Friday 15 February 2019

Thoughts on the zaklash, personal stuff

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)


  1. Powerful read. You seem like a real life angel to me. Thank you.

  2. "Recently, I'll browse RPGnet or twitter or reddit, or it'll pop up on my facebook or something, and I'll see some cunt 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?"

    See, I'm one of the people posting comments like that, and I don't in any way mean to insult people who fell for his bullshit. In fact, the reason I keep pointing that out in threads is because that's what makes this whole debacle so insidious to me - that it _wasn't_ that there was a whole bunch of people willingly propping him up and justifying his actions. He didn't have people defending him - like you - because those people were morally bankrupt, he had them defending him because the person he portrayed in private was very different than the person he portrayed in public.

    The people who were manipulated by him into defending him are victims of him as well (obviously in an infinitely smaller way than Mandy and the women he abused are), because he lied to them and used their trust as a shield from his actions. And not his actions like what he did to Mandy, because the second that came out they all (rightly) turned on him, but from all the minor bullshit he did that brought down the OSR community as a whole and drove people away.

    I think what I mean by "people knew this" is that people knew he was an asshole and if he hadn't gotten people to defend him by acting differently in private than in public he never would have lasted this long. But I don't blame anyone who defended him for that, but it's not their fault - it's not YOUR fault - that they were manipulated by a narcissist.

    1. a thoughtful response. I'll edit out the harsh language there.

    2. To give a little more context to my actions, I've always thought Zak S was a giant asshole and never understood why people tolerated him. I'd never really enjoyed his blog all that much (I enjoy the books he's released, just not his unfinished content), so all I ever saw of him was Reddit comments and whenever a new controversy with him at the centre blew up. The only personal interaction I had with him saw him accuse me of harassing him because I left a snarky comment one on of his own comments, which, as someone who takes things like harassment seriously, really rubbed me the wrong way.

      On the outside looking in, it doesn't make sense why Zak S wasn't run out of the OSR community years ago, but now that people are talking about him I get a clearer picture. It would be easy for me to say "well, just because he isn't an asshole to you doesn't mean he's not an asshole", but that's not really fair to the people who knew a very different Zak than I and most outsiders did, or the Zak that apparently no one knew. I love Luka Rejec's work and according to a post he made a month or two ago before all this came out he wouldn't be in the RPG community to the degree he is if it weren't for Zak S.

      The reason I think it's important to talk about how he acted to strangers is because I think that interactions on the internet and in public are just as valid a measure of someone's personality as how they interact in real life and in private. From my perspective, Zak S was a cut and dry case of a toxic person and even ignoring how he posted on the internet he'd had enough smaller controversies to make it clear who he was. I don't blame anyone for liking his private persona and I certainly don't want you to think for a second that I hold anyone who defended him accountable for his actions, because I don't. (I mean, it's clear from what happened with Mandy M that he would have just made up people to defend him anyway).

      What I'm trying to say is that no one is responsible for Zak S's actions in the past and no one is responsible for Zak S being an asshole. Only he got himself into that situation. But in the future, paying more attention to the conduct of someone outside of their private persona can help prevent people like him getting the power and influence he had, and prevent people like Evylnn M being pushed away.

      It's not that people "failed" by falling for his bullshit or were "responsible" because he decided he was going to be toxic. It's that in the future, looking at the fact there were warning signs before this can help people avoid being duped again. Which is why I don't think saying "people knew this" is unhelpful.

  3. If there is one thing that has kept this positive in my mind, it has been how everyone that that man surrounded himself with has gone to bat for Mandy and the others.

    I haven't seen anyone who knew him whose response wasn't "I believe Mandy". That's the most important thing

    1. There are definitely a couple.

      As with all cases where people make accusations at each other across the internet I find it best not to take either side with too much vehemence and certainty. Since, y'know, none of US know what happened or how it happened and I'm not sure it's any of our business.

    2. But then again, I'm in the fortunate position where I don't /need/ to make a judgement since the only 'interaction' I've had with Zak is that I very occasionally read his blog. Obviously the people who interacted with him regularly are going to have to try and work out what they believe along with how and if they are going to interact with him from now on.

    3. no, you don't get to say that on my blog. go away.

    4. zak has a new book so he says 'go harass my detractors' to stir up publicity, and now here you are. It's all very predictable.

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  4. I totally feel for you. I am in a similar situation and feel like utter trash. Not anything close to what these women must feel.

    But it's still horrible. I hope you can somehow feel better in general and forgive yourself. If it's any kind of consultation, the response of major people, OBS, and people in general means he's not gonna get any work in this industry again. At least I hope so.

    Thank you for writing this.

  5. So he saw you say that the topic was so painful that you were crying while typing, and he didn't even acknowledge it? Not even the slightest word of comfort? That's *wild*.

  6. I've been an abuse victim too, pushed into defending someone who only wanted a shield from behind which they could continue striking others. Every post and response like yours has contained echoes of my own experience in them, and yours is no different. I have very deep sympathy. Thank you for writing this.

  7. I appreciate where you are coming from and agree with what you are asking for. Thank you for writing this.

  8. I think to say 'Thank you for this post' is not enough to tell how much I value what you wrote, but I don't know any other proper words for this size of gratitude. Thank you very much.
    There are ghosts and there are demons, and there are words that lock both of them away.

  9. Thank you for writing this. That Discord conversation illuminates so much with terrible clarity.

  10. Ohshit. This is the first I'm hearing of this, and, to a much lesser extent, I feel similarly to you. I always thought of him as an abrasive, but fundamentally decent dude and now I feel like shit for being taken in by his act. I can only imagine how much worse it must be for someone who actually knows him to some extent. *hugs*

  11. What Malcolm said totally encompasses my thoughts. Early run-in and he poked at me from 2010 to 2018. Is that sane? And his treatment of me was nothing to what others endured. The OSR was fine before him and will only thrive after him.

    I'm not gloating because others were hurt, I'm just sad others didn't save themselves before getting hurt. And I hope everyone hurt by this guy one way or another heals and finds some pain-ease in time.

  12. You were the last person I followed who would refer to things he posted, pretty much. (I came into OSRish things through his blog and gave up on him as it became an enemies list, a few flare-ups ago, post a lot of research and soul searching.) It felt weird and kinda bad but I put up with it because you didn't seem to engage in bad behavior directly and I wanted to believe you were better.

    You are.

  13. Oh god. That final convo with him. That really does sum it up, doesn't it?

    Thank you for sharing this, even if it makes my stomach knot up. This is the man behind the curtain. These are his ideals, his goals, his conclusions and the origins of his actions laid out bare in his own words. Nothing could be more damming.

    Ps. Also thank you for being such a "bleeding hearted softie", youre a treasure to the community

  14. Well said. Holding you in the light.

  15. While I'm not a member of this particular branch of the RPG community, people like this are everywhere. Everyone is capable of being fooled. Speaking out is very difficult, learned the red flags is hard, knowing when to pick your battles...all of it.
    I've known people like this, and communities as well. People who twist and manipulate things to ensure their mask stays intact. I'm very sorry you and other good people were fooled by him, but while the guilt you must feel is real, I am glad to see you're dealing with it so well.

  16. Thank you for posting this. You are incredible person and I admire your morals.

  17. Your statement has been one of the only ones which I actually really respect of the people reacting to this situation. I find a lot of the showy social media stuff and mob tactics infuriating, fake, and self-serving but what you have written here is absolutely genuine and consistent with a person with convictions and a strong moral compass. Your expression of religious belief makes a lot of sense. I am a Christian and I find so much of what has happened when people dogpile on these issues and even when they attack bad actors to be distasteful and wrong.

    Stay strong and may the love of Christ give you peace as you endure these trials.

  18. Thanks for writing this, Emmy. And thanks for endeavouring to live by ethics of radical tolerance and empathy that you outline here. It's a much harder path than the smug self-righteousness which mostly passes for morality on the internet, and I respect you greatly for sticking with it. Our community is a better, richer, and kinder place for having you within it.

  19. "It's odd how a hive of scum and villainy seems to have picked up on this before somewhere nice like rpgnet did."

    Nooot really, because #4Chan makes it impossible to leverage one's status and identity in discussions, so ideas take the front, which makes it one of the least biased sources of information on the internet. And is NOT nice. It's an ideological echo chamber which engages in at least as many lies and misrepresentations as they accuse Zak of, which people could see in only they hadn't hidden their 'infraction forum'.

    Anyway, that last discussion you had with Zak makes him look very sympathetic. I would have come out swinging too if only because my brother WAS falsely convicted and imprisoned under similar circumstances. The only reason to condemn Zak here would be if you think he's lying or deeply deluded about something (do you?). And suggesting one apologize to the people 'punching' one is dissonant, as it's also the philosophy which let Zak operate for so long.

    I mean I deeply respect your position on violence, and wish I could share it to a greater degree, but the more I look into this the less certain I am about anything.

    1. I disagree strongly that the last conversation with Zak look sympathetic. I don't think I've ever seen him acknowledge somebody else's pai, and I don't think I've ever seen him express contrition or admit to fault. It has always been about winning the argument at all cost, never conceding anything, with no concern for those affected. That conversation I put up was, I think, symptomatic of that.

  20. Thank you for that post. I admire your stance and principles and insight, and having the courage to post something that was obviously hard for you personally to write. Otherwise, what Joseph Manola wrote above as well. I can’t say it better than that.

  21. Superbly well-written, Emmy. I feel hugely sorry for the women that were involved with Zak in the past (and I fear for the well-being of his current partner).

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