so innocuous and friendly, but...
I've been an abuse victim in the past. It still messes with me. When I hear raised voices near me, I mentally flicker back to having this asshole I used to live with, up in my face screaming slurs at me with his hands round my throat. And in dealing with all of this, on Discord and G+ and other places I've been using dark humour and stuff to mask it but this whole thing has messed me up.
I've not written for the last week. There's three word doccuments open on my desktop that I've not touched since I first read this. I never go this long without writing stuff.
That I was in some slight way a part of keeping this guy's power structure in place, that i was part of the network... that makes me feel all hollow and rotten inside when i think about it.
Recently, I'll browse RPGnet or twitter or reddit, or it'll pop up on my facebook or something, and I'll see some (edited:) well meaning but imho unhelpful person saying "oh, he was clearly awful, we've been saying this for years, you should have known" and it's horrible. See, deep down I suspect that I did know, and didn't acknowledge it. Can we have less of that please?
We got fooled. Lots of us. We saw Zak present himself as this cool guy, detatched and intillectual and good at arguing, and he made good books, and he brought you into his web of support.
And you know? I do still think that some of the stuff people said about him was bullshit. When the VtM thing blew up and people were saying he was with White Wolf and a nazi and all that? That was bullshit. That was just internet culture-war bollocks. And he used the fact that some stuff said about him was rubbish to disprove all of it.
One thing stands out to me in Mandy's statement in particular:
Then you started with the online gaming arguments nonsense, and that put a real crack in our bond. In the beginning I felt genuinely protective of you, my provider, and of course that was my very strong trauma bond. I didn't know better, and I just thought I was caring for the person I loved. Callously, you exposed me to death and rape threats and you then never took the distress this caused me seriously, you were in no way sympathetic to the very real stress these disagreements caused. You enjoyed it. And you gloated over the harm you caused other people. (It was extremely unattractive.) You just used those threats we received as an excuse, used me and my marginalized identities as shields in your continuing misbehaviour online.
Here's one thing I took away from that: The internet drama stuff filtered through to Mandy's life and when people went after Zak, she got hurt.
I'll come back to this.
Now. Away from the computer, I'm a Quaker. I consider personal integrity important. I think it's important to be driven by morality and to listen to the little voice inside you that tells you hard truths. To stand up against injustice and vice, regardless of the cost to yourself. In this matter, now that I reflect on thins, I know what the little voice was telling me and that I ignored it. By my own standards, I failed, and for that I'm deeply sorry.
Another principle that, as a Quaker, I am deeply committed to is pacifism. I've alluded to this elsewhere, but it's a big driving force in how I think and how I try to act. Violence is wrong. Always, without exception. No matter what your target did to 'deserve' it, it's wrong. Revenge is just an excuse for violence, it's how you justify giving in to your worst urges. (There are times when violence is nessesary to protect others, when without the use of force you will have to stand by and allow others to do harm. And in these cases, while you will have to use force for the greater good, you're still doing an immoral thing
and should be contrite that you had to resort to that, and should be deeply sceptical of any idea that your use of force was good
. Having to use violence shouldn't make you feel good.).
Violence isn't just physical violence. The use of power (social or financial or whatever) to hurt others is, to my mind, violence. Internet hate-mobs are violence. Coordinated harassment is violence. They ruin lives. We saw what Gamergate did; Anita Sarkesian is somebody who's courage in continuing to speak when the full bile of the internet was pointed at her is something I find inspiring. The twitter-circus baying for blood whenever a 'deserving' victim is found fills me with a sense of profound discomfort.
Which brings me back to that statement by Mandy above. When people went after Zak, she recieved death threats, and she got hurt.
There are women whose statements Zak is using as shields right now. I don't know if he's coerced them, wrote them himself, has them fooled. However, I will say this now:
don't fucking go after those women. don't. don't do anything to hurt them directly. don't do anything which might get them hurt in the fallout.
I mean hell, don't go after zak. Cut him out of the RPG scene, make sure he can't easilly use our comunity as a shield in future, reduce his ability to find victims. Publicise this stuff so any future potential victims can discover it easilly and avoid being pulled in. Reduce harm. But, if you're going to go right after him in order to cause suffering, maybe don't. You're only adding more suffering to the world, maybe catching innocent victims in the splash radius.
I've had a certain amount of involvement with trying to shape the way the conversation goes with regard to this whole affair and, weighing it up, I think that my actions should help reduce harm, but I am as terrified that I'll find myself as part of an internet hate mob as I am of being on the receiving end. This whole thing has made me deeply uncomfortable.
There's a post I made on reddit about what happens now, and I'm just gonna repeat it here:
If one thing comes from this, I hope it's that we can use the sense of outrage here as an impetus to go out and do some good in the world. Domestic abuse etc are kind of everywhere, and can quietly wreck lives while nobody is looking. If you want to make a difference for the better, here's some suggestions:
Donate money to a charity for domestic abuse survivors. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a fundraiser to get some help for those who've spoken up about Zak, and there's probably a women's shelter near you that needs funding.
Keep an eye out for this sort of thing happening around you; abuse like this is horribly common, and it's not impossible it's happened to somebody in your life, or even still is happening. The worst abuse often happens when the perpetrator knows nobody will suspect anything.
Be there for vulnerable people and be prepared to stand up against people in your life who're treating partners/children/etc badly.
Be the change you want to see in the world in general. Did this stuff shock you? It should, it's shocking. Let that try to motivate you to make the world a better place.
I'm sure most people reading this are good people who've found the revelations on monday (and since) deeply upsetting. The response I've seen from OSR circles has been heartening; let's keep in that mindset, and go out and make the world a better place.
which sums things up.
A lot of other people have been brilliant here. I have much respect for Scrap Princess, Patrick S, and Jack Tatters here, but honestly, the response has been largely wholesome and I hope we can remain the best version of a community.
I digress: here's the logs of the last conversation I had with the guy:
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:31 AM
well they made a choice weighing principal vs their own best interest and so did ithis is important stuffimagine you were falsely accused at this level of heinousness--you'd see it as important, I assume
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:34 AM
If I were accused of this sort of thing my response would have been very different but I suspect, based on previous discussions, we are operating from very different starting axioms so I'm not sure it's worth going into that.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:37 AM
i got accused on a sunday, vetted and hired a lawyer by monday night and did what everyone i know who's a public figure and every lawyer i talked to said and what i thought was right: put out a public statement
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:38 AM
I don't doubt that
my public statement would have looked very different to yours. As I say, different starting axioms.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:39 AM
well what are your different axioms?
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:47 AM
to briefly summarize, I consider myself to be fallible and that the hurt of others is normally genuine. Combined with a different approach to, you know, morality in general (recall our differences RE: desirable outcomes in online debates, in which i was something of a bleeding hearted softie).My response would probably start from the foundation that there was something I'd done to warrant this, and that my perceptions of events were likely biased. So, my statement would largely consist of an acknowledgement of the hurt felt by the accuser and my part in that. I would do my best to make a sincere apology and offer to make ammends. My assumption would be that even if I hadn't intended to cause harm or realised that I was doing so, i still did so without meaning to, and that it would be my responsibility to fix that to the best of my ability.Fundamentally, even if I privately felt that I was in the right, I would do everything in my power to fix what I could, and place doing right by those hurt above my own needs.These things are difficult. No doubt it would be deeply unpleasant for me. But I hold myself to certain standards (both as a result of past traumas and as a matter of my faith) and that informs how I respond to these things.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:48 AM
Then you'd go to jail.Like: if you don't defend yourself you'd go to jail. Bc the things Mandy said are jail things
her hurt could be real but the accusations aren't and im not going to pretend they are just to be nice
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:50 AM
I would hope that things could be repaired enough that my accusers didn't press charges. Are yours doing so?If I ended up in jail, though, I'd be there with my conscience as clean as I could manage.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:50 AM
@Cavegirl attempts at repair have been attempted, she won't talk to the accused. like most accusers on the internetalso: my sympathy for viral outrage mongers left a looooooong time ago. i loved her but seriously no
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:55 AM
well then. I don't know what advice I can give you except patience and signs of contrition. I'll be honest, when I saw this come up it absolutely gutted me. I'm an abuse survivor. I held you in high esteem. I have been a mess because of all this.I am literally crying as I type this. It isn't easy and it can't be for you either.I had hoped that the statement from you were were waiting for would... well, would reflect the values I stated earlier. Contrition, willingness to accept responsibility, etc. I'm not sure there's much to be gained from continuing this conversation at this point.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:57 AM
i don't think it's an act of good faith to be contrite toward a person who is attacking me. Someone punches you, you don't go "Im sorry". And that' s not a metaphor: she fucking punched me. Its in the statement.
Cavegirl Yesterday at 8:58 AM
as I say. This is where you and I differ. Operating from different assumptions.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 8:59 AMso if someone punched you int he face you'd go "im sorry"
Cavegirl Yesterday at 9:01 AM
I mean probably yeah. That'd be my intention, at least. It's the standard I'd want to hold myself to.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 9:01 AM
ok, to me, that standard leads to this person punching everyone
Cavegirl Yesterday at 9:02 AMAs I say, different base assumptions.
zak/Langouste Yesterday at 9:03 AM
do you not see how that leads to everyone getting punched? i mean: that's storygames.
Willingness to admit fault? Pacifism? Contrition? Mercy? That's bad. That's storygames.
I think that tells you everything you need to know.
Anyway. This hasn't been fun to write. Here it is. I'm sorry for any part I've had in enabling this stuff in the past and can only hope that my actions will help make amends.
(play nice in the comments or you get the banhammer, i'm not in the mood for whataboutism)