Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Tarot Reading for Video Games

So I’m writing a research paper on video game copyright litigation. It’s a surprisingly interesting topic provided you’re obsessed with video games, intellectual property, and very confused Judges. I actually read a case brief where one judge put every phrase in quotation marks,”video game” or “joystick”. My professor is a Biotech man and when I told him I planned on writing something batshit and highly theoretical he said it was cool as long as he understood any of it. I’ll spare you the gory details but essentially this is how video game copyrights work: you can’t patent a game design. You can patent the audiovisual display and the software in its entirety. You can’t hold someone in violation of a software patent unless it’s a nigh blatant copy. In terms of mods and new levels, several districts have ruled those aren’t protected by copyright and the person can do whatever. My paper then outlines the growth of online games made with one engine, such as the upcoming metaplace or Xbox Live’s Popfly. So…if you can’t copyright game design and you can’t copyright mods and levels made with your game’s engine, something very significant occurs. Everyone can rip everyone off and just change up the audiovisual component to cover their tracks and keep it legal. I can make the exact same game you just made provided it's with different software and artwork. On a sidenote, culturally I’m all for this: people will start including better plots and art in their games to stand above the crowd. Legally however, this will be a glorious and unprecedented legal warzone of destruction. You have to remember that the philosophical idea the Founding Fathers of America had when they wrote the patent concept into the constitution was to encourage smart people to distribute smart stuff into society. So to rephrase what this means, a grand storm approaches in the name of preserving that right.

But I think tonight I’m going to do something slightly different, I’m going to bust out the tarot cards and do a reading. Not for me or even you, but rather for the medium of video games itself. What the hell, right? Video games, I am going to tell your fortune. The way this works is that I use the Celtic Cross. There are 6 categories: the conflict, two possible futures, factors influencing your choice, and outside forces at work. Let’s begin.

In the center is the conflict, you have three trumps. That’s impressive, that’s the highest house of cards and each one has a very independent significance. The card in the middle: The Devil while The Lovers and The Aeon are on either side. Being in the middle means The Devil takes on the central aspect: the card does not involve Christianity so much as a symbol for recklessness, ambition, ruthless creation without any regard for the result. A divine being who is being irresponsible with his work on the mortal plain. To the left is the Lovers, they represent an attraction, youthful in nature, that inspires and draws people in. To the right is the Aeon, it is the harbinger of a new age, a new current for the future. This conflict, this dilemma confronting video games, is that a new time period of attraction, of people being excited, draws near and yet at its core it is reckless and thoughtless in its creation.

Two possible futures lie to the left and right of the central conflict. We’ll start with the right, possible future. It is harsh. The prince of cups and knight of cups encircle the central fate while in the middle is the Ten of Wands: Oppression. Cups by their nature mean emotion, like sadness and happiness our emotions fill us and yet can also leave us empty. They are liquid. Princes and Knights generally represent people, but of an attractive yet shallow sort when ruled by Cups. The Knight of Cups is a person of great charm and enthusiasm but little personal depth. The Prince of Cups is a man of masked emotions, calm on the outside but full of turmoil and ambition on the inside. Not bad people mind you…but you know the type. Wands represent energy but Oppression means…what it says. Somehow these two types of people will engender an era of ill will, deceit, and selfishness for video games should it make that choice when confronting this current conflict.

On the left, the opposing future, is a better fate. At the middle is the three of cups, meaning abudance. To the left is the trump card The Sun and to the right is the Knight of Wands. As with the cups in the other future, this represents emotions both in that this card is about happy feelings yet also reminds us of their temporary nature. Still, abundance is wonderful. Plenty for all, joy, hospitality, and passive success. The Sun is the card for glory, gain, recovery, a great and powerful destiny. To the right is a person or type of personas with the other fate, though the Knight of Wands is a different beast. He represents a fiery energy, full of activity and generosity yet prideful and too quick. This is a good fate but there is little detail to it. A wild person is the only clue to two other cards that together mean great times but have little influence outside of their relationship with energy, wild activity instigating it. We must look to the influencing factors and outside variables.

I’m legitimately doing this, by the way. Shuffled the deck, dealt the cards, and am now reading them like I would if you were a chick I’d invited up to play Wii Sports. Best pick-up line ever. Just so I don’t sound egotistical it backfires all the time. I’ve told several fortunes that basically predicted that a bizarre and strange man was entering their lives who would cause them a lot of trouble and it would be better off if they held out for the right guy. Hilarity then ensues. You can’t really lie that much when it comes to Tarot, if people feel like you’re not at least reciting from some kind of external logic or formula, you just sound like an ass. That’s actually true of most things, now that I think about it. It always looks better in an essay if you quote a few other people, it definitely does in law briefs anyhow. Anytime I write something critical or blog about a think-tank piece I try to quote a few people. Technically, they’re just as much winging it and about as qualified as I am to be making these bold declarations and theories about video games, but people ease up if you can be like, “Hey, one other person agrees with me on this.” Anyways, on with the influencing factors.

The outside influences: The Hanged Man at middle, The Moon and Prince of Wands on either side. This is an intense set of influencing factors. Most people don’t get this many trumps (there are only a few in a deck of 72), two to three on average I’d say. The larger hands of fate and conflict do touch individuals, but in smaller or, perhaps said better, on a different scale. In this hand, there are huge forces of fate and destiny at work. The Hanged Man is one of redemption through suffering. He is the crucified martyr. Through his pain comes great spiritual rebirth, a new life springing forth from pain. His hands and left foot are nailed down but the right is attached to an Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, while a snake clasps him to it, the traditional sign of rebirth. The Moon is a complex card, it can mean awaking from a dream to reality or breaking an awful delusion for a more powerful truth. An illusion coming or going, though judging by its relation to the Hanged Man it would seem this illusion’s destruction will involve sacrifice while it also brings forth a new era. These are the influencing forces, so connections to the original conflict are normal. The Hanged Man coincides with the Aeon, both indicate a new era are coming forth though mixed together they now represent a harsher change, yet still new. The Prince of Wands is like the other Wand persona, full of energy. Swift, prideful, and known for being lively with people in jest. How these correlate is hard to say, he could be a specific person influencing this painful change or merely the kind of person affected by it. Whatever the case, this is still a matter of energetic people being involved in the destruction of one fantasy for the beginning of a new era. The continued involvement of the House of Wands with this destiny seems to be the only correlating sign.

It’s funny how exciting I’ve been finding this copyright problem. It’s the first time a legal issue has actually interested me on a personal level. I mean, this is interesting stuff if you love video games and can read legal babble. The fact that the Federal Courts realized that denying copyrights on game design is impressive considering these folks had barely any notion of what an Atari was at the time. It’s always an interesting moment when a subject or topic seizes your interest. I mean really grab it, not just be curiously interesting or entertaining. Suddenly, your brain HAS TO KNOW something. And then naturally, once it has that bit of information, it has to share it with others. Let’s see…the first book I ever felt that for, the first time I was genuinely excited about writing an English paper…was for the play Julius Caesar. Freshmen year of highschool, I had no idea what I was doing and no idea how to express all the wild ideas in my head. It’s an interesting Shakespeare play if you’ve never read it, by college I fondly referred to it as Shakespeare’s literary “Fuck off, this is how smart I am, observe my writing powers” play. Every writer has a book like this. Faulkner wrote ‘The Sound & The Fury’. George Eliot (who is technically a chick but I can’t remember her real name) wrote ‘Middlemarch’. Joyce wrote ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. These are people who spent a lifetime writing books for the masses and making their living off it. Like all artists, game designer or painter, once they achieve sufficient comfort they decide to perform one of the greatest acts an artist can do: they make a work of art for themselves.

ANYWAYS, the reason Julius Caesar is Shakespeare’s “I’m Really Smart and Fuck Off” play is because it’s impossible to write about it. That’s the key sign that you’re dealing with an artist’s “Fuck Off” piece of work: everything you write about it doesn’t quite cut it. You never get it right. The entire thing essentially pulls a ‘Twin Peaks’ doppelganger after the third act. Everyone, everyone, changes drastically. Now as a play, it’s absolutely brilliant. In terms of writing about it, every theory you propose is going to have to flip upside down to deal with the second half. Caesar’s assassination changes Rome so much that Brutus, Mark Antony, and Cassidus literally change with them. The villain becomes the voice of reason, the hero becomes the agent of doom, and the secondary character has the best speech in the play. Oh, here was a play, people! Not only does the narrative depict the death of a man which causes the world to turn upside down, the structural and thematic elements of the characters themselves turn upside down with it. There have been a couple of essays floating around on the internet recently about how a lot of T.V. shows use mystery and obscured facts to create a kind-of detective game. We try to piece together the X-Files, Lost as both participants and audience members. Which, if I didn’t think it was rude, I’d post a giant “No Shit, Sherlock” under each comment section. Agatha Christie? Murder Mystery Novels? Encyclopedia Brown? The Sound and the Fury? Blood Meridian? The Iliad? Every single author, film maker, actor, or poet is playing a game with their audience. They are controlling variables, depicting changes and shifts that keep them guessing, and finding ways to engage them by finding ways for them to relate. Ways to keep them turning the page to find out more. Video games may be the most advanced manifestation of this art by allowing direct influence and participation, but it is still based on an older art. The one art, really, of communicating ideas to others and making sure they pay attention while you do it.

The final set, cards outside of video game’s control to keep in mind. It is a strange group. At the center is the nine of disks, Gain. On the left is the seven of swords: Futility and on the right is the eight of swords: interference. Disks represent the material world such as wealth while the swords represent cold logic, math, and reasoning. The two houses of cards do not typically get along, in the sense that the two are philosophically opposed to one another in application. In a logical universe all things important are equal and in a world of disks all things important are heaviest, most valuable. At the center, the message is simple: material gain is occurring now. Good fortune in business and money. On the right is interference, the logical argument that something will go wrong eventually. A great deal of energy being expelled on ideas doomed to fail, for a profit that was never going to work out. On the left is Futility, the vain struggle against an opposing force that far outpowers those fighting against it. It links to the Moon card and the Devil in the central conflict based on their mutual theme of dreams ending due to a vain pursuit of some goal, some blind ambition.

It is an okay fate, I’ve seen better ones but also much worse. There are so many trumps in play that there is honestly little to advise, which is fine since I’m doing the fortune for all video games in general. Destiny is at work, a new era is dawning, and powerful people are going to shape the fate to come. That’s quite obvious without a deck of cards announcing it. In my experience, there are people whom fate has dumped a wide variety of tasks on their shoulders and some only one or two. Some people lead lives where luck has no play whatsoever, others live and die by their freakish capacity to win or lose consistently. I’m not trying to sound mystical, I’m just saying I don’t know what to make of all the variability I see sometimes. Here we are talking about a series of abstract symbols on a set of cards. To some, this makes absolute sense and they see all the things I’m talking about. To others, they see gibberish and laugh at this waste of digital ink. One of my Aunts recently got into that self-help book, The Secret or the Magic or something like that. The whole concept is if you just project an idea, if you focus on something hard enough and think positive thoughts, it will become true. That’s a Hindu concept, by the way, Aitareya Upanishad or something like that. That’s the one that talked about how souls are spiders weaving out their existence and then they just walk around the web they’ve created. That we design our dreams and then live inside of them. My Aunt wasn’t really happy when I told her she’d just wasted twenty bucks on a recycled philosophical concept but it does draw one back to the original question. If the cards are projecting a future, one that some people believe in, will they not subconsciously act that future out? Which somewhat begs the question of what the video game itself is doing, is it providing the dream or the dreamer? Does the spider walk on their web, or is the web walked by a strange spider? If all great art is in some way a game between author and audience, as I said above, what meaning does the dream have when the dreamer is in control? Perhaps none at all.

Were a girl sitting in front of me and I’d just read this fortune, I’d tell her that whatever she was doing now was going to turn out to be a dead end, that despite all her supporters this was all going downhill. I’d then say that this wasn’t a big deal, because provided enough sacrifice and humorous energy to keep things going through the end of the delusion occurred, she would do wonderfully. The oppression and futility that constantly governed the great gains she was currently making now would change. The fates before her though are complex ones. On the one hand, superficial and emotionally vapid people could take over. It could lead to an oppression that inhibited joy or happiness among those attracted to her. On the other hand, with enough energy and perseverance, with enough bold people being a bit arrogant and willing to take risks, then everyone will win. Everyone will get some chunk of joy or happiness. Then I’d ask her if she needed another drink.

Ah me, it’s all turned obvious again, hasn’t it? I’ve taken a bunch of random symbols and cards and turned it into what any rational person would’ve said if you’d just asked them to think about it for a while. One has to believe there is merit in conduct like that. I do, anyways. That paper on Julius Caesar I wrote? About the epicness of that amazing play, whose brilliance awed me and I loved so much? I got a C- on it. The teacher said it didn’t make a bit of sense and that I just jumped from topic to topic without any real thesis or explanation. So damn long ago… but I try to remind myself that being excited about an idea does not necessarily imply a capacity to communicate why that idea is exciting. That there is an art in selling what everyone knows already, they just haven’t seen it yet. Constructing the dream for them to dream, I guess. It’s easy for some artists to lose track of how that relationship works, that we are the dream makers and not the dreamers. Was that Willy Wonka who said that? Damn, I’m quoting children’s films now. Miles Davis said it better: when the jive motherfucker starts believing in his own bullshit, that’s when you know he isn’t a musician anymore.