Weekly Digest: Hivemind Gaming and Copyright

Well Internet, it has been a busy last couple of weeks for the both of us. While I was away at the Berlinale (finding out that almost everyone working in the film industry is utterly bewildered at the problem of working out proper online distribution models), it looks like you were having quite a jam yourself what with the bitcoin crash, the CJEU decision on hyper-linking and the Netflix/Comcast  deal to name a few. YASS GIRL, Rave against the dying of the light.

Now, I’m not sure about you but I’m feeling a little over-saturated with commentary and analysis on the bitcoin/Netflix/Svensson buffet we’ve been having, so for this week I’m keeping it light and sharing two articles about gaming and the hivemind I think are interesting:

1) The first article is about the (frankly amazing) simultaneous mass-playing of a single Pokemon Red game online. The article will explain all but trust me, you absolutely have to watch the live footage of 50k people trying to play the same Pokémon game simultaneously. Its art, its poetry, its every hangover you’ve ever had. BLESS.

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/twitch-plays-pokemon#spin-off

Also, like anything cool, this raises a boatload of issues we’ll be dissecting for a while (especially in game theory and political philosophy) however from an copyright perspective there are a couple of things that have got me thinking:

Firstly, could this possibly be a new form of ‘transformative use’ with regard to fair use/fair dealing? The kid who re-coded this spent hours modifying this program so that it could handle the amount of instructions plugged in PLUS the communitarian aspect of game play seems a significant ontological step away from single player game play. I mean, it really creates a whole different aspect of narrative and interactivity. Is this enough to bring it within Fair Use’s protection? Of course, weighing against it is the fact that it does use the entirety of Pokemon Red as is (characters, pokemon and all).

Regardless of the legal question though, it is also a great case study from a business perspective of the benefit in big companies like Nintendo not threatening a takedown every time someone uses their IP as this type of user activity (while arguably infringement) clearly strengthens the value of the franchise by expanding and deepening the fan base. Hopefully as time goes by, this kind of non-enforcement will become common-place.

Secondly and this hasn’t fully formed in my mind yet, I think this raises really interesting questions regarding Hivemind collaboration and the creation of narrative/artwork, fair use and licensing. What exactly, I’m not sure but I know something strikes me as potentially innovative here. If you have any ideas or insights please share them with me and we can get the discussion going. Hopefully the dust will settle on this and something will come to me. Will keep you updated.

2. A very cool article by the guy who invented ‘Magic The gathering’ card game, arguably the geekiest of geeky past times ever created.
http://m.vice.com/read/an-interview-with-richard-garfield-creator-of-magic-the-gathering
Once again, while anyone can enjoy the article, for those with a knowledge of the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law, its particularly interesting to think where the line could be drawn in protecting game mechanics of non-computer games especially when part of a game’s design or attraction might rely on user innovation. To those unfamiliar with the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law (i.e. almost everyone), this deals with the slightly more abstract problem of where do we draw the line in protecting an author’s creative expression as opposed to the underlying idea which is public domain and should remain unprotected. If you have time, head on over to Wikipedia, this area of copyright law is by far the most interesting and weird and totally worth reading up on.

What I’m struck by once again having read these articles is just how incredibly fertile ground Gaming actually is, both as an art form and as a business venture yet we have only recently started seeing it move into the mainstream. The computer game industry is more profitable than the music and book publishing industry COMBINED at the moment and apart from the money, there is something deeply challenging and disruptive about the interactive aspect of creating narrative for these games. Its a fascinating area and I’m looking forward to the developments afoot here. At the very least, it should keep you occupied while I work on my next post about curation and aggregation.
Stay tuned. Stay Lush.