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Shameful

October 25, 2012 Written by Sebastian Moss

Over the past week or so, I’ve been trying to make an argument that there are some good videogame publications out there that do try to improve the sector. This is not an article about them.

This is an article about how an alleged threat of legal action over copying a tweet led to Rab Florence leaving Eurogamer. This is an article about how one company tried to suppress free speech because they didn’t like what was said.

It began with this piece by Florence, which discusses the uncomfortably close ties some of the media have with publishers and PR companies. It’s a valid point, and any good games journalist should ensure that the only ties they have are to simply get review copies or interviews and that nothing should be given in return. Rab highlighted a few people he thought had crossed over into uncomfortable territory by tweeting an advert for Tomb Raider to win a PS3. Specifically, one of these writers was Lauren Wainwright, who works for MCV as well as doing freelance posts. If you read the article yesterday, you would have seen:

One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: “Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?”

Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: “Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ”

And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?

If you read the article now (still a great post), you’ll see:

Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, Eurogamer has removed part of this article (but without admission of any liability). Eurogamer apologises for any distress caused to Ms Wainwright by the references to her. The article otherwise remains as originally published. [PSLS: Actually, several other comments were also removed]

Here the picture becomes less clear as no one can agree on whether Intent (MCV’s owner) threatened legal action, or just asked for the content to be amended. Florence is adamant that legal threats were involved, tweeting:

And as for these suggestions that there were no legal threats – I won’t be made to look a liar. I was told what I was told.

While MCV’s Michael French and Ben Partiff added respectively:

Some clarity: There was no legal action taken from Intent. We asked Eurogamer to remove cruel content about a staff member. They obliged.

Intent at no stage threatened legal action

We can’t say who is correct, but the fact that any action was taken to try and censor what was written is utterly ridiculous. What was said wasn’t particularly libelous, it was a copy and paste of a tweet and then Florence’s thoughts on whether this constituted a breach of ethics (for example, the NUJ forbid advertising by journalists). Perhaps it could have been written in a kinder way, but he still doesn’t make any actual claims that she is a Tomb Raider advertiser in disguise. In fact, he says “I’m sure she isn’t”.

But now it turns out that there’s even another layer to the story that makes it all the more sinister. Florence was simply using Lauren as an example as she seemed to be over-enthusiastic about the Square Enix-published TR. What he didn’t know/mention at the time was the Wainwright has worked for Square Enix. As discovered by Twitterers and covered in an excellent Penny Arcade article, she works (or worked, it is unclear) for Square Enix, something she has now removed from Journalisted:

If she still works at Square Enix, that is truly horrifying. If she previously worked for them, it’s something that should be very publicly disclosed, not tucked away on a CV site. It is ethical journalistic practice to put next to articles you may have conflicting interests about ‘Full Disclosure:’. For example, if I was to do a list of my favorite websites I’d have to fully disclose any I had written for, or were under the same corporate umbrella.

If you read this post on MCV by Wainwright about the “upcoming saction adventure game Tomb Raider” you’ll notice there is no disclosure. There isn’t any on this review about Square Enix’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution either. Or this one. I could go on, the list is rather long.

Just because she was paid by SE for some unspecified ‘consulting’ does not mean she’s a shill and not just a huge TR fan. She could be, it looks like it’s set to be a great game. But it is her, and her publication’s, responsibility to ensure that it is disclosed publicly and fully. Instead, she didn’t, MCV didn’t, Intent didn’t. They asked Eurogamer to remove a perfectly reasonable post – which, as a side note, was clearly a mindbogglingly stupid move due to the massively increased coverage this caused. Games critics should also be able to accept criticism, after all their job is to criticize the work of hundreds of people. A reasonable response would be to write an article discussing a contrasting viewpoint, rather than to suppress free speech when free speech is the backbone of journalism.

In light of the original article’s edit, Rab Florence resigned, an incredible example of integrity that helps show that not all games journalists are as bad as this event has now caused most people to view us. It’s also important to point out that he doesn’t blame Eurogamer for editing it – libel suits can be incredibly costly, even when they’re wrong.

Today’s events have been shameful, but they also helped show the advantage of the internet as a method of holding people to account. What happened wasn’t just buried under the rug, consigned to a small ‘Retractions’ section in a print paper, it happened in view of everyone and helped expose serious flaws in the way some outlets run their publications. Increased accountability, increased ‘citizen journalism’ by people on the internet is vital to ensuring history does not repeat itself.

Full disclosure: I have not worked for any games publishers, Eurogamer, MCV, Penny Arcade or their affiliate sites. PSLS has no corporate affiliation with Eurogamer, MCV or Penny Arcade. I do not personally know Rab Florence, Lauren Wainwright, Michael French or Ben Partiff and none of them have written for PSLS. These statements are correct at time of writing.