Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure Delights & Inspires

©2011 Cassie Creighton, screenshot from Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure

The story of Cassie, age 5, and Ryan, age 33, a daughter-father team who participated in this month's Toronto Indie Game Jam (TOJam) 2011 -- where they made the incredible, hilarious and adorable Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure -- has made its way all over the internets this week, and for good reason. Theirs is a great example of how game design can provide families with an amazing and above all unique forum for collaborative and creative play. Now, Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure by no means an amateur production - Ryan Henson Creighton is president of Untold Entertainment and an experienced game developer, and his daughter, Cassie, looks to be something of an expert when it comes to magical equidae and is by all accounts a seasoned gamer in her own right. Nonetheless, a very inspiring example, and one that is becoming increasingly accessible (a.k.a. possible to emulate) through UGC game platforms, events like TOJam and other developments that are opening up game design to kids and parents of all skill levels.

If you missed some of the news coverage this week (here, here and here for instance), you can read more about it on the Untold Entertainment blog. Or, you know, just play the game yourself on the Untold Ent. wesite. It's even listed on JayisGames, how cool is that?!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

YouTube's Copyright School, Pirating vs. Fair Use

A couple of months ago, Youtube published a video aimed at educating young people about copyright, featuring (and made by the creators of) The Happy Tree Friends. Entitled YouTube Copyright School, the video relays a lot of the same kind of info found in the anti-piracy ads you see at the cinema - albeit in a humorous and much less cloying format. I've embedded the video below:

Specifically, the video explains copyright infringement - going over the different components of its official/legal definitions, and what that could mean in terms of repercussions.

What I'm particularly interested in is the video's treatment of fair use. This portion of the video starts at 2min:35 sec and ends near the 3min:00sec mark. Here, the voiceover states that
"Mashups or remixes of content may also require permission from the original copyright owner, depending on whether or not the use is a "fair use."
It then breezes through a definition of fair use...and really this paragraph is read out at lightening speed, in a sort of jumbled cadence that makes it seem much more complicated than it is. A sharp contrast to the slow and considered description of copyright infringement given just moments before. Not only is the pacing and tone different, but the language used is different as well.
"In the United States, copyright law allows for the fair use of copyrighted material under certain limited circumstances without prior permission from the owner......"
For some reason, the definition of fair use isn't written in child-friendly language, or read at an easy-to-follow speed. Everything else in the video is relayed in an accessible, child-friendly language. Why not this? In the end, the video makes it seem as though fair use is way too complicated for anyone but a lawyer to even begin to understand. No mention at all is made of fair use protections for parody, commentary/criticism, etc., or of the importance of key factors such as the amount or portion used (in relation to the work as a whole) and whether the purpose of use is commercial or non-commercial.

Another problematic framing occurs in the video's explanation of the counter-notification process: the user's right to contest or respond when a claim of copyright infringement has been made against them. It's great that the video touches on this, AND of course that Youtube has an easy to use form for counter-notification. But in the very next breath, the music and voiceover become markedly foreboding -- warning that if the process is ever misused, the user could end up in court. It then states, "And then you would get in a lot of trouble. That's how the law works." The overall result is that counter-notification is presented as a dubious and risky process to get involved in. Not exactly encouraging or even all that accurate of a depiction of users' rights here.

It may also be worth pondering how this particular representation of copyright compares to the site's own policies when it comes to the authorship rights of its users. For instance, while Youtube does indeed acknowledge that its users retain full ownership of their original content/creations, they also claim worldwide royalty-free license to use/reproduce, etc. that content anywhere and anyhow. Here's the relevant excerpt from their Terms of Service agreement:
"For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your Content. However, by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube's (and its successors' and affiliates') business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels."
Nothing very unique about this particular set of claims, but it's noteworthy that they aren't included in the Youtube Copyright School overview either. Which is kind of puzzling I think, particularly given that the video positions itself as educating users about the subtleties of copyright on Youtube. Additionally, corporate TOS claims over user submissions are some of the least talked about and least understood (not to mention questionable) dimensions of online copyright out there right now. AND one that all users -- not just those using borrowed/stolen materials -- become embroiled in the moment they upload a video or post a comment.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Do List: NYU Game Center "No Quarter" Exhibit

©2011 NYU Game Center

I'm in NYC right now, enjoying a bit of down time, a.k.a. writing time between conferences, and all I can really say is WOW. It's been gorgeous since we got here, and since my partner is currently doing a postdoc research semester at Columbia, we've had quite a swath of Manhattan to discover and explore. I'm currently being hosted by the fantastically generous and awesome people at the Adaptive Design Association (thank you Jason!) - which means I get to do my work surrounded by amazing toys and ingenious cardboard creations designed to improve the lives of children with disabilities. And tomorrow, I get to attend the opening of the 2nd annual ‘No Quarter’ Exhibition of Games at the NYU Game Center. And then next week it's the Future Babycastles Opening Block Party. And hopefully in and amongst, I'll get to meet some of the very inspiring designers, artists and scholars et al. involved in this whole, amazing NYC indie game scene. Huzzah!

Here's the info for tomorrow's event, reproduced from the NYU Game Center blog:
Thursday, May 12th, at 7PM is the Game Center’s No Quarter Exhibition of Games, featuring new work by Terry Cavanagh, Ramiro Corbetta, and Charley Miller, as well as a showing of Clock by Luke O’ Connor.

One of the primary missions of the Game Center at NYU is to foster the development of creative and groundbreaking independent games. To this end we started the No Quarter Exhibition last year by commissioning three games from independent game makers, including the IGF nominated Nidhogg by Mark ‘messhof’ Essen, as well as Recurse by Matt Parker, and Deep Sea by Robin Arnott. You can find pictures from last year’s event on this link.

This year we’re continuing the tradition by commissioning new games from Terry Cavanagh, the creator of VVVVVVVV, Ramiro Corbetta, a game designer on the IGF Award winning Glow Artisan, and Charley Miller, a New York-based designer of board and big games. We’ll also be showcasing Clock, by Luke O’ Connor, which premiered at the New York indie arcade, BabyCastles.

Additionally, we’re proud to announce that we’ll be unveiling the NYC Winnitron at No Quarter! The Winnitron is a free-to-play arcade cabinet entirely devoted to playing independent games. We’re happy to be part of this exciting project and look forward to having this machine at our event! For more information about the Winnitron project follow the link here. 
The games will be premiered at the No Quarter Exhibition opening party on May 12th, and will then be be on display and available to the public for the rest of the month.
RSVP is not required for this event.
Refreshments will be served