We have to be better than this!

Update #2: Zak has posted his statement regarding the accusations here

Update: Vivka Grey, a woman, who lived with Zak and Mandy for a while, and who also was featured in the “I hit it with my axe” show, also shared her experiences with Zak on her FB page. 

I’ve struggled with this post for quite some time. Sometimes writing about important topics is incredibly hard. Sometimes you just don’t want to keep quiet, but you also don’t have the right words. At this moment, I feel angry, sad and ashamed. So what is all this about? Mandy, the ex-girlfriend of  the (in)famous Zak S. has written a lengthy post on Facebook about her relationship with him. And as it turns out, he has been abusing her physically and mentally for years.

For anyone who was interacting with him, it was quite obvious that he has an abrasive nature, to put it mildly. He can’t stand being criticized, he’s a bully and a troll. But still a lot of people respected him as a creator – including me. Eventually I got tired of his behavior and openly stated that I am done defending him. But even then I thought that his online persona was more of an act. I believed that behind the mask he was wearing, there was a kind and caring person.

When I read the post about Zak’s abuse, the thing that shocked me the most was that I wasn’t that surprised. At this point I realized that I should have seen it all along. There have been so many signs which a lot of us chose to ignore. We have to be better than this! Damn, I should be better than this! It’s so easy to overlook one’s terrible behavior because we enjoy the product they created for our favorite games. We try to rationalize why we still support someone even though we know we shouldn’t. In a way we help people like this to continue abusing others.

It was extremely brave of Mandy to share her story. She has been living in an abusive relationship for years and her abuser even used her as a shield. At this point there’s not much I can do to help her, aside from believing in her, and sharing her story, so that others don’t have to suffer the way she had to. We also should stop supporting people like Zak. We should not buy his works, invite him to conventions, interview him for our blogs or podcasts, interact with him on social media. Most importantly we should support the victims and believe their stories.

Do I think that things in the RPG community will finally change for the better? No. I am almost 100% sure that there are still many RPG fans who will support their favorite creators to the end, even if they turn out to be terrible people. For some their favorite “elf games” are more important than the lives of other people. That’s the harsh reality. But that doesn’t mean we should stop struggling. We have to try to be better than that!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

7 thoughts on “We have to be better than this!”

  1. First, let me say that abuse is wrong. Zak clearly has anger issues. People are pretty complex creatures! His behaviours is what is at issue here. Not Zak – because people and their issues are too complex to just be irredeemable and thrown on a scrap pile. Right? But he needs help.
    Zak has a chance to do penance, be remorseful, get help and grow. Improve as a person. His behaviours are maladaptive rather than ‘adaptive’, behaviours. If Zak doesn’t do anything, it’s going to be a lonely world for Zak. But rather than shun him and ostracize him, we need to say, “find help – we don’t treat people these ways … here is a better way… a more adaptive way… of managing your emotions and behaviours and being better for others and for you”. I hope for him and those around him DOES find the help he needs to stop hurting the ones he loves.

    1. I understand where you’re coming from, and generally I’d agree with you. But at this point I doubt that Zak is even aware that there’s something wrong with him. He’s abusive, manipulative, and up to this point hasn’t shown any remorse. As long as he gets what he wants out of people, he has no reason to change. Feel free to convince him that he needs help. In the meantime I’ll keep warning people about him.

  2. I supported Lamentations of the Flame Princess, even if it wasn’t exactly my style. Zak has sometimes come across as a troll on his blog and elsewhere online. Most gamers aren’t like this, but these accusations are serious enough to remind us to be vigilant against abusive behavior.

    While people are innocent until proven guilty in the U.S. justice system, and I agree that Zak could use some counseling, my sympathies are with the women in this case. I hope that Mandy can get whatever help she needs and move on to a happier, safer life.

  3. I’ve never been a fan of the gonzo side of the hobby, so I wasn’t really a fan of his. But I recognized that it’s a legitimate part of the hobby. I’m just saying: not a fan of his, nor his work.

    But I am glad to see the me-too type cleaning-house come to the hobby. And I’m glad she was able to get out of that relationship, and hope she heals and moves on.

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