Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Deal with Zak S

Update, February 10, 2019: Back when I wrote this post in 2014, I was convinced that Zak was an upstanding guy and the victim of an extensive harassment campaign. Now that Mandy Morbid, Zak's longtime girlfriend, has come forward with her account of abuse at the hands of Zak, I see the truth. Zak is not just some aggressive game designer with a bad attitude. He is cruel and abusive and I no longer support him.
Horrifying likeness by Matthew Adams
Zak S is not homophobic. He is not transphobic. He is not ableist. He is not racist. He is not a misogynist. He can be aggressive and occasionally immature with that aggression. Any claims that he is anything other than the occasional jerk are unsubstantiated and in some cases completely fabricated. No evidence has arisen of Zak's bigotry. These claims or libelous, hateful and petty.

And here's the real deal: Zak S has no power over you, your life or your enjoyment of the gaming hobby. 

Zak has been a controversial figure in the RPG world for a long as I can remember. He's passionate about the RPG hobby and has formed strong opinions that he will defend with the white-hot heat of Hell. He's the sort of guy who believes in universal truths in gaming and will call you out if you disagree with his universal truths. I found this out when I once +1'd a statement about level drain that he didn't like.

He also defends against any attacks to his friends and loved ones. Be an asshole to these people and he will likely call you a pigfucker. He will be relentless and will sometimes go a far as tag your Google Plus account to a post.

Because of this behavior, Zak has hurt plenty of people's feeling, but it needs to be stressed that these attacks on feelings have had nothing to do with sexuality, gender, race, ability or anything else other than opinions of games and personal attacks. Some of the people that Zak have made uncomfortable have been minorities, but that is irrelevant to whatever Zak may have said. Insulting someone who is transsexual is not the same as insulting someone for being transsexual. The distinction needs to be made.

The only time I can recall Zak making a questionable statement regarding transsexualism is when he called himself a "Grognard morphodite" in a Something Awful thread. He didn't know what the word "morphodite" meant and was using context cues from the film Stand By Me. The word sounds like a weird sort of monster, like a troglodyte, but turns out it is a dated derogatory synonym for "hermaphrodite." A transsexual member of the SA forum took offense and Zak defended his use of the word before eventually apologizing (repeatedly) for his ignorance and any offense. The apology was accepted. I stress that Zak not only admitted he was wrong but that the slur was directed to himself, not another person.

This is the only instance I've seen of Zak being insensitive to non-cisgendered people.If you know of a specific instance of any other offense, please let me know and provide a link or screenshot to the evidence. Thus far no one else has been able to.

Without being able to point to specific evidence of his bigotry, Zak's enemies have resorted to mental acrobatics to accuse him of toxicity. Below is an exchange Zak had on Twitter in which he is accused of forcing people to never play RPGs again because he did not publicly come out against the douchebaggery of unnamed others.
Click to make readable.

You cannot accuse someone of endorsing a behavior because they do not publicly denounce it. If that were the case, we would all be guilty of endorsing the most heinous acts because we don't actively say "No, sir, I don't like it."

All of this has come to a head because Zak is a credited consultant on the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Mike Mearls, the big boss of D&D, publicly asked for any evidence of the bigotry of any of the consultants. None was found. The only complaints were of hurt feelings and vague accusations of harassment. As a result, Mearls has taken no action to publicly denounce his choice in consultants.

Ironically, the best source I know of regarding Mearl's reaction to the Zak controversy is in an anti-Zak post on the site Fail Forward. This article performs the incredible task of attacking Zak while offering no evidence and acknowledging that there is no evidence. This is not how you form an argument. It is, however, how you spread lies.

There must be proof if any accusation is to taken seriously. This is the basis of any legitimate legal system and it applies to petty matters in roleplaying games.

I am writing this, not to the people to hate or support Zak, but to the people who don't know who Zak Smith is but have heard some weird things and want to investigate. Thank you for reading this far and I hope you now understand that you don't need to worry about that Zak guy who's name appears in your copy of D&D. I hope that this has calmed any concerns you have and I hope you come to this simple conclusion regarding your enjoyment of roleplaying:


Zak, nor any other abrasive personality on the internet, cannot keep you from loving roleplaying games. He can't "force you out of the hobby." He cannot influence the way you play your game. Not unless you let him. If his words ever hurt your feelings, rest assured that your feelings will heal and you can move on. This applies to any other person on the internet, on either side of any position, anonymous or named. The only person who has any real power over how you have fun is you.

I'd like to end this by saying that I like Zak. I think he's a brilliant DM and I'm so glad he shares his creations on his blog. I cannot think of any other blogger who has influenced the way I run D&D and I'm glad for it. One time I posted on G+ about how the guy playing Superman in a convention game of DC Heroes was a jerk and sullied my fun. Zak was the only person who talked to me about it and I honestly felt better afterwards, talking about it like to grown-up gamemasters. He's a cool guy.

Zak earned his spot on the list of D&D consultants. He may be a jerk now and then, but who isn't? It doesn't even matter because D&D 5e edition is awesome and we can all have a lot of fun with it.

Let's just have fun.

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