Tuesday, April 16, 2002

There is a very interesting article in Salon discussing the subject of user 'mods' in the PC video game world. The point is that game writers make it easy for users to redevelop games into new games, and a world has been created in which the line between writers, publishers and users has been blurred (with people constantly moving from one category to another). Lots of profitable revenue splitting models have sprung up to cope with this. I particularly like that fact that Counter Strike, the mod of the game Half-Life, has sold over a million shrink-wrapped copies, even though the same game can be legally downloaded over the net for free. I like a world in which everyone is free to make their own creative, derivative works. In the event that they make money from it, yes, the authors of the original works deserve to be compensated, but a world in which the use of creative works is tightly controlled is a very sterile one. The movie industry in particular likes to argue that they must have complete control over how their properties are used forever, otherwise there will be a terrible deluge of cheap copies of their work that will degrade the value of their work forever, and the only way to ensure derivative works of high quality is for them to retain complete control. Disregarding the fact that they often seem to think that parody and criticism (two long standing legal reasons for allowing fair use) are amongst the worst examples of things they must control, I think this argument that shows contempt for their own customers. It ignores the fact that properties controlled by big media conglomorates are generally the fusion of a myriad of sources in the first place, and ignores the fact that users are potentially interactive, creative individuals. The PC game industry is an impressive demonstration that users can often do weird and wonderful things if you let them. The barriers between creators and consumers is being blurred. I want this to happen everywhere, because the unleashed mass of creativity is potentially so exciting.

By the way, if you have ever walked into an internet cafe with lots of high bandwidth connections, heard lots of loud shooting noises, and observed that a section of the room is poorly lit and devoted to people playing a game that involves characters who look like terrorists or riot police running down dark coloured corridors and shooting one another, you have seen people playing counterstrike. (These sorts of cafes tend to be found in suburban shopping malls rather than tourist areas. To be familiar with them you have to either be a hard core gamer or the sort of person who explores suburban shopping malls in foreign countries. I am more the latter than so much the former).

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