Sunday, 10 February 2019

You Should Read This

To anyone asking if I've seen this post by Many Morbid about Zak Smith.

Yes I've seen it. I believe it. I didn't see any of these events take place but the person she describes matches my view of his personality down to a tee.

Highly intelligent, deeply manipulative narcissist who rules through a combination of building little systems of control and absolute sustained aggression for anyone who opposes or steps out of line for even a second.

You feel crazy dealing with him or walking away from him because you are dealing with a reality that it seems only you can see.

Its the dual-vision of being friends with Zak. There's this person who's such a great guy, and so interested in you personally, so talented, intelligent, charming and funny, with rare good taste.

And then there is this other guy. The one that comes out in text form usually. In arguments about nerd stuff. This guy is condescending, aggressive, clever and manipulative. This guy will say anything to win some fucking internet argument and never, ever, ever admits wrong, backs down or recognises the humanity in his opponents.

The first guy has friends who like him. They second guy has tools, things he uses, doling them out like playing cards or little army men.

At first it seems like the vituperative shit online is just a flaw in the larger person. Something you will have to put up with, a manageable flaw in an otherwise good man.

It takes a long fucking time to work out that the second guy is the real actual guy. That is the person making the decisions and for whom the decisions are made. The first person, the good guy, is just a set of behaviours he puts on like clothes.



Here's me as chief bullet-catcher; (I still remember how genuinely bad I felt for him because of the lies people were telling about him online.)

July 2014 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2014/07/zak-smith-is-not-homophobe.html



Here's me putting together a history of his dealings with RPG.NET and other culture war issues. RPG.NET didn't like that, I think because it made them look crazy. Zak also didn't like it because it caught him in at last one actual direct lie, impersonating Shannon Appelcine on Reddit. Something that became a joke, or a mistake done by a friend, as soon as he was caught. I later found out he has been quoting that post in his defence, but selectively editing that part.

There are lots of little gaps like that, small mistakes, which you notice as you spend time around him. He doesn't make many, but they build up over time.


February 2017 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-timeline-of-zak-wars.html



And here is my schitzo pattern-recognition finally pulling the plug on that relationship. I felt then, I imagine only a small shadow of what Mandy is feeling now. I was a fucking mess.

September 2017 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2017/09/fuck-all-of-you.html

I haven't taken any money from Maze of the Blue Medusa since that date. It has all gone to charity and I am really fucking relieved that is the case. If you are inside his networks you are inside his little system of power and loyalty.

And thank you, very much, to Mandy Morbid for writing her post and saying this stuff out loud. She has set me free personally, and set a lot of people free, from ever giving a fuck about this guy ever again.

38 comments:

  1. I just came out of the frenzied osr discord server almost in a daze, not necessarily over the the bickering and such, but over how this feels like an end of an era, what with the end of google+ and the (what looks to be rightful) fall of Zak, were at that precipice of whether the whole scene (if it can be called that) will morph into its next Nu phase or will this be the the point where the gears start grinding down and is the beginning of the end.

    The question im really interested in is where the center of gravity of the blogosphere shifts to, as to my mind zak plazced himself right in the middle of 'Big Personality' nexus and became one of the unofficial tastemakers of the scene; with him gone (if he leaves/gets ignored, that is), will it lead to more new content getting eyeballs on it or less?

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    1. Tomorrow people will keep working on their projects and sharing their vision and playing games they love and one person being cut out cannot stop that. This can only be a positive change.

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    2. Youre probably right, though i dont think you really responded to what i was asking; the OSR is about 10 years old now and scenes like these tend toward mutation in timeframes of that length. google+ was always a place for people to post and discuss stuff and its disappearing, and zak's blog was at the center of artpunk wing of this little community and was probably the most established blog out there if youre just looking at post rate and number of followers; to think that the status quo continues with him gone is a bit disingenous i say.

      my other question is really a continuation on that theme as i dont know enough about graph theory/social networks to know how these things usually spin out when a large player 'leaves'.

      Food for thought.

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    3. Hm. I guess I don't have an answer for your question then. Thanks for the brain food.

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    4. I have no idea what will happen. Zak was instrumental in there being 'a movement', (I think largely as a vehicle for him personally).

      I do think the central ideas, rules, playstyles at the centre of 'artpunk' or other OSR stuff are genuinely good and simply work well. So I think and hope it will continue, but probably more as a dispersed network of people.

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    5. I can't think of any artistic scene where centralization helped it flourish. I also strongly suspect there are people who were pushed out of OSR circles by him that could come back now.

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    6. It may help (that's not the right word) that Zak S. continually told us his thing was DIY DnD, rather than OSR. Maybe because he didn't want to be lumped in with other OSR gamers. I'm not sure if he thought he was better than the OSR or just wanted to have his own nomenclature about it.

      Either way, the wicked witch is dead. I'm glad you've found some peace, Patrick. Good luck with your gaming in the future.

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    7. J Devine: +1000.

      If the OSR is any sort of process, it’s the process of a hundred little elves hammering away in each one’s own workshop and then bringing their creations to show and tell. Losing abt one person will not stop that.

      Mufn don’t worry about g+. We were fine with Wordpress and Blogspot before and we will be fine now. It will just take a few more clicks, and that’s just fine.

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    8. I feel like it's possible that the "OSR"/"Adventure Games" world will actually become more healthy with Zak gone. There is a feeling out there that OSR people are prickly, mean, and argumentative, but that is at least in part Zak's influence. It's conceivable that, with Zak gone, more creators might feel more open to OSR ideas.

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    10. Him leaving the scene can only be healthy for creativity. The spotlight will be less focused on a single part and it will let different people emerge. Creators will more freely interact with people in and out of the scene.

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  2. I did wonder. There was a sort of negative space in which it was clear something had happened, but no one was talking about it. Now I understand.

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    1. Mandy had certainly grown conspicuous by her absence as far as RPG stuff went. I remember wondering about that and looking around a bit back in December or late November, but being a distractable sort I didn't dig very deep.

      My head and stomach are going around in circles about this. I'm a pretty upset guy right about now, mostly at Zak, a little at myself.

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  3. Well, now I'm glad that I never bought 'Frostbitten and Mutilated'.

    Congratulations to Mandy for having the courage to speak up.

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  4. This is sad. I feel even more sorry for Mandy now, knowing that she's likely to become the newest target of the Zak Hate Machine (assuming he as an online personality survives this).

    Patrick, I'm glad this is somewhat cathartic for you, and am super glad to see you writing so much again lately. Looking forward to your future.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this Patrick, I had not seen that post. I've only interacted with Zak a couple times, and my understanding was the superficial-level one that you described: "Maybe he's a decent guy deep down, his abrasive online demeanor is just a personality flaw." As somebody who's supported him and bought his books from the beginning, this is saddening.

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  6. The OSR was fine without him and will be better off without him. This is EXACTLY why the OSR doesn't need a gatekeeper.

    It is sad that Raggi isn't condemning him. But zak's own words anyone caught doing something so terrible should be made a non-person, driven from the career and not able to make any money from it again. If zak were a man he would heed his own words and move along.

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    1. Perhaps Raggi needs time to process or put an official statement out. Has he said anything yet?

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    2. It usually seems to take him a few days to put out a big 'press release'-style thing, like after the Peterson pic or when those books got destroyed.

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  7. I’m glad that this is finally out, with no further doubt or ambiguity. Mandy is very brave to face the social media firestorm. It’s good to have some closure, in any event.

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  8. 1. The original Renaissance had to end- in chaos and discord (heh)- that the Enlightenment might follow.
    2. In your September 2017 post you describe people like Paolo somehow finding or being drawn to antagonize Zak. I have no desire to make any of this harder for anyone- I just wonder if bullet catcher, whipping boy (Paolo and others) and trophy positions were all filled with people who he had groomed. With respect, CS.

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    1. Old School Enlightenment? What would that look like?

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  9. Great post Patrick. I've frequently been bewildered by the hostility you've received on G+ at times, which seems to have come from the followers of a certain cult of personality.

    Glad you've got freedom to go in your own direction without a shadow on your back.

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  10. Thank you for sharing. Well written.

    So I got Maze in January and now I'm doing a bit of head scratching about what to do with this book. Only read 1 section so far.

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    1. You could run it at your local game store, charge a symbolic amount for doing so and donate the money to charity (maybe one helping abused people).

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  11. Patrick - thank you for making it possible for me to support you as a creator.

    I came across Veins of the Earth some time ago, and fell deeply, unreservedly in love with it. I followed it to Deep Carbon Observatory, and Fire on the Velvet Horizon, and loved them too. And then, as a member of a community that had one of its members literally *harassed off the internet* by Zak S (the SomethingAwful TradGames forum), I shamelessly pirated your books because I simply could not justify giving money to anyone who maintained a relationship with that monster.

    I just bought my legitimate copies of Veins and Observatory, and Velvet Horizon will happen with my next paycheck. Thank you for doing the right thing.

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  12. Patrick, I love Maze... I feel sad that your work on it has been shadowed over by the crummy behavior of ZS. I look forward to seeing more of your work. Way to go for making the hard decision to cut ties with a creative colleague. It gives me hope to see how many decent people are supporting Mandy and others who have come forward.

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  13. Well, this is heartbreaking. I've been a big fan of Zak's commentary (though not his politics). His blogroll has been the launching point for my daily crawl through the OSR blog community for years. Which explains why I'm only finding out about this scandal today when he deleted his blogroll.

    For those of you who are wondering how to reconcile what's happened with your enjoyment of stuff that Zak worked on, just remember what I always say:

    The art is not the artist.

    Many good artists are terrible people. I've had the (mis?)fortune to float around the edges of Hollywood (My wife was a TV producer. I walked the red carpet at the Emmys as her +1. It's our 20th Valentines Day together), and I can tell you there a A LOT of awful human beings in that business. That doesn't make the movies and shows bad. Harvey Weinstein is at least as much the abusive misogynist that Zak is; the Lord of the Rings movies are still awesome. Roman Polanski is a fugitive rapist; Chinatown is still one of the best movies ever made. Do you like anything with a child actor in it? There's a pretty good chance that kid was sexually abused by someone involved in making the show. Pablo Picasso: terrible person; Guernica: amazing painting.

    If you are unwilling to enjoy something based on it's own merits rather than those of it's creators, you aren't going to be able to enjoy much. That's an ugly truth but we live in an ugly world.

    I won't be following Zak anymore, and I'd like to punch him in the face for mistreating Mandy, who always seemed like an awesome person. But I wouldn't refuse to buy something that looked cool just because Zak was involved with it.

    Finally, I hate the puritanical driving people from the public square for wrongthink that is so popular today. But it is shamefully satisfying to see it happening to someone who was such a big proponent of it.

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  14. Perfectly said. Altogether true and observable. Thank you for the dose of reason in an unreasonable society.

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  15. I feel duped in the same way you were. Like right now, we have the RPG scene largely unified in "Fuck that Guy". Mark Diaz Truman is getting reamed by people for daring to have written a lukewarm request for civility like 3 years ago. I honestly thought he had some kind of unrecognized Asperger's syndrome because he'd say things that sounded like someone who didn't understand human motivations. Now it's pretty obvious that he knew and understood, just didn't care unless it served his ego.

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  16. I'm very sorry for Mandy and the other women in the post. And I wish I had never bought anything of his. But I'm glad you shared this, b/c I really didn't know about it. Depressing for bystanders and a fucking horror show for the people close up. Sigh.

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  17. Wow.

    A few months ago i stopped following Zak blog, mostly because the whole vitrol an discourse drama was too much for me, and i wanted to read about weird worlds, rules and creative content. I always knew that he was a polemic personality in the OSR, but i mostly ignored that aspect of him, trusting on his word that it erupted from misinterpretetion, jealousy, or something like that.

    Mandy was brave, stripping up his mask. I *Cant* sit idle and ignore what he did anymore. Thanks for making this, for letting us know.

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  18. gosh what are the odds that a loud and continual advocate of Currently Popular Values in the nerdogeekosphere could be a rapist, when has anything like this ever happened before

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  19. Well damn. And I was looking forward to Violence In The Nympharium too.

    Important to remember at times like these: It's better to find there's a cancer in the system than to have an undiagnosed cancer. Even if getting that diagnosis is very unpleasant. We will be stronger for this. Ultimately the only loss is what was already claimed by the tumor. Now the body can regrow.

    And to think, I thought the "fuck-all-of-you" post was over the Coins & Scrolls guy being upset over you not wanting to do a Veins of the Earth follow up.

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