Before I get started, I want to take just one last look at Bnetd, which was discussed in Garwulf’s #36. I’ve received a flood of email, most of which disagreed with me, and I loved every letter. Some people got the point and disagreed, many stating that reverse-engineering was legal (I can’t speak to the accuracy of that, though…my understanding of intellectual property rights is somewhat limited when it comes to reverse-engineering), some missed the point entirely and disagreed, and a couple of people wrote in thanking me for laying the issue out clearly. Tim Jung, the Systems Administrator for the Bnetd project, sent me a wonderful letter correcting a couple of things, primarily that the Warforge group were completely separate from Bnetd, rather than a splinter group (according to Mr. Jung, they used the source code to create their own product).
(For those who are scratching their heads at this point, wondering if I’ve finally lost it, let me assure you I haven’t. My job as a columnist is to raise the question by stating an informed opinion, and when I have a variety of different opinions coming in, it means I’ve succeeded.)
So, I want to quickly take a look at player’s rights. More than one person brought this up, wondering if the Bnetd situation will allow game companies to dictate to players how their games are used. I’m pretty sure it won’t.
There are two primary reasons for this. First of all, Blizzard games are designed with several different multiplayer options already in mind. For example, you can play Diablo II over a LAN if you want, or you can play over the Internet without Battle.net by selecting TCP/IP play. Specify the address of a server, and you’re in. None of this has anything to do with Battle.net; it is completely separate.
What got Bnetd in trouble was setting themselves up as an alternative to Blizzard’s proprietary multi-player service. It’s ironic, actually; a very helpful reader sent me a description of Bnetd, and it pretty much emulates a LAN on the Internet (just as I’d suggested was the right way to do it last column). However, the group described themselves as creating an alternative to Battle.net specifically, as opposed to just another multiplayer alternative. If they had stayed low-key and not mentioned Battle.net, they would have been fine. It’s one of those cases where it wasn’t what they said, but how they said it.
The second reason that this situation will not impact the rights of players is that there is no way Vivendi and Bnetd will ever appear in court. The analysis on LawMeme was right: Vivendi has no legitimate legal complaint against Bnetd. With the exception of Warforge (a separate product), no intellectual rights have been violated. If this case was ever brought to trial, the judge would have it thrown out. This raises an interesting question: what lawyer worth his salt would send a letter that has no legal backing?
As I mentioned last column, we have to look at the forest here; the trees are misleading. Something important is going on beneath the surface. Vivendi can afford a good legal firm; they wouldn’t make a mistake like this. My theory is that Bnetd is being used as an example to scare away the people trying to break Battle.net. I may be wrong, though. Other theories are welcome.
That being said, on with the main column.
So, it’s close to the middle of March, and I’m hunting for a new toner cartridge for my laser printer. I walk into a Business Depot, and what do I see but an interesting blast from the recent past.
Yes, my dear readers, I came across a cheapo copy of Dungeon Keeper.
For those who have never played it, Dungeon Keeper is the polar opposite of Diablo. You are the master of a dungeon, and you have to keep building it up until you can lure in the heroes of the land, who you then slaughter (or, if you have a prison and torture chamber, capture and do unspeakable things to). That very day, I was building a dungeon until about 1:00 in the morning.
It brings up an interesting question. Here we have a game that encourages players to be as evil as humanly possible. Maiming and torturing gives you bonus points. And, it is some of the best fun I’ve had in ages. Why is that?
Could it be that it actually is good to be bad?
There might be more truth to that statement than appears. Robert E. Howard once wrote that civilization is a veneer that is easily wiped away; all you have to do is look at Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or Somalia to see just how true that is. We do have a savagery in our nature, and it is not one that can be completely suppressed.
It gets more interesting, in fact. Evil draws us. In several films the villains are far more interesting and fun than the heroes. In fact, when a hero begins to take on the interesting elements of a villain, no matter what s/he is doing, s/he suddenly becomes an “anti-hero.” You can save the world all you like, but if you aren’t virile and a goody two-shoes, you don’t get the heroic title.
(Great example: Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone, who starts his first story watching somebody get tortured. Or, Robert E. Howard’s original Conan, who is a complete and utter mercenary at the beginning.)
Actually, I shouldn’t say that evil draws us…the actual evil that exists in the world doesn’t. Instead, our perception of what evil should be draws us.
Think about it for a minute. Adolf Hitler was a madman who chewed carpets, but the people who actually came up with the fine details of the Holocaust were some of the most boring people imaginable. In fact, one of the things that made the Holocaust so horrifying was that it was not spectacularly and flamboyantly evil, but carried out with the same precision and matter-of-factness that one would expect from an automotive factory. What was done was horrifying, but how it was done was just plain dull.
Compare that to the cackling madmen of the comic books, or the over-the-top supervillains in the James Bond films. They are far more entertaining and interesting than the commandant of a concentration camp, most of whom were closer to business managers than classical evil.
(Want proof? Do a search on the Nuremberg trial, and look through the testimony. It is some of the dullest reading you can ever come across.)
It is the imaginary evil that draws us. It gives our dark sides a chance to play, without any ambiguity. We can revel in the cackling madman, knowing that he has no real-life equivalent, and that nobody really gets hurt. And, we can build a dungeon and imprison heroes, knowing that in the end they are nothing more than a group of pixels. We can be truly and absolutely evil without tarnishing our souls.
In this age of shades of grey, where heroes are tarnished by their own humanity and villains are rarely what they seem, I think that is a healthy thing.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pixilated heroes to torment.
Next installment: Having the Edge, in which the author talks about one of his favorite passions.
It is about 1:00 in the morning on April 9th, and I have just read the news about Blizzard/Vivendi and Bnetd. Needless to say, I’m as shocked as you are. I had written that I did not believe that the case would ever make it to court; looks as though I was wrong on that one.
At this point, I do not know what to make of this development. I don’t have enough information yet. In the here and now, the case appears to be founded on claims that are bizarre enough to be absolutely baffling. But then again, this is less than half an hour after hearing the news.
Garwulf’s Corner issue #38 will go ahead as originally planned; not only could we all probably use a break from Bnetd coverage, but it will take me a couple of weeks to work out what is going on anyway. And then, in installment #39, I will tackle the issue again, and try to make sense of it all. Hopefully this time the true forest will make itself known.