Rock, Paper, Shotgun ran an editorial earlier this week that I found to be a particularly engaging read. Largely an argument for games entering the public domain, I have to say I am sympathetic to the idea. Perhaps I am an entitled consumer who expects something for nothing. Perhaps I am merely a humanist who believes great ideas are born both in the heads of talented individuals but in the communities, cultures, and civilizations that spawn them. Either way, I think this is a discussion we all need to begin having. Yesterday.
GOG has been a blessing to the gaming community. In a corporate-controlled world where the rights to various classic games are rarely in the hands of the original creator, developer, or publisher, it is handy to have a capitalistic entity that can monetize these games out of the dark abyss of copyright law. It is fundamentally important that gaming, as a medium, be preserved, and that means maintaining open channels for people to experience past titles. Given that games are entwined with the outdated hardware that runs them, it is also to everyone’s benefit that a company like GOG can help update the classic canon of gaming for modern machinery.
At the same time, we do need to reconsider ownership of these products. It is fair for the creator of an idea to seek profit, and I would never dream of capping off that profit. But at what point do creators leave their ideas behind? At what point do these ideas become woven into the cultural fabric so much so that they are no longer synonymous with the minds that originally thought them up? If Homer had written the Odyssey in the modern age, how long would it be before games like God of War could build on stories he helped establish? (I realize that is a gross misrepresentation of history, but I am doing it for analogy not for the facts.)
I celebrate creative people everyday. I play games, watch movies, read books, listen to music. I pay for these things often with a vague sense that those responsible for their creation are getting my money and thus my support. After decades (or sometimes less), those channels and relationships tend to break down. It no longer becomes a matter of your money going to the authors of those things you are discovering or rediscovering years later; instead, you are just lining the pockets of those who hold the rights to something they likely had nothing to do with. Even worse, that money becomes pure profit, never meant to be used to expand upon these ideas or secure the livelihood of those who might make newer ideas. You’re just paying a middleman because otherwise you are, by law, a thief (or a copyright infringer if we want to be specific).