Warning: This story contains explicit first-hand accounts of sexual and emotional abuse.
When it first broke last year, the #MeToo movement cast a spotlight on men taking advantage of positions of power to sexually harass and abuse women. The impact of #MeToo has largely been focused on Hollywood, but the effect has also been felt in less visible business sectors, with women finding solidarity in speaking out against superiors who had previously coerced them into silence. The next frontier for this movement may well be the virtual communities inside online videogames, as evidenced by an evolving scandal in Final Fantasy 14.
Final Fantasy 14 is an MMO enjoyed by millions across PC and consoles. Its passionate fanbase has produced a vibrant and unusually dedicated community—a thriving ecosystem of YouTubers, Instagram photographers, playwrights, and artists. Of these projects, one of the more prominent and celebrated fansites is The Moogle Post. Featuring interviews with well-known community members, columns, and even in-game fashion advice, the Moogle Post relies on over 20 volunteer artists and photographers, many of whom are women, to contribute to each issue. With an audience of over 30,000 readers per month, The Moogle Post is easily Final Fantasy 14's biggest dedicated fansite.
Last week PC Gamer became aware of multiple women speaking out about an ongoing pattern of emotional abuse and sexual harassment involving blackmail, coercion, and extensive emotional manipulation by The Moogle Post's founder and editor-in-chief, a player known as ‘Oldbear Stormborn.' During this investigation, I interviewed nine of these alleged victims who call themselves 'Anonymous Janes' to protect their in-game and real-life identities.
The names of some of the victims have been changed to protect their identities. Others requested we use their usernames. We have reached out to Square Enix, but they did not respond in time to comment on this story.
"We don't want any more victims," Kate, one of the Anonymous Janes, told me. "This is to stop him from preying on anyone else. I had no clue how many other women came after me. It's sickening."
As part of this investigation, I also spoke with Oldbear Stormborn via text. Though he "vehemently" denies abusing anyone, he did issue me a statement apologizing for his behavior. Oldbear had originally deactivated his social media accounts and resigned as editor-in-chief of The Moogle Post, but over the course of this investigation he has reversed his position and reactivated his social media.
Earlier this week, the Anonymous Janes began posting recorded testimonies online. Each one details a personal history with Oldbear and how, after establishing a close relationship—often both romantic and professional in nature—he would emotionally abuse, manipulate, and blackmail them. When one woman tried to terminate her relationship with Oldbear, he had a mutual acquaintance mention "dirt" in the form of nude photos he had that would "bring [her] down." Others faced similar ultimatums. Initially many stayed silent for fear of what Oldbear could do to their reputation in creative and social circles these women were deeply invested in.
It's a disturbing pattern that has been ongoing for at least five years. Though it takes place within the Discord chatrooms of a gaming community, these testimonies illustrate that power dynamics do exist in guilds, digital social circles, and fan projects. And, just like in real-world workplaces, those dynamics can be exploited to manipulate, extort, and silence victims.
The first Anonymous Jane
Kate was the first of Oldbear's victims in Final Fantasy 14. She met him back in 2013, long before he started The Moogle Post and became a known face in the community. They immediately hit it off. "When you first meet him, he seems very charming," she told me. "I invited him to my free company (FF14's version of a guild) and that's where it all began. We built a giant free company. We were number one in the server for a very long time."
Almost immediately, Kate said, Oldbear began making sexual advances toward her. When they spoke using voice chat via Teamspeak, he told her how sexy her voice was. Within a few weeks, he even told her he might be falling for her. For Kate, Oldbear's advances were intense, but she was in an emotionally vulnerable place and extremely lonely. It was nice to have a connection with someone even if it was online. "I think everyone wants to feel loved and to feel like they're special to someone," she said. "Everyone wants to hear nice things about themselves. I probably shouldn't have been too flattered when he said that I had a sexy voice, but I was because I was lonely."
As their relationship deepened over a course of months, Oldbear became increasingly controlling and jealous. He would scream at Kate for speaking to friends who were men and demand that she spend more time with him online. He would verbally assault her, calling her a "slut" if she associated with other players he didn't like. Almost immediately after he would tell her how much he adored and loved her.
"He would make me feel like the biggest sack of shit any time he perceived me as doing something wrong," Kate wrote in a blog post in 2015, the transcript of which she shared with me. "And then he would bring me back up with compliments and what I know now as 'love-bombing.' It was a constant roller coaster in that game. We argued over everything, and then he would come back and make me feel good again. Eventually, we had our biggest fight. I had enough. I was beginning to see the abuse, and I was seeing how it was affecting me."
Kate didn't realize it right away, but she had fallen into a deep depression due to her abusive relationship with a man she only ever spoke to online. When she tried to end the relationship, Oldbear would vaguely threaten self-harm, sending Kate his sister's number "in case something happens." This prompted Kate to reconcile with him out of fear of what he might do in her absence. This behavior was not an isolated incident: Nearly all the women I spoke to described an emotional manipulator who preyed upon the empathy of others.
As their relationship deteriorated and no longer became romantic, Oldbear slowly ostracized Kate from her social circle in FF14. If she tried to speak with other members of her guild about what was happening—players whom Kate considered her closest friends—Oldbear would encourage them to dismiss her claims, drawing upon a stereotype prevalent in gaming communities that women like to stir up drama. Feeling backed into a corner, Kate took drastic measures and, using her leadership role, kicked Oldbear out of the free company—a contentious decision among its members.
Throughout the course of their relationship, Oldbear solicited nude photos and videos from Kate. Days after Oldbear was kicked from the free company, she received vague threats (pictured above) via a mutual acquaintance, a woman that would become a central figure in other Anonymous Jane stories, that implied Oldbear would leak the photos and videos she sent him unless she let him back into her life. "I was shaking and crying," Kate said. "I knew that he was going to share some of the conversations we had, the recordings and pictures he pressured me into taking for him."
In response, Kate wrote the aforementioned 2015 blog post and began sharing it with as many members of her FF14 community hoping to raise awareness. "I shared it with everyone on our server and they made fun of it," Kate said bitterly. "They were like, this is just drama." In her blog, Kate used the words "tyrannical predator" to describe Oldbear, a description he became fond of using—especially in the erotica he would write. (Update: The original story stated here that the erotica was written for Amparro, another Anonymous Jane, but the screenshot we linked to was from a chapter that was written before her and Oldbear had met.) In the end, Oldbear never released the photos. Kate was ultimately silenced by what she sees as her community's own indifference.
A pattern of abuse
Kate's story is eerily similar to another Anonymous Jane who joined that same free company in 2015 before Oldbear was kicked. Brenda was going through a separation with her now ex-husband and "didn't really know a world without him." Oldbear recruited her and began insisting she speak with him over voice chat, where things quickly turned sexual. "He would start off with things like how sexy my voice is and how beautiful I am in my pictures, and for someone who is just going through a divorce, it's kind of exactly the thing you want to hear at that point in time," Brenda said. "I fell for it."
Brenda's account mirrors Kate's almost exactly. Oldbear would smother her with affection, building a bond of trust between them that felt to her as tangible as any physical relationship. But the moment she did something he didn't like, the verbal and emotional abuse would begin. When Brenda became close to another man in the free company, Oldbear began harassing her constantly, asking her to explain the nature of their relationship and calling her a "whore" and a "slut."
During this time, Oldbear continued making increasingly aggressive and unwanted sexual advances toward Brenda. "He would do things like calling me a slut and trying to make it in a sexual manner, but it wasn't—you can tell it wasn't," Brenda said, breaking down into tears. "I wasn't allowed to touch myself without his permission."
When Brenda began an official relationship with another member of the free company seeking to distance herself from Oldbear, he began a constant tirade to intimidate her into leaving her new partner. Brenda reached out to the free company leader, Kate, for help, but Kate was entangled in her own blackmail issues with Oldbear and felt powerless to do anything.
In the end, Oldbear persuaded members of the free company to kick Brenda under the "no drama" rule. "[It] was a devastating loss for me," Brenda said. "I'd just gone through my divorce. I didn't have anything. As sad as it may sound, the game and the free company—that's all I had. Those were the people who cared about me."
Meeting in person
Some of the nine women I spoke to said they had been called similar names and subjected to similar manipulation. Zoe Lucas, who requested to use her real name, not only is one of Oldbear's alleged victims, but she lived with him for two months. She met Oldbear online in October of 2015 after he recruited her into his free company. She was 18 and Oldbear was 33 at the time.
Over the course of two weeks, Oldbear aggressively pursued Zoe, she said, and the two formed a romantic online relationship. Twice during that relationship, Oldbear pressured Zoe into performing sexual acts on Skype she wasn't comfortable with. "I told him that I was very nervous and I didn't want to," Zoe said to me. "He was like, 'Oh it'll be so hot. You'll like it once you start doing it and I'll really like it.' I made it very clear [that I didn't want to] because in the past I've had pretty awful things similar to that happen to me, and I had expressed that with him and why I wasn't comfortable. But he still insisted."
"He pretty much peer pressured me into masturbating in front of him on camera, on Skype," she added. "I cried after. I was a huge mess, I didn't like it. I was upset. And he kept begging me to do it."
When Zoe informed other players in the free company what had happened, a meeting was held and it was decided Oldbear would be forcibly removed from the membership. That's when the same acquaintance from Kate's story told Zoe she needed to speak with Oldbear because he was emotionally unstable because of what transpired and Zoe gave in. "Even after everything he had done to me, I still cared for him," Zoe explained.
To repair their damaged relationship, Oldbear insisted that he and Zoe meet in real life and spend a week together. The plan was that he would come to the state where Zoe lived with her parents. But then, at the last minute, he insisted on a change of plans. "I made it very clear that I was more comfortable with him coming to [me]," Zoe said. Oldbear made several excuses and insisted he pick Zoe up and drive the eight hours to his place where she would stay. Twenty-four hours later, Zoe left without telling her family. Almost immediately upon meeting in person, Oldbear began talking about "sexual things," which caught Zoe "off guard."
"He moved very fast," Zoe said, who is 15 years younger than Oldbear. "I was a little unsure the first times that we [had sex] because we literally met just that day. It was like, this is… okay, this is happening. I don't know, it's just hard to explain. At first I was very nervous about it and didn't know if this was what I wanted and as we kept dating it just became normal at that point. I don't know... He did not force me to have sex with him, but I was very… unsure about it, I guess."
Zoe' story is complicated. Though she was only supposed to stay for a week, she ended up staying with Oldbear for two months because he didn't have the money to get her home despite agreeing in advance that he would take her back within a week. She describes that time of her life as feeling like she was living in a "jail cell." Zoe said that Oldbear didn't have a job and was living off of money provided to him by the same woman who persuaded her to stay with him. After she broke down crying about wanting to go home, Zoe said Oldbear had his mother send him money so he could rent a car and drive her most of the way home.
After Kate kicked Oldbear from that first free company in 2015, he became involved in another massively successful free company. A year after that he founded one of FF14's biggest fansites, The Moogle Post. At this point, he was becoming one of the more established and well-known names in the FF14 community—especially on the server where all of these stories took place. Oldbear was highly regarded in the community for his work on building The Moogle Post.
It was during these years that Oldbear encountered the other Anonymous Janes who have since spoken up against him, and where his pattern of "love-bombing" and then manipulating them became clearer—even if the abuse wasn't always explicitly sexual. During these interviews, the victims detailed at length the culture that Oldbear created in his new free company and at The Moogle Post. He would constantly approach women, and, using his seniority, pull them into private chatrooms to talk.
Anonymous Jane #4, Mandy, bought special dampeners to reduce the clicking sound her mechanical keyboard made after being publicly berated multiple times because it could be heard over her mic. If she didn't, Oldbear threatened to cut off contact with her—a scary prospect for a budding artist. "When I got asked to work for The Moogle Post, it was like a dream come true that I could get to work on this magazine that I was a huge fan of," she said. "And so when people are like, ‘Why don't you just leave?’ It's hard to walk away from something that you love so much and gotten so close to."
Mandy also felt she had a deep connection to Oldbear that he exploited, like guilting her into reading to him erotic fanfiction he had written about their characters, she told me. When Mandy wanted personal time, Oldbear bombarded her for three days with verbal abuse over how she was hurting him by ignoring him. When she tried to enforce her boundaries, he threatened her job at The Moogle Post, issuing an ultimatum that she leave the server quietly and not tell anyone what had happened between them. To save her job and the work that she loved, Mandy complied.
Anonymous Jane #9, Lucy, didn't have a romantic relationship with Oldbear, but that wasn't for lack of his trying. "He would tell me that he really liked dominant women and he'd try to figure out what I was into. He'd always turn the conversation into something sexual," Lucy said. She was recruited as an artist for The Moogle Post by Oldbear and put up with months of unwanted sexual behavior. She said she was was afraid to speak out because of what he might do to her reputation within the community. "I was scared that he would drag my name through the mud because people hold him in high regard as the person who is running The Moogle Post. He has peoples' ear and if you step out of line he'll trash your name to all of them."
Amparro, an editor for The Moogle Post who resigned earlier this year, was aware of Oldbear's steadily growing and troubling reputation with women in FF14, but told me Oldbear convinced her it was merely bitter exes looking to smear him. Again, she fell victim to the same pattern: Shower with affection, gain trust, attempt sexual advances, manipulate. It was to Amparro that Oldbear first confessed his "game" of making women like him as an attempt to ease her anger when she found out, to her dismay at that time, his sexual advances weren't exclusive to her.
"This shit that I do, it's a game," he wrote to Amparro in Discord (pictured above). "It's a self-destructive one, but still a game. I flirt with girls and want to see if I can get them to like me. Because it's fun, distracts me, and if I succeed I get a nice ego boost."
If Amparro tried to distance herself from him, Oldbear would play the victim to get her to come back. Similar to his behavior with other women, he would prey upon her empathy by insinuating he was mentally unstable and would "fall apart" if they stopped speaking with him.
Earlier this year, Amparro resigned and shut Oldbear out of her life entirely because she felt his emotional manipulation had exacerbated her clinically-diagnosed depression. She told me she had recently lost her job and was spending eight hours a day with Oldbear, often working on The Moogle Post. But while Amparro was responsible for much of its operation, Oldbear was up to his old tricks making sexual advances toward subordinates. Some of those women would come to her for help, but when she confronted Oldbear he would turn the blame onto her. "He would say that I'm trying to make his life harder and I'm jealous," she explained. "It was so hurtful the whole time, but at the same time I didn't want to lose my best friend."
It was around this time that Amparro started taking the rumors around Oldbear more seriously, having spoken with some of his victims. Eventually, Amparro was messaged by Kate looking to hear more testimonies from women Oldbear had abused. "I loved Oldbear, I really did," Amparro told me. "He was my best friend. But this is sick. It's not normal. He's using this big fan project as a trap."
Breaking the silence
During this investigation, I reached out to The Moogle Post. Almost immediately after the Anonymous Janes' testimonies started spreading on Instagram and Twitter, Oldbear temporarily resigned as editor-in-chief and deleted all of his social media accounts. However, he has since reopened his social media accounts and is reversing his position, now saying that his role at The Moogle Post is "uncertain at this point in time."
My private message to The Moogle Post was responded to by a contributor who resigned earlier this year but still had access to its social media accounts. She told me that she left because of Oldbear's constant harassment of other women, though she had experienced none from him directly.
Almost immediately after Oldbear initially resigned, the new editor-in-chief, Vederah, issued a statement that said The Moogle Post does not condone "the alleged behaviors and wishes to make clear the separation between Oldbear and [the] magazine." (Update: that initial statement has since been deleted, here's a copy.)
I spoke with a current editor of The Moogle Post, Kashi. She told me she knew Oldbear was a bit of a flirt but was shocked to see the volume of accusations against him. "I think a lot of these accusations are heavily portrayed in a more severe way than it actually is," she said. "At least, he never came across that way for me." When asked if Oldbear ever made unwanted sexual advances toward her, Kashi said no. She isn't alone in being skeptical about the accusations leveled at her former boss, either. The larger FF14 community was quick to support the Anonymous Janes, but there is a small number who are taking to Twitter and elsewhere to defend Oldbear.
Update: Kashi has since reached out to clarify her initial remarks. After speaking to affected women outside of the Anonymous Janes, she said "I have a different view of things now, and I certainly do not support Oldbear."
I spoke briefly via text chat with Oldbear, who said he was "torn" about speaking with me.
"I'd very much like to make it clear that I never abused anyone, but at the same time the people involved were my friends and people I cared deeply about, and I have no interest in being seen as trying to attack or discredit them," he wrote.
When presented with chat logs that provided evidence to the contrary, Oldbear said he could "easily" refute them but there was no point because "the damage is done."
Half an hour after our conversation ended, he sent me this statement:
"I would like to apologize to every single person involved in this situation. To any woman that has ever felt wronged by me, to every [The Moogle Post] staff member who's ever given their time and energy to that great project, and to all the thousands of [The Moogle Post] fans who've supported me and the project along the way. They all deserved better. Even though I vehemently deny 'abusing' anyone, I've obviously made some mistakes, and I'm deeply and sincerely sorry for letting everyone down."
Before publishing this report, I became aware that Oldbear had reopened his social media accounts. When I inquired, he said he "never had any intention of disappearing from the FFXIV community because of false accusations made anonymously on Twitter."
I am told by an anonymous source that Oldbear intends to keep working on The Moogle Post, though it is not clear in what capacity. I am also told that those few contributors that have stayed are planning on leaving due to the fallout from the scandal.
Though Kate and Brenda tell me that they were careful to send Oldbear photos that couldn't be used to identify either of them, Kate said she has received word of other women who weren't as cautious. Kate received an anonymous tip earlier this week that Oldbear or someone close to him with access to these sensitive materials is planning on making them public. This isn't the first time that a prominent person in a videogame threatened to release sensitive pictures. "They're terrified," Esther, Anonymous Jane #3, told me when we spoke. "They won't even talk to anybody. They have to sit by themselves and deal with this and try to get over it alone because they don't know who they can trust. It's heartbreaking."
During the course of this investigation, more women have joined the Anonymous Janes to tell their stories. I am told more victims are supplying testimonies to the Anonymous Janes website, bringing the total to 15. I have been unable to verify their identities yet. Kate also showed me three screenshots of emails from women reaching out in support and to share their own experiences with Oldbear but who wished to remain anonymous and not testify. But with this many accounts and more coming, it is hard to deny the grim picture which is emerging: An influential figure in a large videogame community appears to have habitually used his power to take advantage of and manipulate women who trusted him over a matter of years.
Oldbear's reputation in Final Fantasy 14 is ruined as far as his username goes, but there's nothing to stop him from starting a new character on a different server and repeating the same alleged behavior. For the Anonymous Janes, they tell me it's simply their mission to raise awareness that this kind of abuse, traditionally thought to exist in workplaces and at home, can also happen in online communities. That the social structure of guilds, fan projects, and online relationships can be just as easily manipulated in the same ways. "Our intent is to inform other women in the future who might possibly meet him," Esther said. "He is a predator and this needs to stop."