Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whose Game is this Anyway?

Article summary- Marlon H.

This article starts out by noting the creative power offered by several games, including City of Heroes (Coh), which behaves much like a “high-tech deck of crayons,” serving the gamer in their ability to create (even in cases of copyright infringement) super heroes. This, again, reminds us of the upcoming game Spore, in the two games abilities to create worlds, obscene creations (if intended, such as Boobalicous, a Spore character created by someone that caused controversy for her robust, naked mid region). With the use of these “Creation Engine’s” as the starting point of his article, T.I. Taylor makes it perfectly clear that from creating “tax protests in Second Life, to offering out underage prostitutes in the Sims, anything is possible in the world of games such as these.

Taylor continues by explaining that the original form of these games came in the package of text-based MUDs. “But the current terrain of multiuser game space looks quite different…the move to commercialized virtual environments is presenting some unique challenges for users negotiating between their private lives and corporate interests” (126). The boundaries once erected between consumers and producers have been seriously warped.

Taylor’s thesis: “The struggles, discussions, and debates taking place in game communities about the status of player and company ownership, as well as questions of responsibility and accountability” goes to the heart of our everyday interactions with technology and culture, within our “citizenship in commercial society.” In short, the precedents being set now for the “networked future” of media have been arbitrated through “commercialized systems of authorship and exchange,” wherein there is quite a deal of interplay between the creators, consumers, and regulators, etc., of games.

The many spheres of communication orbiting around any video game—e.g. fan forums, etc.—represent the “collective production of game experience.” That is to say, if these newer forms of media did not exist, the game would not be recognized as the same, as they have been incorporated on the fringes of the game space, and once clean, now tangled boundaries separating the game from the rest have become faded and smudged. Consumers, essentially, serve as a wall of the echo chamber for game creators, “beta-testing” games for creators.

Other than the game creators there exist a plethora of co-constructions that play a hand in deciding the formulation of the space surrounding the game. Taylor mentions designers, managers, legal counselors, marketers, and everyday players, creating a perpetual tug-of-war over the game.

Culture matters- today’s ‘culture’ sees a great extension in authorship rights, explains Taylor, wherein well-branded and well-protected brands pervade into cultural spaces, begging the question of how much creative control the average consumer has. Consumerism, he argues, is colliding with citizenship. This leads the article down the avenue of exploring the consequences of commercializing virtual community spaces (e.g. Sunny-D and the digital Hills?).

.With so many corporations being considered legal ‘citizens’ in the court of law, Taylor argues that copyright laws, which are meant to die off after said author kick’s the boot, can today be as immortal as any number of undying corporations. And what about the creators of the pieces within the larger work owned by the corporation? Well, they have no rights to it either. It’s the corporation that owned them when the piece was created and therefore the corporations it remains.

Indeed, Taylor points out, it is hard to imagine a world without brands. This same war has extended to the digital world today on a worse level, as people are unable to alter characters legitimately (back to the Marvel heroes example). This is where we really get into the meat of the article, as Taylor questions when or whether it ever should become ok for a piece of intellectual property to become public domain.
This leads the discussion down a familiar avenue dealing with file-sharing networks such as Napster. “Game worlds,” explains Taylor, “do not lie outside of our ongoing cultural battles, anxieties, or innovations but very often mirror them quite well” (p. 129). This leads us to question, again, whether players are in fact co-authors of the game spaces that they help change over time. Should people be allowed to sell high scoring game accounts that they put labor into creating? This bothers game creators that charge a monthly subscription for playing the game, as any financial shortcut under the table for a player means cash out of the pocket for the game creators. The larger question on Taylor’s mind, however, is about the “nature of the game and the status of the artifacts in it” (p. 130). Within this view, this phenomenon represents something potentially damaging to the game. This type of problem could be especially damaging for games that rely on reputation, etc. This could be especially damaging to Massive Multiplayer Games, wherein it could undermine the entire game, status, structure.

Clearly, with the ban on auctioning characters and powers, many people feel cheated, as the labor they invested in the game should be worth something. The corporate realm, however, controls the sword and usually wins out in battles over intellectual property. When an entire account can be whipped out at corporate headquarters, players are reminded squarely about where the power lies. Relying heavily on his example of EverQuest (EQ), Taylor continues his discussion with the idea of ‘unruly play,’ and of whether or not people can actually ruin game play by playing the game wrong. Indeed, with game makers so wrapped up in the worlds they create, its no doubt that newer gamers might sometimes play the game in a different way, a style that formed free of the bias accrued by the creators during game creation.

When EQ players found a way to open more than one application while playing the game—such as an mp3 or another game screen—this allowed players to play the game in a way the company had deemed ban-able. This would give someone a chance to undo mistakes, to look up directions online, etc. that was unfair to the other players who knew not these secrets. The author is not interested in the rightness or wrongness of this debate, but is rather interested in the discussions this raises about ‘fair play.’

Taylor then folds this debate back into earlier considerations taken into account by the article, such as EQ’s right (or lack-there-of) to pull the account of a player that chronicled a violent rape and revenge murder scene that took place within the game space. Should not this person have the right to freedom of speech, to print a fiction about the game? According to EQ, they did not. The biggest question coming out of all of this is, of course, whether or not the corporations have such rights to do such things to consumer authors?

Eventually EQ apologized to the author, perhaps pointing this debate conclusion in the direction of the consumer. With EQ itself being deeply rooted in fantasy lore that came into being before the game, people are forced to extend the same debate about ownership into the past, along with projecting it to the future. Are EQ creators hypocrites for creating such a double-standard?

Remapping Ownership- With new ideas of market relations emerging in the face of this dilemma, one is reminded of Sharendipity, at least for this class, as Taylor discusses the ability of game users on many forums in contemporary games, being equipped in such a manor, as to being critical to game space development. However, “despite some interesting moves within development communities to reckon their players as agents within the construction of the product… the power of corporate authorship claims” continue to trump the rest (p.146). In response to this and concerns expounded by female gamers about stereotypes surrounding the appearance of girl Avatars, Taylor argues that we must reassess our vision of the digital world, of co-ownership, and of user experience and independence.

The idea of creating a “Guild Summit”—a congress of sorts in which top players represent the world of gamers in negotiations with management—plays into the conclusion of the article as an interesting segue into future possibilities. This issue is far too complex for game designers to tackle alone, and thus, there must be an interplay and exchange through all of the areas surrounding a game space. There must, more than anything, be movements towards employing more progressive depictions of intellectual property, and of the possibly elastic nature of those rights.


Jasun said...

This article, to a large part, illustrates the issues surrounding legislation and technology. As we have seen throughout the course, the "hackers" who drive much of the technology are constantly pushing the boundaries while the lawyers and legislators are often forced into a reactionary stance. This leads to either a constant game of catch-up or the pre-emptive, almost always excessive, enactment of preventive measures.

Also, it illustrates the importance of those lovely little EULA's we all skim past without reading.

Adrian said...

To me, I very much struggle with the concepts of ownership of property that seem collaboratively created by the game designers and the players. What IS the value of an account? WHAT is the value of digital objects? Who owns them?

I want to believe, intuitively, that the player gets to have ownership of these objects, but in reading this article, I begin to have questions on this topic. Is it that the law is behind reality, or that reality is just running contrary to legal precedent?

Nick S said...

I actually tried to sell my WoW account on Ebay over a year ago, but ebay took my auction down because it was illegal to sell something I didn't own. It was only then that I figured out that Blizzard owned my character. I know people tried to get around it by saying that they were selling the time they spend playing the game, but Im not sure what happened with that. I just went to a different site and tried to sell it.

Eric M said...

Being interested in going to law school, the legal ramifications mentioned in this article were really no surprise to me, but what scares me is how all-encompassing the acceptable use policies and user agreements are becoming. The companies pretty much think they can create whatever rules they want and claim ownership to whatever they want as long as they mention it in their policies the user has to agree to. I think this is a really bad precedent that is on the verge of becoming out of hand. What I don't get is why those in the legal profession don't go after some of these company's policies because some of the stuff that are being put in them is not legal and there is no precedent for it.

Marlon Heimerl said...

I really liked the issues explored in this article in terms of ownership and authorship. Should we all owe royalties to Gutenbergs family when we use the printing press, or an off-shoot of it, to print a book, even though we changed the content from that of any other writer? No, most certainly not, and I would argue the same logic applies to video games. Yes, though video gamers are playing on a platform created by somebody other than them, it is my opinion that anything the player creates within the game should be theirs for selling, etc. because it is their creative vision, albeit, a vision that is limited and framed by the game makers, in terms of the graphics offered. Even though the gamers are framed by the game makers it is after all their time and labor invested in creating characters. As it is so, I would argue that the game makers should let the gamers make their marketplaces for these ideas and products.

Sarah. R. said...

I think this article is one terrific example of where the future of gaming is headed. Because players are now the content creators of games. The games would be nothing - LITERALLY - without them. How will this get hashed out?

Anonymous said...

Being an avid player of Halo, it is interesting to see how the first 2 installments lacked any sort of creative ability. However, in the third installment, the creators allowed players to set up maps and create games they wanted. For instance, a player could control where guns were placed on a level and other such things (i.e. explosive boxes). Now that people are taking charge of placing their creativity on games it will be something that definitley will get noticed in the future.