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Playing the game vs playing WITH the game


Along with a large percentage of the geek world, my last few gaming months have been taken up primarily by Skyrim, the latest in the venerable Elder Scrolls series. I was personally late to elder scrolls party, starting with Oblivion despite a friends many admonitions to play Morrowind. My first character in Oblivion, when it was all said and done, had clocked over 260 hours (and that was before the Shivering Isles expansion pack).

While I had played roll playing games before, Oblivion, to me, felt like something completely new; A truly realized world that you could disappear into for hours on end in a way I never had before. By the time the expansion came out, I was already conditioned to buy anything Oblivion related (barring the horse armor of course), but before I had a chance to play it, I abruptly got bored. I had played through the entire game* with my main character, a spellsword dark elf. I had begun 3 additional play throughs as a pure-mage High Elf, a ranged Imperial thief and a heavy armor Orc tank. By this point, I was no longer playing the game but playing WITH the game. (We’ll get to what I mean in a bit.)

It would be almost a year before I feel cooled off enough to play The Shivering Isles but by that point, the next big open world from Bethesda was on the horizon and the Oblivion expansion served as a good way to stretch those RPG muscles in preparation.

Fallout 3

I never played a Fallout game before Fallout 3. I also almost didn’t play Fallout 3. The same friend who implored me to play Morrowind (who I ignored) called me up the week Fallout 3 came out:

“Are you playing Fallout yet?”
“Meh, another first person shooter? No Thanks.” (yes, I was misinformed)
“Bro, trust me. You were born in the vault, you will die in the vault. You should be playing this game.” (Thanks Brian!)

The names leveled at the game, meant to be derogatory were, to me, actually it’s greatest strength. “Oblivion with guns” was exactly what I’d been waiting for! While I certainly don’t have a problem with high fantasy, post apocalyptic wasteland is even more up my alley and I dove into Fallout 3 with great relish. But again, after putting in the requisite 200+ hours, a certain boredom set it, almost all at once.

And this was when I came up with a name for it: Fallout Fatigue.

Fallout Fatigue

There comes a moment for me whenever I play an open world game. This moment usually happens when I open the quest list, look at how much still lies before me and I think: “Holy shit, are you serious? There is no way I’m doing all that.” When this happens I usually find the main quest, make it active, complete it ASAP and call the game done. To me, this phenomenon seems to arise from the shear breadth and depth of content in a modern open world game. In most cases, you can spend 98% of your time just playing around and exploring, completely ignoring the main quest lines if you so choose. As a result, it is a very real danger that you will “master” the game before experiencing the main narrative.

It is at this point that I usually stop playing the game and begin playing WITH the game.

What is playing with the game?

Playing a game, to me, means working within what is assumed to be the “rules of the game”, in order to progress through the game. Playing WITH the game is using those rules to explore the limitations of the game world itself. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m currently playing Skyrim so I’ll present an example of what I mean using that context.

My character in Skyrim is modeled after my first Oblivion character and as such, is a Dark Elf who specializes in one-handed weapons and destruction magic. But I realized early in the game that the best way to maximize my one-handed damage was to level up my smithing and enchanting skills. Being able to put 2 enchantments on a single weapon, which I smithed and improved myself was just too exciting to pass up. When I made that decision, I was playing the game.

But the closer I got to the top levels of these skills, the more I realized that I was already more powerful than I would ever need to be to complete the game. To me, this was when I began playing with the game. Rather than allow my playing of the game to take me to the top of these skills, or even abandoning these areas to level up others, I began to accelerate my goal. How fast could I get there? Exactly how powerful a weapon could I craft? I’m only two skill levels away from 100 enchanting, what other skill can I quickly level up to open up a perk to use once I get there?

But the central question in my mind as I progressed was - have I broken the game? Is playing with the game any less valid a pursuit than simply playing the game? At first I didn’t think so. But what is a game aside from an opportunity to spend some time having fun? If your definition of fun maps directly to the designer’s preferred narrative path, so be it. But if your enjoyment comes more from poking the game world itself to see what sorts of behaviors emerge, is that any less “fun”? Now that I’ve thought about it, I foresee even more replayability in these open world games than I had before. Playing with the game is a new lens through which to view the gameplay experience for me, even though I know realize I’ve been doing it for years.

*(I say “entire” meaning I completed the main quest as well as all the guild quests and what I took to be a majority of the side quests. I’m not sure one could ever truly play the entire game).

Should Copyright be split in 2?

The following post was originally written in June, 2010. I am reposting it today to coincide with the ongoing SOPA protest.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the state of copyright in the digital world.  I took a few “law classes for non-lawyers” when I was finishing my undergraduate degree and one focused specifically on intellectual property in the digital age.  I found it completely fascinating.

Quick question, of the following 3 options, what is the PRIMARY function of copyright?  (in the united states)

  • to prevent people from profiting from the work of others
  • to guarantee creators the exclusive right to profit from their own work
  • to promote the open exchange of ideas

Here’s what the United States Constitution has to say about it:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

You may notice the distinct LACK of a mention of profit.  I bring this up because I think we as a society have lost our way with regards to the usefulness of copyright and other intellectual properties.  The term of copyrights, back in ye olden days, maxed out at around 28 years – a 14 year term with an additional 14 year optional extension.  Ever since then, it’s been continuously extended to the point we are at currently which is long enough as to be essentially meaningless for normal people (once you start measuring things in “life of the author plus”, it is essentially meaningless, in my opinion).

So what’s wrong with having such protections?  And why would someone whose work is protected by copyright (the code used in apps) be against them?  It all goes back to the stated purpose of copyright in the first place.

The goal of providing protection to authors for a LIMITED time is to give an incentive to create.  Which then brings us to the question of WHY we want people to create.  I would hope the answer to that would be self evident.  But the idea of these protections being LIMITED is an important one because it creates something that is often taken for granted – the public domain.  If you want to know why Grimm’s fairytales are constantly being remade, or how the novel Wicked ( could be written without a license from L Frank Baum, you need look no further than the public domain.  This is a magical place where copyrighted works pass on to and become the property of all humanity.  The beauty of this place is that it means that anyone can use them in any way to continue the cycle of creation.

So what the hell am I talking about when I say “split copyright in 2”.  Well I’ve been thinking that maybe we should start looking at the idea of copyright through a whole different lens.  I’m starting to think that maybe we break it into “primary” and “secondary” copyright.

Primary Copyright

Primary copyright would be a lot like how we see it today, but with time limitations more in line with how things started.  Just to pick a number, let’s say 25 years.  In my opinion, if you create something with the goal of profiting from it, and you can’t make that happen in a quarter century, it shouldn’t be the job of copyright law to facilitate it.  Primary copyright would be unable to be transferred (similarly to moral rights –, except with regards to works made for hire or instances of corporate authorship.  This is what leads us to:

Secondary Copyright

Most of what happens in the world of copyrights today is related to licensing.  Warner Brothers buys the rights to Harry Potter, and they alone are licensed to create movies based on the books.  In my vision of secondary copyright, the type of license you can buy is a little different than it exists today.

In keeping with the stated goal that copyright is meant to promote the PROGRESS of science and the useful arts, secondary copyrights would be limited to a shorter period than that of primary, say 12 years.

In today’s world, the book of Harry potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997.  When will it’s copyright expire?  The answer is, we won’t know until J. K. Rowling dies.  But from that day, you need only wait 70 short years and then book one (and ONLY book one of course) will pass into the public domain.  Do you see what I mean by essentially meaningless?  There’s a decent chance that less than 1% of the people reading these words right now will live to see Harry Potter enter the public domain.

Under my proposed system, the book will enter the public domain in 2022, a good 12 years from now.  Still a decent amount of time for J. K. Rowling to have exclusivity over publishing rights.

And the movie?  The rights for the first Harry Potter movie were secured in 1999 and the movie released in 2001 which would allow that movie to pass into the public domain in 2013 under my proposed system; only 3 more years.  At that time, anyone could copy and re-release the movie for their own profit.  It’s obvious why the studios would hate this idea, but why should we, the people love it?

How about these:

  • Imagine a DVD version of Harry potter that has a joke commentary in place of the actual audio, MST3K style.
  • Or a version that has a video AND audio commentary where you (yes, YOU) pick apart the frame composition by drawing over the pictures to describe why some shots work and others don’t.

Neither of these are legal without express written permission (and a hefty license fee) under the current system, until and unless the item in question is in the public domain.  But there is a key distinction to be made here:

in 2013, when the movie passes into the public domain, the book still has some time on the clock.  You still can’t shoot your own version of the movie based on the book and this is by design.

As I see it, the act of CREATION falls within the definition of copyright, as it is laid out in the constitution.  Sure, there could be a profit motive, but the act of creation itself is why copyright exists.  But the act of licensing is driven by one motivation: profit.  As such, I don’t think it deserves the same level or length of protection.  If you license a work, in search of profit, you get limited time to do so.  If you can’t secure a profit in that time, it’s not the job of the law to provide you with “the long tail”.

Is this proposal perfect?  Doubtful.  But I think it presents a decent first step in swinging copyright back to the track it was originally meant to be on, and away from the current “corporate profit protection statute” that it has become.

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