Twitching Out Over Here (Ethics + Video Games)

I’m a little curious about all of these Let’s Play videos on YouTube, Twitch streams, and the like. Don’t get me wrong; I’m 100% in favor of new media, and I’m not really in favor of copyright laws. This is more of a means of opening up an honest, online discussion, especially when the whole product is edited and polished into something like Polygon’s brilliant Today I Played series, which offers casual non-reviews of what the actual gameplay is for a new release, or for eSports ventures that add commentary to live streams of multiplayer battles, as is the gloriously compelling case with Dota 2Starcraft, and the like. I’m even ultimately imagining this technology used to create a new form of marginalia, in which I can essentially leave video notes for myself in the games that I’ve played and then either share them with others or watch them again some years down the road, that I might better realize how stupid I was (or how stupid I’ve gotten). But what about these full playthroughs that I found for story-based games like The Witcher 2, which aren’t overdubbed, and which include all the cinematics and story scenes, not just the portions that are unique in that they’re controlled by the uploader? Trust me, as someone who once had to share a console with my younger brother, once I’ve watched a level played, I’m not going to want to do so myself, and I don’t regret watching an old VCR recording of the twenty-minute ending to Final Fantasy VIII back in the day, since I didn’t want to play another minute of it, so there’s a valid argument to be made that, however much commentary these videos might spur, however much publicity, it feels wrong. Some of these videos are so straightforward that they’re no different from someone recording and distributing their own iPhone’d version of a film and then claiming that their uniquely shaky camera angles were enough to make the film their own property.

Now I’ve got no problem with aggregators or other media repurposers — heck, part of this site is structured around quote-filled responses to (and synopses of) articles that “sounded cool” to me. But when using somebody else’s material, I’m careful to only use it as a launch pad: by the time I’m finished writing, ranting, or simply neck-slamming an uncooperative thought, my finished product should be standing on its own two feet. The quotes aren’t the meat of my argument, they’re a foundation of it, and while the standards of an online anything are bound to be looser than a scholarly dissertation, there has to be more to this than a retweet. For instance, if you’re the host of a viral video recap program on YouTube, at least be a charming conversationalist or have some awesome editing skills. By all means, create your own unsolicited, unlicensed walkthrough for a video game — but do it the old-fashioned way, with words that are entirely your own, not with the designer’s own product. Once you start adding in screenshots or full videos, as is the case with IGN, you’d better be paying the publisher for rights, especially if it’s for a smaller indie title. And if you can’t stand the thought of playing a single-player video game without talking to yourself and need to stream the whole thing, at least restrain yourself from saving and uploading the finished product; better to allow it to be an ephemeral moment, like theater, in which audiences show up each night to watch you “perform.” (At the very least, show your displeasure with an annoying scene from a game by remixing it into an even more annoying scene.)

Look, I get it, I get it. Catherine was hard, and you were just interested in the story, but that’s not the way it was packaged (and for good reason, since the gameplay is styled so as to stress you out as much as its main character) — shit, even a CliffNotes doesn’t go so far as this video, which edits out everything but the story, essentially screening a movie over YouTube that cheats the developer out of their money. (And this is Atlus we’re talking about; perhaps they’re converting the game into an anime, as they’ve done with Persona 4 and Devil Summoner 2. Whether they do or not, isn’t it ultimately their right?) If your intent is to pressure the developer into releasing all of their CG scenes for a set price, fine, but let’s not pretend that this video, viewed nearly a million times, is doing anything less than ripping off Naughty Dog’s Uncharted, and arguably doing harm to the property itself, since it’s sharing a weaker, diluted product that’s out of context and in a medium (film as opposed to game) in which it was not meant to be experienced. I feel as if there’s a reason the developers aren’t simply doing this themselves, and I’m honestly surprised there’s so much obviously stolen content (easily searchable) on the open portions of the Internet.

Basically, it boils down to this: Games are about taking ownership. Now that our video cards are getting better and our uploading speeds are getting faster, it’s time to remember that with this great power comes a great responsibility, and that’s to make sure that that so-called ownership is more than naked theft. Explore video-capturing software and live-overdubs and then make it your own, unique response — something that’s worth sharing, something that (unlike editing out all the story sequences) nobody else could do in quite the same fashion. From everything I’ve heard about the next-generation PS4, Sony seems to be going in a social direction (even boasting of its ability to share replays), and nobody seems to be contesting all of these copyright-breaking two-hour YouTube “clips,” so maybe I’m getting needlessly bent out of shape. But video games have always been about letting us do more, so let’s do it. Let’s play.

 

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