Game writer out of a job after libel complaint

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A game writer who criticized his beatmates' journalistic shortcomings no longer has his job. Rab Florence, formerly with top gaming site Eurogamer, resigned from his position at after it received "legal threats" and gutted much of his scathing article.

"I am utterly staggered by today's events," Florence wrote on Twitter. " … Today I was effectively put out of a job by another writer."

The imbroglio, barely a day old, began with Florence's broadside aimed at a "tragic, vulgar image": journalists who accepted gifts, participated in Twitter PR campaigns, and who pose with branded junk food for marketing set-pieces.

"I have a mental list of games journos who are the very worst of the bunch," Florence wrote. "The ones who are at every PR launch event, the ones who tweet about all the freebies they get. … I'm fascinated by these creatures because they are living one of the most strange existences – they are playing at being a thing that they don't understand. And if they don't understand it, how can they love it? And if they don't love it, why are they playing at being it?"

Among those singled out was Lauren Wainwright, to whom Eurogamer soon issued a public apology: "Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, Eurogamer has removed part of the article Lost Humanity 18. We apologise for any distress caused to Ms Wainwright by the references to her. The article otherwise remains as originally published."

The deleted passage, reproduced below, quoted Wainwright on accepting gifts:

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"

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?

Responding to a deluge of inquiries, Wainwright's Editor-in-Chief, Michael French, claimed that that no legal action was taken or suggested: "We asked Eurogamer to remove cruel content about a staff member. They obliged."

Wainwright, however, tweeted that she considered Florence's remarks "libelous comments" — a phrase that no UK-based publisher can fail to pay attention to, given Britain's plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

"This incident …shines a brighter light on the problems with journalism in the UK more broadly," wrote Forbes' Erik Kain, who pointed out that Wainwright's online biography listed her as a "Video Games Consultant" working for a game publisher about whom she writes in a journalistic capacity. "Imagine if every time Jon Stewart mercilessly mocked journalists on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC he could face a potential lawsuit – even for simply quoting them directly."

Florence, announcing his departure, asked his readers not to blame Eurogamer, as "the threat of legal action brings unbelievable pressure."

"In the UK the word "libel" is incredibly loaded, and libel suits can prove incredibly damaging to publications and individuals," wrote Ben Kuchera, editor of Penny Arcade Report, in another overview of the affair.

"Someone who works as a consultant for a company was criticized for promoting those games as press," he added on Twitter. "In response, her bosses at MCV tried to suppress the critical story, and succeeded. It's disgusting. This is literal corruption."

Rock Paper Shotgun co-editor John Walker, though, pointed out something else that's also true: by raising the specter of libel after the fight was already public, Wainwright could succeed only in placing herself under greater scrutiny:

"What will happen now is all manner of places will host the original version of the article, it will be far more widely circulated and discussed, and the reputations of those who have tried to silence criticism could be far more damaged than if they had just ignored it, let alone acknowledged they could do better."