Well, that was exciting. The entire English-speaking world of videogames journalism just about convulsed itself into a coma yesterday because someone did that rarest of things in the English-speaking world of videogames journalism – spoke openly, frankly and truthfully about something. If you've been having trouble keeping up with the dizzying pace of developments, allow us to lead you gently through the most concise and accurate timeline we can manage.
WEDNESDAY 24TH OCTOBER
- Eurogamer publishes an article by regular columnist Robert Florence, entitled "A Table Of Doritos". You can read it in its original form here. It's a critique of some questionable ethical practices in games journalism, which names three writers specifically – Geoff Keighley of Spike TV, Lauren Wainwright of UK trade weekly MCV, and Dave Cook of website VG24/7. None are attacked outright, but the strongest criticism is reserved for Keighley and Cook, with Wainwright used only to illustrate a particular point about how a perception of suspicion can arise even when groundless.
- The article, which centres around an image of Keighley and some events at this year's Games Media Awards, attracts many complaints on Twitter from some of the journalists named or implicated in it, including Cook and Wainwright. These complaints provoke an angry response from John Walker, an editor on popular PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun, who pens a piece on his personal blog, which is then widely circulated. It attracts a large number of comments, including this one from a poster claiming to be a former games journalist for a UK print publisher.
- On reading the piece, Wainwright tweets a complaint to Florence about not having been approached for a quote, and later that day she tweets "Media law module finally useful", a comment whose significance will not become clear until the following day.
THURSDAY 25TH OCTOBER
- Eurogamer removes the section of Robert Florence's article relating to Lauren Wainwright, and attaches an apology to the piece. The site explicitly states that its action is "Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright". Wainwright later comments that she considers the comments in the piece "libelous" [sic].
(Although Eurogamer claims "The article otherwise remains as originally published", in fact David Cook's name has also been removed.)
- Robert Florence announces via his Twitter account that as a result of this act of censorship he will no longer be working for Eurogamer. He absolves the site from blame in a series of tweets:
"I want to thank @tombramwell and @eurogamer for having me on board. I was saddened to hear what they've been through this past 24 hours. Yesterday was my last piece for Eurogamer. Here it is in amended form. [link]. I stand by every word of the original piece. I'm sure you understand that, with it being amended, I have to step down from doing the columns. Thanks if you ever read any of them. I'm as proud of the Eurogamer columns as I am of anything I've done in gaming. Again, thanks to @tombramwell for being one of the good guys. Also, don't blame Eurogamer for this. The threat of legal action brings unbelievable pressure. I am clear on who the bad guys are in this."
- Lauren Wainwright issues three tweets professing to be pleased with Eurogamer's actions and accepting their apology.
- At this point a storm of criticism erupts online, most of it aimed at Eurogamer and Wainwright. John Walker posts a second article on his personal blog, entitled "An Utter Disgrace" and again attacking the journalists who had defended the practices highlighted by Florence. Like the first it attracts a large number of comments, almost all supportive of his view. The piece includes the following passage (our emphasis):
"Wainwright states that she is simply a massive fan of this unreleased game, and with what I believe to be naive enthusiasm, hasn’t thought through the negative implications of making her Twitter page look like it’s sponsored. It isn’t. Even though Wainwright publicly lists Square Enix, publishers of Tomb Raider (screencap for when that inevitably gets edited out), as one of her current employers."
- At around this point, Lauren Wainwright locks her Twitter account, which is illustrated with artwork from Square Enix's new Tomb Raider game and which has come under intense scrutiny. She claims this is as a result of people sending her abuse. A search of the social-media platform does indeed reveal a large number of tweets directed at her, many of which are angry and a minority of which are crude personal insults.
(We've not yet been able to establish for certain whether locking a Twitter account actually prevents such abuse from reaching the account owner. What we DO know for sure is that it prevents other people from examining the account's previous tweets.)
- As the furore grows, Michael French – the editor in chief at Intent Media, who are the publishers of MCV, the organisers of the Games Media Awards and Wainwright's employer – issues a tweet:
- This rather ambiguous statement attracts numerous questions in response, all of which go unanswered. While it states that no legal action was taken, it doesn't say whether any was threatened. Some people note that it refers to legal action from Intent Media, whereas Eurogamer's apology refers to a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, not her employer.
(As we write this article on the morning of Friday 26th, French has as yet issued no clarification on any of the points raised in response to his tweet. His only further comment was a reply to a tweet by Colin Campbell, a former UK journalist and magazine publisher now employed by IGN in California, which accused those who were criticising Eurogamer and Wainwright of "sententious, self-righteous cant".)
- Robert Florence reacts to the claims made in French's post by 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." Eurogamer make no comment.
- By this point, Wainwright's actions have unleashed the Streisand Effect in full force. Critical articles about the situation begin to appear all across the web, the offending passage is repeated countless times on websites, blogs and forums, a Google Cached copy of the original is located and angry readers begin combing Wainwright's history for suggestions of corruption.
(Most of the articles appear on US-based sites, and many focus on the UK's libel laws, which are said to be heavily biased in favour of the plaintiff. It's an intriguing lesson in how outsiders see things – in fact, bringing a libel case in the UK is prohibitively expensive and open to almost nobody as a result. And even if Intent had had a massive brainfail and tried it with this one, they'd have been laughed out of court in five minutes flat. Eurogamer's near-instant cave-in to the complaint is extremely baffling, as Wainwright didn't have a leg to stand on.)
- This search rapidly turns up a substantial amount of seemingly incriminating evidence. Much of it is based around Wainwright's assertion (as noted by John Walker) in her entry on industry directory Journalisted, in which she lists videogame publisher Square Enix as one of her current employers.
It quickly becomes apparent that Wainwright has written a great many articles about Square Enix titles for various publications, all of them lavishing extravagant praise on the products in question, but none of them disclosing her connection to the company.
- Mark Brown of UK-based gaming site Pocket Gamer uncovers and retweets a claim posted by Wainwright on Twitter stating: "Just to clarify on Square Enix: I've done consultancy work for them. I've never reviewed the products". He attaches to the retweet a link to an image on Wainwright's own website, depicting a glowing review of Square Enix's Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
- Brown adds shortly afterwards in respect of the quote" "I did have to squish it down. I removed "In the past" and "A lot of journalists do." That would make Wainwright's full original quote "Just to clarify on Square Enix: I've done consultancy work for them in the past. A lot of journalists do. I've never reviewed the products." Interestingly, the tweet refers to "products" plural, and conflicts with Wainwright's Journalisted entry listing Square Enix as a current employer.
(The apparent implication is that Wainwright thinks it's fine for a professional journalist to review a company's products while also working for that company on other products and not disclose the fact, which is curious.)
- Wainwright, meanwhile, is busy deleting critical comments posted on her website, including on the page containing the Deus Ex review. And astonishingly, late on Thursday evening she also changes her Journalisted entry, exactly as predicted by John Walker's second blog post 12 hours before – rather than changing the reference to Square Enix from "current employer" to "previous employer", she deletes all mention of the company from her profile entirely. We can only assume that someone had told her she wasn't acting suspiciously enough yet.
FRIDAY 26TH OCTOBER
That, viewers, is the short version. We've left out all the stuff about the events at the GMAs which initially inspired Florence's column, partly because those are still covered in what's left of the Eurogamer piece. We've left out the diversionary side-issue whereby a few vile idiots posted disgusting misogynist abuse at Wainwright, enabling several games journalists to use it to attempt to deflect the legitimate criticism being aimed at her. We haven't mentioned the many misconceptions already circulating around the issue, such as the suggestion that Wainwright was involved in the GMAs tweeting incident (she wasn't).
We haven't highlighted how Intent Media has been at the forefront of debasing videogames journalism for years, along with VG24/7 and many others. We haven't even told you the story of how IGN's Colin Campbell, mentioned above and a winner of the GMA's "Games Industry Legend" award, is directly implicated in the practice of covertly selling review scores for advertising – something this writer can verify from first-hand personal knowledge.
(Indeed, we haven't gone into how just about every single player in this entire sorry saga is a GMA winner, and how the awards are widely regarded as a badge of shame, even by some of their own recipients.)
All of that can wait for another day. For now, spare a thought for the journalist forced out of his job for telling the truth, and for the one still in hers for telling lies. We're watching keenly for a statement from Lauren Wainwright and/or Intent Media explaining their actions. We're not expecting it any time soon.