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Archive for "Sociology"

June 20, 2012

Stealing Music, Again

I’m pretty sure anyone who’s tangentially related to the music industry is contractually obligated to weigh in on the Great NPR Stealing Music Fiasco of Ought-Twelve

So here are my thoughts, in response to Jonathan Coulton’s very interesting ruminations. This was originally left as a comment on his post, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be buried, so…


 
Thought experiment for the Free-Culture and anti-copyright folks out here: Let’s say you make something. You distribute it digitally. And because you believe in Free Culture, you insist that it be distributed for free.

Then someone starts charging for it.

How does that make you feel? Do you feel that you, as the creator, have the right to determine how your creation is distributed?

I think even more than a practical issue — which, let me be clear, is certainly a big issue — this is an issue of principle. How would you feel if the foo was on the other shoot? Not great, I suspect.

But there’s also a practical element that doesn’t seem to be talked much about. There are a lot of Free-As-In-Beer flag-wavers outraged that the gub’mint might step in and knock out file-sharing centers. “What right,” they demand, “does the government have to determine how culture should be shared?”

But here’s what confuses me: What right do the flag-wavers have to determine how an artist’s work should be shared? Do you presume to know better than the creators of the works how their work benefits them, or benefits society?

We talk about “the music industry” as though it’s this faceless monolith. But the facts are (as usual) a lot messier. Yes, some artists can make a living on the road, and giving away their music (or allowing it to be given away) benefits them. But there are musicians for whom this is exactly reversed: Live performance earns nothing; music sales and licensing are everything. Most are probably in the middle. But are we going to insist that all musicians take it on the road, or give it up? Seems kind of counter-productive to the goal of diversifying art and encouraging experimentation. Do we really want a world where only the one percent (if you’ll pardon the allusion) of musicians can make a decent living?

People, think this through to its logical conclusion. We live in a world where money is necessary. The less money that can be made by making music, the fewer musicians we’ll have. Yes, there will be the super-successful, there will be the ones who do it for love alone, and there will be those — like our esteemed host — who find their own niche and make it work. But I don’t see how it can be denied that fewer rewards for making music will ultimately result in fewer musicians. Is that really what we want? Is that the price we’re willing to pay for “free” music?

Personally, I’d rather pay Mr. Coulton than get Rebecca Black for free.

Am I alone in thinking this way?


 
For more of my thoughts on the matter, you may be interested in this post from a few years back.

October 13, 2010

The Real and the Semi-Real

In light of all the “cyber-bullying” that’s in the news lately, I thought it fitting to reprint a blog post I wrote at 1UP back in early ’06. Feel free to swing by the original page to read the comments. But I’ll warn you: they can be pretty depressing.


 

“I weep for the future.” –Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

I’ve been following this thread over at the GAF about a guild who crashed a virtual funeral in World of Warcraft, and it makes me sad. Basically, what happened is this: A member of a WOW guild suffered a stroke in real life and died. Her guildmates, knowing her only through the game, but nevertheless wanting to offer some remembrance for one of their own, decided to hold a memorial service in the game. A rival guild decided that would be a great time to show up and kill everyone. Hilarity ensued.

Now, is it sort of creepy and vaguely sad that a group of people elected to hold a virtual funeral? I’d say so. It lends a depressing weight to the stereotype of basement-dwelling gamers who can’t function in the real world. In my opinion, it trivializes the real loss that this person’s real-life loved ones feel. But saying gamers aren’t the most socially adept subculture isn’t going to surprise anyone, and the fact is, these people did have a relationship with the deceased, however unorthodox. You can’t criticize someone for feeling grief simply because they haven’t met the deceased in the physical world. You can criticize their method of paying their respects, but I don’t see how you could criticize their right to do so, or the validity of their desire to do so.

And so this rival guild storms in, in a very well-planned strike (and yes, it’s pretty comical if you don’t think about it too hard), sending virtual mourners scurrying and leaving a trail of virtual bodies in their wake. Were they within their rights as WOW players to choose this moment to strike against a rival guild? Oh, absolutely.

But “within your rights” does not equal “right.” Fred Phelps is acting “within his rights” when he pickets the funerals of servicemen, trying to convince people that God is killing soldiers because America harbors homosexuals. The KKK is acting “within their rights” when they hand out their entertaining little photocopies (as an aside: for a good time, ask a Klansman what race Jesus was).

These phenomenal fuckwits who thought it would be funny to take advantage of the (admittedly naive and perhaps misguided) funeral proceedings to boost their stats — or even just for entertainment’s sake — were certainly within their rights. They’re also a bunch of gaping assholes.

“But wait!” you may say, “It’s just a game! How can you criticize this but defend killing hookers in GTA?!” The distinction is quite simple: The hooker is not a virtual representative of a real person. A game is “just a game” when it has no impact on the real world. But you put another person on the other side of the equation and things change. Is killing a person’s avatar the same as killing a person? Of course not. It’s not close. But it does have a real effect on that person. You are inflicting suffering upon someone else, even if only putting them through the tedium of building up another character. We have ways to describe people who get off on inflicting suffering on others. One of them is “sadistic.” Another is “evil.” (Another is “gaping asshole.”)

The important distinction here is that for many (perhaps most) players of MMORPGs, the game is just a medium for socialization. It’s one step removed from instant messaging…which is one step removed from telephone interaction…which is one step removed from face-to-face contact. It’s different only in degree, not in substance.

The amazing, anonymizing internets have made it easy to forget that there is a real, living person on the other end of your messageboard diatribe or your Fark flamewar. (And please, before you hash out a comment along the lines of “ZOMG YOU HYPPACRIT YOU ARE DISREPECTING SERENTY NOW BY CALLING THEM GAPPING A$$H0ELS!!!111!” understand that these guilds forfeited their right to be treated with respect when they acted like gaping assholes.)

As socially inept as these virtual mourners may be, let me ask you…who is behaving with more social grace? The gamers who chose to pay in-game respects for a real-world loss, or the ones who used a real-world loss to gain an in-game boost? Who’s more in touch with the real world? Who would you rather have living down the street?

Am I alone in thinking this way?

March 12, 2009

Random Economic Note

Just mentioned this on Twitter but thought it bore repeating here. The stock market posting its third straight day of gains today reminded me I’d read a very educational AP article last week about what “the bottom” of our economic situation might look like. You can read it here.

Here’s something I found interesting. The article says, in reference to the market recovering:

Other investors may look to obscure indicators such as the Baltic Dry Index, which tracks the cost of shipping iron ore, grain and other materials. Rising rates can indicate demand for raw materials is increasing, which suggests a strengthening economy.

And here’s what the Baltic Dry Index looks like for the past 12 months:

bdgi

I’m no economist, but it looks like there’s a pretty noticeable trend over the past couple months. I’m just saying.

March 20, 2007

More of the Ol’ Ultraviolence

[originally published in The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, Issue #105, June 2006]

Last month I touched on the enormous (and heated, and probably eternal) debate about the significance of violence in videogames. It’s not an easy argument to resolve; on one side you have gamers and game makers defending their hobbies and livelihoods, if not their very identities. On the other are a group of concerned citizens honestly believing — however erroneously — that they are protecting the innocent from nefarious forces.

You know what I do for a living, so you can probably guess which side I come down on. I know — from longtime, extensive, personal experience — that videogames do not turn otherwise conscientious, reasonably well-adjusted individuals into slavering, murderous social deviants. It just doesn’t happen. If it did, you and I and just about everyone we know would be in jail.

Furthermore, we can be reasonably assured that the vast majority of the slavering, murderous social deviants of history had very little exposure to videogames. Linear time’s a bitch, baby.

So why all the hubbub?

Continue reading “More of the Ol’ Ultraviolence” »

February 27, 2007

Taking Back the News

Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you saw something positive on the news? And I mean something genuinely positive — not “Muffy the Wonder Pony Turns 100” or some other treacly crap. When was the last time you saw a true story of courage, or nobility, or kindness…or at least one that wasn’t blatantly sensationalist and opportunistic?

Yeah, me either.

That wouldn’t bother me so much if I weren’t confronted by ordinary goodness every single day. I look at CNN or Yahoo News or the local paper and I think, “The real world isn’t like that. Things are not this bad. They just aren’t.”

Do bad things happen in the world? Yes, of course. Sure they do. They happen all the time. But they aren’t the only thing happening, and they aren’t even the most common thing. Humans are, by and large, good people. The problem is, our brain is wired in such a way that only the exceptions stand out. Which means that only the exceptions are “newsworthy.”

Continue reading “Taking Back the News” »

April 12, 2006

The Real and the Semi-Real

“I weep for the future.” –Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

I’ve been following this thread over at the GAF about a guild who crashed a virtual funeral in World of Warcraft, and it makes me sad. Basically, what happened is this: A member of a WOW guild suffered a stroke in real life and died. Her guildmates, knowing her only through the game, but nevertheless wanting to offer some remembrance for one of their own, decided to hold a memorial service in the game. A rival guild decided that would be a great time to show up and kill everyone. Hilarity ensued.

Now, is it sort of creepy and vaguely sad that a group of people elected to hold a virtual funeral? I’d say so. It lends a depressing weight to the stereotype of basement-dwelling gamers who can’t function in the real world. In my opinion, it trivializes the real loss that this person’s real-life loved ones feel. But saying gamers aren’t the most socially adept subculture isn’t going to surprise anyone, and the fact is, these people did have a relationship with the deceased, however unorthodox. You can’t criticize someone for feeling grief simply because they haven’t met the deceased in the physical world. You can criticize their method of paying their respects, but I don’t see how you could criticize their right to do so, or the validity of their desire to do so.

And so this rival guild storms in, in a very well-planned strike (and yes, it’s pretty comical if you don’t think about it too hard), sending virtual mourners scurrying and leaving a trail of virtual bodies in their wake. Were they within their rights as WOW players to choose this moment to strike against a rival guild? Oh, absolutely.

But “within your rights” does not equal “right.”

Continue reading “The Real and the Semi-Real” »