In the wake of yesterday’s accusations of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault made by Mandy Morbid and others against game designer Zak S, it’s time to stop separating the art from the artist. I believe and stand with Mandy, Jennifer, and Hannah.
Zak S has been a bad actor in the RPG community for too long. It’s time to refuse to publish or promote his work, or to engage with him in the RPG community — and to do the same with other bad actors in our hobby.
The art/artist argument
I’ve often found that argument, that one should separate creative works from their creators, to be compelling. I’ve made it myself, and in the past I’ve made it about Zak S. (More on that in a moment.) For example, I love H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but the dude was a virulent racist. He’s been dead for over 80 years, and in my judgment enjoying his work while denouncing its problematic aspects is fine: He doesn’t profit from that.
I’ve struggled with how to apply that to living artists, though. Some calls have been easy: When Orson Scott Card began using his fame to promote bigotry towards LGBTQIA+ people, no amount of past enjoyment of Ender’s Game would convince me to spend money on or recommend his work again.
Others have been more difficult, and for too long Zak S was in that category. Based on interactions I had with him on G+, and on how I watched him interacting with others, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was an asshole. But where Card is a clear bad actor, Zak S just seemed like an asshole — and liking an asshole’s work didn’t strike me as being problematic. I bought Zak’s books, and I linked to and promoted his work because I found his work interesting.
In the past couple years, I stopped doing that. I saw too much evidence that he was toxic, like RPGPundit, and stopped buying his books or promoting his work. I made sure to block him in every community where I spent time, and thought that ignoring him would be enough.
Ignoring bad actors isn’t enough
But out of sight, out of mind is not enough.
It’s not enough to separate the art from the artist. Like I said up top, it’s time to stop publishing and promoting work by bad actors in the RPG hobby, and to refuse to engage with them in our community.
I’m taking what The Gauntlet said about Zak S and the issue of support, both past and present, to heart:
If you have supported or defended Zak S in the past, you need to step up. The Ken Hites and White Wolfs and LotFPs of the world need to take this opportunity to disavow Zak S.
Zak S already hadn’t gotten my money or support for some time, but I went back through my posts here on Yore and removed all references or links to his work. I also logged back into Gnome Stew to edit or remove my past posts linking to Zak’s work, only to find that the Stew had already proactively removed them (thank you!). Were G+ not dying in six weeks, I’d scrub those posts as well.
As of this writing, the r/osr subreddit has roundly denounced Zak S and banned him from posting. Well-known folks in the OSR community have spoken out about him, including Patrick Stuart, scrap princess, and Rob Monroe. A flood of folks who supported a recent Zak S Kickstarter have asked for refunds, or for their names to be removed from the backer list. The RPGnet thread about the accusations is full of folks who are mad as hell.
Update Feb. 12: Ken Hite has denounced Zak and donated his payment for work on Demon City to charity, and OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow!) has posted an official response to the situation on their blog. This includes blocking future products featuring Zak S and donating the company’s share of revenue from existing titles to charity. (There’s a longer explanation for why existing titles remain.)
Don’t waste money on shitbags
There are many, many, many designers, authors, artists, and other creative folks producing awesome stuff who aren’t bad actors and aren’t toxic to the RPG community. Those are the folks we should be supporting.