Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Video Games and Dreams - 4

Roger Travis pointed out in the last essay that the relationship we have with our dreams can often be applied to any work of fiction in varying degrees. Although interaction may make the archetypes and need for balance in an experience much more pronounced, these are still the same common elements that have been in other media for centuries. For as much as video games might function as a kind of dream, perhaps all media do the same thing in varying degrees. In films we are the voyeur, in games we are the actor, and in books we can follow either. Just as a film can cause a self-revelation or a book provide an outlet for a psychological need, so too can a video game. What this fourth and final essay seeks to address is the potential for using the archetypes and concepts of the mandala as a way to get games beyond their fantasy-fulfillment and nightmare mastery nature. The final goal of the dream is to transform the dreamer through self-awareness and personal exploration. How can a video game change someone?

The best place to start is to ask what is appealing about a video game. Will Wright once said, “Most people are very narcissistic…The more you can make the game about that person, the more interested, the more emotionally involved they will get." Peter Molyneaux explains about the nature of game stories, “The greatest story ever told? I think it’s going to be in a computer game. And I think that if I play the greatest story ever told in the same game as you play it, your greatest story is going to be different to my greatest story.” For either designer, the key to the video game is that personal investment a game allows which can reflect back on us. They are a kind of personal expression. They constitute an act that, although not technically real, still represents something to us. That is the core of the connection between dreams and video games: both are abstract personal acts. Both involve mental engagement and both are without consequences in the real world. The difference is simply a matter of scale. The video game is, in its still developing form, still not powerful enough to equal the personalized nature of a dream.

Yet increasing the personalizing capacity of a game in the pursuit of narcissism is inevitably going to start changing the nature of the fantasy for a person. What begins as wish fulfillment inevitably becomes common and then, if overindulged, even drudgery. Going back to Raph Koster’s argument that all games are doomed to become boring by their very nature, the pursuit of narcissism for pleasure in games is a self-defeating venture. You’ll eventually beat the game, you’ll find all the secrets, and the replay value will become an exercise in going through the motions. Jason Rohrer argued in his GDC lecture ‘Games and Other Four Letters’ that one of the most important ways to start addressing this issue is to simply stop thinking this was the only thing that games are capable of. That they don’t have to always be fun, addictive, or time-consuming tasks to accomplish. When we start to ask ourselves what an artistic medium that necessitates the user putting themselves into it can do besides be fun or create a sense of mastery, the Jungian goal of dreams becomes an interesting option.

Video Games could become a source of personal transformation.

One of the complaints that Jung, Robert Moore (the one who wrote that Masculine Archetypes book), and even Joseph Campbell have about modern society is that we no longer practice transformation rituals. One of the ways people in the past would help men abandon juvenile behavior and become adults is through a ritual process of simulating death and rebirth. Campbell explains a tribal ritual like this: when a boy starts to show an interest in girls the village shaman and other men would warn the mother and then come to their hut that night. Dressed in tribal garb to resemble monsters, the mother would pretend to defend the child but be driven back, until the boy was abducted. It is important that the child see that their traditional sources of protection are gone and they are on their own. What happens from there can be somewhat problematic. Moore describes putting the child through a lot of physical trauma like leaving him on an ant bed, but physical violence during this process is mostly meant to continue to scare the hell out of the subject and make them fear for their life. The biggest misstep rituals that use physical violence make here is thinking the amount of pain inflicted somehow equates with improving the process. The purpose of convincing a person that they are about to die is the psychological death of the current personality.

The person’s way of behaving, of thinking about the world, are abandoned in the wake of frightening circumstances for the new lifestyle. This can often happen naturally for a person such as losing a job or loved one. The loss of a parent is often seen as a transformative phase for a person because the protective force in their life has moved on. How can a video game do this?

Technically, some already do. The archetypal structures of MMO’s are almost always dependent on King archetypes about accumulating power, applying order to the universe, and mixing these with other designs. Moore’s mapping of juvenile behavior explains that the transformation ritual is taking this tiny kingdom the child has created and has them abandon it for the higher, more profound adult one. What makes an MMO be able to have this experience of loss is that other players do it to you. An example would be the growing need for therapy that specifically handles trauma in MMO games. The cited article details an EVE Online player who lost $12,000 dollars worth of goods and had his entire life vanish after being assassinated. Yet for as much as that person has experienced a huge loss, balance that with the fact that nothing in real life has happened. They have not been physically hurt, they have not lost anything tangible, it has all occurred in their minds. Milder variations would be players realizing that World of Warcraft turned sour after their guild turned on them or the pettiness of the lifestyle finally became too much. An article with Science Daily highlights one of the interesting discoveries about comparing MMO games versus single player ones: the emotional stakes are much higher. The experiences can either be much more negative than losing in a single-player game or much more positive.

What’s appealing about this process is that the engagement is entirely voluntary. The player generates the values and realities that setup the ritual for us. Instead of the mother pretending to protect the child but not being able to stop the metaphorical outside world, the player invests themselves into a game. When they experience loss, when they lose their epic empire or character, the player is simulating the same loss that these rituals provided. The things they valued in the world and relied upon are gone and they must find a new outlook to continue on. The ritual’s success is ensured not because of some clever design or by how large the loss is, but rather that the person has already established that this is the thing they care about because of the time devoted to it. What the child treasures before the ritual is abandoned to learn the ways of being an adult. The appeal of the video game is that you’re not actually hurting the person beyond the mental realm.

It’s hard to discuss this topic without sounding malicious so I want to emphasize now that I’m not proposing video games should be seen as some way to destroy a person. If you have an artistic medium where a person is putting themselves into the experience, then the trauma of loss in a video game can hardly be called as cruel as if I was proposing everyone needed something physically done to them. Is the loss of our wife in Jason Rohrer’s Passage incorrect because it is sad? Or is it poignant because in some unique way the loss is real without actually being real?

In many ways all this article is proposing that games can be used for the exact opposite purpose that we’re using them for today. We're talking about a game that isn't just about making you happy or feel a sense of mastery and competence. Expressions of The Warrior or The King tap into our unconscious needs. The way we know this is working is because addiction is already becoming prevalent for people who cannot find these feelings in their day to day lives. A Washington Post article on gaming addiction explains, “Symptoms included spending increasing amounts of time and money on video games to feel the same level of excitement; irritability or restlessness when play is scaled back; escaping problems through play; skipping chores or homework to spend more time at the controller; lying about the length of playing time; and stealing games or money to play more.” For as much as we want to call it escapism and wish-fulfillment, the source of those desires always go back to a person’s own life. A study based on 813 college students found that people who play games heavily often report having unsatisfying social lives. Did their lives turn sour because of the games or did they turn to games because they couldn’t find much satisfaction in the college lifestyle? Jeremy Taylor (one of the dream therapy writers) points out that the chronic sign of emotional repression is a repeating dream. Identifying what kind of experience a game is generating and the possible psychological connections may be a great way to help people start dealing with the issues their excessive use indicates. If the choice of games is indicative of a personal need, how is that not all the diagnosis one needs for how to find a more fulfilling life?

None of this explores the already perceived benefits that people feel from having something in their lives that allows them to act out the archetypal behavior of empowerment. A survey of 1,000 gamers asked each to explain why they like to play video games. The study synopsis explains, “Players reported feeling best when the games produced positive experiences and challenges that connected to what they know in the real world. The research found that games can provide opportunities for achievement, freedom, and even a connection to other players.” The article phrases this with the typical “Why Are Games Hard To Give Up?” slant that is prevalent in a culture that’s afraid of games, but the potential for virtual experiences really can’t be underestimated. Another survey that asked players to explain specific advantages notes, “Among the top skills gamers feel they’ve acquired were improved hand-eye coordination, faster reaction times and reflexes and more interactivity. Other skills cited included patience, understanding, creativity and precision.” The first couple are expected: they’re stuff someone fulfilling a warrior archetypal fantasy would say they’re developing. But patience, understanding, and creativity? These are the things a person who feels like they’re living a balanced and positive lifestyle would claim to feel, not an addict.

Or it might simply be a part of a larger coping mechanism. After finding out his cousin had been critically injured by an IED one blogger talks about playing Call of Duty 4 as a form of catharsis. He wanted to find some way to connect with his cousin. He explains, “COD 4 tapped into our national insecurities, providing gamers a safe way (if only indirectly) to fight back.” Even though he wouldn’t have survived ten minutes in Iraq, the game allowed him to vent his frustration and feel like he was participating in the conflict in a meaningful way. Is it the real thing? No. But it might be good enough for a person who wouldn’t be involved in combat in the first place.

That is how the ideas of Jung on dreams could be applied to video games to make them a vehicle for change in a person.

On another note, sorry if these last two have stuck with strictly male psychology stuff. Since so many games are tapping into male fantasies I decided I might as well stay with what people are familiar with. I’d also imagine a woman would be a better authority on what they’re getting after in games. I do agree with Moore though, it’s pretty obvious that no matter what your gender we’re mostly getting the same things out of games.

And that massive tone shift brings us to an end. This series has been a joy to write and something that I’ve been thinking about for about a year. My Mom is a therapist and one night while I was visiting for dinner we got to talking about the psychology going on in video games. She does a fair amount of marriage counseling and brought up how you turn a lot of it into a video game like Wii Sports. I actually ended up posting it back when Steve Gaynor was doing that Call to Arms Series, if you want to see how the idea works. I was developing the Zarathustran series then and that was what I founded most of the experience ideas on. I tried working out the concept in the final essay and I got close, but I wanted to come back to what I thought games were capable of. I’m going to end with the Joseph Campbell quote I ended that one on almost a year ago. He wrote,

“Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.”

I’ll be simmering these four down to a nice piece for Popmatters and as always will take the comments into account. Thank you very much for your time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

ZA Critique: Gears of War

I know what you're thinking. The other blogs have slowed down or you got lost and you clicked into here, looking for some kind of inspiration. Some sense that yes, my desire to read about video games to this degree will be validating someday.

My friend, that day has come. Because what you need, what the world needs, is another Gears of War post.

A thorough description of the reload mechanism. An engaging look at how the game actually isn't really that sexual with quotes from Vorpal Bunny Ranch. A charming comparison between Homeric epics and the game's motifs thanks to Roger Travis.'s all right here folks. Just thinking about that game now makes me hear that beautiful ring, that classic sound:

Pew...pew pew pew. Pew pew pew pew pew pew pew.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Privacy Rights in MMORPGs

Contrary to what it seems like, I do actually deal with legal stuff a fair amount. Last semester I studied copyrights and patents in video games, this semester I took a privacy law class and studied MMORPG's. Riding on the heels of being vindicated about the gaping flaw in video game copyrights and patents in the last paper, I thought I'd post this one too. If you want the complete document with footnotes, just e-mail me.

Before we begin,


Quick Summary

Presuming you don't feel like digging through a mountain of legal theory, the basic explanation about privacy rights in online games is that you haven't got any privacy. Your friend lists, who you're talking to, when, how long you're playing, what you say, ALL of it is owned by the company.

At the current stage that's not too big a problem. Most companies self-regulate and their in-house lawyers were not born yesterday. The problem is that there isn't anything making them regulate their conduct because they've declared ownership on everything you do in the game. Several companies stipulate that they may sell this data to researchers and several have already done precisely that. The other reason this isn't an issue yet is that most privacy disputes on the internet come from child pornography, which no one is inclined to defend. If someone is fired or gotten in trouble for something they did on the internet, they were probably broadcasting sensitive information in a public forum.

This leads to a lot of legal theory because defining what is private in a court of law is actually pretty hard. The basic formula is to gauge intent and social necessity, which pretty squarely divides people. Almost everyone in an MMORPG intends for their conduct to remain private unless they broadcast otherwise. The companies, on the other hand, need to access your data to gauge the quality of the game and make improvements.

I then outline the basic problem that the whole thing is headed towards and recommend that clear legislation be created to guarantee the privacy of users. I'll repost the last paragraph:

The problems that may potentially occur in virtual worlds is in many ways the stuff of science fiction. A prominent blogger could rise to popularity and influence only to be revealed to be a young child prodigy and immediately dismissed. An online player experimenting with both gender and identity who does not wish for others to know about it may be discovered inadvertently due to disclosed online information. An employee could be fired for things said with every expectation of privacy in a virtual world that are later discovered by the company. These are the hypothetical situations that are crossing over from fiction and into fact. As with all issues of privacy it is simply a matter of expectation and what is reasonable. What is unreasonable, just as it is in the real world, is to declare that we have no expectation of privacy at all in these new virtual worlds.


American privacy law has always been rooted in the concept of a person’s expectations versus what is reasonable for society to allow. A person may have every expectation that his mail will not be opened, but if that piece of mail is to be read by multiple people or the recipient hands it over to the authorities, then that expectation has been voided. At some point something becomes private and at some point it ceases to be. The greatest stumbling block for this approach to privacy law has been the internet and all its various forms. Often relying on analogies and archaic legal tests like comparing user information to phone records and ISP’s to phone companies, these methods continue to endanger a new class of information that people regularly exchange with every expectation that it will remain private.

Although many cases have dealt with the rights of both the government and citizens when it comes to online chatting and e-mail, one of the most potentially problematic areas of online interaction are Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games or MMORPG. In these games, users adopt an anonymous persona and role play as a character in a virtual world. Intense rivalries, charged emotional relationships, and even gender experimentation all occur in these settings while the user typically expects his interactions with others as well as his identity to remain private. The potential for discrimination and abuse, should this data be made public, is quite possible depending on the conduct a person engages with in this safe, virtual world. It is important to establish a proper legal approach while ensuring some degree of privacy for users for this growing industry to continue providing a reasonable place for people to enjoy themselves.

There are two specific parallels in American law that are applicable to the legal approaches in MMORPGs. The first is state and federal approaches to warrantless searches of electronic data. The second are the various distinctions courts have tried to draw between the content of electronic data and the labeling and origins of that data. After outlining these parallels, this article will explain the current legal and contractual situation with several popular MMORPGs. Finally, potential solutions and applications to this situation will be discussed in the conclusion.
Case Law

Much of the case law regarding electronic communications and warrant requirements has been created in the past two decades but it principally draws on the ruling in United States v. Miller . In that case, a whiskey bootlegger was arrested and accused of defrauding the government of various taxes. His bank account reports were used extensively as evidence in the case, which were handed over willingly by the bank when requested by federal investigators. The defendant attempted to argue that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated because the investigators did not have a warrant. The Court explains, “This Court has held repeatedly that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities, even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used only for a limited purpose and the confidence placed in the third party will not be betrayed”. The presence of a third party observing and handling the documents, in this case the Bank, made the exchange permissible because the third party willingly handed over the documents. The court uses language from California Bankers Assn. v. Shultz to point out that bank records cannot reasonably be called “intimate areas” of one’s life.

This principle of a third party’s rights with private information was taken into consideration in the criminal prosecution of a pedophile in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert D. Proetto . Defendant sent several sexually explicit e-mails along with a picture of himself to a minor. The minor copied these and gave them to the police. Pennsylvania law does not allow a person to “intercept” an electronic communication and disclose this to others, so the Defendant attempted to argue this law had been violated. The court rejects this argument because an e-mail is intrinsically unlike a phone call. The e-mail has been recorded and anyone sending it is aware that the recipient may print or redistribute this data to others. They explain, “By the very act of sending a communication over the Internet, the party expressly consents to the recording of the message.” The case is important because it acknowledges both the lack of protection that is inherent when communicating online and the ability of a third party to obviate whatever protection may possibly exist anyway. The criminal circumstances of this case differ considerably from the civil issues this paper is contemplating; however the blanket declaration that there is no protection for electronic communications will come up in other states and courts.

The Sixth Circuit adopted a similar standing as the Proetto case. A federal task force seized two computer bulletin board systems (BBS) and were sued by the users in Guest v. Leis . Both BBS services contained disclaimers that privacy was not guaranteed in any communications, since a system operator could view even the “private” messages at any time if needed. The chief issue was the numerous users of either BBS who were not engaged in illicit conduct. The courts ruled that the scope of the warrant was not exceeded because innocent data was seized along with the illegal material, particularly when the service was so vast that an extensive search was required to locate the material. The court dismissed allegations of misuse, stating, “Plaintiffs are essentially relying on an assumption that because defendants could have read e-mail, there is evidence that they did read e-mail.” The courts go on to explain that the search method involved the task force using a list of files and users and then combing the system for anything using those labels. Innocent data, unless tagged incorrectly, would not be searched. Since the circumstances required removing the BBS computers the seizure was not unreasonable and probable cause did not have to be found because no search of the non-illegal material took place. In this way, the courts have established that not only is there no expectation of privacy for regular users of electronic systems, but this expectation can be obviated by the problematic nature of electronic data in the first place. The data can simply be seized because there is no other way to find what you are looking for quickly and easily.

The court for the District of Connecticut took a similar stance in Freedman v. America Online, Inc. In that case, an employee of a rival political party sent a threatening e-mail to a candidate running for a local office. The employee claimed that the e-mail was meant to be taken as a joke and argued that both his First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated when the service provider, America Online, disclosed his private information to the authorities. No warrant was present, they were faxed a copy of the request form only and AOL obliged six days later. The information included Freedman’s name, address, phone numbers, account status, membership information, software information, billing and account information, and his other AOL screen names. The court pointed out that every single case dealing with Fourth Amendment violations and electronic communications has ruled that internet subscribers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to their subscriber information. This is reinforced by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 which permits Internet Service Providers (ISP) to disclose subscriber information to both third parties and the government. The court outlines the two part test for a Fourth Amendment violation: first is there an expectation of privacy by the individual, and second, is society prepared to recognize this? In summarizing the past arguments of cases like Hambrick or Kennedy the court explains, “the distinction [is] between the content of electronic communications, which is protected, and non-content information, including a subscriber’s screen name and corresponding identity, which is not.” The case is important because it expands on the limitations that the courts applied in Guest concerning what kinds of data third party ISP providers can freely distribute. Although much of users’ actual identity can be disclosed under the common law and ECPA, the actual content of their exchanges must remain private without a warrant.

This protection of content was reinforced in the Sixth Circuit case Warshak v. United States. The facts of the case are unusual, Warshak was the owner of a pharmaceutical company being investigated for mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and related federal offenses. His ISP was ordered by the government to turn over both billing information and content of all of Warshak’s e-mails. Because the government waited a year before reporting the tapping to Warshak, it violated the Stored Communications Act which normally requires notice to be sent within 90 days. This became more problematic because the courts decided the SCA’s lower requirements to gain access to electronic data were essentially a subpoena, which requires notice so that it may be contested if a party chooses to do so. In so ruling the courts quote Miller, “”the party challenging the subpoena has “standing to dispute [its] issuance on Fourth Amendment grounds” if he can “demonstrate that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy attaching to the records obtained.” The courts contrast this expectation to the one used in Miller and in the case Katz v. United States, which argued that a pen register for a telephone call was not the same thing as disclosing the content of the conversation despite the possibility of a third party overhearing the exchange. The courts concluded, “[The government] cannot bootstrap an intermediary’s limited access to one part of the communication (e.g. the phone number) to allow it access to another part (the content of the conversation).” The expectation of privacy concerning content is not waived simply because one is using an ISP. They do note that in the instances where a user explicitly provides that digital content will be monitored it might extinguish a reasonable expectation. Simply being able to access the files in limited circumstances is not enough justification. The SCA also encourages this approach, such as section 2701 prohibiting unauthorized access to e-mail accounts and 2702 requiring ISPs to acquire user permission before disclosing digital content. However, the court does admit that if a waiver of privacy can be proven, then disclosure through notice to the ISP would be permissible.

The struggle for modern courts, upon establishing a distinction in electronic data between user information (which can be distributed how the third party sees fit) and content (which is protected), is identifying the sheer volume and types of content on the internet. Content in this essay refers to any communication or exchange with a person. Using the definition outlined in Katz, user information would be the equivalent of the telephone number while content would be the actual conversation itself. The following cases will outline a brief history of the content definitions used by various courts.

The distinction between content and data for the courts, as in the Miller case, revolves around the courts grappling with companies that owned personal information attempting to sell private content as well. An attempt at a class action law suit in Ohio serves as a prime example in the Eighth Appellate District case Shibley v. Time, Inc. The magazine was selling the personal information of their subscribers. Not only were their addresses being distributed, but profiles based on what magazines they were already receiving were compiled to identify what ads should be sent to what houses. The Ohio definition of an invasion of privacy constitutes exploitation of one’s personality that the public has no interest in such a manner as to cause humiliation to an ordinary person. The courts ruled that the right to privacy does not extend to one’s mailbox and that none of the typical conceptions of false advertising or endorsement were occurring here. What’s curious about the case is that the plaintiff’s claimed that the information the magazine was selling was a “personality profile” of their consuming habits. The courts decided this would cross into creating new law and recommended the plaintiffs take it up with the legislature.

This concept of a “personality profile” was addressed twenty years later in the Illinois case Dwyer v. American Express Company. Not only were addresses being sold, but consumer habits such as what goods were being purchased by whom were rented out as well. As in Shibley, the court draws a distinction between selling content and personal information by arguing that so long as the content remains anonymous it is not violating privacy law. They argue, “They are not disclosing financial information about particular cardholders. These lists are being used solely for the purpose of determining what type of advertising should be sent to whom.” The individual names are of no interest to merchants and there was no tortuous intent present. The courts did conclude that the company’s failure to disclose precisely what they were going to do with the information constituted a misrepresentation. However, because there were no damages from the disclosure and mental anguish was hardly induced by the conduct, the case was dismissed.

When applying these concepts to electronic data, a case in the military began to impose limits on the access to content an investigation could seize without a warrant. In the case United States v. Maxwell a soldier was convicted of transporting obscene materials and child pornography. The obscene materials charge was problematic because these involved seizing e-mails that went outside the scope of the warrant. The ISP was America On-Line (AOL), whose employees do not read or monitor e-mail on the service, but gave the information away when asked by the F.B.I. The e-mails in question were between another officer discussing sexual orientation and preferences. The court argues that e-mails are analogous to telephone calls, so that like Katz their content is protected. The expectation of privacy also comes from the fact that AOL guarantees privacy by storing all e-mails on a private server. Although communicating in a chatroom or posting on a bulletin board would void this expectation, the mere possibility that it might be forwarded or hacked into does not void the expectation of privacy. This is the opposite standard adopted in Proetto, which declared that e-mails were more similar to leaving a message on an answering machine. Since the message could be heard by anyone after it was left, e-mails equally did not create an expectation of privacy. Both cases involve child pornography, but the military court is imposing limits on the government’s right to seize and charge for unrelated content discovered.

The Fourth Circuit was forced to address this issue when yet another invalid subpoena was used to seize personal information from an ISP. United States v. Hambrick is another pedophile case but in this instance it is distinct because the courts acknowledge that a person might have an expectation of privacy in the content. They explain, “While under certain circumstances, a person may have an expectation of privacy in content information, a person does not have an interest in the account information given to the ISP in order to establish the e-mail account, which is non-content information.” Relying on both Katz and Miller, the court dismissed the appeal because only the defendant’s personal data was disclosed. The content information was never used by the government in the case and thus suppression was denied.

Finally, in a case decided in January of 2007, the Court of Appeals in United States v. Ziegler acknowledged that in the event that the third party owns the computer or employs the plaintiff the content can be given over without a warrant. The court outlined that the expectation of privacy must be both subjective and objective, personal and one that society is willing to acknowledge. Interestingly, the court acknowledges that having a password on the computer is enough to establish a subjective belief in privacy. This goes against earlier reasoning of no expectation of privacy for content by establishing some standard for showing intent to keep something private. The situation does not meet the objective standard however. The court explains, “the government…may show that permission to search was obtained from a third party who possessed common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected.” Authority or some relationship with the premises gave the third party the right to distribute content without a warrant.

In conclusion, case law shows a common trend in both federal and common law that the internet does not allow privacy for one’s personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, or even spending habits. However, content information such as private e-mails do merit some form of protection. This standard has developed in both civil and criminal suits.

MMORPG’s and Potential Privacy Violations

One of the advents of broadband internet connections has been the growing popularity of massive virtual worlds. These services have existed since the late eighties in the form of text-based interactions but the increased connection speeds have allowed for their interfaces and graphics to be more accessible to a wider audience. The games typically require the users to provide their real names, credit card information, and subsequent billing data. They are then allowed to create an anonymous identity that has a name, visual representation, and can accumulate virtual items while interacting with other players. The most popular of these games has an estimated 11 million users and is played throughout the world.

The problem with these services is that they typically provide almost no privacy guarantees for player content. In February of 2009 Sony Entertainment arranged a deal with several research groups to give the entire accumulated content of a no longer active MMORPG, Everquest, for research in a wide range of fields. Much of the data was utilized by Sony to study how players group together, distribute items, or play in the game. Several psychological and sociological studies were also conducted on the content. The Privacy Policy of Sony states, “when you communicate within any game or any other communication feature within The Station (e.g. live chat, instant message services and the like), even "privately" to another person, you do so with the understanding that those communications go through our servers, can be monitored by us, you have no expectation of privacy in any of those communications and, accordingly, you expressly consent to monitoring of communications (including technical support and customer service communications) that you send and receive.” They further qualify that they will not distribute personal information such as e-mail or a billing address without consent. The content of the MMORPG, however, may be used for anything and makes no mention of requiring consent.

World of Warcraft follows a similar pattern but instead claims that they themselves own all of the user content being generated. Their Terms of Use outlines that the player never actually owns the game or anything they create or accumulate within it. They are instead licensing the product in an arrangement that can be terminated at their discretion. Specifically, “Blizzard may, with or without notice to you, disclose your Internet Protocol (IP) address(es), personal information, Chat logs, and other information about you and your activities: (a) in response to a request by law enforcement, a court order or other legal process; or (b) if Blizzard believes that doing so may protect your safety or the safety of others.” Both the chat logs and “other information about you and your activities” constitutes what would be the actual player’s content. Like an e-mail, a chat log is the means of communication for a player by typing in what they want to say to other players.

The activities aspect would be a novel definition of content in the legal sense but it is functionally similar to the definition of content in that what you are doing in the game is still a form of communication. Just as conduct such as bartering, fighting, or exchanging goods could considered the activities one would do in an e-mail, so too are they a form of content in this instance. The following section of the User Agreement further modifies this right to player content by adding, “BLIZZARD MAY MONITOR, RECORD, REVIEW, MODIFY AND/OR DISCLOSE YOUR CHAT SESSIONS, WHETHER VOICE OR TEXT, WITHOUT NOTICE TO YOU, AND YOU HEREBY CONSENT TO SUCH MONITORING, RECORDING, REVIEW, MODIFICATION AND/OR DISCLOSURE.”

Although the disclaimer that they can reveal all player content at will without notice is somewhat troubling given the growing case law arguing for an inherent right to protection, Blizzard is equally careful to ensure they are not liable for any damages these disclosures may cause. The EULA states, ““IN NO EVENT WILL BLIZZARD BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES.” Given the potential damages that disclosing private content could have on a player, both the Terms of Use and EULA give Blizzard open discretion to do as Sony has done with Everquest and disclose or sell this information with no consequences to themselves.

Other MMORPG’s are slightly more conservative in the right to player content. Another game, Lord of the Rings Online, still declares ownership of all player content but have also created an active privacy policy. Should a user broadcast information in a public manner then that is susceptible to disclosure but otherwise the content will not be traceable back to the user. They are clear that such content will in no way be traceable back to the user in either its aggregate or individual form. What is problematic is that these protections are in no way guaranteed should the company running the game be sold or disbanded. Their privacy policy states, “In the event of a merger or consolidation of Turbine, or the sale of all or substantially all of its stock or assets, or the transfer of the operation and distribution of certain products or services to a third-party, or bankruptcy of Turbine, your personally identifiable information may be transferred to Turbine's successor or assign resulting from such events.” As Sony has done with their defunct game’s data, Turbine may also consider doing in the coming years.

Turbine’s privacy policy is interesting when compared to Blizzard’s because they make a distinction between private and public content in their game. In the average MMORPG it is possible to engage in a private conversation with another player that people around them cannot hear. They can also broadcast information to large groups around them and even to every player in the game via a global chat system. Turbine declares these large broadcasts can be disclosed at will while they will not disclose the private communications in a way that can ever be traced back to the user.

The possibility of identifying a player from disclosed content such as Turbine’s proposed method or Blizzard’s blanket declaration is not improbable. Players in MMORPG’s must often join organized groups that work together otherwise known as guilds. Although the template for creating one’s appearance in these games is limited and thus repeats, the outward appearance changes based on what equipment the player is wearing in the game. Many of these items are statistically rare to come by and are often worn along with other statistically rare items. This creates the possibility that a person observing a published picture or reading a disclosed conversation, even when the user name is masked, could potentially identify the user based on the rareness of the items in their appearance. Factors such as who they are with, where they are in the game, or what they are doing would also make them recognizable. Other telltale signs may simply be the wealth they have accumulated, the resources they have invested in, or the other players they have fought in the game. Disclosing this kind of content is in many ways analogous to publishing a photograph of a random person for mass publication. The majority of the population will be unaware of the identity of the user, but their close friends within the game may recognize who they are.

What potential damage could erupt from such a disclosure and recognition? Joseph Blocher argues that reputation itself can be considered a form of property. He explains, “What that economy demonstrates, especially in its virtual form, is that reputation itself—social status and the respect of others—can usefully be understood as a form of property. Strands of this theory appear in law and scholarship, but they have not been tied together in a way that shows that reputation can be property-like even without demonstrating economic value.” In a virtual world, one’s reputation is the only thing that makes it possible to stand out amongst a large group of similar characters. If this were not the case, why do most MMORPG’s and Online services not allow two players to have the same name? A virtual reputation, despite its artificial nature, takes time to accumulate and is actively relied upon by a player. They may be the leader of a guild, be allowed access to rare portions of the virtual world, or simply enjoy a close association with likeminded people. By disclosing their private content and having it recognized by their fellow players, that reputation can potentially be damaged. An insult that was only sent privately to another player may be discovered and dissolve a guild. A disruptive act that went unpunished may be discovered and cause the player to lose clout.

Obviously this would probably not pass as damage in a court in the real world but the psychological problems that it can cause most certainly can. One of the fastest growing areas of therapy is learning how to treat traumatic events or losses that occur in virtual worlds. Jerald Block is one of the first clinical psychologists to begin actively treating pain and loss that occurs in a virtual context. The biggest problems for these players is even finding validation for the losses that occur in this realm. There is often a great deal of shame to admitting they care about what has happened in this virtual world despite the fact that they invested years of their lives into it. Block humorously notes that people who are addicted to internet pornography suffer less shame than the average player who needs therapy. He explains one particular case about an Eve Online player, “He was one of the most powerful characters in the universe of this game. He had played for years and accumulated great wealth; he would have been worth about $17,000 if he sold his character and all his virtual assets on eBay. Well, within the game someone took out a contract on his life. And in the span of one night, this guy lost thousands of dollars, lost his alter ego, and was betrayed by everyone he knew in this world.” Even though none of this actually happened and he does not own the assets despite their black market value, the mental loss is still very real psychologically. At the very least, the insurance industry is going to start taking notice when they want to know who is responsible for their clients requesting therapy coverage.

The particular discussed event does not necessarily relate to a privacy violation, but the potential discovery of which anonymous player betrayed the organization could have repercussions. When several players of an MMORPG were elected to represent the various factions and attend a meeting with the creators of the game, it was discovered that several of the characters who were women were played by men. Many players engage in transgender conduct and even develop relationships without ever telling the player of their true identity. A transgender player, after trying to form a guild based around this, had the guild dissolved and banned when the content was discovered by the company. What would happen if a guild, titled something innocuous, still revolved around transgender players? The loss of prestige would not even be the biggest problem, these groups would be subject to harassment and cruel treatment in the virtual world. Equally possible is that the player has disclosed their true identity to the group so that it may even have repercussions in the real world. With the number of firings based on information found on Facebook growing, the potential experimental conduct in games inducing prejudice and problems in the work place and private life are also possible. Several divorces have occurred due to a spouse discovering their partner was having a purely virtual relationship with someone else. What if they discovered this because a company disclosed private content?


There are several laws that apply to different industries that could be fruitful for protecting the privacy consumers. The Cable Communications Policy Act prohibits a cable television company from using the cable system to collect personal data without prior consent and bars them from disclosing such data. It authorizes punitive, costs, and attorney’s fees against cable television companies that violate the act. Since these online games are more analogous to television as sources of entertainment than a communication service like AOL, it would make more sense to apply such rigid restrictions since there isn’t really a reason to allow these companies such wide access to user content.

Another analogous law would be the Customer Proprietary Network Information Act which applies to telegraphs, telephones, and other radio communications. The general prompt explains that every telecommunication carrier has a duty to protect the proprietary information of customers. The law expressly forbids releasing individual customer’s data while still allowing them to use aggregate data for limited purposes so long as it is not prejudicial to other carriers.

At the core of the problem with MMORPG’s is that there are no laws of any kind regulating their conduct. They are not exactly ISPs, cable systems, or telecommunication services. Nor does the consumer technically own the software or what they are producing, since most companies label the user as a licensee. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act does not apply to these groups because the person accessing the content must not have authorization, which doesn’t help since the company can obviously authorize itself to access whatever it pleases.

In order to remedy this situation three specific areas need to be clearly addressed by the legislature in order to ease the court’s burden of interpreting this new data. First, clear laws at both the state and Federal level must be established that define the difference between content and user data. Greater protection must be placed on content and it should require a warrant in order to be seized. Second, online games must be required to clearly inform their players about what is considered content and what is user data. It cannot be tucked away in a EULA or Terms of Service that people read, but should be explained throughout the game through warning messages or carefully explained during the game’s introduction. Third, control over this content must be guaranteed. Companies who are sold en masse must stipulate that the contract with the user cannot change without their consent. So if Turbine were to be sold, the users must have the right to destroy content should they not agree to the new Terms of Service.

The problems that may potentially occur in virtual worlds is in many ways the stuff of science fiction. A prominent blogger could rise to popularity and influence only to be revealed to be a young child prodigy and immediately dismissed. An online player experimenting with both gender and identity who does not wish for others to know about it may be discovered inadvertently due to disclosed online information. An employee could be fired for things said with every expectation of privacy in a virtual world that are later discovered by the company. These are the hypothetical situations that are crossing over from fiction and into fact. As with all issues of privacy it is simply a matter of expectation and what is reasonable. What is unreasonable, just as it is in the real world, is to declare that we have no expectation of privacy at all in these new virtual worlds.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Patenting Lawsuit Theory

I was flipping back through my paper on video game copyright issues because of the post for BPM this week when, right on time, this little gem of news came from Gamasutra.

In brief chunks:

As the judge pointed out, this actually would be a good idea for Activision too, since DJ Hero is in development - he noted: "If you [Activision] get tainted, then your game gets tainted, and then they [Genius] wind up owning both games."

From there, it was into a complex discussion of what needed to be returned and the circumstances under which the 'return' clause was invoked.


From there, with the judge having decided that the 'source code' did indeed need to be given back to Genius and Numark, a key issue was discussed - what constitutes source code? Does 7 Studios have to give out developer's tools as well?

According to one of the lawyers, the engine used for the project is: '7 Core - including pre-existing and future iterations in a multi-platform 3D Game engine.' It includes the potential use of third-party tools such as Havok Physics, FMod, Lua, and ShaderFX. Likely even more vital to complete the game are a number of proprietary tools used the generate or convert the game's assets.

That is 6 million dollars worth of development and it just got handed over based on a ruling by a judge whose never played a video game in his life relying on a patent system that barely protects anything about a video game.

Methinks the legal world of video games is about to become a very, very hectic place.

2009 GDX

I went down to SCAD and GDX for a lot of reasons last week. Needed a change of scenery, saw some people I wanted to meet, but I also found myself sorely in need of a reality check. Between work and most people I know in RL not playing many video games, it’s easy to enter into murky mental territory. Samuel Johnson’s joke about the weatherman thinking he’s controlling the weather often comes to mind because reality checks can be few and far between with this hobby. Perspective is an easy thing to lose.

There’s an easy little test to know when this is happening. Ask yourself what you think would happen if everyone started to think like you do. Do you think that a) chaos and destruction would consume the Earth, b) a new era of peace and love would descend on humanity, or c) we’d revert back to tribalism?

If you ever even remotely consider b) as an answer, you’ve lost your mind.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GDX & Other Stuff

All that GDC envy has finally gotten to me and I'm heading down to GDX in Savannah today. I'll try to check my e-mail at some point during the day if you want to grab a brew but this is a very limited venture, I have to get back to studying.

Yet another controversy has descended on the gaming world in the form of Six Days in Fallujah. I'm getting into the habit of just watching the arguments unfold for a few days and then poking at both sides, which seems to go over well with people.

Like most debating based on previews, it is best to just wait and see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Short Games

I wish I could think up something more clever for this new wave of games coming out on the internet besides “Short Games”. It gets the point across and most people will recognize the reference, but someone will probably think up something better 20 years from now when we’re all playing something else.

Given how few games there are to work with in this genre, the post is a bit garbled but I think the main point gets across. When you shorten a game, you make it so the player has invested less time and thus does not feel as violated when you screw with their sense of progress. So despite their name, the actual defining element of these titles, to me, is that they are all poking around with the notion of progress. G. Christopher Williams pointed out in my Eternal Darkness write-up that one of the scariest parts of the game is when it threatens to delete your save files. Which became the source of both a tacky joke but also the founding principle for how I explain these games: the player’s progress in the game is the one thing they are enslaved to. They may not care about Alyx Vance, they may skip your cutscenes, but threaten to take away their best items or confine them to an unpleasant decision and suddenly they’re wide awake. The problem with these threats is that they are mostly empty thanks to save files, ergo the terror Eternal Darkness invokes.

Most of the initial pokes at this relationship by these games is to either exaggerate the amount of progress required (You Have to Burn The Rope) or leave chunks of it out (Gravity Bone). Progress, in this particular instance, being defined as the options/choices the player is offered to make and convincing them that there will be more. Then it’s time to give The Graveyard a dance for old time’s sake because they gave a swing at this concept and did something serious with it. Jury still out on other things about the game, but they certainly experimented with lack of options.

I don’t know how much mileage the whole aesthetic can produce in the end. Eventually someone is just going to have a game where, after spending hours clawing you way to the last level, the game asks you if you truly believe you are the best. If you have faith that you are the chosen one. If you say “Yes”, it deletes all your save files and sends you through the last level. Which will be hard.

S***, could you do it?

Monday, April 13, 2009


Picked up this game thanks to an impassioned write-up at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, that pack of Brits tend to have sharp eyes and good taste when it comes to indie stuff. It's a roguelike mixed with a platformer and the results are fantastic. If there were a prize for games like this it would be "Outstanding Achievement In Getting Me To Play Just One More Game Even Though I Really Need To Get Some Work Done." I'd pepper this with explanatory text but the game is free to download so just go try it. I've also decided on an official scoring policy for these kinds of games.

If you're not going to charge people for your game, I'm not going to belittle you with a score.

In other news, blar blar blar studying blar blar. Ben Abraham's comment on the dream thing has reminded me of a problem that has been gnawing at me for a while now: I haven't got any proof. That's not to say that I think I'm wrong, but rather acknowledge that generally speaking I'm willing to believe a lot of really weird metaphysical stuff that most people aren't. I'll have to think of a new approach for the ending that quits worrying about being the answer and tries to explain the question a bit better.

And finally, methinks I owe CLINT HOCKING and the folks at Ubisoft a beer. When I posted that FC2 post I figured I'd get some arguing about the ending (check) and then it'd slip away since the game had such a mixed cultural reaction. Looking at the wall stats though and I think it's safe to say it's the most viewed thing I've ever written for Popmatters. Which is both awesome (it's a damn good game) and depressing, because it just confirms that I have no idea which thing I write is going to be popular.

Like trying to get a particular color of gum ball out of a quarter machine.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Video Games and Dreams - 3

In the last essay I tried to establish a connection between the overall experience of a dream to the overall experience of a video game. Using the term mandala as an all-encompassing unity of design, visuals, plot, controls, etc., the argument was that our relationship with both activities has numerous overlaps. Since both are dealing heavily with the unconscious, there isn’t much concrete to point to but it was worth the effort. The more conscious aspect of these mandalic experiences are built out of archetypes. Like game designs, an archetype is a formless system or structure that induces a predictable behavior in a person.

The universal nature of archetypes is the reason that absorbing an artificial or dream from another person is potentially beneficial. Jeremy Taylor, the dream therapist whose work was mentioned in Part 2, explains, “The language of the dream is our original native tongue, a common language shared by all human beings…this universal, cross-cultural, common language of the dream is also shared by the world’s mythology and religious texts and rituals.” Jung referred to them as the permanent remnants of evolution past in our unconscious. Religions are often filled with them such as characters who sacrifice themselves for the greater good or Kings who use their power for selfish reasons. They do this because they induce a typical reaction in people, something that becomes much more noticeable in dreams because it is the person themselves behaving. As Joseph Campbell once commented, “A myth is a public dream and a dream is a private myth.”

How do people relate to archetypes in dream work? Although Taylor describes several methods for group dream therapy, the main technique is to have everyone go around describing their dream then have people respond. Each person then describes what they would think the dream was saying if they themselves experienced it. Hearing the rephrasing of the dream will often allow a person to experience a personal breakthrough or the undoing of a repressed memory. Selective amnesia is typically a defense mechanism used by your brain to help you get over traumatic events. Constantly thinking about and remembering abuse or trauma inhibits growth and makes living difficult, so your brain simply covers it up. Although generally healthy, in childhood the amnesia defense gets problematic because the corrective forgetting and behavior adopted often no longer works when you’re an adult. Fighting back against bullies may be necessary at some point, but learning that not everyone is a threat is important as well. Over-compensating for insecurity induced by trauma is necessary for healing, but it becomes problematic once the person has matured and is still behaving in the same manner.

A great deal of these cases involve sexual abuse, which is sadly more prevalent in our society than anyone will ever admit, but it can apply to pretty much anything. A woman shared a dream about a giant balloon animals filled with water while cowboys rode them, always about to fall over on a fence that will make them pop. She personally felt the dream was cute and playful so she had everyone act it out in the group. As everyone assumed the positions however it became obvious that there were extreme sexual overtones and repressed memories at work. The surprising thing was that experiencing the dream and seeing the subject’s shock at realizing the truth ended up unlocking repressed issues for other people in the group. The fragility of the balloons and their precarious situation, the cowboys riding them, the spiky fence are all archetypes generating this shared experience.

Another dream involved archetypes that were about transformation. A woman dreamt a large demon demanded she sacrifice her daughter to it. The dream had been about patriarchs, men forcing her to do things, and the demon was another manifestation of that. She fought the demon, only to discover that it was turning into her father. Taylor calls this the Willing Sacrifice archetype, breaking out of the trance of fear and submission to change the force that govern us. Although the dominating archetype changed form several times in the dream, from cop to professor to demon to father, it remained in essence the excess control men had in her life. The child, though connecting to her daughter, also has an archetypal meaning for people. It is the “as-yet-unrealized creative energies and possibilities” of a person, the part of the woman that wishes to grow beyond these dominant forces.

Another key element to working with archetypes is that their meanings come in layers. The child in the previous dream was on some levels her daughter, another her hope for growth, yet another a creative idea, and on some levels it was just the stress from that day. I don’t think there could ever be authorial control of the meaning of an archetype, the person engaging with it reflects on the experience and generates that meaning themselves. While their behavior may be instinctual and predictable, the ultimate message is still going to be all their own as they discover things about themselves.

In terms of video games, I’m not sure many people expect to uncover trauma by blasting through an FPS, but the archetypes at work can still generate reflection about ourselves in a safe and non-threatening manner. A griefer, presuming they ever pause to wonder why they like to mess with people so much in games, might stumble on a self-reflection they otherwise would not. A person who takes games way, way too seriously might do likewise when they stop and wonder why they feel the need to be in control so much. Taylor justifies this self-discovery by explaining, “These ugly, scary, dark, powerful, sexy, violent, irresponsible, dangerous dream figures are vitally alive parts of my own authentic being, and you know what – they aren’t so horrible after all.” The notion of thinking of games as dream simulators proposes that playing these dream simulations and having these alien experiences may be able to do cause a similar acceptance of the self through universal archetypes.

Much like the range of human experience and game designs that induce them, archetypes are essentially unlimited in their number. Since Heather Chaplin’s rant declared that everyone is making games for “stunted adolescents” and that most games are “male empowerment fantasies”, this seemed like a good way to narrow the focus. Rather than try to invent something new, I figured it would be best to rely on what we’re all familiar with. I picked up a copy of Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette’s King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine and will go through each archetype he outlines and apply it to games. Since they never distinguish who wrote what, I’m going to refer to Moore as the author when quoting.

What are the archetypes of a male empowerment fantasy?

Moore breaks the male psyche down into four different modes of behavior: King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover. Each one is an archetype that we aspire towards and connotes certain forms of behavior. We have these archetypes in us throughout our development and their expression changes as we become more mature. The King archetype in a child, for example, seeks to establish order in its life by being bossy and also yearns for praise from other sources of order in its life. When the archetypal expression remains juvenile, it cannot recognize the value of other people or that they themselves may not be the best source of order in their lives. Proper development of this matured archetypal expression involves building on top of the boy psychology. We take the impulses we have as a child and channel them, manage them, and transform them into more positive behavior. When they become negative is when they drop into their juvenile qualities. Presumably what Chaplin is upset about is the way that games are relying on this natural behavior from males while only encouraging their most juvenile expression.

Continuing with the King Archetype, Moore explains that it is often expressed in men by their reconciliation with authority. Someone will have a dream about meeting an Emperor and bow down before them. It is the organizing archetype, the role upon which all other archetypes of the male mind conform. Moore explains, “The King is anti-chaos, they organize the world and they do this to manifest fertility and blessing. Expression of the life force, the libido, the will to live. To make life possible.” Doing so means recognizing the value in the other aspects of your own personality and the people around you. The expression of the King in its most mature form is “a sense of being a centered participant in creating a more just, calm, and creative world.”

In terms of game design this finds expression in a variety of ways. The ability to create order in a chaotic environment would be the underlying principle and it finds expression in many games. In SimCity or other management games we turn a wild landscape into a city and watch it prosper. Bulldozing hills, creating roads, and managing the economy are all activities that make up the King Achetype. The life-giving properties come from watching this world prosper under our control, giving us a greater sense of accomplishment. RTS games feature a similar concept with the added complication of enemy forces. These must be purged, the chaos taken away, so that our expression of order can be more solid. You can also see the archetype expressed in some FPS titles that don’t use endless spawn points. Being able to kill every single enemy in a level expresses the psychological desire for things to be safe, orderly, and all because of us. Games that allow this kind of conduct typically rely on the plot to assure us that we are helping others while the sim variation of the archetype builds that sense into the rewards.

Easily the most complex and prevalent in video games is the Warrior Archetype. This archetype revolves around two key tenants: discipline and consequences. They are flexible in their tactics which comes from razor-sharp evaluation of any situation. Moore writes, “what enables a Warrior to reach clarity of thought is living with the awareness of his own imminent death….this awareness leads him to an outpouring of life-force and to an intense experience of his life that is unknown to others.” Expressing the warrior archetype is to feel the thrill of engaging in conduct that, should you fail, will be painful. It is the expression of dominance, often subservient to the need to create order coming from the King archetype, and it is rewarding precisely because of real risks being overcome. The archetype is expressed negatively in two basic ways: acts of passion and acts without passion. The overly hostile and aggressive expression is a consequence of insecurity. The passionless expression often manifests itself through tireless, mindless work. The workaholic, for example, often devotes hours attacking task after task with no real sense of purpose or accomplishment. They cannot stop working because they do not know what they want to work towards.

Both the positive and negative traits of the Warrior Archetype are expressed in video games in numerous ways. Any game that can generate actual consequences for death is tapping into this impulse. Far Cry 2’s distant save points, Nethack’s roguelike design, or something as simple as Contra all express the urge to develop discipline and engage with real risk. Intrinsic to a design that seeks to tap into this Archetype is not creating an environment that is ever fully controllable. What Clint Hocking at GDC described as “improvisational play” could easily be explained as simply pursuing a Warrior archetypal design instead of a King design. The player cannot ever tame the game, they must instead always live with the fact that they could be killed. Call of Duty’s endless spawn points are key, much like in FC2, because the player must always access the Warrior to deal with the threat. The JRPG’s never ending enemies and constant pushing into new territory also tap into this: an RPG channeling this archetype must constantly push the player and keep them at risk. You can see this developed well in Persona 4’s distant save points and the steep difficulty curve. Stopping and grinding is a part of the Warrior Archetype, the training we undergo to continue being competitive. Intrinsic to this design is the failure component and the recognition that death, in its dream and archetypal form, represents change. Taylor explains, “no matter how it appears, death is always associated with the growth and development of personality and character.” In relation to the Warrior, the artificial death in video games is their chance to evolve, to adopt new tactics, and to try again. Jesper Juul commented at GDC that there is a certain kind of failure that people don’t mind in video games, the key element is that they learn from it and can change.

In its most negative expression, bully and workaholic, the Warrior Archetype is tapped into through irresponsible game achievements, systems that encourage obsessive meaningless play, and crude behavior on Xbox Live. A recent article on The Escapist outlines the difference between a poorly designed achievement and a responsible one. The good ones encourage new styles of play and get the player to explore the game world. The bad ones are just mindlessly collecting crap like flags and having a player arbitrarily perform a task multiple times for no real reason. MMO’s like World of Warcraft are rampant with their mindless grinding and collection of meaningless goods. The bully is most rampant on Xbox Live, where players seeking to express their dominance are thwarted by opponents. They lash out at everyone, say horrible things for no real reason, and generally manifest all the symptoms of insecurity that are prevalent in any competitive situation.

The Magician is the archetype of knowledge, of specialized training and helping people by using that training. Like the Warrior, it is an impulse that is expressed in supplication to the King Archetype’s desire to create order and produce life. There is also an element of the aloof, of using an outsider position by judging and putting people in their place. The Shaman, Fool, or Magician is the only person who the King listens to because even rulers need someone who criticizes them. It is the part of ourselves that analyzes our actions, figures out what’s going on, and tries to get us to think. Moore writes, “He is very good at deflating Egos, our own and those of others. And often we need deflating. He can spot, in an instant, when, and in exactly what way, we are inflated and identified with our grandiosity. And he goes for it, in order to reduce us to human size and expose to us all our frailties” In its negative form the Magician Archetype is expressed by being a Trickster. These are people who cannot admire others because, like the faulty King, they do not have a firm sense of their own worth. They are insecure in their knowledge and are often uncertain of their specialized knowledge’s value.

In terms of game’s the best representation of this Archetype would be a straight-forward puzzle game. Something like Braid takes work and reasoning to master, the knowledge realized after doing so then creates an authority over those who haven’t beaten the game. You can see this kind of need expressed in something like the gamefaq forums as well, people voluntarily writing lengthy essays about how to beat a game’s challenges is again showing the need for people to share knowledge and feel helpful. MMO games also give people an opportunity to use specialized knowledge to help others, sharing loot and offering tips is a positive activity engaged with regularly. Since games are inherently learning experiences, this is often an intrinsic part of the processe. It can be as simple when the player is forced to step back and reflect on what they’re doing wrong in a combat situation. The Magician archetype is the masculine desire, when mature, to accumulate information and apply that in a helpful manner.

The Lover is the archetype of play, of being in the world and enjoying it and one’s own body without shame. They are “deeply sensual, aware and sensitive to the physical world in all its splendor.” Moore believes that this is the part of ourselves we draw on for creativity and art, it is the archetypal desire to be a part of the world and enjoying it. Creating a painting or blog post, for example, taps into this archetype because it is attempting to be a part of the world. It works with both the Magician archetypes desire to spread knowledge, sometimes the Warrior’s need to have one’s views be dominant, or it simply does it for its own sake. In the negative aspect the Lover is an addict. They are so desperate to experience everything that they fail to impose proper boundaries on themselves. The sex addict, drugs, etc. are all manifestations of an inability to force oneself to not experience all things.

In games this archetype is just beginning to become prevalent. Games like Fl0wer are paving the way for games based on being sensual, creating a sense of movement while navigating a beautiful landscape. Titles like Fallout 3 explore this by creating such a rich world of characters while Grand Theft Auto IV maximizes a world of details. For many games, this is the holy grail of difficult designs to manage, it is the archetype of immersion. The more mechanical aspects of the Lover, creating the desire to participate in the world, are seen in several forms. Level editors and the ability to share them would be a prime example. The ability to design your own home, add something unique to a game, or simply participate in a world that is expressive and provides feedback are also elements of this archetype. The negative expression, though perhaps manifesting itself in other forms of behavior, has its roots in the desire to constantly feel that one particular experience a game is providing for us. The thrill of the Warrior, the knowledge of the Magician…these archetypes when expressed feel good and the Lover makes us unable to relinquish them. In its most negative form, the Lover is the manifestation of not being able to quit.

If you’re noticing a lot of overlap between the archetypes, that’s because there is. Moore believes that the healthy, mature male balances these four archetypes and gives them all proper outlet. What he refers to as boy psychology is when one of these archetypes becomes neglected by a person. As far as games are concerned I don’t imagine trying to cover all four bases would be healthy. Focusing on one, as many games do today, would probably produce better results and attract the same audience members. Moore also believes that his archetypes apply to women as well, replacing King with Queen and making tweaks to other parts of their details. What the game design represents is a way for a person to manifest these elements of their personality through archetypes that resonate with the unconscious in the same way that a dream does.

Which brings up the final question of this series: if a game is an artificial dream that uses a symbolic language to allow us to express deeper personal issues, what is our responsibility with them? To the players? As this excellent interview with Jane McGonigal points out, part of what making video games more mature really means is using them for something new. Why not therapy? Part 4 will explore this issue more and wrap this series up. Thank you for your time.

Edit: To make your life easier, here is Part 4.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bit. Trip Beat

Pong with music. These emergent games are always great about having catchy music but they never have a way to scale back the difficulty. This is a bias in me when it comes to this genre, something I expect because I think being able to enjoy the music in these games is the real key to the experience. As a consequence, not being able to curb the difficulty or even turn the difficulty off makes the game suffer.

It's about the music, man.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ZA Critique: Beyond Good & Evil

I was inspired to pick BG&E up when Brainy Gamer's VGC started their play through but I found my pace of playing was too fast to stick with the conversation. I ended up finishing the game then waiting until they rapped up and reading their discussions.

This is a hard game to write about. Narratively it's a fairly unique theme for games: questioning authority and not trusting propaganda are always great messages for people to hear. The game design really odd. There are over a dozen different applicable skills in the game, well beyond what something like Zelda manages, and they are all taught on the fly and used for a fairly limited number of times. Typically when a game tries to do this it has to teach the player the ability, show them when it's relevant, and then sprinkle that throughout the game to sustain the need for remembering the skill. Here, every puzzle is a kind of self-contained mini-game that varies itself only once or twice.

My initial impulse was to think this wasn't meshing with the narrative and it made the game feel jumbled. Although I'm not particular about which is emphasized, the plot needs to reflect the game design or the design needs to reflect the plot (or not have one, depending on what we're talking about). This changed when I got to the last level and the game chucked most of its mini-games in favor of a few tense puzzles and long walks across wide spaces. The pacing of the mini-game puzzles, much like the narrative, was layered in such a way that you sort through the lies and complexity to get to the simpler, humbling truth about Jade's origins.

A few gripes here and there, some pacing issues, but mostly praise.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Simon Ferrari asked me in the comments over at Popmatters about my schedule. Given how rare the opportunity to talk about yourself comes up in life, I figured I’d take up the offer. He also made an interesting point about my claim on the FC2 ending: if the purpose of the game was to create a frustrating ending as a moral to all the violence, doesn’t the fact that it irked me mean it succeeded?

Before we go into the details of how I produce all this copy I want to point out that this is kind of a fluke. I don’t have kids, law school has reduced my love life to being slightly more barren than the Moon, but I have huge amounts of a very odd kind of free time. My day is filled with little empty hours that I can get research and writing done in. I couldn’t really dedicate a whole evening to, oh say, my last couple of ex’s but on the other hand I certainly can chip away at this hobby of mine. So I don’t really recommend this for everyone but if you’ve got time to kill like me then this is how you can use it.

I originally had a long ramble about how to get by in law school but that seems a bit worthless in retrospect. So here’s a basic summary of how law school in America works: the first year is really hard because you have to learn a foreign language (legal jargon) overnight. After that…it’s not really that bad. It’s a bit like gaming, once you can do the basics the rest is just intuitive. For the first part of the semester I just need to get the reading done so I have a lot of time to work. While the Far Cry 2 article is fresh to you, I technically beat the game in January and wrote the column in early February. The Kael summary was written in December, same for the Half-Life 2 piece. Mid-semester I start cutting back while the final month is one ungodly study and read as fast as you can session. Which I’m currently stuck in right now, so I’m not doing much game writing.

I typically have several projects going on at once. I create a word document and will paste links into it when I see an article relevant to my interests. Then I go back and read it, pulling out quotes or taking notes when I see a good one. When ideas or insights occur to me, I also write them into the notes as well. I roll all of this into a Katamari Ball of random quotes, notes, and pictures. I take a break in the afternoons to go to the gym and read while I’m on the treadmill. That’s where I get all the book research done like the Jung or Kael pieces. Dinner at 6, then back to the library until 9 or so.

In terms of the actual playing of games, I just have to plan that out carefully. I play for an hour or two after I stop studying on a weeknight. Friday I go out to the bars and party, Saturday is my day of rest from law work. On those days I play games in the morning while I nurse my headache, go to the beach for the afternoon, and do whatever in the evening. Sundays are just sit in the library days. If I have to review a game all other work is put on hold until I grind through it. I have several gaming buddies who do co-op work with me over beers, so some Thursday and Saturdays are spent doing that. Short games, 5 to 12 hour ones, I go through in a week or so. I build up a couple of essays on these to make room for playing longer ones like Far Cry 2 or Ocarina of Time. JRPG’s are too damn long (Denis Farr does excellent work with them if you’re hunting for that kind of stuff). I take notes while I play games and these get compiled into the research stuff. I almost never watch T.V. or movies unless I’m Netflixing a particular series.

The key to making this whole lifestyle work, in addition to having no real personal life outside of drinking buddies, is being able to turn it off when I’m sick of gaming. For as much as I make it sound like I work constantly, countless nights I just say screw it and do something else. That’s where the whole Vapor Culture practice comes into play. All this copy I’m producing typically gets set aside for publishing on a later date. At the time of this writing, I have 9 blog posts written out and ready to go whenever. So basically when the Muse inspires me I produce copy BUT I create the illusion of being some hyper-productive writer by jumbling the publication dates. It also allows me to revise stuff and improve the essay in ways I couldn’t while it was still fresh. I’ve gone days without writing a word or even reading about games and I can do that because I build up posts to keep the machine going when I’m on break.

And that’s the gist of it. I’m crunching for exams for the rest of the month so I won’t be doing much actual writing. This summer I’m taking a full-time job so I probably will be cutting back once that happens. There’s also the problem that this semester has been tough on me in terms of workload for school and it’s starting to take its toll. Having had my friends, several strangers, and my landlady comment that I was more snappy than usual this year has gotten me to start reflecting on my habits. I wanted to produce a large body of critical work on individual games and I wanted to establish it quickly. 3 columns, 12 ZA’s along with plenty more incoming and I’d say I’ve accomplished that goal. I may pick things back up once the summer ends and I’m back on the school schedule, but I’ve got the BAR to start prepping for then.

Plus, I think I need to work on relaxing and maybe getting a stable personal life going at some point. I don't really mind it now because law school is what it is, but afterwards I hope to get a bit more balance. Otherwise I might start to fall into that classic trap: if all you do with your time is work, then when you’re ready to quit you won’t know how to do anything else.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Far Cry 2

I just snapped that off with my cellphone. Christmas without Christ I have read a lot of Jungian dream crap. I didn't do it all at once or anything, I got interested in this topic months ago and didn't start writing about it until that first piece a while back, but still. That is excessive. Anywho, the research is done and all that remains is to write the final two pieces, which is still going to be a while. The third one will be interesting and useful for people, the fourth one is going to launch into the final conclusion that games have enormous potential for psychological therapy and personal insight.

I sorta wigged out in a PixelVixen 707 thread after reading her coverage of Heather Chaplin's rant on immaturity in games. The issue with approaching games like dreams is that a dream can be explained on some levels as your instincts giving you a feedback report on how your conscious mind is running things. So if a person is playing the hell out of a game, the dream theory is saying their unconscious is being expressed through this game. Whatever the archetype is inducing in them is what they're missing out on. People have often said as much when discussing game addiction but the dream approach means taking it a step further. A person may enjoy RTS games because they don't feel like they're in control or engage with Morrowind to feel a sense of purpose and success that is missing for them personally. By looking at their specific conduct in the game, you can determine what their artificially dreaming and thus what their instincts are reporting about the mind's current state.

Enter the back pedaling. The average person isn't particularly comfortable with this, Hell I'm not. We all feel small doses of insecurity or disappointment and games give outlet to those emotions in a healthy manner. Like anyone else I have a mountain of personal issues as well and it's kind of startling to think that my preference in games is a reflection of that. Up until this point, I'd just assumed it was skill or arbitrary. But thinking that every time I get into that obsessive groove with a game is because my unconscious is responding to it kinda makes everything

Like dreams themselves, I think I've mostly just excavated another level of what's going on with games. It's just another way of looking at them and every artistic medium needs as many of those as possible. Considering the fact that every mammal on the planet actively dreams about all manner things, I do find myself realizing it's not that big of a deal to say loving a game is an indication of an undercurrent of personal issues. We've all got them after all.

Oh yeah, I wrote a giant essay about Far Cry 2.