Alec Holowka died last week. This came after a week in which several revelations about his past and present actions came to light, from several sources. Allegations of sexual and emotional abuse, of fits of violence, of additional misconduct towards those who now worked for him. I had no issue believing them. I still believe them. And not just out of some principle. I’m not one to just make a snap judgement about someone I’ve known for 6 years. The reason I believe the many allegations has roots that go back those entire 6 years. I want to talk about those 6 years now.
I won’t discuss too many specifics of the allegations others have made against Alec. Those aren’t my stories to tell. I have my own story.
There’s a hole in my life where he was until not very long ago. My relationship with Alec was complicated. He was, depending on when you asked, my friend, my collaborator, a nightmare, the origin of my PTSD, and the reason I was in therapy. Sometimes all of those at the same time. There are several people who could say the exact same thing about him. Too many, I’m finding out.
My time with Alec was very public in a lot of ways. Which is to say just about all anyone knows about it is what was put online at some point. In a tweet, in a video of a talk, in a podcast. But online is just that- it’s online. The vast majority of life, of our relationships, the things we do to one another, most of that never makes it onto a screen for a stranger to pick through, to respond to, to form an image with. We end up with these snapshots of personalities and events, most of which barely correspond to the whole reality of a person or the things they fill their lives with. None of that is an original observation. And it’s easy to blame that on the internet. But real life has a way of being this way too, often tragically.
In June of 2013 I was a typical struggling freelance animator, designer, and artist. Alec saw my tweets, which he thought were funny, and my animations, which I guess he thought were funny as well. He got in touch and asked if I’d ever wanted to make a video game. And of course I had. We spoke for the first time that very night. We talked about what we considered interesting indie games during what was in hindsight the waning years of an indie game boom- colorful, nonviolent, narrative. Alec had made a name for himself as co-creator of the award-winning game Aquaria a few years earlier. In the years between he worked on things here and there, most notably a perpetually stalled project about a living marionette. He mentioned that project almost immediately. That he could never quite figure out what to do with it- how it looked, how it played, 2d or 3d, whatever. He was looking for a change of pace and thought I looked like a strong collaborator to get him out of his rut. I just heard “would you like to make a video game?”
We hit it off pretty much immediately despite being very different people. I was a 32 year old artist who had struggled to make a living since I was 18. I had been married for almost a decade. I live in Pittsburgh. Alec was 29, a wealthy game developer coming off a huge success, living in a house with a bunch of other younger developers, in Vancouver. I knew little about Canada. Alec knew next to nothing about the US. I remember him asking me what the chances were that he would get shot if he visited Pittsburgh. Not likely, I told him. Alec seemed very hyperactive, ready to go. He ran very hot, seemed to take offense to things very quickly, but balanced that with boundless enthusiasm for whatever it was he was doing. That was my first impression of him. And we were both on medications for mood disorders. So we had a lot to talk about.
The story of how our game got going has been told several times in other places, so I won’t go into it here in too much detail. The shorthand was that we messed around with some uninspired ideas for a few months, then one night I wrote the basic ideas that came to be Night In The Woods, and Alec liked them. From that point Alec trusted me with a lot of creative decisions on the game. This terrified me, as I had never ever made a game before. Alec was great at creating interesting ways for things to work, inventing little systems to do everything, creating toolsets for my novice self to use, and just figuring things out in general on a technical level. When he was at his best, at least as I knew it, this was him. In contrast, I knew nothing. I was terrified that I would have little to offer the project, and would be just dead weight.
Alec suggested we take 6 months to make a prototype of the game. I told him that I couldn’t possibly take 6 months off of client work. When he suggested a kickstarter, I thought it would fail miserably, and then it didn’t. And suddenly, and not for the last time, we were NEWS. Without much warning I wasn’t a freelance animator anymore. I was a full time game developer with a legal requirement to deliver a game with someone I barely knew. We made a short little game a few weeks after the kickstarter just to make something, and show people that we were actually capable of completing something. I’d originally just wanted to make an animated yule log thing but Alec said hey, we make video games, let’s make it interactive. And so we did. I pitched him on a central mechanic and story, and we pulled it off in maybe 10 days, if I remember correctly. It became the first real installment of the Night In The Woods project. This was Longest Night. It was rough and the writing was terrible, but we were so excited. We’d made something. It was the first game I’d ever made, certainly. Alec I think was just happy to be past his block. Or so he later told me.
The next 6 months were a whirlwind. Bethany came on board officially. We began working on Night In The Woods full time in February of 2014. A couple months later we’d made a quick not very good demo that we showed off at GDC. Our publisher Finji, who we’d hooked up with shortly after the kickstarter, got us invited to E3 that year. My first game event ever was E3. I’d never met Alec in person before. I’d never see him more than maybe once or twice a year since. Our E3 experience was exhausting and demanding, but our demo got some favorable press, picking up some early buzz as a game to watch.
Earlier that year at GDC I’d watched Alec on social media, and watched him snap pretty viciously at some people. He messaged me that he was drunk and was going to go run around San Francisco until someone killed him. This was weird to hear from another 30 something colleague at an industry event. I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning he said he’d forgotten to take his meds and that being in places with a lot of people made him anxious. Fair enough, I thought. I reminded him to take his meds.
A month or so later, a roommate of his texted me in the middle of the night, saying that Alec was scaring him. That he was worried Alec was going to do something to himself or someone else. I messaged Alec to see what was going on. Nothing, he said, his roommate was just being dramatic after a fight. I didn’t know any of these people. I lived in a different country. It was the middle of the night. I was worried, but the next day they seemed fine, joking around online. Just weird roommate drama, I guessed.
At E3 I had a mostly good time with Alec. We clicked as partners on the E3 floor very well. I was more of a talker so I did the legwork there, while Alec helped people with controls and tweaked the build when it would crash from time to time. After a full day standing on the floor we’d walk back to the hotel and eat at the restaurant there. During those dinners he’d sometimes say something about an ex-girlfriend that caught my ear. He had nothing but very, very bad things to say about everyone he’d ever dated, going back years. All of them were horrible, just awful, they didn’t understand him. All of them, I asked? He got increasingly angry. I changed the subject. He said he was just tired, he didn’t know what he was talking about.
Alec would make comments from time to time that seemed off and always explained them later as him being tired, or he didn’t know what he meant, etc. I didn’t know the guy well at the time. I didn’t know that corner of the indie games scene other than it seemed like a social mess. I didn’t know who almost any of the people he mentioned were.
That fall, a little over a year into NITW development, Alec’s behavior began to become more erratic. He more and more became convinced that a growing number of people were planning on how to ruin his life. I was still just baffled by all this, still mostly just knowing the guy via our messages about work throughout the week. I’d known a lot of unstable people in my life. I’d been an unstable person, years before. Alec seemed like he was going through a falling out with his current friends and needed to keep up on his meds. As a fellow meds-taker I knew what skipping doses might do to your headspace and moods. I’d sometimes say hello to a friend of his and nudge them about all of this and they’d say oh yeah Alec just gets like that sometimes. He did. He got like that a lot it turned out.
In the winter we banged out the second NITW game, Lost Constellation, in 5 weeks or so. I think that was one of the high points of the whole thing. The work snapped Alec out of his funk. He would talk then about how he didn’t need work/life balance, that work WAS his life. I told him I’d sort of lost that mindset when it was imposed on me by jobs I’d previously had. “Oh god, I had a job once”, Alec said. “That was the worst 3 weeks of my life.” I laughed. He explained to me that he wasn’t kidding. I said ok.
Alec would say things like this sometimes. He’d talk about how he didn’t care about money, didn’t understand why people who didn’t like their jobs just didn’t leave them. He was baffled that more people weren’t quitting their jobs and following their dreams. After all, one could make lots of money if they just made a good game. At the time I felt like his downer know-it-all of a coworker, constantly telling him that this just wasn’t the way the world works. Bethany and I got it into our heads during this time that Alec had grown up in a mansion or something. But he hadn’t. He was just a guy who was clueless about the world who had gotten rich young. This caused problems from time to time working on NITW. I’d have to explain why Bea, a character whose family situation prohibited her from attending college, didn’t just leave and follow her dream. He didn’t understand why if anyone in town didn’t like the town, why they didn’t just move. But Alec also seemed eager to learn. “Oh,” he’d say. “I didn’t know that.” and then after it’d be like he’d always known it. He learned that we didn’t like bosses. After that, he also had lots of bad things to say about bosses. He told us we were having a good influence on him. I laughed it off.
In early 2015, Alec had largely come out of his low times from the year before. We’d heard him mention people he was dating here and there, once again never really knowing who they were or what their relationships were like. None of us talked. None of the people in these disparate parts of Alec’s orbit talked. Why would we? We were in different countries. We weren’t sitting down comparing notes, in the same way you don’t usually track down everyone a coworker knows in different areas of their lives to ask about them. As far as we could tell, Alec was this freewheeling, occasionally childish and moody guy in a somewhat chaotic house where people came and went, and he dated around a lot but never for long. The people on the other end of this can tell their own stories when and if they ever want to. But messages throughout the workweek with someone don’t paint a full portrait of their lives. Their tweets don’t show what’s happening in their houses, and in their rooms. After all, no one knew what was happening to us either, on the other side of the chat window.
During GDC 2015, Alec had a complete breakdown over several days. He was physically threatening to those around him. For the first, but not the last time, Alec threatened to kill himself if I didn’t do what he wanted. He wanted me to make this all better somehow. He was angry at the idea that people would be scared by his behavior, which over the days had gotten worse and worse. Everyone else was just teaming up on him. It wasn’t his fault, he said. He wasn’t the first person in my life to do all this. I was a fixer then, a bad habit to get into, where you take on responsibility for someone else’s well being, or for their actions and moods. It had been ingrained in me since I was young. This made me a mark for abusive people earlier in my life. I would drop everything to help out. I would stay up all night talking people off the ledge. When I was in ministry I did literally exactly that many times. Over the years I’d worked with Alec, without my noticing it, I’d begun to take it on myself to explain or fix or smooth over all those /things/, those instances of anger, or strange things he’d say, or his worsening moods. The rest of that year of working with Alec would largely break me of that lifelong tendency.
Soon after GDC, Alec was asked to leave the place he’d been staying in Vancouver. People didn’t feel safe around him anymore. I know I wouldn’t have. He eventually made his way back to Winnipeg where his family could help him. He’d been burning every possible bridge it seemed, or at least from what I could tell from my distant vantage point. He seemed unwell. He disappeared for long stretches. He stopped working on Night In The Woods altogether. When we talked he’d barely say anything, or suddenly get extremely angry. At me, at the world, at an ex girlfriend, at his former housemates, at anything.
In the summer of 2015 I began having panic attacks just about every day, out of nowhere. I’d never really had that before. I started having sleep paralysis, which was also new. Alec had been a nonentity on the project for a while, and was straight up abusive when he was. The guy I’d met in 2013 had transformed into this nightmare to be around. Just pure toxicity. More threats of suicide contingent on mine or someone else’s actions. He’d say something cryptic about that and then disappear, popping back up sometimes days later, to our relief. Made it hard to talk to the guy about his actions. He’d just disappear again, with the promise that if something happened to him it was our fault. And beyond that, we were now in a position where we were on the hook for a videogame, and I’d stopped whatever career I had been building elsewhere to do it, and Bethany and I were going more and more into debt despite our publisher’s miraculous ability to find us funding. And because of this I had to keep a sunny face about the entire thing in public. Alec held our future in his hands. And he’d become a nightmare.
In June of that year, a few months into Alec’s nightmare period with us, I decided that if he wasn’t going to do this, then I was. I could fix this. I could pull this project along. I had to learn very quickly how to even think about directing a game. I redesigned the entire game in full about 7 times that year, trying each time to get Alec excited about working on it. He’d look at a plan and say “that looks too difficult” or “whatever” and I’d redesign it again. My amateur game design notebook scribbles from back then are very funny to look at now. But his absence meant I had to step up. And as I did, so did Bethany. My panic attacks got worse. I had always thought that panic attacks were just feeling overwhelmed, but it turns out they’re physical things that happen even if you don’t “believe” them. They aren’t just getting freaked out. They’re pain in your chest, freezing cold, your brain yelling at you that you’re in danger. Bethany started hating Alec for what he was doing to me on a weekly basis. I was just scared to death that our game would fall apart and we’d be broke and in debt and starting from square one. I’d stopped taking responsibility for Alec as a person, and started taking responsibility for the game, for making our team function. Both nearly killed me.
I began going to therapy weekly. I got on anxiety meds. The therapist was shocked at how much responsibility for Alec’s moods and actions I’d taken. He hammered home over and over how I’m not responsible for what Alec did. I knew that. I did. But I still feel that I am responsible for all of what Alec did, I feel it somewhere, quietly, even now, as I write this. It’s absurd. That’s one of the things abuse does to you.
I had a hard time saying the word “abuse” then. Still do, a bit. I’ll talk about my hatred of capitalism or the faith I grew up with, but I don’t talk much about things done to me by someone specific. Part of that is just dumbass masculinity- I can’t be abused, abuse is something that happens to other people. When it happens to me it’s just tough luck or life not being fair, so I should just toughen up. Or maybe it’s because everyone else thinks whatever is happening is fine, and I’m just being oversensitive. Weak. Early in life I’d been regularly reminded that I was oversensitive. When my dad taught me how to throw a punch in 4th grade I had reason to use it the next day. I was bullied in school to the point of broken bones. I learned to get tough about it, or to laugh about it. Yeah, people fucked with me or were assholes. Some people needed to fix their shit. But I was certainly never abused. Impossible.
Later that year Alec said that he’d enrolled in a 5 week, intense therapy program. We were overjoyed. He got put on new meds, which he said were helping him. Again, overjoyed. But for the remainder of that year Alec was still basically non-communicative. When he did work on the game, it was because I’d taken to making animations of how large parts of the game would work so he could picture it and get it working. I still have those videos. I was watching them tonight. I scored them with songs I thought would cheer Alec up. One of them was Rozi Plain’s “Actually”. That was the background music to the part where Mae and Bea go grocery shopping and have a fight. This was sort of my theme song for that year. To this day I can’t listen to it without becoming anxious. 2015 was one of the worst years of my life.
December came. Alec was still moody, angry, and barely working on the game. He was as likely to fly off the handle at me as just not respond. I had begun working 7 days a week on it. My physical and mental health were failing. We finally wondered if we needed to find someone else to finish this game with. We talked with Adam and Bekah, who are Finji, our publishers. We knew them but not very well at that time. We told them what was going on, and they were shocked, because they didn’t know. And why would they? We hadn’t told them. It looked fine from the outside. They quickly stepped in, reached out to Alec, and Adam started working out how we could get our team working productively.
Right around then something happened that was in hindsight miraculous. We’d later joke it was a Christmas miracle. Bethany had had it with Alec. One morning she created a private twitter account to vent to some friends about it. She did not hold back. Over a couple dozen tweets she laid out, emphatically, how much Alec was ruining our lives. How he was cruel to me, and how I had needed to step up and do most of the work, and how Alec was this, and that, etc. Afterward having vented, she took a walk. I woke up not long after to a Slack message from Alec. There was a screenshot of her tweets with his message: “OK.”
Bethany had forgotten to make her private account private. In her tweets she’d mentioned another game he’d been working on and I guess he had a google alert notification thing set up for it, so he was immediately alerted to this 3 follower account that was yelling about him. I panicked, called Bethany asking her what the fuck happened, jumped in the car with no shoes on, and floored it across the neighborhood to pick her up. I thought I might actually have a heart attack and die right there. My heart had been feeling weird lately. It fluttered and pumped weird. This plus the overwork led to health issues down the line. Bethany deleted the account. Bekah and Adam talked to Alec. Within a few days he… changed. He said he understood what he’d done. And within a week or so he was back to work on the game. And that’s how Bethany forgetting to make her tweets private saved Night In The Woods in late December, 2015.
In 2016 I was still having regular panic attacks but they calmed a bit. Alec seemed to change before our eyes. He was going through worksheets in therapy. He’d talk about them all the time. He brought them when he came to stay with us for 11 days that spring. He wanted me to look at them, maybe they could help me too. One of which was a big cognitive behavior therapy list of cognitive distortions, which I will say have 100% come in handy. He was doing better. He was sweet and gentle and chill. We’d work through the day assembling the game from the design docs I’d slapped together during 2015, and things were starting to come together. Some scenes had been almost completed during 2014-early 2015 and the rest we just had greyboxed in. But you could actually play through SOME version of the game from front to end. In 2013 we aimed for making a 3–4 hour game. The 80% empty version of it was 5.5 hours long. This thing was larger than we anticipated.
The day before he left, we got in the car and I drove Alec to all of the places referenced in Night In The Woods. Because of his backseat approach to a lot of the non-design aspects of the game in 2014 and his absence in 2015, he didn’t actually know much about what the game was about. We visited Vandergrift, a reference for the town center of Possum Springs. We visited the mining equipment graveyard in Blacklick, across the river from Saylor Park, at the base of the Ghost Town Trail. We drove to Bolivar. We looked out on Johnstown from the top of the inclined plane, and I introduced him to Sheetz. I took him to the hill in Altoona where I’d once seen a child climb out onto the roof of his house and read a book in order to escape screaming adults inside, which inspired the character of Lori. We drove past the building whose jumbled and half-abandoned interior inspired Mallard’s Tomb. We ate dinner and he opened up to me about his diagnoses, and how his life was changing, and how he changed. This was less than a year after his breakdown and exile from Vancouver. Things had changed. I was sure. After all, whenever I checked up, people seemed to agree he was different. He had his own apartment now, a podcast about mental health issues where he was open about his struggles, and seemed to have grown up several years in the past 11 months.
I’d been gently encouraging him to reach out and make amends with people he’d hurt during his bad years. He said he had been, as well as he could. He still worried that people were trying to destroy his life, random people even, that one day they’d come out of nowhere and it’d all be over, in some vague fashion. We sometimes still saw flashes of random anger. But he was seeing a therapist about this. And it was far, far better than it used to be.
Over the next year I think I can say I really became friends with Alec. Or rather he’d become my cousin or something. He visited again in september of 2016 and we played through an almost completed version of the game. We (eventually) got a release date lined up. I hadn’t stopped working those 7 day weeks since 2015. In the past couple years I’ve talked a lot about how the release went. It was pretty intense. A member of my family attempted suicide the week before. I passed out on the kitchen floor because I hadn’t been sleeping and woke up with a headwound. I was having panic attacks constantly. Alec was extremely chill through the whole thing.
Shortly after at an industry event Bethany and I met up with some friends we rarely see for dinner. They asked me about the game launch, and how it felt now. Almost without warning, without me even knowing it happened, I broke down completely and told them the whole story of the past few years. By the end I was in full on panic attack mode. I was terrified Alec had heard me tell them. After all we were at a game dev conference. What if he’d heard? What if someone told him? It wasn’t that I was afraid of Alec as a person, it was that I’d spent so long panicked about how his moods were going to affect our lives. Even so long after he’d changed. I spent a long time after the game came out still panicked. It just didn’t go away. I didn’t know why. At this point the story in my mind was that we teamed up with a guy who was going through a rough time, then I learned how to make a game, then he got better, then we finished the game, and now everything was fine. A therapist later said hey this thing you’re dealing with is called PTSD and there are ways to deal with it. I’ve been going back to those things a lot this past week. It started back up immediately. But of course, I’m not a guy who could get PTSD. Because I’ve never been abused, right? None of this was abuse. Obviously.
We’d decided not to work with Alec again back in 2015. I warned friends who asked me back then not to work with him. I confided in a small group of people what was happening to me, to Bethany. My friend Dan in town had been very worried about me and angry at “that Canadian guy you’re working with”. The woman who cuts my hair was in roller derby and she also offered to kick his ass. A lot of local friends were ready to throw down. Good friends offer to throw down.
I’d asked people who knew not to tell anyone. This is pretty common. I had reasons- during development we couldn’t deal with publicly hashing this out, I was too exhausted to handle some big public thing with Alec, etc. And I was too far removed from Alec’s social circles to really know what was happening there. And lots of other people who had similar experiences with Alec never told me, or anyone. It’s common. I wasn’t keeping Alec’s secret. I was keeping mine. That’s how this happens.
But Alec had changed! We’d seen it. We’d watched it happen. We’d put a lot of work into it. It was suddenly 2019. We learned that Alec had a new team together. It had been years since he was ever a problem. He was doing talks at conferences, had made new friends, talked about boring stuff like coffee and time management, and seemed to have really healthy relationships both personally and professionally. I checked in on him from time to time. I checked in with people who knew him now. Smooth sailing. I was really proud of the guy. No need to worry. Happy ending.
And then it all fell apart.
I’ve spent the last week tracking down and talking to people close to Alec, people who knew him years ago, people who knew him now. It’s shocking how many of us had eerily similar experiences. It was both good to hear, and terrible to hear. When you’re not alone in suffering, how are you supposed to feel about that?
Allegations about Alec’s behavior from right before we knew him came out last week. They were backed up by other people I trust, people who were around at the time. Suddenly a lot of what Alec said back then about his exes, his bile about the subject, back when I barely knew him, made sense. It made other comments about his past make sense, comments he made to me and other people over the years about there being things in his romantic past he was afraid of coming out. They were small comments, not things you latch onto. But they were there. I immediately reached out to Alec about the allegations. He gave me a noncommittal response, and then disappeared. I never heard from him again.
Right after this, as often happens when a silence gets broken, several people came forward. I found out that while I thought Alec had been changing, he had been treating other people like he had treated me in 2015. I found out that his issues at the house he lived at in Vancouver had been worse than I thought, and it led to much of his friend group cutting ties with him for very good reason. I found out that he’s been just a really shitty boss too. I found out that women I knew, women who don’t know each other, were afraid of him. I found out that other people who had worked with him had gone through the same things with him that I had. I found out that Alec had repeated this pattern in some fashion many times, each time leaving a trail of people who were hurt, burned, abused, or in therapy for what he did to them. Or all of those at once. I recognized the man I’d known back then in these accusations. Little specifics here and there that aren’t just boilerplate Abusive Guy things. Alec was excellent at keeping groups of people siloed off and giving them the responsibility for his actions, for his well-being, for his journey to be a better person.
Like a lot of people who do this, I don’t think he ever consciously did any of this in some knowingly evil way. He was aware that some of his paranoia was due to conditions he suffered from. That’s understandable. But that didn’t stop him from behaving the way he did. This is how he could physically menace people while still thinking he was under constant threat. This is how he could entrap multiple women over the years and still think they were all out to get him. When I’ve talked to people this week a thing that’s been common was his threats to commit suicide if someone didn’t do what he wanted. If someone held him responsible for his actions. Several people messaged me to say that they knew about him, and apologized for never telling me. Now I find myself writing this. Too late. Whatever Alec felt in his heart about what he did to people, what actually made it out into the world was often abusive. Alec is gone. What he did to people remains.
Over the course of a week a lot of this became public knowledge. People who had been abused by Alec began talking to one another. I was one of those people. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’m talking about it now. I didn’t know about the depth of what he’d put other people through.
To the outside observer, this all started on a Tuesday and ended on a Saturday. But for a lot of us, it was much longer than that. This story started in 2013 for me. For some it started in 2005. Or in 2009. Or 2018.
Back when Alec stopped threatening me with his suicide, who did he start threatening? I’m finding out he would just shift. To a new city. To a new team. To a new person to confide in.
After a lot of very hard thinking and checking up we announced that we had cut ties with Alec. Some folks reported this as us “firing” Alec, when there was nothing to fire him from. Infinite Fall isn’t a company. It’s a name we picked for our collaboration. There’s no Infinite Fall HQ, no salary to cut. We weren’t working on any big money-making project he’d no longer be a part of. It’s more like we broke up or something. And to be honest he’d already moved on.
I want to give the guy credit for the ways he did change, at least as far as I could see. I want to say he was a brilliant developer and musician. After his 2015 absence he never quite considered Night In The Woods to be “his” game. When we were driving through the backroads of Cambria county that day back in 2016, he said he someday wanted to make something that was his. Something that came completely from him. After NITW came out, aside from finishing up the content patch and bug fixes, he’d quickly moved on. He wasn’t involved in much of what was going on with it. He dropped out of talks we were supposed to do together, he wasn’t really interested in other things we were thinking of doing with it. He was excited to release the soundtrack, and recently we were working on a small epilogue game. But otherwise he was gone.
While I praise Alec’s work, consider this- people left the industry because of what he did. People gave up their dreams, the art they wanted to make. People, drawn by the promise of working with a well known indie developer, found themselves caught between giving up their dreams and financial stability and getting away from him. People spent years with him as a destructive presence in their lives. People developed PTSD. People spent hours and money on therapy. People felt trapped by him. It’s hard for me to see how one man’s work is worth what he did to so many others.
Alec had prestige and money. He had what seemed to be a ticket to making your game dev dreams come true. He had a long pattern of picking someone he was really interested in, immediately suggesting they make a game together, making them dependent on him, and then later abandoning it and them, often in really shitty and harmful ways to add insult to injury. It happened with several people during the time I knew him, in hindsight. When it came to women, it turns out he often wanted something in return from them, perhaps more than they would or could give him. It was a cowardly way of approaching relationships. Childish. Abusive. And when he didn’t get what he wanted, he dropped them and their game dev dreams by the wayside on his way to find someone else. Some people had left former jobs. Some had left their home countries behind. Because Alec projected a promise of making independent games full time, making work you cared about, and having stability and a future doing it. In a time of great precarity and what can often be steep and unfair barriers to making that happen, lots of people would jump on it, like I did in June of 2013. When it came to me and Bethany, he tried to disappear in 2015. A combo of his own life circumstances, our persistence, Adam and Bekah’s help, and the legal obligations of a kickstarter kept him aboard. And the success of Night In The Woods gave him more prestige, which made more people interested in working with him. To make their dreams come true. The cycle went on and on.
Some people never saw this side of Alec. Too many people did.
I survived Alec Holowka. A lot of people got it much worse than I can wrap my head around. And I’m a man. People who aren’t men got it worse. I thought I was unique in my experience with him, and that the abuse started and stopped with me. I thought I’d helped him truly change. I was wrong. I feel so stupid. I feel gross. This is how one man can have several victims and never have it come to light. Abuse isolates you. It makes you lonely. It might make you too afraid to talk about it. And if you do, people may not believe you. But mostly it just goes on silently. For years. Because you depend on them. Because they hold control on some aspect of your life. Because you’ve just been beaten down into silence.
And then maybe one week it all boils over. And you find out that all the snapshots you had were just glimpses of the real thing, and that your snapshots start to make sense when you compare them to others.
The snapshots came together and formed a bigger picture. And then Alec was gone. After years of friends, coworkers, family, and professionals fighting to keep him alive. But you can’t stop someone who won’t stop what they’re doing, no matter how many years you give it. Alec finally caught up with himself.
I cared a lot about Alec, despite all this. But covering for and enabling the harm someone does to the people around them isn’t caring for them. Sometimes nothing turns out well. Sometime everything’s fucked. Sometimes every outcome is bad.
He’s gone. And I’m left to fumble for the words for what he did to me years ago, and what this means to me now.