IP And Authorship: Sharing Ideas

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.

Works Cited

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.

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Virtual Capitalism

By Jason Ehrlick

Micro-essay #2 (Week 10)

Capitalism has been a longstanding economic and political system around which western society is based. With video games, creators have used the traditions of capitalism to infiltrate the gaming world. Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s introduction to their book titled Introduction: Games In The Age Of Empire highlights how video games have become a medium for influencing a capitalist agenda, as well employing strategies for certain causes such as military recruitment, as seen in the popular military video game America’s Army. The game To Build A Better Mousetrap has the player interacting with an assembly line and a laboratory to produce products, all the while keeping the employees satisfied. As the mice work harder they become unsatisfied with their wages and begin to work inefficiently which stifles production. Both the reading and the game for the week reiterate the idea of the shortcomings of capitalism, and how finances are an incentive to progress and move up in the world where poverty is a major issue.

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter use the virtual social interactive game Second Life as an example to highlight capitalism’s presence in video games. Second Life allows for players to use real money to buy virtual money and purchase property, making it so that the player is financially dependent if they want to progress in their virtual life. Interestingly, according to Nick and Greg, Second Life appeals to a certain demographic, “the majority of Second Life’s population are in their twenties, evenly divided by gender, living in Europe, the United States, or Japan… Over 60 percent hold a college degree, most make at least $45,000 per year, and 40 percent $90,000 annually” (Dyer-Witheford, de Peuter xii). While Second Life brings players together from similar backgrounds, it shows how a game driven by the ideals of capitalism is suited for certain people who are financially stable in real life, making it so that people who are not as wealthy have fewer opportunities available to them. The military funded game America’s Army is similar to Second Life in that it promotes and influences people to develop a certain way of life, in this case it uses virtual warfare to encourage people to join the military.

  To Build A Better Mousetrap puts the player in the role of hiring employees to work in an assembly line to produce goods, and a laboratory to come up with new ideas for products. The game essentially puts you in the role of an entrepreneur where you are making important financial decisions. In many ways the game is the very opposite of a game like Second Life. The game Second Life encourages players to invest more money into the game in order to purchase property and receive exclusive access to certain customizations. To Build A Better Mousetrap shows financial inequality, the capitalist system persists but inequality and poverty become more prominent. In this case, both games have different outlooks on human satisfaction. However, both Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s analysis of Second Life and Molleindustria’s To Build A Better Mousetrap display a common theme which is the exploitation of the capitalist agenda and the poverty gap, both of which have real world implications.

Works Cited

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. xi-xxxv.

Interactive Fiction: Creativity And Accessibility

By Jason Ehrlick

Interactive Fiction has changed the way we think about games, and it has changed the landscape of gaming overall. In this day and age where the big games industry is operated in a capitalist nature and driven by the ideals of consumerism, our choice of games have diminished greatly. With gamer choice becoming sparse and creativity being limited in how games are created, interactive fiction has emerged to give gamers an alternative form of interaction. Interactive fiction can be considered a form of gaming because it encourages player choice and some personal freedom within a confined environment. Most of all, interactive fiction has expanded to appeal to all types of gamers, whether casual or hardcore, and it also appeals to non-gamers given how accessible it has become. One of the most positive aspects that can be drawn from interactive fiction is that it has given people incentive to create their own works of interactive fiction simply by using a variety of free programs available on the internet. The world of interactive fiction is at your finger tips, you can choose to be the player or the creator.

Porpentine’s article Creation Under Capitalism and The Twine Revolution demonstrates how interactive fiction is still very relevant to our world, and how it presents gamers with an alternative to creating and playing games. When talking about creativity and capitalism Porpentine writes, “the system they desire is one where a select few create for the many, instead of the many creating for each other”. Game creation has been argued as requiring a deep knowledge of programming and years of skill, something that only a few privileged people have access to with years of experience. However, this idea has changed because of software like Twine, a program which allows anyone to make a piece of interactive fiction with a few minutes of learning. Twine and other user friendly software are the beginning of something positive because it allows for people to become more engaged in interacting with games, it also makes creating games more accessible to any aspiring artists. For those who have creative ideas and stories they want to tell in the form of a game, they have the opportunity to do so, and other people can inhibit the role of the player in their own creation.

While playing Howling Dogs by Porpentine, it became clear that interaction was done through clicking on the words highlighted in blue, by doing so you progress to the next stage. The story unfolds as you click on the interactive words, and player choice is abundant as there are many different actions which lead to various scenarios. Howling Dogs is not simply a game where you press words at random in order to progress, rather, it requires a sense of responsibility on the players part by carefully following the story and making decisions which change the context of the game. A game like Howling Dogs proves that games are becoming more accessible, easy to distribute, and easier to make which will have a positive impact on gaming and creativity as a whole.

Works Cited

Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism and The Twine Revolution.” Nightmare Mode. 25 November 2012. http://nightmaremode.thegamerstrust.com/2012/11/25/creation-under-capitalism/