By Jason Ehrlick
Micro-essay #3 (Week 11)
The article Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation in video game culture By Sarah Coleman and Nick Dyer-Witheford examines the intellectual property of video games and the use of them as commons and commodities. The article highlights different ways that games are shared as goods, such as hacking, piracy, mods and massively multiplayer online gaming. Commons are shared property for use of which no one can own, whereas commodities are materials which are sold for profit. Intellectual property rights and authorship have become contested issues within game culture: game companies relentlessly push for more control over rights of their products while consumers look for ways to manipulate games, whether by modifications, or simply making them more accessible to others. The line between games as commodities and commons has become controversial, so much so that certain game companies are restricting use of their games to be altered or changed, and consumers are being oppressed for certain actions confined by copyright laws, this becomes a cultural issue.
Culture is a part of the commons where ideas are shared and no one owns anything, things are for cultural use, when capital interest and economics become involved then there is complication. Hacking became the starting point for which the commons has been oppressed by industry giants. Hacking allowed for people to create games and distribute them illegally, which is known as piracy. Though piracy of video games is illegal according to law, it has become more common for people to access them without purchase. Coleman and Dyer-Witheford discuss the topic of piracy and the benefits and problems associated with it, “BnetD, reverse engineered Battlenet software… Blizzard sued… BnetD creaters say they aimed only to evade notorious Battlenet problems of crashes… Courts ruled in favor of Blizzard in a decision widely seen as pivotal to regulation…” (Coleman, Dyer-Witheford, 940). Programmers had looked to improve on Blizzard’s online platform, however, these programmers were met with harsh punishment when they only wanted to make the game better for others to play. Modding can be viewed as a tool through which gamers can create something new out of a game, whether it is minor changes to a game or a whole new game altogether, however, in the context of IP and authorship this becomes a problem as well. Coleman and Dyer-Witheford note, “Publishers welcome the attention of successful mod garners, but are concerned if it impinges on profits from sequels, missions and add-ons” (941). The idea of modding then becomes an issue related to competition, companies are worried that mods will harm the value of their product by offering gamers an alternative source of their own game.
The relationship between games as commons and commodities is a blurred one. As games become more accessible for cultural use, companies use their superior resources to restrict those from using games in other ways that are not just playing them. The nature of the situation stems from the idea of competition, companies want a monopoly on games while individuals are looking to share ideas and expand on games created by others. When playing the games Flappy Doge and Windy Ping, it became clear that these games are just modifications of the previous game Flappy Bird. Overall, the more companies acquire intellectual property, the more they oppress users with copyright infringement laws. In the process, these companies are taking away from the commons, eventually ideas become owned rather than shared.
Coleman, Sarah and Nick Dyer-Witheford. “Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation
in videogame culture.” Media Culture & Society 26.6 (2007): 934-953.