Night In The Woods Designer Alec Holowka Dies

Illustration for article titled iNight In The Woods /iDesigner Alec Holowka Dies
Screenshot: Night in the Woods

Alec Holowka, a developer on Night in the Woods and other independent video games, died Saturday morning, according to his sister. The news comes days after allegations began to circulate against Holowka, as multiple people accused him of abusive behavior.

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“Alec Holowka, my brother and best friend, passed away this morning,” wrote Eileen Holowka in a Twitter post on Saturday. “Those who know me will know that I believe survivors and I have always done everything I can to support survivors, those suffering from mental illnesses, and those with chronic illnesses. Alec was a victim of abuse and he also spent a lifetime battling mood and personality disorders. I will not pretend that he was not also responsible for causing harm, but deep down he was a person who wanted only to offer people care and kindness. It took him a while to figure out how.”

Eileen Holowka added that her brother had spent the past few days getting support from crisis services in Manitoba, the Canada province in which he lived. She said in recent years, her brother had become a “new person” and was “working towards rehabilitation and a better life.”

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The allegations against Alec Holowka began on Monday night, with game developer Zoe Quinn accusing him of emotional and sexual abuse. On Wednesday, fellow Night in the Woods developer Scott Benson said he and his wife Bethany Hockenberry were cutting ties with Holowka, noting in an update to Kickstarter backers that there was much more to the story than just one accusation. Other game developers shared corroboration and words of support throughout the week, and on Thursday, another woman said Holowka attempted to remove her from a game they were working on after she rejected his advances.

Following Eileen Holowka’s tweet about her brother’s death, she offered a response to those who had come out to point fingers and cast blame. “And in case it’s not already fucking obvious, Alec *specifically said* he wished the best for Zoë and everyone else, so don’t use our grief as an excuse to harass people,” she wrote. “Go outside, take care of someone, and work towards preventing these kinds of things in the first place.”

This news closes out a turbulent week for the gaming world, one that began with a rape accusation against Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule and has led a number of people to share stories of sexual abuse in the video game industry.

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DISCUSSION

I’m already seeing the comments, so let’s be clear about something here:

“Cancel Culture” did not kill Alec Holowka. We don’t yet have the full picture of how he died, but it sounds as if he died by suicide, and had been suffering from a host of psychological and personal difficulties prior to that final, tragic act.

No one deserves death over allegations of abuse, but the fact that Holowka is now dead does not mean that allegations should not be levied where and when they are necessary. To say that “cancel culture” killed Alec Holowka seeks to revictimize his alleged victims (and even the man’s own sister admits he was responsible for “causing harm”) by laying the blame for his death on them.

I want to be very, very clear here: Holowka didn’t deserve this, his family didn’t deserve this—no one ever deserves the fallout, heartache, and loss that follows suicide.

But the fact that Holowka appears to have ended his own life does not, will not, and cannot silence victims of abusive behaviors. The man may or may not have been guilty of the various allegations of abuse made against him, but his alleged victims have the right to make those allegations—and those allegations should be investigated.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again as many times as is necessary: “Believe women” does not mean that the accused is automatically guilty. It means that allegations of abuse should be fully and thoroughly investigated, every time, irrespective of whether or not we personally feel that the individual woman involved is “worthy” of that investigation (whatever the fuck that means). Every person is a human being, and human beings have an inherent right to their personal dignity—and that dignity deserves the respect and consideration necessary to say “you claim this person did X to you, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” rather than immediately responding with “well, you went back to their apartment/had been in a relationship with them/dressed provocatively/are known for having been sexually active with multiple partners in the past.”

Those things are all red herrings meant to distract from the core allegation—which, if proven, makes the alleged perpetrator’s actions their fucking fault, and no one else’s.

Holowka’s death, while tragic and undeserved, is already being used as a red herring to distract from the core conversation surrounding the sexual liberties (and abuses) that some in the industry have been taking with their peers, subordinates, and fans. The loaded label of “cancel culture” is being held up to mock survivors and alleged survivors, and is part and parcel of an effort to shut the discussion down and silence victims.

It is base, vile horseshit, and to use a man’s death as a distraction from a discussion too many want to see shut down is cowardly and ghoulish in the extreme.

I hope his family can find some peace in all of this, and that if there is an afterlife, that Holowka finds his peace in it—but none of that changes the discussion on the ground.