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RPG Industry sexual harassment, Mentzer, abuse and what do we do about it?

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Rook S.

scritches make me floof!
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This thread is making me want to quit the hobby.

I'll quit the thread instead.
 

Zeea

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nikchick, if you believed the victim but just disagreed on how to handle it, why did you start your reply to her on Facebook media with "bring your receipts" and then proceed to engage in an intimidating diatribe? I was just a random witness to it, and that whole thing freaked me the hell out. I was trying not to bring you into it here, but honestly, your response there bothered me more than the initial allegations, because you absolutely tried to destroy the accuser's reputation in front of everybody who saw that. And now you're coming here and misrepresenting what happened while making personal attacks.

I don't know if Suleiman did anything, but the accusations I've heard were far more recent and were more specific than "flirting," and they didn't come from Holden, John, or anyone related to the Exalted team. And John Morke having done something is completely unrelated to C.A. Suleiman.

Furthermore, out of all of the responses I've seen from owners/CEOs/etc of companies to accusations against their employees, yours was by far the most intimidating and destructive. Your actions there, and your actions here, made it absolutely clear that anybody who crossed you would be retaliated against with attacks against their reputation. Nobody from Paizo came here to attack Jessica Price, nobody from Frog God Games came here to attack the accuser, nobody from Onyx Path came here to attack anyone, but you jump in with a friend and start absolutely destroying people for speaking out about allegations that you've been going out of your way to silence? That is not okay.

You frankly scare me more than anyone I've dealt with in this entire industry.
 
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VL Darling

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I am backing Nicole on this. A number of people came to me when the talent search was announced, and I spoke to everyone who had concerns at length. The main accusations against Suleiman are "He flirted with me fifteen years ago in an improper context", and "God, he was a dick and I didn't like working with him". I'm not even going to get into the anti-Semitism and terrorism stuff, because, as Nicole said, that was someone stirring up a thing they knew nothing about. He has had issues. He is still imperfect. He listens, he learns, and after knowing and working with him for nearly a decade, I trust him. I am also aware that the loudest voices against him have plenty of skeletons in their own closet, and find the hue and cry to rise hardest when those doors start opening.

Suleiman is not perfect, but I trust that he is safe, and that he has been working for years to improve himself and become a good ally.

Holden, I'm sorry, but people like you are the reason I have trouble trusting vocal allies. "Well, he was good to ME, so I'm going to keep protecting him while he harasses a lot of other people" is a thing I have heard MANY times. I find your response to Nicole frustrating at best, and dangerous at worst. No one is asking you to betray John, but with your very public and very aggressive voice, it is a *problem* to be sheltering someone who has preyed on so many women, while shouting for someone else's destruction. I can absolutely assure you that people see you, see your platform, and then look at John and say "Well no one that vocal about women's rights would be friends with a predator, he must be safe", because that's about the only way we have to vet industry figures.

And let me say this: one of my best friends was accused of sexually assaulting someone at a party. I publicly acknowledged the accusations, dealt with the issue, and removed him from my life. Someone I've known since kindergarten, a brother in all but blood, started emotionally abusing his wife. I helped her leave him and now he and I no longer speak. Over and over, I have had to stand up against people I love and care about, people I have worked with, often to protect people I don't care about or actively dislike. It *sucks*. But by protecting one predator, you're putting dozens in the way of harm. The interaction with John creeped me out, badly, but I am rather numb to it at this point. What others have reported is not just creepy, it is predatory and threatening, and one of these days, that brother of yours is going to hit someone in a weak spot, on a bad day, with just the wrong words.

Please stop and take a good, long look in the mirror. No one is bullying you, no one is threatening you, and I find it interesting that you're accusing a woman of bullying you when she asks you to take ownership of your problem.
VL Darling, I'm not sure where to begin. I made the references I did in the manner I did because I do not feel right telling details and naming names here, in this intensely public forum, that are not my stories to tell or that will accidentally out the victims in those stories BUT I know that Holden has the same sources and that he is aware of the existence of those accusations. In order to make my point TO HIM, I didn't need to get specific and, in fact, I didn't name John or Matt or assign specific blame to anyone (other than the obvious reference to the already-well-discussed situation with Matt in this very thread, which I didn't think needed attribution at this point). I am not trying to muddy the waters but yes, I am calling him out as having been a shield. If he is going to push the story that I (or Green Ronin) am problematic and MY repeated belief and support of women is up for debate because of my position on CA Suleiman in specific, I AM going to call on him to repudiate (and not with a meally-mouthed "Yeah, dude has hurt some people" deflection) those in his circle who have been accused of much, much worse without a peep from him. Holden has absolutely been part of a whisper network. Matt MacFarland was right there with him. This is not a situation of "Oh, how could he have known..." and THAT is why it irks me every single time. I don't expect every bystander to this duscussion to know those details but I'm confident Holden knows what I am referring to and why I, frankly, expect him to put up or shut up.

The "inappropriate messages" accusation against John Morke is not the only one out there, it's just the only one being publicly discussed here because Jaym decided to mention it openly. The other things he has been accused of are known to many, and fall into the much worse variety, but without the consent of the victims or their active participation here, I'm not going to do more than look Holden in the [virtual] eye and tell him to clean his house before he comes over to criticize mine. I didn't intend for that to muddy the waters but I also did want to stress that Suleiman has never been accused of anything remotely like those other accusations floating out there (against Matt, John, Frank, other unnamed bad actors) and bringing him up in this context conflates his behavior with some really bad shit and adds his name to a list that he does not desreve to be on.

And here's where we get into the sticky territory of addressing the "and what do we do about it" portion of the thread. I hear your heart-felt defense of Holden and I absolutely believe you that he has been there for you, that he has been an ally and a support, that you have seen him be a good actor. My interactions with him have been...different. Same man, different vectors, different experiences but also true and real. There is not a woman in the industry who isn't put in that position, of knowing someone and believing in their goodness or trusting in their genuine friendship with a man who another woman finds creepy or dismissive or sexist or worse. I don't think Holden needs to do anything except examine his positions and own where he's been wrong, because he HAS been wrong. I'm not calling for people to hate on him or slander him or blackball him or anything like that. But even so, your impulse was to jump to his defense because in YOUR experience he has earned that trust and loyalty and I'm not trying to naysay that at all. It's possible for a lot of these people to "be both" and it inevitably puts us on "sides" and seemingly against other women and *that* is something I don't think is productive at all. I think that is the challenge we have as women in the industry as we attempt to address "what do we do about it". I am not sure how to best address it except to assess the severity of the offense and when we're on the person's "good side" be the voice that says, "Jesus Christ, stop that. *I* know you but that person doesn't and they find it creepy [or dismissive or whatever]."

I don't think any of the people who have the actual, serious accusations raised against them are 100% bad, irredemable people either but some are going to be willing to own their behavior, change, and atone where they can... and some are not. I think we need to focus on the ones out there who are behaving the worst and doing the most damage, starting first with the ones who stubbornly refuse to accept they are in the wrong or who are unable or unwilling to change their behavior (because they're hardcore alcoholics and won't stop drinking and thus won't stop being out of control, for example). I want to save my fire for those people. I believe it's possible for us to address the rest, the bad joke, inappropriate innuendo brigade in particular, without taking a scorched earth policy. I believe it's possible for us to stand up for ourselves and set our boundaries and teach these "least worst" offenders how to be better. Show me you're willing to be better, to learn and TRY? That's where I want to spend my support. I didn't come out of the womb holding the views I have now and I'm not the same person I was when I was getting into the industry at 19 or 20. I have done the best I knew how and when I learned better, I did it better. I'm going to keep that up and I'm going to offer the same chance to be better to anyone who wants to work in good-fath alongside me in that effort. It's one of the few things I actually have control over.
And what I hear is that the last time CAS got bad enough that people refused to work with him again was two years ago. Because I've only been running in these circles for a few years so the historical stuff often passes me by but I knew that one.

See what I mean about whisper networks?

Because here's the thing - someone came to me and said sorry for not giving me a heads up about John, because they were given the impression that their source had told me already. "He has the sources too" doesn't dictate what he has been told and exactly what actions need to be taken. Because there's private approaches, public recrimination, and deliberately putting women together with that person as someone meant to help them, and all of them are different. 'Friends with publicly' is not a blanket support of a person and every single one of their acts - shit is complex and the sooner we stop with this ... conglomeration and combination of that stuff the better tbh. And much like the antisemitic stuff with CAS, there's mud in the waters thanks to the trailing mess of GG and other retrograde assholes that have made a hobby of accusing people of a lot of shit with no foundation. It makes it really hard to parse out 'is this the person I know who pals about on 4chan and we didn't want to work with going for the jugular not realising I saw the chat history' and 'this is a person who is an asshole but also mistreated'.

The (unrelated) warning I gave to that person though? They'd been told "one of the worst people in ttrpgs" which is very very different to "drugs and rapes women". So "awkwardly and uncomfortably hits on women" is again, not exactly the same as "threatened to fire someone if they don't send nudes" or whatever because it, again, falls into the bad joke/inappropriate innuendo shit that we do absolutely tend to assume our friends who do that can be rehabilitated.

Systemically women face a number of hurdles to get into industries that are male-dominated, and once there are expected to adhere to behavioural standards that generally aren't appropriate. And often then replicate them - see any interviews with a lot of our early SFF mothers, who ran gauntlets of grabbing hands and casting-couch bs, who moderate that stuff minimally but also expect anyone following their footsteps to be tough enough not to complain (or make it worse, oddly enough). I have no illusions that the whisper network actually protects women, or that supporting women speaking out makes anything safer, when those structures are still in place. The structures are corporate, are about networks and practices (from 'drinking as bonding' to 'oh yeah he is an asshole just ignore him even though he is your boss').

This thread is a microcosm of why this shit goes so damn wrong when the systems are opaque, or nonexistent, and all we have to protect ourselves is hoping to god people trust us enough to keep us safe at the price of their own skin, and that they aren't going to tow in too much baggage with them, or spout the company line.

I jumped into this thread way way back, to talk about Mentzer, to talk about how these structures fail women (and to yell a bit at how a survivor was treated). I'm pretty damn active as a general pain in everyone's ass when it comes to gender stuff, so no I didn't just jump in to defend Holden.

(ftr I am friends with John too, not just Holden, and again that is a guy who has walked me through some fire including the old game group with the titty bars and so on that he, and holden, gave me the strength and support to get myself out of at great cost to my personal life - again, shit is complex)
 

Extinction Burp

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nikchick, if you believed the victim but just disagreed on how to handle it, why did you start your reply to her on Facebook media with "bring your receipts" and then proceed to engage in an intimidating diatribe? I was just a random witness to it, and that whole thing freaked me the hell out. I was trying not to bring you into it here, but honestly, your response there bothered me more than the initial allegations, because you absolutely tried to destroy the accuser's reputation in front of everybody who saw that. And now you're coming here and misrepresenting what happened while making personal attacks.

I don't know if Suleiman did anything, but the accusations I've heard were far more recent and were more specific than "flirting," and they didn't come from Holden, John, or anyone related to the Exalted team. And John Morke having done something is completely unrelated to C.A. Suleiman.

Furthermore, out of all of the responses I've seen from owners/CEOs/etc of companies to accusations against their employees, yours was by far the most intimidating and destructive. Your actions there, and your actions here, made it absolutely clear that anybody who crossed you would be retaliated against with attacks against their reputation. Nobody from Paizo came here to attack Jessica Price, nobody from Frog God Games came here to attack the accuser, nobody from Onyx Path came here to attack anyone, but you jump in with a friend and start absolutely destroying people for speaking out about allegations that you've been going out of your way to silence? That is not okay.

You frankly scare me more than anyone I've dealt with in this entire industry.

I'm agreeing with Zeea here, soley based on what I've seen in this thread.

If Holden's holding out on naming names, shame on him. But that's an entirely separate issue from what's (allegedly) going on with CA Sulemain. No heroes, no holdouts, right? You can tell us that YOU did all this research and have found him okay, but there are others who have heard these rumors and don't have your evidence. This sounds painfully similar to what Frog God Games told us, but with less vehemence.

The worst part is, I somewhat agree with your assertion that we might not want to go scorched-earth on bad actors assuming we're not talking about criminal/borderline criminal actions. Hotheaded, crude humor, touchy politics (not Nazis, of course!)...I can see waiting to see if said person "gets it" or not before you make a final decision. But every person who works with him should also be able to make that judgment call, and they should have as much transparency as possible. You say you're satisfied, others are apparently saying that it's only the tip of the iceberg...who do we believe? Is it worth the risk to find out?

This can't be treated as warring tribes, not if the mission is to get rid of the bad actors and make this hobby safe for people to work for. Making it about "hypocrisy" or 'clean your own house first" gets in the way of that. We're all smart enough to know that both sides can be wrong. It's an emotional issue, and this is starting to look like emotions are catching fire. And that way lies the end of any constructive efforts.
 

Holden

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Holden, I am confused about the disconnect.

Based on your own words, your position is very similar to (I won’t conflate the two) a close friend of Mentzer who refused to expose Frank taking part in the thread. Such a person could also have strong feelings on the right and wrong behavior of others, but it would be understandable for some people (like Jaym and Nicole have in your case) to find that inappropriate or questionable.

Do you feel that is an unrealistic or unfair position? Because until you outright said you didn’t expose him out of loyalty I could at least understand how you might feel differently, but now I am unable to wrap my head around it.
I'm going to answer in PMs, because I really intensely do not want to mount any kind of defense of my friend in this thread, I think it would be a slap in the face to the people speaking up to do so. I also can't answer you honestly otherwise. If you were looking for a specifically public response, I apologize.
 

kongurous

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Holden, I'm sorry, but people like you are the reason I have trouble trusting vocal allies. "Well, he was good to ME, so I'm going to keep protecting him while he harasses a lot of other people" is a thing I have heard MANY times. I find your response to Nicole frustrating at best, and dangerous at worst. No one is asking you to betray John, but with your very public and very aggressive voice, it is a *problem* to be sheltering someone who has preyed on so many women, while shouting for someone else's destruction. I can absolutely assure you that people see you, see your platform, and then look at John and say "Well no one that vocal about women's rights would be friends with a predator, he must be safe", because that's about the only way we have to vet industry figures.

And let me say this: one of my best friends was accused of sexually assaulting someone at a party. I publicly acknowledged the accusations, dealt with the issue, and removed him from my life. Someone I've known since kindergarten, a brother in all but blood, started emotionally abusing his wife. I helped her leave him and now he and I no longer speak. Over and over, I have had to stand up against people I love and care about, people I have worked with, often to protect people I don't care about or actively dislike. It *sucks*. But by protecting one predator, you're putting dozens in the way of harm. The interaction with John creeped me out, badly, but I am rather numb to it at this point. What others have reported is not just creepy, it is predatory and threatening, and one of these days, that brother of yours is going to hit someone in a weak spot, on a bad day, with just the wrong words.
Morke's conduct is not comparable to sexual assault. Stop acting like it is.
 

Arachne

Robot Spider Queen
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Colin Suleiman. On the industry grapevine, he's one of most prominent WW/OPP-adjacent "do not work with this guy, because he will screw you over" examples.
 
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