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Games professor accuses Kingdom of Loathing designer of abuse

A.M. Darke shares her story of physical, emotional abuse at the hands of ex-husband Zack Johnson

UC Santa Cruz assistant professor of games and playable media A.M. Darke has accused her ex-husband Zack 'Jick' Johnson, designer of Kingdom of Loathing and West of Loathing of physical and emotional abuse.

In a public Google Doc, Darke presented a detailed account of her dating relationship and later marriage to Johnson, beginning over a decade ago. [Content warning: Link contains detailed descriptions of alleged sexual abuse separate from the accusations against Johnson]

Darke added on Twitter that she remains uncredited for multiple development contributions to Kingdom of Loathing, saying that Johnson went so far as to remove a zone in the game "so that he didn't have to credit me."

In a statement provided to GamesIndustry.biz, Johnson denied several of the accusations:

"The allegations against me of physical abuse are false, as are all the accusations of misconduct against Kevin [Simmons] and most of the document's depictions of one-dimensional villainy. Aliah [A.M] did not work on Kingdom of Loathing except to provide feedback, and her name has been placed in that section of the game's credits, as per her request. I have made my apologies, and I wish her the best in the future."

One such apology is visible in a reply on Twitter to Darke's thread sharing the accusations:

"I'm ashamed of the emotional immaturity and anger and cruelty I brought to the table in our marriage. In the years since then I've tried -- am trying -- to use that shame to be better than I was. I know this doesn't help you, but I'm sorry."

On social media, other community members and involved parties have responded to Darke's allegations. West of Loathing designer Kevin Simmons, whom Darke claimed was in the room during an instance of physical abuse but did nothing to stop it, publicly apologized.

"I am also sorry for my role in your relationship with Zack," he said. "I had had a sheltered life, and didn't know what emotional, psychological, or financial abuse looked like. I should have understood that the power dynamic was incredibly unequal. I should have intervened instead of hiding away. I am sorry for the ways I contributed to your suffering."

In an additional statement to GamesIndustry.biz, Simmons said the following:

"My memories of events differ significantly from Aliah's account, but fundamentally I feel that doesn't matter. I believe the underlying truth -- the recognition of the culture of privilege and patriarchy that men participate in and benefit from. Since reading Aliah's statement I have been grappling with my complicity in that toxic culture. I regret that my ignorance and inaction contributed to her suffering.

"While I have learned many lessons over the past decade, I am very aware that I still have work to do. I am learning now about the concept of transformative justice, and have begun working with trained mediators to understand how to build more equitable and safer communities. It is my hope that, given time, I can help transform the games industry and the world at large for the better."

Frog Fractions 2 creator Jim Crawford expressed his support of Darke, and publicly stated he will no longer be a part of the Video Games Hot Dog podcast he was regularly recording with both Johnson and Simmons.

Bonnie Mattson, mentioned in Darke's account as Johnson's ex-girlfriend, also came forward on Twitter to corroborate both Darke's identity as well as add her own alleged similar experience with Johnson in 2005.

"I believe very strongly that people can change," she said. "I don't know who Zack Johnson is now, in 2019. What I can say is that [Darke's] picture of his character is absolutely consistent with my experience as his girlfriend in 2005, when I was 19 years old...I both experienced it directly as his girlfriend and then later observed the same dynamics between A.M. and Zack firsthand when I later traveled to Europe with them in 2007."

Darke's accusations came amidst a series of numerous other abuse allegations across the gaming industry earlier this month.

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Latest comments (2)

Charlie Scott-Skinner Senior Developer 2 months ago
Why are people trying to associate this with the games industry so much at the moment?

Before it was the film industry.

This is a general human problem, not specific to any particular industry.
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Drew Crecente Executive Director and Founder, Jennifer Ann's Group2 months ago
Why are people trying to associate this with the games industry so much at the moment? [...] This is a general human problem, not specific to any particular industry.
It is very true that abuse is not confined to any particular industry. It's also very true that those affected by abuse can be reluctant to report it for many reasons including fear of reprisal and feelings of shame.

The recent reports of high profile members of the industry who have been abusive have been helpful in many ways.

For one, the reports highlight the prevalence of abuse while also increasing awareness about specific behaviors constituting abuse. And so, some who had been previously reluctant to speak out might now be better informed that what happened to them was more than just "having a bad boss."

Also, and importantly, the industry response to these reports has generally been very positive. As a result those who felt shame might now realize that the shameful behavior was not theirs but rather the abusers and those who feared reprisals have seen that there are many good companies in this industry who will protect those who have been abused and strive to prevent future abuse.

The nonprofit charity I founded makes serious video games about these serious issues. I have seen first-hand that many otherwise bright people know very little about issues like consent and coercive control. In the absence of awareness or educational information about abusive behavior it is hard to make claims that could easily impact, at a minimum, your livelihood. This recent spate of reports has helped to increase awareness while also generally educating the industry.

I'm glad that the games industry has not taken as long as the film industry to grow up and speak out about abuse. There are so many good talented people who love this work and it's encouraging to see good companies make space for them.
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