2017-01-17 10:45
Comment [1]

So I spaced off actually checking out that this blog worked again after a rather rushed server move, but it’s up now, after a few small adventures.

Trivia point: The new system seems to have subtly broken a password hashing thing in use by the blog, resulting in me having to manually reset my password.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


The end of my Mac era


2016-11-29 22:41
Comment [1]

I first used MacOS X in 1988. No, that’s not a typo. See, MacOS X is really, under the hood, an older operating system called NeXTStep, which I started using in 1988.

It’s been, for most of the last 28 years, my favorite operating system to work in. And I’m giving up on it, because Apple doesn’t want customers like me any more.

When Apple announced their new 2016 MacBook Pro line, I was… not quite heartbroken. I was, however, in denial. I was sure I could make the machines somehow be just about usable enough. I mean, sure. I’d have to buy dongles. I’d have to buy some kind of dock. The dock that I’d need doesn’t exist yet, but it would exist someday. There’s nothing on the market right now that can deliver the wattage the new MBP needs over USB-C in a general way, except one specific 5k monitor by LG. Dell has a dock that can do it, but only with other Dell products. Everything else caps at 60W.

The new MacBook Pro is everything I don’t want in a computer. Ethernet’s still gone. So’s everything else. Memory? Soldered onto the motherboard. You can’t upgrade it. And it maxes out at 16GB, because they had to use lower-power LPDDR3, instead of the faster DDR4 the hardware would otherwise typically use, and the chip can’t handle more than 16GB of LPDDR3. Storage? Soldered onto the motherboard. No upgrades.

Every laptop I have had since the early 90s, if memory was upgradeable, I upgraded the memory a year or two after getting it. Every laptop I have had since the early 90s, I upgraded storage at least once. Except, of course, the new Macs where this isn’t an option. They just fall behind the performance curve way faster than other laptops. Of course, you can spend 4x as much to get an Apple-markup upgrade at the time of purchase. (Apple’s markup isn’t all that steep; what’s steep is buying something at the high end of the curve at launch, rather than buying the same thing for a lot less two years later.)

Apple discontinued all non-glossy screens. I hate glossy screens. In fact, so does almost everyone; glossy screens have a lot of initial “wow” factor, but most people end up sooner or later hurting their necks trying to get to a position where the glare isn’t too bad. The “low” reflectivity of Apple’s glossy screens buys you very close to nothing; what makes reflections bad isn’t that they’re bright, it’s that they’re sharp, clear, and easily seen. The “Retina” displays sound nice in principle, but in practice, I hate them. See, they’re done as super-high-resolution screens; for instance, the screen might be 2880×1800. But you don’t actually use it at that resolution, it’d be illegible. You run it scaled. If you run it at 1440×900, you get a 2:1 scaling effect, everything’s crisp and clear, and you have a desktop the size I’d expect from a 12” machine on your shiny new 15” machine. If you run it at any intermediate size, everything is a bit fuzzy because it’s all scaled. So I hate it.

Apple replaced the standard laptop keyboard with a new super-thin keyboard. I typed on it for half an hour and was in pain. If I’d used it for a full day, I wouldn’t have been able to type for two or three days thereafter. Yes, I know, I’m atypical; I have old RSI pains. Luckily, every vendor in the world except Apple is willing to make keyboards which reach the bare minimum standards of usability I need not to be injured by keyboards.

Apple killed the function key row, on the nominal grounds that function keys have been around for too long. Guys, that’s true of letters, too. Function keys were, and are, useful. Indeed, on that shiny new Mac, with shiny new MacOS preloaded on it, there were standard system functions accessible only through… You guessed it… Function keys.

The new trackpad is probably the real reason function keys were out; it’s enormous, and there’s simply not enough room to have it be that enormous if you kept the function keys and added the fancy new touchbar. It’s also awful. It has clear, audible, tactile, clicks in the lower corners. They don’t work, even if configured. You have to also set the force requirement for clicking to “light”. Also, if you do the obvious thing of configuring it to recognize right clicks when you click the right side? Even the lightest brush of a palm on the right side, while clicking clearly and unambiguously on the left, is a “right click”.

So, what is a laptop? A laptop is a screen (awful), cursor device (awful), keyboard (awful), battery (awful), and memory and storage (also both awful). Oh, wait. There’s connectors.

The machine has USB type C ports. Interesting in principle. Not yet remotely ready for prime time. Trying to find combinations of things which will allow you to use the four available ports and get everything working is a nightmare. You want to use power passthrough? You’re now capped at 60W and can’t run the laptop at full power. You want any kind of connection to any kind of display? Special cable. USB ports that work with literally any other thing you could plausibly own? Special adapter. Oh, and the adapter will probably kill the wireless.

Magsafe is gone. You might not think this is a big deal, but the magsafe adapter is easily the best feature I’ve ever seen in a laptop, and is why I have bought so many machines with it over the years. When a friend who has a dog needed a laptop, I got him a MBP because I knew the cable would survive longer. (I’ve soldered together three or four power cables or laptop power supply connectors this year. None of them were on machines with magsafe.)

This machine is a joke. It is an insult. Apple used to have three product lines for notebooks; the “macbook” was the consumer line, the “macbook air” was extra lightweight and a bit light on functionality, and the “macbook pro” had all the extra functions but weighed more. The new MBP is now replacing the MacBook Air. (I believe they’ve actually stated that the Air line is being dropped because the new MBP is just as thin anyway.)

So what if you wanted other features? Too bad.

The writing was on the wall years ago, and I should have jumped then. I still remember my confusion when someone on the MacRumors forums, speaking of the removal of the Ethernet port, said “well, I don’t see why the MBP needs Ethernet, I think of that as more of a Pro feature.” Why, yes. That’s exactly what it is.

In the entire time that there’s been a “Macbook Pro” product line, I don’t know of a single MBP which had mid-range or better graphics, and which could run at full speed for a sustained period. At all. Every model has been prone to dire failures (think “must replace parts”) due to heat, or has throttled because of overheating, or has had parts that were way down on the bottom end of the performance curve. Why? Because they’re too thin to have enough volume to have space for functional heat sinks, and they’re too thin to have the battery it would take to power such a thing and have usable battery life.

So, here I am with a Dell laptop. Upgradeable storage? It has both a PCIe slot and a 2.5” drive bay. Not only can I upgrade the storage, I can have two different kinds of storage. Memory? Ships with 32GB, upgradeable to 64. Ports? Yes, lots of them, even including a fancy new USB type-C port it could use if I cared. Screen? Matte finish, perfectly clear. Flexible configuration options; for instance, the hardware can turn off the wireless card when ethernet’s connected, if you want it to. It won’t, if you don’t want it to. Options like this are not really a part of the Mac experience.

But the kicker is, this machine which is unambiguously superior in every way to the 2016 Macbook Pro also costs about $1,300 less. So that’s enough extra money to get things like a dock. I like docks. Docks are a “pro” feature; many people don’t care about them. But I do, and I like that I have the option of getting one with this machine. And if I were willing to settle for a slightly less impressive machine, without quite as many expansion options? There’s gaming laptops which are in the $1,500 range and still quite a lot more powerful than anything Apple will ship. That $2,000 price gap is significant. (If I could buy a license for MacOS to run on an ASUS laptop like the GL502 for $1,500, I would do that in a heartbeat. Assuming it actually had drivers for the hardware and didn’t have the problems the Hackintosh people run into on laptops.) And yes, both machines would be heavier than the MBP, but… okay, that’s a thing I understand, hardware takes up space and weighs something. I’m okay with that!

And lest you think this is specific to hardware: It’s not.

Mac OS X Server was a really nice server operating system. I spent $hundreds on it and had no regrets. It saved me time and effort. It was, of course, discontinued. Now you can buy “Server.app” from the Apple app store. Server.app is a weird hybrid app that contains basically a clone of everything that was in the OS X Server filesystem that’s not in normal MacOS. It is dodgy, at best. It doesn’t work reliably, it doesn’t integrate well, and in short, it completely fails at the things that made OS X Server worth spending money on.

Aperture was a lovely photo program. It got axed, with all the functionality moving into “Photos”. Here’s when I realized this would absolutely not work for me: In Aperture, when importing pictures, you can denote a “project” for them, allowing you to separate images out into different categories or whatever. In Photos? “Last Import”. It’s all sorted by date, all the time. There are no categories, there are no divisions, it’s just all one big stream of every picture, sorted by date. Deal with it. Wanting to categorize pictures is a “pro” feature. (The limited tagging functionality is in no way a viable replacement.)

iWork used to be a fairly respectable contender as a serious tool. It hasn’t been for a long time, probably because of the iPad ports, which imply that the software’s functionality has to be limited to things that will play well on the iPad. At one point, Apple sold a keyboard for the iPad. Numbers (the spreadsheet) on the iPad didn’t allow you to use arrow keys to navigate spreadsheets. Why? Probably a “pro” feature. iWork also dropped any pretense of backwards compatibility with older iWork files, or files from predecessors like AppleWorks. Need to access old files? Look for third-party solutions.

And this has been happening to everything Apple does. The new iPhone drops the headphone jack, because why would you want a 100% reliable technology that has been in use for something like 35 years and works with your existing headphones when you could have unreliable wireless technology which sounds worse. Well, sounds worse briefly. Then it stops sounding like anything at all until you find a charger.

And all of this is plenty of reason for me to give up and migrate away from the platform. I’m going to keep a few things running on a Mac Mini until I find suitable replacement apps or get my data exported. But the worst thing is:

Most of the people I know who develop software feel the same way. And you can’t develop for MacOS if you aren’t using a Mac. And why would you get a Mac, when they’re insanely overpriced and horribly dysfunctional?

Apple’s not refreshing the Mac Mini and keeping it remotely competitive, and they’ve gone from being quite nice machines to being sort of horrible. I have an older Mac Mini, it runs fine, it’s easy to fix if things go wrong. I have a newer Mac Mini, and I want to put in a new drive, so I have mail-ordered the special tool which does only one thing — let you get the main board out of a 2012/2014 mac mini so you can replace the hard drive. That’s ridiculous, and stupid. And if the Mini were priced based on its hardware, and decreased in price over time, that might be defensible. But now the Mini is non-upgradeable, just like the rest of the product line, and a Mac Mini with reasonable specs costs $1,500. It’s not really cost-effective at that point, to put it mildly. At $500, plus spending $200 to upgrade some parts in a year or two, it would be attractive. At $1,500 for hardware that’s roughly two years old, paying the full Apple Hardware Premium for hardware that wasn’t really even impressive then? No. The old plan of “get a mini and use that for development” is gone. The iMac line is great if you happen to want an all-in-one machine with a glossy display. Don’t like glossy displays? Apple doesn’t like you. The Mac Pro is even more ridiculously overpriced. It’s a great example of a machine which is in a niche where you must upgrade regularly to keep on top of the performance curve, or lower your prices, or be subject to ridicule. Apple’s gone for ridicule.

So… There are no good options for Mac development. There are no good options for users who want slightly higher-end machines, or even what would be considered “midrange” in most of the market, anymore. If Microsoft weren’t being quite so aggressively horrible with Windows 10 (seriously, MS, “we report usage back and you can’t turn this off and you can’t even disable the quasi-AI assisstant program unless you’re an enterprise customer” is not how you make friends), I think Apple would be in even worse trouble. But even as is, I think the Mac app market is at serious risk of starting to dry up as developers seek greener pastures.

To summarize:

Apple’s executives do not understand that “getting thinner and thinner until you can’t do your job” was a fatal illness that killed Steve Jobs, rather than another of his visionary design decisions to emulate.

(For other thoughts on this: Michael Tsai has a really interesting piece with lots of links to other writing on the topic.)

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


Video games, art, and passion


2015-04-25 22:02
Comment [2]

So, I wrote about my distress over the very disappointing Angry Birds Epic game. And since then, I’ve seen a couple of things that I think make a good contrast with it.

The first is Saint’s Row IV. This game is fascinating, and it shouldn’t work at all. The Saint’s Row series started out as games pretty similar in theme to Grand Theft Auto, perhaps, but have gradually… digressed. They’ve gotten over-the-top, to put it mildly. In SR4, everything is even more over the top. And it works, even though it shouldn’t. The game has no consistent tone; it goes from ludicrous silliness to powerful and compelling characterization at the drop of a hat, and switches up tone constantly. They did a downloadable thing which has interviews with the characters about the making of the game, in which characters acknowledge having bribed or blackmailed writers to be included in the game rather than dropped. It’s ridiculously violent, but somehow the fact that throwing people through floating hoops gets a cheering “ETHICAL!” from a man wearing a giant pink cat head (or possibly a giant pink cat in a lab coat) makes this… not really seem like it’s about violence in the same way that some games are.

Ultimately, SR4 works because you can tell that everything in it was there because someone thought it would be fun. And also, perhaps, like anything that enough devs thought would be fun is there. This game does not feel like it was designed based on careful study by focus groups. No. There’s a dubstep gun (which fires “wubs”) because of course there is, that would be awesome. There is an elaborate setup to explain why the currency of the Matrix-like world is called “cache”, which completely ignores the question of how it’s pronounced. There’s a holiday-themed episode where you get to ally with Santa Claus to fight Evil Santa Claus. When you run really fast you make a whirlwind that throws cars around like a tornado. Basically, they just went ahead and did everything, and it works. It works, not because there’s a carefully-considered target market and they adjusted the game to appeal to them, but because everything about it shows that the people working on it really loved what they were doing. And not every studio is given the chance to just go ahead and do that, because most video games don’t make money, and developing an expensive game can be ruinous. So people don’t like to take chances. It’s worth noting that it’s Saint’s Row IV that was allowed to just go ahead and do whatever the hell they wanted; the developers had proven their ability to make things work and make money.

And that gets me to Pillars of Eternity, and why I am starting to really love Kickstarter. PoE is a game designed by people who loved the old Baldur’s Gate series of games, and loved the way they felt, and wanted to make a game Just Like That Only More. So they put together a Kickstarter, and they got funding, so they made that game.

And the thing is, this puts them in the unusual position of being able to make the game they want as their initial game, not having to do stuff that was more in people’s comfort zone first. So the game came out, and it’s not trying to achieve a T rating. There’s swearing. There’s sex. There’s domestic abuse situations, and there’s torture. And they don’t have to worry whether this might keep them off store shelves, because they already funded the development of the game. The resulting game is really amazing, and shows the same kind of love and attention to detail that I liked so much in SR4.

The option of making the game you want to make, instead of the game that the bean counters think they can sell, has the potential to be truly transformative for the games industry, and I am really, really, looking forward to it. I was one of the early backers of PoE, and I have backed a couple of other games (like Torment: Tides of Numenera) based on the same principle: Developers I trust trying to make the game they want to make, and if they get the money up front they can do that without having to be as answerable to middle management.

This is a great time to be into video games.

Peter Seebach

Comment [2]


Angry Birds Epic: This could have been a great game


2014-12-05 06:27

I keep thinking about this, and then not doing it, and then thinking about it more.

Angry Birds Epic is a spectacularly bad game, and it’s a bad game not because Rovio don’t have the technical ability to make a good game, but because the entire game has been subordinated to a pushy and aggressive F2P model.

ABE is a turn-based RPG, with fairly simple mechanics. Nothing amazing, but certainly some potential to be pretty fun. Except that they want to sell you things. So, first off, everything is tuned about requiring purchases. No, I’m not just whining about difficulty; I mean there’s clear indications and repeated reminders that you’re supposed to be spending money to get things that will help you out. Also you are occasionally offered the option of watching an ad to get buffs. Sometimes ads are just played for you anyway. You can’t skip those ads. You can’t turn them off.

A game which showed you ads occasionally, and let you remove ads for a few bucks, would be a business model that I wouldn’t particularly object to, and would not prevent the game from being fun. A game where fights are balanced around you watching an ad before them to get buffs that improve your combat statistics, however, is migrating noticably away from “fun”.

Similar things happened to the original Angry Birds. When it released, it was designed to be a challenging puzzle game. When they started adding purchaseable advantages, they started tuning the game around the advantages, and it became a lot less fun.

Mostly, I’m disappointed by ABE because I think that, if Rovio had made the most fun game they could, using a less intrusive model, I would have really, really, enjoyed that game. Instead, they made a game intended to be actively unpleasant unless you paid significant extra money on a recurring basis.

It is not obvious how you could encourage companies to make more-fun games instead of less-fun games, when less-fun games make more money. The sweet spot financially is to make a game which is just fun enough to get people involved, then actively unpleasant without contributions of cash. Making a game which is fun already and doesn’t require extra infusions won’t make as much money. Not even close. But the impact of this on the quality of games for sale is not necessarily good…

Peter Seebach



Consultancygate: An Overview

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2014-08-09 23:52
Comment [2]

So, I wrote a really long thing about this, but it is as noted really long. This article is intended to be a better-structured guide to what happened, and why I think that the attacks on Zak and Pundit are basically dishonest and without merit. This article does not attempt to include all, or even many, of the examples. I am not implying that the things I don’t address are true, or even plausible; I’m just picking the examples I think are the clearest and easiest to understand without a ton of extra research. I looked into a lot more of them, and kept reaching the same conclusions.

Dramatis Personae

  • Zak: “Zak S”, (“Zak Smith” on Google+).
  • Pundit: “The RPG Pundit”. (“Kasimir Urbanski” on Google+)
  • Failforward: The tumblr blog at failforward.co.uk. Apparently this is Tom Hatfield (@WordMercenary on twitter)
  • Tracy Hurley: Someone who’s been in conflict with both Zak and Pundit for a long time. (“@SarahDarkmagic” on Twitter)

Major sources (not an exhaustive list, just the ones I’m referring to):

Fact Claims:

  • The accusations leveled at Zak and Pundit in the Failforward piece are substantively false.
  • The writing in the Failforward piece is consistently deceptive and engages in rhetorical tricks to manipulate the reader even when stopping short of directly false claims.
  • I have no evidence that Zak has acted in a “transphobic” manner.
  • Zak is highly abrasive and behaves in a confrontational manner.
  • People on both sides of the argument have at least sometimes tried to get other people fired or blacklisted.
  • The conflation of “Zak and Pundit” is itself nonsensical; they are very different people, with very different behaviors. The only real connection is that they are both listed in the D&D 5e credits.
  • The alleged “outing” of a game designer in a post by Mandy would not have resulted in many (or possibly any) people concluding the designer was trans, had there not been ensuing public drama about whether or not it was “outing”.
  • I can find no complaints about Zak’s (or Pundit’s) interactions with LGBT people per se prior to July 2014.

Opinion claims:

  • Pundit is pretty odious.
  • I disapprove of the attempts to keep other people from working on all sides.
  • Zak’s confrontational manner, coupled with other people’s conflicting social protocols, can result in massive escalations without either party necessarily acting in bad faith.
  • There is no innate duty to change your conversational style just because it interacts badly with someone else’s.
  • Zak’s attempts to get people blacklisted appear to be tied to specific kinds of bad behavior, not merely to personal dislike.
  • Zak is fairly consistent in having unusually strict ethical standards for certain behaviors, but he appears to consistently apply those standards to himself and his friends, not just to people he’s in conflict with.
  • The reason there are suddenly allegations, but virtually no examples, of Zak being hostile to LGBTs is that the inclusive language in the 5th Edition rules was contrasted with Zak and Pundit in a tweet by Tracy Hurley. EDIT: To clarify, I don't mean to imply that Tracy started the conversation, just that I think her tweet was the one contrasting Zak and Pundit with "inclusive" language. I am not asserting that the outcome is somehow her fault.

Before I get into a review of specific claims, I want to give a broad overview of what I’ve found. I’ve found a lot of discussion about Zak, and a lot of fights he’s been in on the Internet, over a period of years. No doubt about it, the guy gets into fights. So does Pundit.

What I haven’t seen yet is even one assertion prior to July 3rd, 2014 that they’re hostile to LGBT people, or “transphobic”, or anything like that. The Failforward piece argues that this is because of the fear of retaliation, but this argument is irreconcilable with the huge volume of very visible public conflict with Zak (and Pundit), throughout any number of forums or communities, especially relating to RPGs. Maybe there’s been some before, but I couldn’t find a single one.

Problem: Since the offhand remark contrasted the 5th Edition rules being inclusive of gender identities other than “cis male” and “cis female” with Zak and Pundit, it became necessary to manufacture a narrative in which they were having huge negative effects on the LGBT community, and allegations of “transphobia” and the like. And then to manufacture an excuse for why no one had ever heard of this.

The resulting narratives are painfully dishonest and inconsistent, combining lack of evidence with shoddy excuses for that lack. By contrast: Look for evidence of people accusing Zak of being the wrong kind of D&D player, and you will find pages and pages of results showing him coming into conflict with people. You want to argue about sexism, rather than LGBT issues? There’s lots of people arguing with Zak about sexism and misogyny. None of them seem to be afraid to argue with him, call him names, or anything else. There is likewise no shortage of people criticizing and attacking Pundit.

So the overall conclusion is: This whole thing comes out of a need to try to make an offhand remark seem more coherent than it really was. The more serious allegations of significant real-world retaliation are probably just a fiction to support the narrative explaining why suddenly people were complaining about a thing they’d never mentioned before. But this does nothing to explain why everyone else felt safe about getting into fights with Zak, or Pundit. The allegation that the attacks primarily target women and LGBT people might serve, except for how insanely condescending it is to suggest that there were hundreds of LGBT people who were afraid to say anything, while hundreds of presumably-not-LGBT people were quite comfortable attacking Zak or Pundit. Especially since I’m sure you’ll find, if you investigate, that many of the people attacking Zak or Pundit in the past have also been LGBT, but have reported no such stalking and harassment.

With that in mind, some analysis of the specific writing:

Section 1: Just plain false.

Some of the claims made in the Failforward piece are just plain false.

To be clear, I am not accusing Zak or Pundit of making these calls, there is no evidence for that. What they do is point out targets and refuse to admonish their fans when they step over the line.

The first sentence is likely true. Which, it turns out, is pretty good evidence of innocence: Phone companies keep records. If they had made the calls, there would have been evidence. But the second sentence seems to be just plain false. Zak says, over on G+, not to stalk or harass people. (Since I can’t find a way to link to comments directly on G+: It’s a comment some ways down the page, starting “What a good reason to ask for a list”.) The relevant quote:

Now while any sane person can see why it’s a good idea to make a list of people in the RPG community who are willing to lie for no real reason and let other people see that list, the conspiracy theorists will say that this is so people can stalk or harass them. Well, don’t stalk or harass them, that doesn’t help me at all—I want them discredited and harassing them only *adds credence* to their bullshit.. Just don’t ever trust or help any of these people ever, and confront them with a demand for proof when they make accusations.

That’s an unambiguous, direct, request that people should not stalk or harass the people listed. This is not “refusing to admonish fans”, if indeed any fans are doing such things. There are others.

Specifically they’re part of the ‘Old School Rules’ movement: people who think everything since the earliest editions of D&D was unnecessary.

This is a ridiculous assertion, given that the complaint here involves their involvement in 5th Edition D&D as consultants. It’s also completely irrelevant, except to the underlying long-standing RPG community feuds that drive the whole thing.

Section 2: Contradictory and misleading claims.

Okay, let’s just start with the easy one:

These are Zak and Pundit as I knew them when the news broke. It’s the image most were already familiar with: angry nerdboys who spent all their time trying to gatekeep the hobby.

This, I became aware, was because anyone who criticised the pair found themselves subjected to harassment, abuse and real world stalking.

While this behaviour is alarming, it the choice of victim that is the most telling. These attacks nearly always target women and LGTBQ individuals, mostly freelancers and independent designers.

The RPG community is small enough that almost every woman, person of colour or LGTBQ individual seems to have had a run in with Zak or Pundit.

Zak presents himself as a sex positive feminist, but spends all his time derailing conversations on sexism, defending sexists and attacking real feminists by painting them as anti-sex conservatives.

So, on the one hand, “anyone” who criticizes them is subjected to harassment, but the attacks “nearly always” target women and LGBTQ individuals, “mostly” freelancers and independent designers. Meanwhile, they are spending “all their time” trying to gatekeep the hobby — an activity which would require them to be focusing on newcomers, not existing members of the hobby. There’s other issues with the wording here, such as the ambiguity about “run in”; is any conversation a “run in”? Also, Zak spends “all his time” on yet another task, meaning he’s using at least two and a half all-his-times just on Internet drama, to say nothing of time spent playing D&D or doing paying work.

That last quote continues:

Zak presents himself as a sex positive feminist, but spends all his time derailing conversations on sexism, defending sexists and attacking real feminists by painting them as anti-sex conservatives. When called out on this he defends his words with a greatest hits list of derailing arguments: ‘I know women who disagree’, ‘You’re just anti-sex prudes’ and even attempting to debate what the word ‘sexist’ means.

The list of derailing arguments is vague enough to include a broad range of things. There are, in fact, quite a number of conflicting definitions of “sexist” in use, and people will often argue about whether something is sexist or not, but really be arguing about what “sexist” means. This is characterized as being in bad faith, but anyone who’s spent much time talking about feminism will have seen debates on the topic. And while you may believe strongly that one party in such a debate is being disingenuous, the chances are good that at least one is attempting to prevent a derail. The casual contrasting of Zak with “real feminists” is pretty much pure question-begging.

In several cases, assertions are made, and evidence provided, but the evidence does not align with the claims. The most obvious example, from the failforward piece:

Zak and Pundit have taken pains to defend themselves against accusations of transphobia, but I know several transpeople who their fans have attacked and harassed.

There’s two substitutions here. First, “their fans” are substituted for “Zak and Pundit”. Second, “transpeople who have been attacked and harassed” is substituted for “people who were attacked because they were trans, or in a way specific to them being trans”. Zak gets into conflicts with lots of people; it would be sort of weird if none of them were trans. But the writing implies that it was because they were trans that they got attacked. Furthermore, it’s very odd that none of those accusations appear to predate the July 3rd initial release of the 5E rules, in contrast to accusations of sexism or misogyny, which have been going on for years.

The Failforward piece quotes Mike Mearls a couple of times. In two cases, the piece summarizes what Mearls says, then quotes his words:

Days later Mearls responded. No-one had given him evidence that Zak or Pundit had not spoken any slurs, so he was throwing the complaints out. The allegations of harassment it seems, were secondary to whether they had ever spoken a bad word:

  • I haven’t seen or received any evidence that Zak has made homo/transphobic or racist statements.
  • I have heard from a number of people who feel harassed and marginalized in the gaming community.
  • At the end of the day, the responsibility for working with Zak and RPGPundit, and more importantly *not* directly working with marginalized groups falls solely upon me

Mearls says “any evidence that Zak has made homo/transphobic or racist statements”. Failforward characterizes this as “evidence that Zak or Pundit had not spoken any slurs”, and then emphasizes this with “the allegations … were secondary to whether they had ever spoken a bad word.” That characterization is absolutely incorrect.

Mearls again replied, saying that he was not taking the accusations seriously because some of the people stating them where members of the Something Awful forums, which he claimed has a history of harassing Zak:

My impression is that SA folks are using gender and race issues to drive their personal grudges with people. It’s very damaging for making real progress on these issues. People getting in touch with me are pointing to that site to undermine the real issues we face in gaming.

Again, the actual text quoted from Mike Mearls does not say what the Failforward piece says it does. The intent is that the reader sees the claim, sees quoted text, and skims the text or interprets it according to the claim. That’s why the description comes before the quoted text. And that’s why I’ve put my characterizations of the quotes after the quotes, so you read the quotes for yourself and then see how I interpret them.

Section 3: Accusations of transphobia.

There’s a number of layers of accusations here. Some involve a now-deleted blog. Worse, a lot of them revolve around accusations of “outing” a particular person, or personal attacks on that person, making it extremely difficult to discuss these issues without compounding the problem. So, unless I hear from the person in question that they want this talked about, I’ll leave it at this: There appears to be some dispute about relevant facts and/or chronology.

More recent writing has added as evidence of Zak’s alleged transphobia claims that he’s “denied” that this person is trans. But this creates a clash between conflicting standards. On the one hand, Mandy is accused of being involved in “outing” someone by revealing them to have two names (out of a list of five or so) of which one sounds masculine and one feminine. But Zak’s accused of being transphobic for not fully endorsing third-party allegations that someone is trans. Usually, I think, the preferred response is to not draw a conclusion either way unless the person in question (rather than third parties) tells you, and not to go speculating or inquiring, because it is in general none of your business.

There is an actual example of a post in which Zak uses a word which is apparently a slur. I’d never heard of it before, but apparently it is. So, in “Zak Makes New Friends”, someone calls him out on it. There’s some back-and-forth conversation, in which Zak asserts that he didn’t know what the word meant, a claim I find eminently plausible, since a quick straw poll turned up only one person I know who had ever heard it before. When someone explains why they find it offensive, he offers an apology. There’s some interesting social dynamics, because he seems to be concerned both with (1) apologizing for any insult, and (2) making it clear that he genuinely didn’t know the word. I am inclined to accept both claims.

Long story short: I see no evidence of transphobia. The closest would be claims that some of the people Zak fights with are trans, but given how many people Zak gets in fights with, I don’t find that persuasive.

Perhaps most importantly, most of the hostile writing has taken one of two courses; either asserting outright that Zak’s many LGBT friends don’t exist, or accusing them of being biased. These two accusations, however, are mutually exclusive, and sort of ridiculous; very few trans people are so “biased” as to completely disregard transphobic behavior. The continued refusal to acknowledge these people is the only actual example of “silencing LGBT people” involved. There are LGBT people on both sides of the feud, but only Zak’s critics are refusing to acknowledge the existence of LGBT people who disagree with them.

Section 4: Sort of true

Some things are at least partially true, but embellished with additional unverifiable claims. The obvious example would be Failforward’s claim:

[Zak] has in the past posted lists of people who he feels have displeased him in some way, complete with their real names. Those people then lists find themselves subjected to sustained campaigns of harassment. Not mere internet name calling, but phone calls to people’s houses in the middle of the night that say “This is where your children go to school.”

There is one partially-true claim here, which is that Zak has posted a list of people who had done something he strongly objected to. Specifically, according to Pundit, they had endorsed a false accusation that someone had made rape threats. The characterization of this as “feels have displeased him in some way” is highly misleading; it implies minor transgressions against Zak, not major ones against someone else. I’ve only found a reference to one such list. It is not obvious that the list is “complete with their real names”. A couple of people have names attached, and G+ usernames often look like names, but G+ did not at the time enforce “real” names, only “realistic” names. There’s also a big jump in the “subjected to sustained campaigns of harassment” claim; no evidence is ever provided for that.

Zak’s explanation:

This was on the logic that: If somebody would lie or fail to do their homework about rape threats, they’d pretty much be willing to lie or casually accept *anything*.

However, the underlying claim that Zak has at least once posted a list of people who did a thing he found highly objectionable does seem to be true. There’s also at least one defensible accusation against Pundit:

Here [Pundit] is comparing an expo instituting an anti-harassment policy harsh Islamic modesty laws, managing to insult both women and Muslims in one article.

This is somewhat misleading, because the term “anti-harassment” policy, in the context of a convention or expo, is usually understood to refer to a policy banning harassment and outlining how the convention will deal with harassment complaints. This one, though, covered a broader range; in particular, according to posters in the thread, it had somewhat vague “modesty” rules, which are not usually regarded as necessary for gaming conventions. On the other hand, if it was a “trade expo”, that might be different. On the other hand, the comparison to Islamic modesty laws is there, and is just as stupid as it sounds.

Section 5: Evidence of malice.

So, at least some of the claims are false, and some have “support” offered which doesn’t actually support them. The next question is whether the article could be advancing sincere beliefs, and merely logically incompetent, or whether the deception is intentional. It’s intentional and malicious. This is shown by the use of tactics which are deceptive or manipulative, but are offered incidentally rather than as claims or evidence for claims, and also by the use of particularly emotionally-laden language.

Roland Jones A has a pair of very interesting sentences:

Mandy is (or was) Zak’s girlfriend.

So, the people testifying that Zak is not transphobic are his (former?) girlfriend who outed a trans person, and a blatant Zak fan who defends outing trans people.

The “outed a trans person” and “defends outing trans people” claims were addressed elsewhere; I believe them both to be factually incorrect, but it is perhaps conceivable that they were offered in good faith. But what exactly is the reason for the parentheticals? Zak and Mandy have been together for something like eight years. There’s no obvious reason to think they aren’t still. No other relationships between people get these special qualifiers. They’re not relevant, they’re not tied into anything asserted anywhere else; the sole effect is to cast some sort of aspersions or doubt on Zak’s romantic relationship with Mandy. Furthermore, the claim that these are “the people” defending Zak is false; it’s been adequately documented that there are other people making the same assertion, such as Zak’s friend Scrap Princess. But Roland disregards her comments, because they don’t fit the narrative.

Later, they link to Tracy’s “What Happens When You Engage” piece:

Edit: Further evidence, both Zak S and The RPG Pundit are now trying to have Tracy Hurley blacklisted from the RPG industry for speaking against them, after they engaged and started attacking her first. (Warning, content linked is full of misogynistic slurs aimed at Hurley.)

There’s two significant issues here. One is that, if you bother to look through the history, it’s pretty clear that Zak’s conflict with Tracy Hurley goes back to 2011 discussions, and that he feels he and/or his friends were attacked “first”. The other, though, is the sneaky rhetorical dodge. We get a link captioned as being about Zak and Pundit attacking Tracy Hurley, with a helpful warning about all the misogynistic slurs. This implies that Zak or Pundit originated the slurs; in fact, they didn’t, it was other people. It wouldn’t have been a horrible imposition to clarify that the slurs came from other people not named, instead of leaving that implication there.

Failforward uses some rhetorical shenanigans too:

The list includes heavyweight designers like Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws but two names stand out as not belonging: “RPG Pundit and Zak S”.

The reference to the “heavyweight designers” is entirely irrelevant to any claim asserted; its sole purpose is to cast aspersions on Pundit and Zak as credible writers or critics of game rules.

It’s easy to dismiss this as harmless crankery, but conservative art often comes with conservative politics, thus it came as no surprise when Pundit’s Glenn Beck style rants switched targets from ‘storygame swine’ to attacking “Psuedo-activism swinery”.

Pundit’s politics are irrelevant at best here; the only reason to include them is to exploit the LGBT community’s usually-justifiable fear of bigots; calling someone “conservative” and invoking Glenn Beck’s name is a good way to poison the well.

Recently, in a post defending Zak and accusing his detractors of misogyny, his girlfriend attempted to out a trans designer. (update - the post has now been edited to remove the designers new name)

There’s a couple gimmicks here. First, the allegation of intent is unsupported and probably unsupportable. Second, the phrase “remove the designer’s new name” is misleading. General community consensus is that, in most cases, if you’re going to refer to someone by only one of their names, you use the new one. This phrasing implies that the old name was left. That’s not really accurate, though; both real names were replaced with “Lastname (various first names)”, and the other names present were screen names. There’s additional complexities, but I can’t talk about them without being more privacy-invasive than I am okay with being. The point: Mandy’s post doesn’t specifically assert the old name as the correct name, but this is written to imply that it does.

It wasn’t the most confidence inspiring appeal, but nonetheless people leapt upon it. Told their conversations would be confidential they shared with Mearls all the stories I’ve shared with you, only with names, links, screenshots and other traceable information I have removed to protect my sources.

Nevermind the fact that, apparently, Mearls didn’t think he received any convincing evidence at the time. What exactly is the reason for the qualifier “Told their conversations would be confidential”? The only purpose this can serve is to foreshadow a later reveal to the contrary, but no such reveal occurs, and there’s no evidence that any confidentiality was violated. The sole purpose of this additional clause is to create an anticipation of harm that never actually happened. That pattern repeats:

Those who sent Mearls information began to panic, had he just shared their complaints with their harasser? Mearls responded that he had told Zak the claims were baseless, but hadn’t shared any names or details with him. Nevertheless they were not pleased, nor did they feel safe. Why had Mearls consulted with Zak before replying to them?

There’s a general rule in journalism: If the answer to the question is “no”, don’t use it as your headline. The same principle applies here. The emotionally-heavy language (“began to panic”, “nor did they feel safe”) emphasizes the fear of being revealed… Even though there is simply no evidence whatsoever suggesting that anything of the sort happened.

This reached it’s height two days ago, when Fred Hicks, co-creator of FATE, shared a link defending Zak and outing one of his favourite targets (update - Hicks has apologised and stated that this was not his intent).

The deception here is subtle; this is phrased so as to imply that this is a new event, but in fact, this is just a reference back to the previous allegation of “outing” one of Zak’s targets. Usually, if referring back to a thing you’ve already talked about, you’d use a reference back to that, such as “a link to Mandy’s post”. The only reason to make it look like a new post is to imply falsely that there was more than one post which allegedly outed somebody.

Zak even now tries to portray these allegations as prudish conservatives out to smear him due to his involvement in pornography. Yet for that to be true almost every marginalised voice in the RPG community would need to be part of a secret right wing conspiracy.

"Almost every"? I know a pretty large number of LGBT gamers, autistic gamers, and other people who can reasonably claim to be "marginalized". The overwhelming majority of them have no such complaints. Why this broad brush? First, no one can have a statistically meaningful sample to poll to confirm or deny it. Second, using the claim that almost every "marginalized" person in the RPG community as a premise, rather than a statement, might trick the reader into accepting it without questioning it.

Even if we assume that the writer sincerely believes all of the underlying allegations about the behaviors of Zak and Pundit, the article then goes on to intentionally give false impressions, communicating things which the writer clearly doesn’t believe to be true. That’s where this crosses the line from “unsubstantiated claims” to “visible malice”.


First off, I want to point out: I don’t for a minute claim there are no possible criticisms that might be valid; it’s just that the Failforward piece didn’t make an effort to find them. For instance, here’s Pundit keeping it classy in a review of 4th Edition D&D:

Get rid of randomness, and you get a game that becomes predictable; and thus less playable to all but those few aspergers-retards who start to scream uncontrollably when they are confronted with something they can’t predict, and just want a pseudo-game where everything is mapped out for you from the moment you start.

See, that? That’s an actual example of using a slur, not in an ambiguous or possibly self-deprecating way, not maybe unaware of what it means, but as an insult tied to the relevant offensive stereotype. That would have been great evidence to advance the claim that Pundit was a bigot. Shame no one bothered to do any research on it, I guess?

Tracy’s article about “What Happens When You Engage” shows, I think, a big part of the problem: There are real and coherent claims to be made about undue message board hostility, but the Failforward piece tries to play it up as serious danger. “Posted something annoying on a message board” does not deserve the same kind of response as “calls to your home in the middle of the night”.

More generally, I think it highlights that the most fundamental disconnect is probably at the level of what it means to say that evidence supports a conclusion. Tracy and others seem to pretty consistently assume that evidence of any given bad behavior is evidence for any other possible bad behavior, too. Since Zak is hostile, they take allegations that he’s behaved in flagrantly illegal ways as unexceptional and accept them based on only the vaguest of support or tangentially-related evidence.

There’s plenty of evidence that Zak is confrontational and hostile on the Internet. I haven’t seen any evidence that this rises to the level of “stalking and harassment” as normally understood. I haven’t seen any evidence for the accusations and implications of transphobia. What I mostly see is a bunch of pointless Internet drama which escalated hugely when a book actually listed Zak and Pundit as contributors, even though there have been forum threads about their involvement in the project for over two years now.

None of this is really good enough to be a reason to yell at a company for hiring people. None of it is a good enough reason to deliver an ominous message like:

I’m sorry D&D, you don’t get to have it both ways. If you want praise for your inclusive language, you’ll also need to answer for the people you hire.

And that brings us back to my conclusion: The unifying theme of this whole piece is a desire to make it seem like there is a meaningful contradiction between the way Zak and Pundit behave, and the inclusive language about gender in the 5th edition D&D rules.

That unifying theory explains:

  • The near-total absence of complaints about Zak’s (or Pundit’s) treatment of LGBT people per se prior to July 2014.
  • The general recognition of Zak as obviously being a consistent advocate for LGBT issues.
  • The massive contradiction between the sheer volume of visible conflict between Zak and Pundit and literally thousands of other people online in previous years, and the assertion that no one dared speak out against them.

Important note: Sometimes if you say a dumb thing in Twitter, you should just admit that it was dumb and move on.

Peter Seebach


Comment [2]


Things to do if you think someone has been or may be outed:

(Personal, Politics)

2014-08-06 16:37

(CAVEAT: This is a draft. It may get updated. Feel free to suggest improvements.)

In the last month or so, I’ve twice seen conversations in which the following pattern occurred:

1. Person A says something from which a reader might conclude that Person B is trans.
2. Person B does not visibly respond or notice.
3. Person C makes public drama about Person A “outing” the trans person.
4. Persons D through G, who had not noticed the original claim, find out about it through Person C’s public drama.

One of these happened in chat in Rift. In that case, the trans person in question was in fact already “out”, although she did not make a big point of reminding everyone, so not everyone knew, but there was no intent to keep it a secret. She hadn’t been outed, but she found the extra attention of fifteen minutes of discussion of whether she had been “outed” rather unpleasant.

The other involves the D&D 5e flame wars. In these, someone had at one point blogged about having been harassed by a person, and gave several screen names that person had used, plus two names they’d used in publications. Someone accused her of “outing” them. In this case, by contrast, I don’t actually even know, or particularly think it is any of my business, whether the person is trans. What I do care about is that people in the thread accusing the blogger of “outing” someone were reporting that they had not drawn the conclusion that the alleged victim was trans.

Because SCIENCE!! is good even if you can’t do a proper control group, I’ve asked a couple of people I know who were previously unaware of this debacle to look into things which would cause them to encounter the person in question, and gotten feedback. To avoid any bias introduced by the tendency of many people not to even think of someone being trans as an option, I asked only people who were themselves trans.

Responses: So far, all of them have come up with both names and suggested that one appears to be a pseudonym or pen name for the other. None of them have come up with the suggestion that the presence of these two names indicates any particular likelihood that the person with these two names is trans. All have observed that it’s not really possible to “out” someone by referring to the two names under which they currently have works in print and the like.

But it is possible to “out” them by telling everyone that those two names are a result of them being trans, not just publication credits or pen names.

… Assuming they’re trans. They might be, they might not be. I don’t know, and it remains none of my business.

So, where am I going with this?

Don’t Do That.

If you think someone may have been outed, do not make a public scene about them being outed, because you will be exchanging doubt for certainty. Contact the person who made the remarks, privately, to point out why you think this might out someone, and ask them to change it if the medium permits it. Contact the person who may have been outed to alert them. Then… stop. You’re done. You did your part. You acted in a way which could potentially reduce either the probability or the amount of harm.

Unless someone specifically tells you that they are done not-being-out, and are specifically okay with their identity being the primary topic of a discussion, do not start new discussions about how they have been outed. Even if you’re really mad. Especially if you’re really mad; reasoned judgment is not one of the hallmarks of anger. Even if you think it was done on purpose. Because the goal here should not be to maximize harm to someone you’re mad at, it should be to protect someone who might be endangered.

If you think that someone is likely to out other people, then it may make sense to see whether there are people they have outed who are now okay with talking about it, and whether those people want to be used as examples. If they don’t, well. You can make vague assertions and hope for the best, or you can be quiet and hope for the best. But do not take it upon yourself to use someone else’s identity being leaked as a way to attack people.

This is especially true when dealing with Internet drama, where it’s quite common for people to have one or more names of different genders for reasons that have nothing at all to do with being trans.

Thank you.

Peter Seebach




D&D Hatchet Job, Part 2

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2014-08-06 10:39

Okay, this is where it gets funny. Remember the allegations about Zak's supporters attacking people? I defended Zak, so... One of the charming idiots is now accusing me of being transphobic. The number of problems with this is difficult to articulate, but it's a positive number.


As you and others are asking for further proof of what the article claims, some due to skepticism for various reasons, others because they are fans of the individuals accused, I am providing several examples of harassment on the part of Zak S, as well as explanations as to why neither of the sources linked in your post are valid evidence.

Read More

… aaaand putting them behind a Read More so we can’t actually respond to them without elaborate extra cut and paste. Thanks! (EDIT: Later posts suggest that they don't intend that effect, so this is just tumblr's UI betraying everyone.)

It’s nice to see that this piece is just as dishonest as the others. Well done! And now that you’ve got me on the list of people to tell lies about, I get to have extra fun. Thanks!

As you and others are asking for further proof of what the article claims, some due to skepticism for various reasons, others because they are fans of the individuals accused, I am providing several examples of harassment on the part of Zak S, as well as explanations as to why neither of the sources linked in your post are valid evidence.

EDIT: I forgot to point out the unsupported assertion that people are “asking for further proof” because they are fans. Accusing people of dishonesty without evidence is sleazy.

First, the posts you linked. While it was the second one linked, I am going to start with Mandy’s post. See, D&D With Pornstars is Zak’s website. Mandy is (or was) Zak’s girlfriend. Besides her bias here, it is highly unlikely that Zak would allow criticism of himself onto his own site.

I’m really confused. Mandy’s piece is posted on her own blog, and furthermore, if you seriously expect me to believe that Zak either could or would prevent Mandy from saying anything, under any circumstances, you are going to have to provide some evidence. Furthermore, you’ve just reinvented the rule that the accused may not speak in their own defense. That is a bad rule and it is absolutely not a valid rule. And since there’s nothing indicating which post you’re referring to, this is all very confusing; the only one I’m aware of is on Mandy’s tumblr.

If “bias” is an issue, then we’re done here, because the original hatchet job was very clearly “biased” against Zak and Pundit, and therefore invalid.

So basically, this is not only not in any way a rebuttal, it’s a sleazy way to make the insulting implication that Zak would try to censor Mandy. I don’t think there’s any basis for that. You also seem to be confused, because so far as I can tell, Mandy’s article is on tumblr, which is not part of Zak’s site. There’s also the question of why the “(or was)” qualifier; seems totally out of the blue.

Besides that, however, this post was actually already covered. It is the one referenced in the article, where a trans person is outed (the one subsequently reposted by Fred Hicks). Mandy posted the individual’s old name, new name, and even their online handles; it was as thorough an outing as could be done short of including an address as well. While some of the information was later edited out after numerous people called her out, Mandy publicly and knowingly outed a trans individual who had already been harassed and stalked by Zak and his fans.

This is a summary so bad that I cannot seriously believe that it is sincere.

There are several problems here. First, you’re repeating in passing the unsupported claim that the person in question had been “harassed and stalked by Zak and his fans”. Because you used “and” as the qualifiers on both sides, you are now making an assertion that Zak both stalked and harassed them, and also that Zak’s fans both stalked and harassed them. Those are serious claims, and you should be filing a fucking police report if you seriously think these terms are accurate. But strangely, I don’t think that’ll happen, and I don’t think we’ll see any evidence.

Now on to the alleged outing. I got curious about this, so I tested the claim. Here’s my methodology: I asked a friend who was unaware of these events to, if she had a moment, look up who does game design for the company in question, and get back to me. I picked her because she herself is trans, meaning (1) she’s likely to be alert to the possibility of someone being trans, (2) she’s going to be sensitive to outing as a concept.

She came back with the observation that there was a person who appeared to have one of two names, and possibly one of them was a pseudonym. So I explained that someone had been accused of “outing” them. Her response:

"My analysis is that if this person doesn’t want to have those identities conflated, they’re doing a poor job of segregating them. If they /are/ trans, they don’t seem to be inclined to make much of the issue."

But let’s look at the famed G+ thread where someone first turned “using two names” into “outed as trans”:

"+Veles Svitlychny It’s only your posts that have told me that the person you’re discussing is transgender. I didn’t realize that from Mandy’s post, just this thread. If you want to protect them from being outed, you’re working against that goal here."

Other comments appear to suggest that the person allegedly outed was not, in fact, closeted.

If you were to go to that company’s website, and download some of their stuff, you would still find things using the old name. There is no segregation here. There is no closet. And honestly, I don’t even actually know that they’re trans. I’m just assuming that probably you guys aren’t lying about that. But nothing I’ve seen is actually really evidence for that, and since it’s none of my business, I don’t care. But the fact is, Mandy does not appear to have “outed” anyone.

Maybe what we need here is a sort of informal poll. Is there anyone reading this who knows who we’re talking about, and would assert that listing both of the names under which they are credited for works on their site, plus a couple of forum handles, is “outing” them? Ideally, someone who’s actually trans and has actually thought about what constitutes “being outed”?

Because everyone trans I’ve talked to so far has said that if you’ve got publication credits under two names, and they’re in print, and you’re not making any effort to hide that, then that’s pretty much not segregated at all, and it’s not “outing” to refer to the names, especially if you don’t assert that the person is trans. Especially with publication credits.

Meanwhile, Seeb’s posts. I’m kind of amazed anyone is taking them seriously; those posts are ridiculously hyperbolic and, rather than addressing what the article is saying, quibble with how it is said. It is nothing but tone and bad faith arguments, with “evidence” being links to Zak and Pundit, rather than any outside sources. They are rambling, borderline-incoherent, and blatantly biased, only citing the people being accused of transphobia and other actions, as if they would up and say “oh yes I am transphobic”. It is hard to find a more biased source if you tried.

I am pretty sure they’re not hyperbolic. It’s true that I put a lot of focus on how things are said. That’s because there are writing techniques which are exclusively used for deception. When writing is highly manipulative and deceptive, that’s pretty good evidence that the writing is in fact dishonest, and that its claims are probably false.

I think the issue here is: I actually investigated, at all, and found zero evidence of anyone actually supporting the allegations that Zak was transphobic. I found quite a bit of evidence of the form of, say, friends of his who are trans saying they are pretty sure he is not. Why don’t we see any actual support for the claim?

Answer: No one believed that claim to begin with, it was picked only because it’s a claim tumblrites will pass on without fact-checking.

And then there’s Seebs defending Mandy’s above post, arguing that it is okay to out trans people under certain circumstances. That is not me twisting their argument; according to Seebs, it is alright to out a trans person under the right circumstances. This argument is especially disingenuous because, as stated in the Fail Forward article, this person left the RPG industry due to all the harassment, and yet Seebs is saying that people may need to know their new name and link it to their old one so that they can look up their old work if they like the new work. You know, the new work that isn’t coming, because they were harassed out of the industry. And then, to add insult to injury, they drop this line at the end: “In which case, great, I’m hurting the careers of all the trans folks I’m carefully not outing.“ This is literally, explicitly saying that not outing trans people hurts them, which is simply disgusting.

Well, that’s a huge pack of lies. How about, just for variety, we do the thing you people can never do, and look at the actual words a person said instead of the dishonest misrepresentation of them.

The actual thing I said: “If you sincerely believe that someone is out, and they have publication credits or other work history under a name, it’s not necessarily inappropriate to mention or list the previous name.”

Note: If you sincerely believe that someone is out. Emphasis mine, added because apparently Mister Liarpants here cannot see these words unless they are bolded more.

The comment about “hurting the careers” was in reference to a specific hypothetical scenario. The key point? If someone is publishing under two names, it may hurt them if I carefully avoid referring to those names. Because they might want their fans to know about their other work. And it wasn’t the end. The post went on for some disance. Including another key paragraph:

"I don’t think this has a good answer. It does have an answer I would have recommended, which would be to ask the designer first. But the fact that we’re talking about a “game designer” tends to make me think professional contexts, and if you have existing work published in multiple names, that happens.”

But that’s all contingent on that first thing: Do you actually think they are already out? Because it’s not “outing” someone to acknowledge a thing that they are making no secret of.

This is a pretty spectacularly shitty set of lies to tell, and frankly, I would point out that you are absolutely twisting my words. Here’s the trick: I was talking about “using both names for someone” as a thing which is “not necessarily okay”. You, however, substituted in the phrase “outing someone”. Using both of someone’s names does not necessarily out them. For two reasons; first, because they may already be out, in which case they can’t be outed. Second, because people don’t necessarily assume that someone who writes under a pen name is trans.

Oh, and it’s been asserted that they left the RPG industry “due to all the harassment”. Sources? Is there anything from this person saying that they have left the RPG industry? Their Patreon site was still up and accepting money last I saw. Did they even assert that they thought they had been “outed”?

Since you’re all up and accusing me of being transphobic, well. To the IM client! Where I have 8 tabs open, 5 of whom are trans, 2 of whom are still awake. (9 tabs, but two of them are the same person. I feel 5/8 people is more accurate than 6/9 tabs.) (EDIT: I had said 4/8, but I miscounted. Sheesh.)

Candidate #1:

"I understand how they reached that conclusion.
Imagine if your post lacked this sentence:
It does have an answer I would have recommended, which would be to ask the designer first.
which, I’m noticing, the person seems to think your post ends on the line above it
I can see how someone in a sufficiently emotionally charged place could get that reading from what you wrote.
I can’t really comment on whether or not this person is honestly in such a state.”

Candidate #2:

"They have lied directly, they have lied by omitting context, and they have lied by selective quoting and mischaracterization. Were this 1814 rather than 2014, you would likely be socially obligated to challenge them to a duel."

So, one feels that you absolutely lied, the other thinks it is possible that if you were in an emotionally-charged state and didn’t actually read the whole post it would be possible for you to reach that conclusion. And you know what? I think I’m going to trust the people who have actually had to deal with outing as a problem a little more than I’m going to trust some random jerk on the Internet who didn’t even bother to find out what my gender was.

So, the people testifying that Zak is not transphobic are his (former?) girlfriend who outed a trans person, and a blatant Zak fan who defends outing trans people. These are clearly not the people one should be consulting on such issues, at least in my opinion.

This is several kinds of lie, stacked together. Perhaps most importantly, there have been repeated links throughout this to a trans woman who games with Zak. Oh, look! An actual trans woman who knows Zak and says, in her own words: “I have not found him to be transphobic or anything he has done to be transphobic.”

And she goes on from there. Worth reading in the unlikely event that you actually care about facts, rather than hatchet jobs.

But of course, there’s other problems. First off, I wasn’t a Zak fan when I started this. If you were to actually do your research, you would find that I wrote a number of posts in which I asserted that he was a toxic asshole. I’ve edited some of them to tone it down because I now believe that I was mistaken about that. Now, I admit that you guys have gotten me somewhat convinced that he’s pretty okay, and when I actually emailed him to ask what he thinks about things, we chatted some, and I sorta like the guy. But as of when I wrote that gigantic article? I was not a “Zak fan”. I was someone who thought he was less of an asshole than the people attacking him.

Secondly, I’ve not defended outing trans people. I’ve distinguished between “outing trans people” and “referring to someone under both of the names they are still shipping books under, when you think they are already out.”

EDIT: Third observation: What's the "(former?)" qualifier doing here? Zak and Mandy were obviously still together as of quite recently, and they've been together for 8 years. This assertion seems to have no possible place, unless it's intended as preemptive gloating about Mandy being hospitalized.

Now, for my proof that Zak is in fact as the article says he is, engaging in both harassment and transphobic behavior, among other things. I have several examples here; while they are far from the only ones, I feel that they sufficiently illustrate my point. Two of these examples were found by someone else, while the third I ended up personally involved in as it was targeted at people I consider to be friends.

First, we have Zak responding to Tom Hatfield, author of the Fail Forward article. Tom is talking about the post Mandy wrote above; Zak, seeing this, comes in and claims that the individual in question is not actually trans. Not only is this disgusting and reprehensible in and of itself, he goes on to speak of “actual LGBT people”. Apparently, Zak believes that it is he who decides who is actually LGBT, rather than, you know, the LGBT people in question.

No, Zak does not claim the individual in question is not actually trans. What he says is “That’s a canard in order to suppress the voice of actual LGBT people speaking on this.” He does not assert that the person in question isn’t trans. He asserts that the accusations of transphobia are being used to silence actual LGBT people. Like, say, Mandy. Whom you’ve very aggressively dismissed and attacked. (Okay, technically I am making assumptions here, in that I assume someone who is dating at least one guy and at least one girl is probably LGBT.) Or Scrap Princess, whose very existence you’ve denied. And yes, you really did. You stated that the only people defending Zak were me and Mandy. Scrap Princess is not me, and is not Mandy.

Zak is not claiming the authority to decide who is or isn’t trans. He’s suggesting that people who aren’t LGBT and are weaponizing the LGBT folks they aren’t even willing to listen to are not as qualified to speak on the topic as the actual LGBT people that you and others have been disregarding or saying no one should listen to.

Bring in an actual claim from the person whose names were used saying that they felt this outed them, and you’ll at least have the beginnings of a case. Without that, you’ve got nothing. I’ve seen similar conversations in which the person who was allegedly “outed” was actually mad, not at the person who allegedly outed them, but at the people who tried to make a big deal about it and called way more attention to it.

Second, we have a testimony here from a person who was harassed and stalked by Zak and his followers. Not only does she attest to being harassed herself, she also talks of harassment others received, including cyberstalking, and refers to Zak’s “enemies list”, which we will get to shortly. Zak has also used an apology of hers as a defense against criticism, despite it having little to do with what he is actually being accused of. He is using her as a shield and a weapon against those who attempt to criticize him, which is a disgusting act of bigotry and not an indicator of a person who truly cares about making the hobby more inclusive.

Are you planning a giant wedding or something? Because this malicious misrepresentation seriously takes all sorts of cake.

This “testimony” is a small snippet taken out of a much larger post. Instead of linking to the actual post, you link to a misleading and dishonest mis-summary of it.

The actual post says:

"But I made it earlier than I would have liked in part because Zak was repeatedly calling me a liar and demanding I show evidence and give names, and because several of his supporters made (admittedly ludicrous) legal threats, and I didn’t want to go on his enemies list and see my real name (publically available) go up with the other designers he regularly attacks right as I was about to enter publishing. So my apology was prompted by my moral code, self-doubt, and a bit of cowardice that I’m embarrassed about."

See, the problem here is: It’s not “harassment” or “stalking” to repeatedly call someone a liar when they have publically posted lies about you. Which is, in fact, what had happened, which is why the apology in question was posted at all. The stuff that came from “Zak’s supporters” is significantly more problematic… but you can’t actually prevent idiots from trying to “support” you. Zak has at least one asked people not to do that. Not sure what else is expected.

What’s important here is that the main message of the apology is that, in fact, when she investigated and went and talked to people she found that no one had a single piece of evidence of allegedly transphobic behavior, and people had a lot of evidence to the contrary.

The third thing requires a bit of explanation. Months ago, James Desborough, an RPG designer with a history of threatening and harassing people who disagree with him, was accused of making rape threats against female RPG fans. This resulted in, among other things, fellow RPG designer Ben Lehman to make a post about this on his Google+ page. A third person, John Stavropoulos, decided to investigate these claims; however, rather than do things like consult people involved in this (including, say, those claiming to have received these threats), John limited his investigation solely to things like Desborough’s posts on his own website. Eventually, he concluded that he could find no proof of these threats, and made reference to “potentially false allegations “ in his chastisement of those who claimed to be threatened. However, at the least, he also admitted that his not finding proof did not necessarily mean there wasn’t any, and he refused to name names so as to not cause more harassment or create a “witch hunt”.

This is where Zak comes in. Reading John’s report, he saw fit to make his own post, demanding that everyone who +1’d the post (the G+ equivalent of liking it) remove their +1, calling them liars and saying they owe the RPG community an apology. He also listed their names, saying if they wanted their names removed, they had to remove their +1’s from the post. The text of this post is copied here, minus the names; while I have a copy of the original post, for obvious reasons I do not see fit to share the real names of people who have already been receiving harassment to the Internet at large.

So, to summarize: You think it is okay to make accusations that someone has made rape threats, without any evidence. In the previous tellings of this, perhaps most importantly, I’ve not actually seen assertions that Ben’s post was based on anyone having claimed to receive such threats. There’s nothing indicating that such things actually happened, and a lot of people have acknowledged that, in fact, they don’t have any particular reason to beleive that they did.

False accusations are a big deal. Your writing here tries to cast doubt on the falsehood of the accusations, but stops short of giving any reason to believe that they were true, or even that the original writer sincerely believed them to be true.

Zak proceeded to share this post with two groups:

1.Some of the people on the list. Note the “some”; despite the demands he was making and that he was sharing their names, he did not see fit to inform all of the people he was making said demands of.

2. His fans.

As one would expect, the people listed there began receiving threats. Phone calls, emails, rape threats, death threats. The works. Many of these people (at the time almost eighty, though the number fluctuated as some people un-+1’d the post and others flocked to +1 it in solidarity after the harassment began) had no idea why they were being harassed, as, again, Zak did not even bother to inform all of them before he sent their names to his followers. Eventually, Lehman edited his post, removing his letter and begging the people to stop the harassment. It did not stop, however; even though the thing they were angry about was gone, the harassment continued, as Zak kept his post with their names on it up.

Wow, that’s awesome. Your response to Zak being hostile to unsupported and apparently false allegations of rape threats is to make allegations of “rape threats, death threats”. With no specific targets, but also with no supporting evidence. Let’s just try the simple check: Did any of these people call the police about these threats? Because seriously, that is like step one if you get death threats or rape threats. If you actually get them.

There are multiple sources corroborating this incident; while the original post was hidden from the public and may have been deleted, there exist this and other copies of it. Besides those, Zeea’s post above references Zak’s “enemies list “ and the risk of having her name publicly shared, and likewise Tracy Hurley has a couple posts where both she and other people mention harassment over +1ing a post, with one person (a Zak and Pundit defender at that) even referring to “the James Des list”. (Said posts are also relevant to this article as they concern the other individual involved, the RPG Pundit, and harassment on his part that was acknowledged by Mike Mearls and called “disgusting and infuriating”.) Likewise, this article on misogyny in geek circles also talks about Zak, including a screenshot of this same list, and is a good read besides as it goes into misogyny and other such things on Zak’s part that aren’t covered here.

I spent some time going over Tracy’s post. What’s interesting is that it does show a lot of evidence of people being rude in forums, but never comes even close to supporting any harassment claims, except by bald assertion. “Look, here’s a mean post on a forum. Now do you see why people are afraid to come forward?” That’s not harassment, though.

(Bonus, also courtesy of Tracy Hurley: Zak using the phrase “fantastically marginalized” as a positive thing.)

And again, you link to something other than the actual source.

The actual source, some ways down the page. Zak says: “4. My argument is: the RPG community is doing fantastically well the morons have been fantastically marginalized and are squabbling with each other. Do you disagree?”

The key here is that the term “morons” is not referring to a protected class or a minority; it’s referring to a group of people Zak disagrees with and considers stupid. In modern politics, many groups, such as the KKK and the neo-nazis, are “fantastically marginalized”, and that is a wonderful thing. The term “marginalized” has meanings other than the usual sense of “oppressed group”, and this is clearly one of those.

Why, oh why, can’t you people even make a good-faith effort to accurately characterize things? The only reason that comes to mind is that you literally cannot find a single thing to say for your cause that isn’t dishonest or unpersuasive.

For fuck’s sake. At this point I’m half tempted to write some criticisms of Zak’s behavior just because I’m sick of seeing you do it so incredibly badly.

So, in summary. The two people linked as evidence against Zak’s transphobic actions have themselves exhibited transphobic behavior. Zak has publicly denied the transness of an individual, harassed people, and called for others to harass people in what he himself referred to as a “witch hunt”. Among other things; these are just some examples of his behavior.

Does this qualify as enough research for you?


No? Possibly because it’s flagrant, outright, lies. Seriously, the substitution shenanigans of pretending that “it may not be outing someone to use both of their names” means “it’s okay to out people”? That’s not even remotely convincing. Would it have killed you to spend even three minutes checking up my history here? Hint: I’m not closeted, so you can’t out me. I do not have a gender identity which matches the assumptions people made about my gender identity when I was a kid.

What I actually stated, and stand by: If you believe someone is “out” and they are using two names, it is not “outing them” to refer to both of those names.
What you claimed I stated: “It is okay to out trans people.”

So we’re right back to crappy hatchet jobs, only you’re really stepping up your game in attacking implausible targets.

Edit: Further evidence, both Zak S and The RPG Pundit are now trying to have Tracy Hurley blacklisted from the RPG industry for speaking against them, after they engaged and started attacking her first. (Warning, content linked is full of misogynistic slurs aimed at Hurley.)

Nicely done! Content is indeed full of such slurs. From people who are neither Zak nor Pundit. So, basically, this just goes to undermine your assertions that they’re the problem. That’s really slick, though, how you talk about Zak and Pundit, and then warn people about the slurs, so as to make the naive reader imagine the slurs came from Zak or Pundit.

I do agree that Zak is arguing that Tracy Hurley should not be hired. I don’t think this is the same as “trying to have her blacklisted”, though. I believe there are people trying to get her blacklisted, and I do not approve of that, but I don’t think it’s Zak or Pundit. I also observe that he does actually link to a conversation as his evidence. I read that conversation as best I could, and frankly, I think a fair bit of it was them talking past each other, but honestly, yeah, I think she said some pretty crappy stuff to Mandy and ought to apologize for it. I don’t think her future employment should be contingent on it, though.

Oh no! I disagreed with Zak! I’d better go turn off all the phones before the swarm of internet stalkers hits!

Peter Seebach




How Dungeons and Dragons is actually not endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2014-08-03 18:34
Comment [4]

So, I’m revisiting this, because the more I look into it, the more impressed I am with the many layers of sleaze. Of particular note, the use of a “Read More” makes it surprisingly hard to quote the full text.

So, for instance. Say they wanted to change what the post said later. No one’s reblogs would have the actual original text to compare with…

I’m not the only person to notice, I might add. In fact, there’s been more than one.

EDIT: New material over here because one of the people involved decided to accuse me of being transphobic.

I’ve split this up with blockquote tags, but I’m preserving their text unaltered.


Note: The people named in this article have a history of harassing their critics. As such I have chosen to keep my sources and any traceable information they have given me anonymous to protect them.

This starts with manipulation. I mean, first, there’s the title; “How Dungeons and Dragons is endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community”. Then we get this nice little intro paragraph, which simultaneously makes a very concrete assertion, and explains why there will be no evidence offered to support assertions.

Three weeks ago the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out. D&D is the iconic tabletop role playing game, so a new edition is a big deal. It’s one of the few times that the small, insular pen and paper community gets noticed by the rest of the world. Many game websites have talked about it, notably Polygon’s piece on gender inclusive language. Yet at the same time as D&D tries to appeal to those outside the gender binary, it has been driving them away by employing two of the most toxic personalities in tabletop gaming.

This is full of strange assertions. For one thing, I am not at all sure that the pen and paper gaming community is really “insular” in any meaningful way. Secondly, the general assertion that “those outside the gender binary” are being driven away is not really supported — and indeed, I know a number of people who would generally be regarded as “outside the gender binary” who are not at all being driven away.

Shortly after Wizards of the Coast released fifth edition game designers began sharing a picture of the credits page: a section called ‘additional consulting’. The list includes heavyweight designers like Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws but two names stand out as not belonging: “RPG Pundit and Zak S”.


While John “RPG Pundit” Tarnowski and Zak “Zak S” Smith have produced a few books between them they are more well known as bloggers and opinion formers within the RPG community. Specifically they’re part of the ‘Old School Rules’ movement: people who think everything since the earliest editions of D&D was unnecessary. I don’t agree with them, but I can see the appeal of the simple dungeon crawl. The problem is that the OSR movement contains some very nasty people. Zak and Pundit are two of them.

Okay, this is some fine work. First, we get the snide dig at the professional accomplishments Zak and RPG Pundit have as game designers… Without anything to assert that they were hired as game designers. There’s lots of ways in which people might consult on things. Then, a nice irrelevant jab at the “OSR” movement, a generic and meaningless claim (every movement contains some very nasty people, it turns out), and another assertion that these two people are particularly nasty.

Also worth noting that RPG Pundit has specifically asked that people don't use his name. It's a bit late to try to remove it here, and I said I wouldn't edit things, but... Poor style, folks.

I became aware of Pundit a couple of years ago. He’s a blogger operating out of The RPG Site, infamous for his paranoid rants about how outsiders are plotting to take over the hobby and destroy it. This is not an exaggeration, Pundit literally believes that there is an organised conspiracy to destroy the world of tabletop RPGs, a group he refers to as ‘the Swine’. His original rants defined ‘Swine’ as anyone who attempted to innovate beyond Old School Rules, particularly anyone involved in the ‘storygames’ movement (experimental narrative driven games). To Pundit, these games represented an attempt by outsiders who weren’t ‘real gamers’ to destroy the hobby. This is not an unusual sentiment in videogames either, but it isn’t usually voiced by someone working on in the biggest game in the world.

This description, and the previous one, can’t be meaningfully reconciled. The previous one says that the “OSR” people are opposed to “everything since the earliest editions of D&D”. The new one calls anyone attempting to innovate beyond those “Swine”… But that’s not at all what RPG Pundit says! For instance, he clearly recognizes the d20 system (3rd Edition) as being more like “gaming” again. So he’s absolutely not condemning any and all innovation beyond “the earliest editions of D&D”, unless we’re calling 3rd edition “earliest”, which seems pretty ridiculous to me.

It’s easy to dismiss this as harmless crankery, but conservative art often comes with conservative politics, thus it came as no surprise when Pundit’s Glenn Beck style rants switched targets from ‘storygame swine’ to attacking “Psuedo-activism swinery”. Again, this is not an exaggeration, one of the consultants on D&D literally believes that ‘social justice’ is a conspiracy by outsiders to ruin ‘real RPGs’ forever. Here he is comparing an expo instituting an anti-harassment policy harsh Islamic modesty laws, managing to insult both women and Muslims in one article.

So, hypothetically, say you were to go look at the “pseudo-activism swinery” article, and do a little experiment: Search the page for the word “social”. Okay, now try “justice”. Note how neither of these words appears at all on that page, let alone next to each other. So, we are told that he literally believes that “social justice” is a conspiracy, only the quotes give the impression that this was in some way a phrase he used, when actually it wasn’t. The article in question is pretty vague, and frankly, there are a whole lot of people out there who use social-justice-sounding buzzwords, and are in fact totally uninterested in anything that would make anyone better off.

So, what you’re seeing here is pretty misleading reporting, at best. For instance, you’re told that he compared “an anti-harassment policy” to “harsh Islamic modesty laws”. Well, okay. What did the policy say, specifically? There’s two quotes I can find in that thread:

"1.Your outfit must cover you at least as well as a modest swimsuit would. (No thongs or other minimalist bottoms. No pasties, tape, or paint in lieu of a full coverage top. Also, obviously nothing transparent for these areas.)"

"Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue."

You know what? That first one is, in fact, a “modesty” policy, not an anti-harassment policy; it prohibits cosplayers from dressing immodestly. And the second one, well. That’s a pretty significant restriction for a convention which presumably has adults involved.

Would I have used that example or tried to frame it in terms of the widespread hostility to Islam in the US? I wouldn’t. But on the actual substance of the claim, well. That’s not in any meaningful sense an “anti-harassment” policy. That’s an “anti doing things that make people harass you” policy, and that’s not at all the same thing.

EDITED TO ADD: Someone else pointed out that the repeated use of “conservative” is unsupported and irrelevant. I suspect it’s there because the target audience of the hatchet job is people who are LGBTQ, people of color, or “women” with the assumption that they will be hostile to “conservative politics”. Same deal with the Glenn Beck name-dropping. The “conservatism” is not really on display, and is irrelevant. If you want to argue that the post’s use of Islam and Arabic-sounding (or possibly Arabic; I admit I don’t know a thing about this) names is offensive or inappropriate, you can make that case without needing to bring up a totally unrelated political claim.

Zak S is famous for two things: Playing D&D with pornstars, both on his blog and for a little while in a web series for the Escapist, and being banned from half the major RPG communities on the net for derailing any and all discussion about diversity and discrimination. You can still see a long and thorough explanation of why RPG Net banned him, and it’s a pattern of behaviour that he still engages in. Zak presents himself as a sex positive feminist, but spends all his time derailing conversations on sexism, defending sexists and attacking real feminists by painting them as anti-sex conservatives. When called out on this he defends his words with a greatest hits list of derailing arguments: ‘I know women who disagree’, ‘You’re just anti-sex prudes’ and even attempting to debate what the word ‘sexist’ means.

This is a fascinating paragraph. “Famous for two things” implies no other accomplishments of note, but is that really justifiable? Wikipedia says Zak is “an American artist and alternative porn star”. Certainly, they mention at all that he’s an artist. He has a Master’s degree from Yale. One of the things he’s famous for is, get this, page by page illustrations of Gravity’s Rainbow. Yes, really.

So already we’re seeing a hugely deceptive bit of writing here. Seriously, this is absolutely dishonest. This is a serious artist whose work is being displayed in actual art museums; it is incomprehensible to omit that when listing things for which he is famous.

Well, okay, let’s look at what they did list. I’ll concede the “playing D&D with porn stars” thing. But being banned from “half the major RPG communities on the net”? Well, okay, maybe he’s gotten banned. But was it for “derailing any and all discussion about diversity and discrimination”? No, I don’t think it was. For that to be true, there’d have to be no discussions on those topics that he participated in without derailing them, and that doesn’t seem to be true. (Blog post with various relevant links.) So it seems to me that, no, he’s not derailing things.

But it gets better! Contrast; Zak “presents himself as a sex positive feminist”, but spends his time attacking “real feminists”. This doesn’t state, explicitly, that sex-positive feminists are not real. It just strongly implies that “real” feminists are attacked by Zak, and that the people Zak attacks are always “real” feminists.

The thing about derailing tactics is, itself, a derailing tactic. The reason derailing tactics can work is that they are at least superficially plausible or relevant arguments some of the time. Which is because sometimes those are valid arguments. I particularly admire the phrase (emphasis mine) “even attempting to debate what the word “sexist” means.” That’s because, of course, there’s not two or three or five different definitions in use, from casual usage to academic usage. There are people who will tell you, with absolute certainty, that there is no such thing as sexism against men; there are other people who will tell you that of course there is, but it doesn’t matter. There are other views. And therein lies the trickery here. See, the writers of the article didn’t tell you what the one true definition is. That’s because they know perfectly well that you might disagree with them. If they told you what Zak means by it, you might even agree with him.

Being a curious sort, I wrote him to ask. His response (I fixed a couple of typos):

The first one that comes up on google: “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” sounds ok to me.

Sexism in a fictional object presented as fiction (like an art piece or gamebook) means one of two things or both are true:

1-The world overall becomes more sexist (discriminating against women) after and because the object was produced or some part of the world becomes more sexist in some way that was avoidable while preserving any unique benefit of that object.

(Example: If Sailor Moon overall was negative for women it’s sexist. If Sailor Moon overall was positive for women but we could prove that some element of it could’ve been changed to be less stereotyping—like Tuxedo Mask constantly saving the day—and it still would’ve had all the Sailor Moon goodness so many people know and love & respond to we can definitively call that element sexist even if the show’s net effect was positive.)


2-It was produced by a sexist person or one with sexist intent.

Like it? Don’t like it? The important part is that I’m not trying to make you assume that his definition is some idiotic unconsidered MRA view of “sexism”. I’m not relying on priming you with the idea of “derailing” tactics to make you assume the hypothetical arguments are baseless or insincere, or that he hasn’t thought about the issue.

Okay, back to quoting the other folks:

These are Zak and Pundit as I knew them when the news broke. It’s the image most were already familiar with: angry nerdboys who spent all their time trying to gatekeep the hobby. To me that was reason enough that they should never work in a game as influential as Dungeons and Dragons. But as the picture of their names in the credits spread, more information spilled out. Seeing their names there in black and white was just too much, and people began to speak out. Most did so in private, others posted publicly but without naming names. This, I became aware, was because anyone who criticised the pair found themselves subjected to harassment, abuse and real world stalking.

Okay, now we get to some of the substance of this. And, of course, it’s full of shenanigans. First off, “all their time”? No. Even if we stipulate that some of Pundit’s writing is “gatekeeping”, it’s clearly not “all”, or even “all that much” compared to all the other things he writes about. Zak’s got significant material up that seems to be specifically aimed at inviting people to play without any particular attempt to gatekeep. Of particular note: In general, when we hear about “nerdboys” trying to “gatekeep the hobby”, that means keeping girls out. So the reader gets the impression that perhaps that is what Zak and Pundit do. But Zak actually doesn’t seem to be doing anything to try to keep girls out of the hobby.

The claim about “harassment, abuse, and real world stalking” is a fascinating one. How would you prove or disprove such a claim? There’s no way it can be literally true, because if it were, Zak and Pundit wouldn’t be able to spend all their time gatekeeping, because they’d be too busy trying to keep up with their huge supply of critics to stalk. Of course, that assumes that they are the ones doing it. And it also assumes that no one’s lying about what happened.

You know what? I’ve seen a lot of people on tumblr report that someone is “harassing” or “abusing” them. I’ve seen people escalate their claims until they’re asserting that someone did things which are literally “sexual assault”. And then they spread that, and other people repeat it, and they come forward with the story because they know the person it happened to is shy. So, say, someone posts one obscene reaction gif on his own NSFW-flagged blog, and a few months later you have 20+ people saying he’s a sexual harasser and they have proof but won’t say it because anyone commenting gets “harassed”. You know what the “harassment” is? One or two people reblogging the accusations to say “uh, you do realize that’s malicious gossip and isn’t what happened, right?”

So I start out pretty skeptical of these claims, but it’s okay, we get clearer evidence later that they’re not particularly accurate.

Both have much the same MO. They publically attack someone for criticising them, speaking out about sexism and bigotry, or just liking the wrong game. That person then finds themselves under a sustained campaign of harassment from Zak and Pundit’s fans. They pair would then feign innocence despite knowing full well what would happen and doing nothing to discourage it. Even after the initial attacks die down things are not over, they will routinely return to attack targets that angered them years ago. Cross them once, and you are marked for life.

This is a beautiful piece of persuasive writing. Unfortunately, it’s also highly manipulative and completely dishonest. The beauty is that, by presenting an excuse for not giving an actual concrete example, they deprive you of any chance to evaluate for yourself what someone did that Zak or Pundit attacked them for. Well, I found an example of Zak criticising someone. I will go so far as to call it an attack. Here it is:

Bring Me The Head of 30-Dollar Dice Guy.

Yup, there you have it. Zak totally laying into some guy for… charging a woman $30 for a box of dice because she’s too naive to know better. Well, actually, that’s behavior worth attacking. So nevermind.

There’s additional shenanigans here. “The pair” would then feign innocence. Obviously, they are working together. I’m sort of surprised this paragraph didn’t use “cahoots” because this is exactly where that word is perfect. Maybe it would have been a bit too obvious.

But then, the whole thing is pretty obvious. Seriously, a “sustained campaign”? “Routinely return to attack targets that angered them years ago.”? This is not even remotely plausible. Even apart from the total lack of evidence, there just isn’t enough time for such a thing to happen.

Furthermore, it’s obviously untrue; there are people who disagree with Zak and somehow, miraculously, live through it. Alex Mayo, for instance. Also worth noting that, in fact, there’s at least one post in which Zak unambiguously says that if anyone is doing that on his behalf to knock it off.

This is where Zak excels. He has in the past posted lists of people who he feels have displeased him in some way, complete with their real names. Those people then lists find themselves subjected to sustained campaigns of harassment. Not mere internet name calling, but phone calls to people’s houses in the middle of the night that say “This is where your children go to school.” To be clear, I am not accusing Zak or Pundit of making these calls, there is no evidence for that. What they do is point out targets and refuse to admonish their fans when they step over the line.

Nice use of vagueness. The only specific example I could find of Zak posting a “list” of people, it was a list of people who… Well, I guess “he feels have displeased him in some way” is a way of describing it. Specifically, they endorsed a false accusation that someone else had made rape threats. Zak’s claim is that: “The only thing I’d add is the purpose of my list was to let people who might’ve had the various people involved in their circles know that they weren’t to be trusted in any kind of debate. This was on the logic that: If somebody would lie or fail to do their homework about rape threats, they’d pretty much be willing to lie or casually accept anything.”

Note the clever weasel-wording. “feels have displeased him in some way” sounds like it’s over nothing. That’s not just concealing that the actual offense was perhaps a significant one; it’s concealing that it was an offense not against either Zak or Pundit.

We then get on to the “sustained campaigns of harassment” claim, which is unverifiable. And the claim that they “point out targets” (it’s not at all obvious that “targeting” was intended at all), and then the blatantly false claim that they “refuse to admonish their fans”. Of course, we don’t know that it was their fans doing it. It might have been fans of the person falsely accused of making rape threats. It might have been 4chan users who found a list and were bored. We don’t know.

While this behaviour is alarming, it the choice of victim that is the most telling. These attacks nearly always target women and LGTBQ individuals, mostly freelancers and independent designers. Zak and Pundit have taken pains to defend themselves against accusations of transphobia, but I know several transpeople who their fans have attacked and harassed. Zak described one of them as ‘mentally ill’, both he and Pundit told others they would be better off committing suicide. Recently, in a post defending Zak and accusing his detractors of misogyny, his girlfriend attempted to out a trans designer. (update - the post has now been edited to remove the designers new name)

More sleaze, and how. “Nearly always target women and LGTBQ individuals”. We’ve been told that anyone who criticizes them was subjected to abuse, harassment, and real-world stalking. But they “nearly always” target women and LGBTQ individuals. See how much just a few paragraphs can change? Having set you up with the belief that everyone is getting attacked, so you feel like there’s a lot of attacks, the writer now changes to a claim that the attacks are highly selective. Are they?

Well, let’s see. I can’t check for LGBT from names, but I can guess at gender sometimes. I found the famous list of names. I got 28 names that seemed likely male, 12 likely female, and 10 that I couldn’t guess. That’s… not very female-heavy. LGBTQ? Harder to check, but it seems really, really, hard to reconcile with the other evidence.

The topic-shift in the transphobia sentence is beautiful. Zak and Pundit are accused of transphobia, but the writer knows transpeople their fans have attacked and harassed. Note that there’s two shifts here. First, the shift from “Zak and Pundit” to “their fans”. Second, in the context of allegations of transphobia, you would naturally assume that the alleged harassment was in any way at all related to the people being trans. But we don’t have any evidence for that. We do have evidence against it, at least as regards Zak personally.

And, of course, anyone who uses tumblr quickly learns that “transphobia” is the catch-all accusation of being a Bad Person. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with anything.

EDIT: I also noticed another issue; "X takes pains to claim Y, but..." is a sentence structure which implies that there is now to be evidence against the claim, and that the claim is dishonest, but that implication is invalid if (as is the case here) the second clause doesn't end up supporting the claim at all.

The alleged “attempt to out a trans designer” is an interesting one. I have a pretty strong personal history of concern with “trying to out people”. So I tried to research this. It’s hard, because once someone noticed, all the references got cleaned up.

What I did find was a quote-of-a-quote-with-asterisks:

"the Something Awful veterans cluster around something called ***** (game company redacted), headed by someone variously credited as **** or *** when designing games, **, ** or *** when trolling, and *** on twitter."

Okay, so let’s say that this did in fact list both male and female names. There’s just one tiny issue: That doesn’t necessarily tell you anything, because people often write under pseudonyms. Referring to James Tiptree Junior as Alice Bradley Sheldon isn’t outing a trans person, so far as I know, it’s just pointing out that she used a pen name. In fact, in that same discussion, at least one person said they had no inkling the person was trans until someone complained about them being “outed”.

But it’s not at all clear that this would be intended as “outing”. Mandy’s updated blog post omits the first names, replacing them with “Lastname (various first names)”, and now says:

"(not trying to “out” this person, I don’t know how they identify, just providing a way to track their attacks over the years. They’ve copped to all these screen names)"

And of course, she’s now in trouble for removing the “new” name. Well, she removed both names; there’s just a last name now. And there’s references to screen names. But I have no idea whether any of the screen names correspond to any personal names before or after any name changes. The emphasis on removing the “new” name (and thus implying that the thing in there that looks like a first name might be the “old” name) is the closest I come to having any clue at all what gender this person might be.

This reminds me of a thing I saw in Rift chat recently, where someone made a comment which revealed that another player in the channel was probably trans, in the context of pointing out that someone else had been lying about a thing. The person who had been telling lies then spent 15 minutes harping on the “outing” of the person in question (who, when asked, said she didn’t really think it was a big deal, and no, she’s not closeted, although she’d prefer people not make a big news event out of it). But the person supposedly “defending” her privacy made her gender history the topic of discussion for fifteen minutes. This seems the same. If I had just seen a thing with two first names listed, even one obviously male and one obviously female, I wouldn’t have really thought about it. I might have thought it was probably a woman who used a male pen name because sometimes that’s easier to get published with. But instead, we got this huge drama thing about how it was trying to “out” the designer. Which was the only thing that told most people that anyone involved was trans.

So I think that one’s dishonest, too.

Anger surrounding their inclusion in D&D 5e began to mount. The anonymous tumblr Problematic Tabletop started cataloguing some of their more public behaviour. Fresh waves of hatemail forced designers to delete and hide social media accounts to escape. At the same time Zak put his setting book on sale, using promotional quotes consisting of people calling out his behaviour. This was not unusual, Zak’s business model revolves around publically being a jerk. He is, quite literally, a career bully.

I note that “wouldyouagreethat” is full of sleaze and dishonesty. I looked at a few of their examples of “cataloguing” behavior, and there was a significant amount of misrepresentation going on. We get more unverifiable claims about “fresh waves” of hatemail, and people “deleting social media accounts to escape”, but for all we know, these “fresh waves of hatemail” were from the people attacking 5e for including someone they don’t like. We aren’t given any information. We aren’t given evidence that the attacks have anything to do with Zak, or that they even have anything to do with people from his “side” of the apparent battle.

I am absolutely fine with the promotional quotes consisting of people calling out his behavior, because that is a pretty reasonable response to being harassed and demonized. But the switch from “a jerk” to “a bully” is more dishonesty from our narrator, because “bullies” are specifically people picking on those much weaker than themselves. Zak is some guy. He is not obviously particularly wealthy or powerful. He’s in at least one line of work that is, to put it mildly, not given the highest respect in our culture.

Eventually, halfway down a now deleted G+ conversation, Mike Mearls – designer of D&D 5e - responded:

  1. If anyone has any direct evidence of racism or sexism or any other form of discrimination on the part of people attached to D&D, please drop a line to me. Email is [removed]

  2. Consultants on the project were hired to tear the game apart and pull no punches, so being brutal was basically a job requirement.

  3. How we present race and gender in the game had nothing to do with anyone beyond me, Jeremy Crawford, and our art director, Kate Irwin. I have read up on issues of race, gender, and inclusivity in gaming and have done everything I can to address them. Will it be perfect? No. But I pay attention to this stuff because it’s important. The consultants had no role in that department.

It wasn’t the most confidence inspiring appeal, but nonetheless people leapt upon it. Told their conversations would be confidential they shared with Mearls all the stories I’ve shared with you, only with names, links, screenshots and other traceable information I have removed to protect my sources.

Okay, watch closely folks. “Told their conversations would be confidential”. That statement serves only one purpose; it’s there to communicate to you that in fact their conversations were not kept confidential. Which is a shame, because that communication is, so far as we can tell, a lie. There is nothing, anywhere, indicating that they were not kept confidential. That’s pure scare-mongering.

Days later Mearls responded. No-one had given him evidence that Zak or Pundit had not spoken any slurs, so he was throwing the complaints out. The allegations of harassment it seems, were secondary to whether they had ever spoken a bad word:

This description is completely inaccurate, and rises to the level of an outright lie.

  • I haven’t seen or received any evidence that Zak has made homo/transphobic or racist statements.

  • I have heard from a number of people who feel harassed and marginalized in the gaming community.

  • At the end of the day, the responsibility for working with Zak and RPGPundit, and more importantly *not* directly working with marginalized groups falls solely upon me

Failforward: “Had [not] spoken any slurs”, “had ever spoken a bad word”.
Mearls: “evidence that Zak has made homo/transphobic or racist statements.”

I’m assuming the [not] was a typo or editing error. The point is, Failforward is outright lying about what Mearls said, by stressing the notion that Mearls had suddenly shifted the goalposts and moved it to “specific words”. But that’s not what Mearls said. He said that he had seen no evidence that Zak had made statements which were homophobic, transphobic, or racist. That’s not restricted, at all, to “slurs”.

Meanwhile, Zak was publicly speaking on Mearls’ behalf, saying that WOTC had found the claims against him to be baseless. Those who sent Mearls information began to panic, had he just shared their complaints with their harasser? Mearls responded that he had told Zak the claims were baseless, but hadn’t shared any names or details with him. Nevertheless they were not pleased, nor did they feel safe. Why had Mearls consulted with Zak before replying to them? Why was it more important to re-assure Zak he was in the clear than respond to allegations of harassment? Mearls again replied, saying that he was not taking the accusations seriously because some of the people stating them where members of the Something Awful forums, which he claimed has a history of harassing Zak:

My impression is that SA folks are using gender and race issues to drive their personal grudges with people. It’s very damaging for making real progress on these issues. People getting in touch with me are pointing to that site to undermine the real issues we face in gaming.

Nice use of emotional language. “Began to panic”. “Had he just shared their complaints with their harasser?” This runs into the first rule of honest journalism: If the answer to the question is “no”, it’s a bad headline. It’s also a bad lead-in to the rest of the paragraph. Imagine what this would have looked like, had it been written with honest intent:

"Meanwhile, Zak confirmed that WotC had found the claims against him to be baseless. Some people asked Mearls whether this meant that Zak had seen their complaints, and were told he had not."

Similarly, “nor did they feel safe”. Not that there’s been anything offered which is even a hint of evidence that they are in any danger whatsoever, just that telling you they feel threatened lets us make it seem like something’s wrong. And the characterization of the last Mearls response is, again, totally inaccurate. He doesn’t say that he’s not taking the accusations seriously because some of the people stating them are members of SA. He’s saying that he thinks people from SA are trying to pursue personal grudges. He didn’t at any point say that he didn’t take the accusations seriously; only that, having investigated, he reached the conclusion that they were baseless.

Note also that it’s not at all obvious that Zak was “speaking on Mearls’ behalf”.

Zak and Pundit have accused Something Awful of harassment before. They take issue with the fact that they are both quoted in the catalogue of bad RPG behaviour that is

Grognards.txt (grognard means old warrior, but in the RPG community is has come to mean one stuck in the past). Meanwhile, The RPG Site, operated by someone Mearls hired as a consultant, currently contains such topics as: “Bruce Baugh can go fuck himself with a rusty spoon”, “Why I dislike feminism” and a thread defending the use of the word ‘Jap’ in WW2 settings.

I just want to say for the record, as a long-time goon: Accusing Something Awful of harassment is not exactly outlandish behavior. On the other hand, watch the trickery that comes up. We’re told they “take issue with” the catalogue of bad RPG behavior, but no specific evidence for that is advanced, even though evidence for it could easily be provided without revealing the names of any critics.

And then we get to the thing about the topics contained by “The RPG Site”. “The RPG Site” is offering public forums. Same as Something Awful. Both of them will have threads that absolutely do not align with the beliefs or ideals of the people running them. Presenting the threads on The RPG Site as representative of Pundit’s views or behavior is highly disingenuous. The sudden reminder of “operated by someone Mearls hired as a consultant” is itself deceptive; the extra clause gets you distracted from the fact that “operated by” doesn’t mean “fully approved by”.

Why do we not see things about the topics contained by “Something Awful”? Well, that’s because Something Awful is, at times, exactly what it says on the tin. So, let’s see. I’ll go look at the “General Bullshit” forum. Here’s a topic for you: why don’t people just abort every down syndrome baby. where to draw the distinction btwn sexual reassignment surgery and cosmetic. Vancouver schools add “xe, xem,” pronouns. You’d probably need to pay your $10 to read them, but let’s just say, these are not the most uplifting comment threads I’ve ever seen. Seriously, you cannot use Something Awful as your example of a non-horrible forum, then complain about cherry-picked threads from other sites. I would never dream of accusing goons in general of participating in or supporting the random awful stuff you find in the forums sometimes.

As a privileged person, there is often an instinct to dismiss tales of harassment. We naively assume that our world is just, that someone we know couldn’t get away with abuse without us noticing. Mearls isn’t alone in this belief, over the past three weeks I’ve seen similar sentiments from senior figures in the RPG community. “This can’t really be happening”, they reassured themselves,”We’d have heard something”, “Someone must be exaggerating”. It is tempting to believe that the RPG community is not ‘that bad’, but it is, it is the worst community I have ever known. Partly because it harbours Zak and Pundit, but also because so many have reacted to this crisis by playing down legitimate anger and trying to find a truth in the middle where there is none. This reached it’s height two days ago, when Fred Hicks, co-creator of FATE, shared a link defending Zak and outing one of his favourite targets (update - Hicks has apologised and stated that this was not his intent). That designer has since left the industry, worn down by years of constant harassment from Zak and Pundit, compounded by the insensitivity of Hicks and others. Hicks has since deleted the post, but he has not apologised.

You know, this paragraph is unusual because I think it offers one of the few things I agree with: “trying to find a truth in the middle where there is none”. That’s true. There is no “middle” here. This whole piece is a hatchet job, built on lies, and manipulative language, and deceit. The digression into the behavior of Fred Hicks is particularly odd. Here’s what Hicks had to say about Zak:

"At the end of the day, in matters involving folks’ upsettedness over D&D, there is so much anger raised on all sides that if anyone tries to take a moderate position on any part of it out loud (instead of silently), they’re deemed the enemy. I’ve managed to get identified over the last few weeks as both an enemy of Zak and a staunch supporter of Zak. This is a little hilarious, given how clearly and plainly I’ve been saying that I think he’s a toxic presence in gaming, and that the value he does offer is thoroughly drowned out by the bad behavior both by him and by those in support of him."

And, of course, the “outing” appears to have been nothing but another repeat of the previous allegations about Mandy, because Fred shared that link. See the gimmick? You’re given a different set of names and different set of claims, to create the impression that there’s two cases where someone in conflict with Zak was “outed”. When, in fact, there was one case where Zak’s critics made a big deal about something that did not even communicate to uninformed readers that the alleged target was trans.

In investigating this story I heard the same tales over and over again. The RPG community is small enough that almost every woman, person of colour or LGTBQ individual seems to have had a run in with Zak or Pundit. The only reason I hadn’t heard about this before is because they are too afraid to speak out. Discussions happen in private, or with the names left out, because both Zak and Pundit are infamous for googling their own names and attacking their critics. Zak even now tries to portray these allegations as prudish conservatives out to smear him due to his involvement in pornography. Yet for that to be true almost every marginalised voice in the RPG community would need to be part of a secret right wing conspiracy. At a certain point you have to accept that that is implausible.

We’re back to the weaponized minorities, and I just gotta say, I am not happy about this at all. You know what? I’ve had a “run in” with Zak. I traded email with him. I disagreed with him about stuff. He was pretty civil, and I learned a lot from the conversation. But you know what he didn’t do? Not once? He didn’t invoke the faceless masses of “woman, person of colour or LGBTQ individual”. Remember that thing, up at the top, where we were told that anyone who criticized Zak got attacked? Remember how it morphed into “women or LGBTQ individuals”, or possibly “freelancers”? Now it’s changed again. Suddenly, race is brought up. Sure, there was no previous mention of it in anything but the quoted text from Mearls, but now it’s there. Furthermore, “have had a run in with” is not the same thing as “has been harassed or abused by”. I’ve had run-ins with a ton of people. That doesn’t make them abusers or harassers.

But here’s what “marginalized” is like: This whole piece completely ignores the fact that many of the people defending Zak are disabled. Many of them are LGBT. At least a few are people of color. You know who’s marginalizing all those people? The person writing this hatchet piece, who has somehow completely omitted any hint of admission that Zak’s personal life is pretty damn inclusive.

It has been three weeks since this story began, and Wizards of the Coast have yet to make a public statement on the affair. All communication has been through private emails and that now deleted G+ thread. Perhaps they had hoped it would blow over if they refused to acknowledge it, after all the RPG community is too small and insular to get any real media scrutiny. If a videogame studio hired two people as toxic as this it’d be a public relations nightmare, but Wizards of the Coast can do so and still get credit for gender diversity.

This is a fascinating bit of writing. First, it’s wrong; the deleted G+ thread may not have been very official, but it was public. I don’t think I buy the claim that the RPG community is “too small and insular”. And furthermore, video game studios hire toxic people all the time. Seriously, do you think anyone even looks at the credits list for a typical video game?

Wizards is getting credit for a diversity thing because they put in a paragraph that acknowledges a part of human experience which has mostly gone unremarked in previous RPG work. (“Mostly”, I state.) And that’s fine. They earned it.

That’s why I’ve written his article. I’m sorry D&D, you don’t get to have it both ways. If you want praise for your inclusive language, you’ll also need to answer for the people you hire.

No, you wrote this article to tell shitty lies about people.

If there were one or two minor errors or inconsistencies, a couple of oversights, this could be regarded as perhaps not a willful hatchet job, subordinating any concern for truth to the need to make people look bad. But no. The whole thing is full of statements which can’t be true, statements which contradict each other, and hugely misleading writing.

It’s bullshit. And speaking as someone who is disabled, and non-binary, I would like to ask that you kindly shut the hell up until you’re ready to apologize for being so deceptive.

(Some edits a day or so later: Couple of typo fixes. Also added some words on the “conservative politics” claim, and on the wording around the RPG site forum criticism.)

Peter Seebach


Comment [4]


The future is here.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2014-07-12 11:22
Comment [1]

This is a world that I could not have anticipated, or really even comprehended, when I was 18.

So, we’re in our car, which gets ~50 miles to the gallon. Music is coming from a handheld device that holds enough music that I think we could play songs for something like two weeks without repeating anything. Korean hip-hop comes on, which I’m unfamiliar with, so I start typing the fragment of the song’s name that the car stereo displays, and the computer suggests the full name of the song; seconds later, I’m looking at information about the band, album cover pictures, and things like that. On a display which is higher resolution than any display I had seen in my life when I was 18, with better color reproduction, and which is under a quarter-inch thick. The person driving is a gay guy. We have the right to be legally married in our state, and the federal government recognizes such relationships. There are five devices in the car, at least, which can tell me where I am within a meter or so basically anywhere on the surface of the planet. I have Internet (a thing I barely knew about when I was 18), and my phone has more computing power than the mainframes which served the entire student body when I was in college. The laptop probably has more computing power than every computer on campus did; definitely so if you include the GPU.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


Failing to understand the word "disability"

(Personal, Politics)

2014-07-08 07:31
Comment [3]

I know a number of people who have disabilities, ranging from fairly mild to fairly severe. Most of them have some amount of interaction with social services of one sort or another, whether in the US or elsewhere. And everywhere, there is a single constant theme:

The entire system seems predicated on the notion that people with disabilities do not face more difficulties in doing things than other people would. And I am pretty sure this is a really bad idea and does not make very much sense at all.

In general, social services seem to rely heavily on maintenance of paperwork, and failure to maintain paperwork means you don’t get services. But the paperwork is fairly hard to maintain. It involves requirements that you keep and provide copies of various evidence, that you process paperwork and hand it in in a timely fashion, and so on.

One of my friends recently got shifted from medication which was having a bad side effect to different medication. Which hospitalized him. It was about two months before he was pretty recovered, at which point he could at least conceptually handle tasks other than trying to survive individual days. So he checked his mail, and he had overdue paperwork which means that his food stamps are now gone until he does new paperwork which will then have to go through a long bureaucratic procedure.

Now, if you’re not disabled, it may seem strange to you that merely being hospitalized would prevent someone from keeping up with their paperwork. It will almost certainly seem strange to you that having been hospitalized a month ago would leave someone unable to keep up. But the fact is, disabled people really do run out of spoons. And then the system punishes them for not having been well enough to keep up with things.

I’m not sure how to solve this, but a first pass would be to simply declare that, if someone has any disability, no matter what it is, whether cognitive or physical, the duty of keeping up with the paperwork is not theirs to manage. Paperwork should be handled by the bureaucrats who so want the paperwork kept up with. You need bank records? Get a standard form you can fill out exactly once, ever, which authorizes the bureaucrats to pull copies of bank records for purposes of updating the paperwork.

And this might increase costs, but honestly, compared to the paperwork storms that ensue when people get their paperwork screwed up, I am not sure at all that this would even be more work overall for the bureaucrats. I think it would save them a lot of work. They wouldn’t have to go through forms filled out by literal-minded autistics and “correct” all the places where someone answered the question on the form rather than the question intended. They wouldn’t have to do three rounds of back-and-forth to find out why some questions were left blank.

So far as I can tell, the current system is rooted mostly in a combination of things, but comes down to the common perception that disabled people are just being “lazy” when they don’t keep up with things.

The US system in particular creates additional problems with its focus on trying to prove that people aren’t really disabled. I know more than one disabled person who has turned down short-term paying work because if you ever get paying work, that can be used as evidence that you must not really be disabled. Even if there is no more work. Even if you lost the job because you actually couldn’t do it. So if you work now, you may end up not working later and also unable to get any kind of support services.

What if, having determined that someone was disabled in a way that does not usually magically clear up over time, we just kept that information forever? What if we allowed them to get jobs without losing their “disabled” status? Yeah, doubtless there would be someone somewhere collecting disability money and also working. But the chances aren’t bad at all that they would be earning less working than they would be if they weren’t disabled, and furthermore, if they’re working they’re paying taxes, which is sort of a nice improvement over the current situation, where they don’t work because working could lead to them starving a few months later.

I think people tend to underestimate the impact of the paperwork for a number of reasons. One is that the paperwork is a lot harder for many disabled people than it is for other people. But there’s a more subtle one. Say we conclude that a given amount of paperwork should consume, say, four hours a week. That doesn’t sound too bad; it’s only 10% of a full-time job. But if your functional cap on productive effort isn’t 40 hours a week, but 20 hours a week, that just turned into 20% of your time, instead of 10%. And if the paperwork takes you twice as long to do as it takes other people, it’s 40% of your time. Now consider all the lovely research we’ve got on how stress affects people’s ability to do things. And consider whether “you will probably end up not eating if you do not do all these complicated poorly-defined tasks correctly, and will not know until it is too late if you’ve screwed one up” might create stress. What happens? That “reasonable” 10% of your time is now consuming at least half of your available effort, and what you have left is a lot less than half of what effort you would have had available otherwise.

Mostly, this comes down to the general observation that if you’re going to try to save money on a system, you should consider carefully whether what you propose to do will actually reduce costs at all, and you should also consider what your goals were, and whether you will also reduce your achievement of those goals.

Peter Seebach


Comment [3]


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