Let me preface this blog by saying that I thought very carefully about whether to post this at all. I'm not clear of the legal ramifications of blogging about this, but ultimately I decided that whatever action does come of the following, it affects the gameology community (which, by reading this, you are a part of), so it make sense to bring it before you all to see what you think.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you've probably seen that we've posted some rather critical remarks on the game Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Of course, we are far from alone in our criticism and are, in my opinion, far less harsh than some other reviews I've read. We're also a pretty small fish in a very large pond. Still, we're apparently on Troy Lyndon's radar as critics of his game because they've hit us with PR-spam here and here. On Monday, they escalated their response by sending me a nastygram threatening me with legal action unless I remove "false and misleading" comments from this website. The full text of their letter appears below.
September 25, 2007
RE: False information posted on your site about the computer game LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces
To whom this may concern:
I represent Left Behind Games Inc., the developer and publisher of the LEFT BEHIND series of video games. Your organization hosts a website that has information posted about this game. Unfortunately, there are many statements on your website which appear to be false and misleading. This type of misinformation may cause significant and irreparable harm to Left Behind Games Inc. and must be removed.
Left Behind Games Inc. generally supports free speech in the media and understands how important it is to have various opinions presented for public consumption. It will not, however, tolerate the publication of information regarding its products that is false or misleading.
Left Behind Games Inc. is demanding that you immediately remove any and all information contained on your site about the above stated game that is false and/or misleading, including any such statements or commentary and the responses thereto. This includes posted comments made by others in the context of reading the incorrect or misleading statements.
If you do not comply immediately, the company will be forced to pursue additional legal action which will include claims for damages, costs of suit and attorney’s fees. This may subject you and your organization to significant legal and financial damages. If you need to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact my Administrator on this matter, Robilyn Lyndon at [snipped].
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
Gordon D. Katz, Esq.
Now, this is obviously a form letter, and since Mr. Katz doesn't refer to any specific comments or articles, this is probably just a fishing expedition. I've been keeping an eye out for other websites who may have received identical, and as I suspected, there now appear to be quite a few. There's already a diary up at Dailykos with a thorough overview and some responses, including a rather outraged one from Tim Simpson, an outspoken public critic of the game.
Incidentally, though, I earlier used a plural first-person because this does potentially affect any of us who posted here, really most of the comments that I imagine they object to have been posted by me. So if there's a question of whether or not a site operator (me) is responsible for content created by users (everyone else), I'm both user and operator here, so that distinction probably doesn't matter for this case.
This is an issue that, for me at least, is more complex than it may first appear. On the one hand, I do feel that I would be vindicated legally if this were taken to court, because I've looked over my comments and I'm sure that nothing I say passes the legal tests for defamation. However, that's not necessarily the point. The goal of this letter is apparently to intimidate me, a poor grad student, with the fear of a costly and time-consuming trial. That is, regardless of its outcome, a trial like this would be a serious enough emotional and monetary strain that they hope I realize that the risk is not worth the benefit and I'd be better off. They're not going to be able to get much money out of me, so their goal must be to just scare me into removing and/or recanting my comments. On free-speech grounds, then, I feel obligated to stand by my comments and not be intimidated by a frivolous threat intended to chill legitimate criticism.
However, there's also a moral issue. It would indeed be wrong of me to make misleading statements, and if I have unintentionally done so, I would correct the mistake. Ultimately, though I disagree with their game, and do still find its representations of women and minorities troubling, I harbor no ill will toward Troy Lyndon, at least not with regard to the game itself. Left Behind Games has a right to create games promoting their beliefs, and while I wish they had made a better game, I'm not going to try and harm them by making false statements, certainly not statements that I know to be false or made with the intent to deceive anyone. I think the phrase they may go after (and possibly have a case against) is the "convert or die" reference that fueled much of the original controversy about the game. They've explicitly called that idea false in their response, so they may be able to prove it by showing the content of their game. I don't recall stating that myself, and I couldn't find it in any of my blog entries. But, moreover, from what I played in the demo I can agree that, at least in those first levels, there really isn't much violence at all, and I as player was never in a position to kill non-believers. I was, however, gunned downed by the bad guys, which one could argue is still potentially offensive given the context. Anyway, the game does contain violence, but we're not talking GTA. My point here is just that if someone showed me an unintentionally false statement I had made about the game, and I agreed that it was false, I would apologize and remove it. Whether illegal or not, it would be immoral of me to deceive others with the intent of causing harm.
So this is where I turn to you. As I said earlier, I hesitated to post this at all (one reason being that I wasn't sure if publicizing the nastygram could expose me to more litigation if this ever did go to trial -- I don't think it does; it's definitely out there now), but I'd really like to hear your take on this, either legal or moral. If you've played the game or the demo, do you think that any statements or comments on gameology.org about Left Behind: Eternal Forces are misleading or false? Is there anything that could be construed as misleading or false? If so, should I delete it?
For reference, here are (I think) all of our blog entries or reviews discussing or mentioning the game:
Left Behind: Eternal Forces -- First Impressions, Finally
Local News Coverage of Left Behind: Eternal Forces
"Kill the Non-Believers": The Christian Edition
Tribulation Knights, Another Christian Game on the Radar
Left Behind Game Back in the News