Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Endless Pointless Zak Debate

As the legal process chugs along...

...we’ve been having depositions. For example:

Mandy got asked how I could have “forced” our ex-, Viv to move in with us. 

She admitted--despite what she'd earlier claimed--that I hadn’t forced her to move in with us. She said I called Viv and I asked if she wanted to move in with us. That's it.

When Viv said reasons she might hesitate on the phone (she might have to break her existing lease, for example) I said reasons why these things actually wouldn’t be a big deal and so Viv was like, yeah ok, I’ll move in with you. She did, liked it, and redid the living room.

Viv said the same in her deposition--after much hemming and hawing. So that’s on the books. It’s resolved. It’s down. It’s over. Mandy and Viv were lying about that. They can't say that anymore. We move to the next thing. 

The Rules

Depositions aren’t complicated, the process goes like this:

1. People ask each other questions

2. They answer them

It closely resembles what every sane person since Aristotle would recognize as “a conversation between people who disagree about something” and which the RPG internet calls “An endless Zak debate”.

Of course it's not endless--it's usually pretty quick. (Mandy and Viv could've said the two sentences it took to admit the truth two and a half years ago but they dodged it until there was lawsuits.) It only ever takes a long time if the person being asked questions is lying and is trying to figure out a way to avoid saying that. But even then it ends pretty fast.

What people who complain about answering questions are scared of isn't wasting time (they have enough time to say all the other shit they say online): it's being revealed as liars.

The Great Rebranding

I didn't invent asking and answering questions. This, for example, was on the internet way before I showed up.

Rebranding the most common and efficient way any issue gets solved in any sphere where the truth is admitted to matter (whether it's legal, academic, scientific or journalistic) as “an endless Zak debate” rather than just like admitting that's how grown-ups who disagree have to talk to fix anything is probably the single most toxic thing the RPG internet ever did to itself.*

The arguments raised against just answering questions are, basically:

-“I have a bunch of feelings and therefore cannot be asked to do anything”.

-“Before investigating, I decided anyone who disagrees with me about this is evil and I don’t talk to Nazis”

-“I don’t wanna”

-“Ew, isn't that a  debate (it's not) "debate is bad"

Whether you think these are good or bad excuses, using them guarantees issues will never get figured out or solved and conflicts never de-escalate. Instead you get…

The Normal Way 

This is how the RPG internet likes to handle things:

1. One person says a thing, articulately, or forcefully or both.

2. People use the tools of social media to spread or otherwise express approval of this take.

3. Another person disagrees in a completely different venue--sometimes equally articulately or forcefully.

4. They never talk to each other. They are never put in a position to answer questions.

5. It never gets resolved ever.

6. Everyone argues about it over and over and complains that it never gets resolved, no-one learns anything, and people who lied or never did their homework are not uncovered and they stick around and poison the community forever by lying about bigger and bigger things.

This is supposedly a really good alternative to talking to people/Terrifying Zak Debate.

A Few Greatest Hits

I would argue all of the biggest problems on the RPG internet have been caused by the online nerd social norm that’s it’s ok to blow off questions. Some examples:

-If not The Original Sin, then a very early one was Ron Edwards claiming, on his own forum, that playing the game Vampire: The Masquerade caused brain damage. When asked for proof, he said—explictly, you can go back and read it—he did not have to answer questions. Ron suffered no consequences. This was one of the earliest examples of folks from his scene—the storygamers—making bigoted statements against people who played other games going unchallenged, which tradition continues to this day.

-The Gauntlet forum’s official policy is “If you ask someone a question and they give no answer, assume the answer is ‘No’” which has got to be the single most abusable and thoughtless rule in the history of forums—and is completely responsible for that community falling apart.

-Edition wars? When D&D’s 5th edition was announced, fans of 4th edition (including many still-active designers) claimed that 4e was very popular and selling well and that WOTC's decision to do another edition was actually based on old people complaining on the internet. They were asked for proof of this. They didn’t answer. They also claimed there was no way people having more fun playing older editions were telling the truth and/or that there was something wrong with people who said this. Again: when asked they provided no proof. This kind of thing is what caused the edition wars.

-The guy who founded the actual website “Storygames” eventually apologized in a thread for the way OSR creators and fans had been treated on his site for years. He was asked what he was going to fix the damage he’d done by platforming stupid gamer hate for years. He gave no answer.

-Arnold K / Goblin Punch literally cited my belief that people should answer questions as a bad thing when he joined the hatemob against me, and when Scrap Princess joined she bragged about how she wouldn’t answer questions or back up the obviously false claims she’d made. This kind of set a fashion in the new OSR where flaunting your total inability to make sense was cool—probably best exemplified by Jared “infinite mao” Sinclair and the Troika Trolls—who delight in their total failure to help each other or anyone else figure out anything. They are currently all blocking each other and hating on each other on twitter because of, basically, they don't want to answer questions.

-Ok, but all this is small beans next to, say, sexism, right? Well: RPGnetters (et al) also made bold pronouncements about how women felt about everything from preferred mechanics to RPG art. Women then showed up to protest these claims. When asked why these women’s opinions didn’t count, the RPGnetters gave no answer.

-When an RPGnet mod was accused of rape, they were asked a lot of questions about what happened, how, and who knew what when. They didn’t answer and apparently did no internal investigation.

-When someone with Green Ronin was accused of sexual harassment, the company’s heads—Chris Pramas and Nicole Lindroos—refused to answer direct questions about whether this happened, how it happened, what evidence they did or didn’t have, etc. 

-Racism? When the accusations against me came out, everyone who supported my ex was asked why they supported the white girls rather than the women of color—who were telling more consistent stories that actually made sense, were corroborated, and were backed up by documents. Nobody answered.

Literally all of this could be fixed if people would just adopt the social norm followed around every dinner table: you ask a question—when someone doesn’t answer that’s weird and they look like they're hiding something and it’s obvious and everyone knows you can't be trusted.

So, I'm asking you (and there are thousands of you reading this) why are you ok with this? You don’t put up with it at the dinner table, why do you put up with it here?

Or maybe an easier question: does it seem weird to you that this super normal way of interacting in real life is called "Zak debate" here? And that finding out who you can trust is considered bad or not worth it?



P.S. Oh but can't we just never ask questions about anything important and just play games? Sure. There's lots of new stuff in The Store since last I mentioned it, pick something up:

Cube World #46--Goblins and Murder

Cube World #43 --Ths Stair and the Vizier's Secret

Cube World #44--Traps, Traps, Traps
Cube World#45-Warmutants of the Cube

Cube World #47-The Pentamorph and More
Cube World #48 Two Cults

 Cube World #49-Two Gimmicky Dungeons

Cube World #50-Hell on Earth (and in Hell)
Cube World #5-Four Elementals and a Giant's gut
Cube World #52-The Fox Witch and the Freckled Hog
Cube World #53-Quiet Places



*In the law it's called "depositions" and "testimony" and "cross examinations", in science and academia it's "defending your thesis", in journalism it's "interviews" and "press conferences".




Kyle T said...

Glad to hear the proceedings are, uh, proceeding.

I haven't seen that image in a long time, but it's a nice reminder it's there and I've saved it for future reference. Thanks for providing it.

Seems like most, if not all, of your detractors, would fail at the first question in the flowchart. Any critiques I have of your argumentation are matters of style and not form, and not worth mentioning in that context.

I wasn't aware that the Gauntlet community was falling apart. What happened there?

Zak Sabbath said...

@Kyle T

Designers of color accused Jason Cordova of abusing his position.

For more detail, you can look at the actual complaints on the forums--they're long and vague.

Kyle T said...

Will do.

How do you feel about people using correct argument in bad faith? The oft-cited examples of concern-trolling and sealioning* do happen. Do you have any addenda to the chart you'd add to identify those instances?

*This term is twee to the point of nausea and any other term for it would be welcome.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Kyle T

People using correct arguments in bad faith are trivially easy to reveal in any environment where they have to answer questions.

If you think someone's speaking in bad faith: -ask the questions that would show they're speaking in bad faith-.

The idea this is hard or complex is stupid.

Kyle T said...

I'm not as rhetorically aware as yourself and can get caught up in a flow state in an argument, which can lead to me missing a bad faith effort. I'm trying to improve on that. So it is harder for me than it is for you.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Kyle T

So it's good that you:

-Realize that

-State it to people you interact with,


-Decided to work on it

Not noticing someone is talking in bad faith isn't the worst problem in the world--especially online. They're still stuck with whatever chain of reasoning they just made and all the facts they claim support it, forever.

If they contradict it, ever, (which they'd have to if they were acting in bad faith) then you've helped catch them.

Matrox Lusch said...

Serious, the Socratic Method has existed since the 5th century B.C. as the dominant tool to identify and eliminate hypotheses that lead to contradictions, yet still beset by Sophists and sentenced to the hemlock for corrupting youth and worshiping unsanctioned gods.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Matrox Lusch

Sure but it's important to say: this isn't the socratic method.

The socratic method is asking questions to teach someone something. The target audience for teaching is the person you're talking to.

This is different-it's exposing the thinking (or lack thereof) behind an idea: the target audience is not the person you're talking to--you won't generally convince the liars in the RPG scene of anything. The target audience is the people reading.

Matrox Lusch said...

You can check Plato's "Apology" for an ancient Greek analogy of non-teaching dialogue. Probably all the targets of Plato's dialogues are the folks reading them, but certainly the participants in "Apology" are not concerned with learning. It's a trial and ultimately Socrates is sentenced to death.

The Socratic method is a tool used in teaching, but it is also used in courtrooms all over the world. The method's utility to uncovering truth is because it eliminates hypotheses that lead to contradictions, ha, or colloquially perhaps, lying.

Of course the method is based on cooperation either voluntary or compelled. The various participants must agree to participate, although I think I see your point may be that the Socratic Method doesn't account for conclusions that may occur from people who do not participate in good faith.

In the courtroom witnesses are subject to perjury, attorneys can be sanctioned, but outside of being formally compelled to participate in good faith, actors have no guaranteed motivation to do so. And that lack of good faith ought to be grounds for some conclusions as well.

Picador said...

@Matrox Lusch

We're quibbling at this point but I think the "Socratic Method" isn't quite the same thing as a "dialectic", which was a more adversarial debate form developed by Plato. From Wikipedia:

The Socratic method (also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate) is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. [...] But in his later dialogues, such as Theaetetus or Sophist, Plato had a different method to philosophical discussions, namely dialectic.


Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ; related to dialogue; German: Dialektik), also known as the dialectical method, is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned argumentation.

I think the key word in the definition of "Socratic Method" is "cooperative". Lawyers are taught using the Socratic Method (at least in the movies, in practice it's a mixed bag); but lawyers cross-examine witnesses and argue cases against other lawyers using something more like a dialectic.

ZCE said...

if its so easy why dont you become a politics debate bro? check and mate

Zak Sabbath said...


there’s no benefit, that’s why

Zak Sabbath said...


Erased. No first-strike personal attacks.

ZCE said...

most of the debate bros are loaded though. i feel like dunking on right wing dumb dumbs could be a good income stream for you

Zak Sabbath said...


If I want money for doing something I hate that will bring on a lot more harassment I have better options.

ZCE said...

Like what? I'm curious what could also be very lucrative, horrible to do, and make people hate you

Zak Sabbath said...


reality tv

Odium Rayse said...

kill yourself already so your books that I own can hopefully skyrocket in price.
your life is meaningless anyway. you only live to hurt a bunch of people that hurt you: a pitiful shell of a man.

Zak Sabbath said...

@odium rayse

The people who hurt me also hurt--and will continue to hurt--other people, so getting justice for them is important. I don't know if that gives my life "meaning" (I don't really know what "life having meaning" would mean for anyone.) but helping other innocent people isn't "pitiful" by any metric.

So you should aacknowledge that clarification in your next message and apologize for the factual error--or else prove it invalid.

If you don't do that, you're a bad person and will be banned, but also please mail your copies of my books back to me, email me at zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm and I can give you details on how to do that.

Thank you for your comment: I may be able to use it in court to prove the harassment campaign continues unabated to this date.

Zak Sabbath said...

@odium rayse

Your new comment has been erased as misinformation is not allowed in the comments.

If you feel you've received this message in error, email zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm with proof of your claims.

max said...

Whos your favorite pro wrestler

Zak Sabbath said...

Ricky the Dragon steamboat

WFRPfag said...

hi zak just wanted to let you know to keep it up i use your demon city dungeon idea for WFRP games and it works out super well. probably the best investigation stuff I've seen yea

Matrox Lusch said...

@Picador yes, good point about witness examinations being dialectic. Examinations are evidence though, not the actual discussion itself. In court essentially you are arguing against not with the other party, you are arguing in a Socratic Method sense with the judge - providing evidence and analysis to influence the judge to eliminate contradictory conclusions.

Discussions/arguments between a litigant and the court are definitely Socratic i.e. cooperative, a litigant vs judge do not (hopefully) start with different points of view. Of course some judges engage more than others at the trial level, but essentially "arguments" - the dialectic - back and forth between litigants are basically just spouting evidence. The analysis is the Socratic argument with the court. Oral argument on appeals are certainly a Socratic Method argument with the court.

Ha, you have to know your audience in court is NOT the other litigants, it is the judge.

ZCE said...

yeah reality tv is bad.
why did you never continue DnD With Porn Stars?

Zak Sabbath said...


You are literally commenting on D&D With Porn Stars whose last update was 6 days ago.

What do you mean?

Simon Tsevelev said...

You mean the show, I Hit It With My Axe? Didn't it end because Zak and the girls refused to work with the Escapist after the Escapist hired an openly transphobic person?

Zce said...

the show dude

Zak Sabbath said...

YOu mean "I hit it with my axe"
this is why:

ZCE said...

So does TE own the show and you can't make it anymore? I never understood why you didn't just strike out on your own.

Zak Sabbath said...


Because that would be a lot more work, and I had three other more interesting jobs already.

Muga said...

I'm not going to defend the way you've been treated, or most of the examples you gave. But I do worry that, in some contexts, what was normal discussion becomes asymmetric.

If a person has a large enough online presence, it becomes literally impossible for them to respond to everything. Even offline, when someone is unusual in some way (not just talking about social justice here, just random stuff like vegetarianism or obvious tattoos), they're often going to face the exact same basic questions/objections over and over from everybody.

Zak Sabbath said...


That concern doesn't apply here at all in any way for 3 reasons:

1. If Matt Mercer et aldidn't want to answer questions about their accusations, they could have simply not made them.

2. I was the one with more, or as-many followers in most of these situations and I've managed to answer questions very easily, so they can, too.

3. When asked questions in private, it turns out the harassers -do have answers and time to answer- they just were avoiding doing it while the spotlight was on them.

Zak Sabbath said...

(their answers aren't good, but that is exactly what asking questions in public is meant to show)