A stunt to give away gasoline in London to promote EA’s new Mercenaries 2 has, predictably, been roundly criticized by authorities and local residents.

The giveaway was put on by Electronic Arts in support of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, a near-future shooter in which the player takes on a treacherous Venezuelan dictator who seizes the country’s oil supplies. Beginning at 6:30 a.m. local time and running for four hours, drivers who could make it to the Last Stop garage in north London were given roughly 70 bucks worth of free gas.

The utterly unsurprising result, according to the BBC, was chaos. “Whilst a lucky few might have got free petrol, hundreds of residents have faced misery,” said Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone. “Trying to recreate Venezuelan-style fuel riots on the streets of London is completely irresponsible and downright dangerous. Hundreds of residents have faced misery on their daily journeys this morning. They deserve an apology for being the victims of such an ill-thought-out media stunt.”

Security personnel had to be brought in to deal with the mess, including not just people looking for free gas but also local residents who had difficulty just getting out of their driveways. One local woman described it as “totally irresponsible,” adding, “What an extraordinary thing to do. I can’t believe they’ve been allowed to do it. This area is usually very quiet but look at it now, there’s cars queuing everywhere. It’s just creating unnecessary problems.”

Of course, people who were actually able to get free gas weren’t quite so irritated with the scheme; Prince Davis, for one, described it as a “genius idea” and said he would “definitely be buying the game.” And EA’s Louise Marchant seemed to be taking a page from the “any publicity is good publicity” book, saying only that the lineups were similar to some scenes in the game. “It’s set in Venezuela, you play a mercenary and fuel is used as a currency,” she said.

From where I sit, the only thing surprising about any of this is that anyone is surprised about this. Offering free gas on a first-come, first-served basis in a high-density urban area – what could possibly go wrong? EA is tremendously lucky this didn’t turn out far worse than it did, and while the company is probably slapping itself on the back for a job well-done, this kind of boneheaded stunt ranks right up there with throwing turkeys out of helicopters: It’s just a bad idea.

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