As much fun as these installments were, they also elevated the column. Instead of being just one man's opinion, thanks to Emails from the Edge, the column was able to become a full discussion. It was with these issues that I was able to know that I had well and truly succeeded in my ultimate goal with this column - I'd raised the question. And I wasn't the only one trying to answer it.
One thing I should mention is that there is a link towards the bottom of this installment to some testimony of Bruce Wiseman, president of the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). The CCHR is an advocacy organization founded in 1969 by Scientology, which has traditionally been very hostile to psychiatry, and it is the same organization that opened the "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death" museum. At the time I published the link back in 2002, I didn't know about the group's relationship to Scientology. Regardless, the testimony here has some merit, and I certainly think it should be read and considered.
Now, without any further ado, the second-last Emails from the Edge. And with it we enter the last ten installments of Garwulf's Corner that were published on Diabloii.net.
Garwulf’s Corner — Yet Another Emails from the Edge
Copyright 2002 Robert B. Marks, all rights reserved
It has certainly been an interesting three months in the Diablo world. First there was the Bnetd lawsuit issue, which even trusty ‘ole Garwulf managed to misunderstand, then there was the release of Dungeon Siege, hailed by certain gaming magazines as the “future of the genre”, and finally a judge in St. Louis ruled that video games as a whole are not communication.
Is it just me, or are people doing bizarre things just so they can get into my column? Nah...it’s probably just my over-inflated ego talking.
And, as usual, as things kept developing, readers kept writing in with great points and intelligent letters. Once again, I’m stuck with the mammoth task of sorting through a mountain of mail to share some of the brightest stars.
Garwulf #36, A Question of Rights, brought in quite a bit of email. Michael Donnelly, a systems architect, wrote that the primary precedent-setting value of the case was in regards to fair use. He compared it to buying a Toyota car and then being forced to operate it only on Toyota roads, a problem if the Toyota roads don’t go where you want to drive.
Matt Tooman also disagreed with me. At the end of an impassioned letter, he wrote: “This is indeed a question of rights. It is a question of the right of consumers to have an open enough market for competition to force innovation. It is a question of the rights of not-for-profit programmers to provide additional functionality to the consumer community free from the fear of constant litigation from a larger, multi-billion dollar industry. It is about the rights of all the little people. That's what rights are for - to protect the weaker form the stronger.”
The problem with letters about topics like this is that while they are wonderful, they are also long and involved. Picking a single excerpt that will encapsulate the essence of the letter is extremely difficult. However, the mail for this one was exceptionally interesting. Dan Zerkle pointed out the copy protection issues, stating that since Bnetd didn’t have CD authentication, it essentially DID make it easier for pirates. One of the most interesting letters came from Tim Jung, the Systems Administrator for the Bnetd project. He wrote in correcting my assertion that Warforge had been a splinter group and pointing out that Battle.net doesn’t actually pay for itself. The rest of his letter discussed the legality of reverse engineering, and denied that there was any Battle.net code. I’d love to print it, as it was a wonderful letter, but I wasn’t able to contact him for permission in time.
Garwulf number 37, A Glance at the Other Side, brought in even more reader mail, mostly about Bnetd (somewhat of a shock, as I had been writing about the nature of evil, and I figured that would generate the most discussion). However, there were one or two people who wrote in about evil.
One of the most interesting letters came from Vlad Gheorghiu. After reading the column, he got to thinking about an experience he had playing Sid Meier’s Colonization:
“I learned to play the game from my sister and a close friend of mine. So what did I do? I landed in South America and started my empire there. Pretty soon the natives got upset about me cutting down their forests, plowing the fields, building roads and sending my units all over the place. They started attacking my towns and I lost a few townsfolk to their raids. My response was to buy more guns and horses, gather my soldiers and raze their settlements. After clearing the whole of South America I realized with a shock what I just did. I didn’t think a fraction of a second about rights, morals and so on. All I knew was that it seemed the best course of action to eliminate the natives. Building a peaceful relation with them would have been costly. Why should I observe their rights and customs when it was cheaper to kill them?”
Thought provoking proof, if any be needed, that we all have a dark side just waiting to come out. The root of all evil may not be good intentions, but I’d take a good guess that it is expediency.
(On that note, I’d like to recommend a movie. The title is Conspiracy, it stars Kenneth Branagh, and it only came out a little while ago. It is a portrayal of the conference in 1942 where the German high command decided on the details of the Final Solution...utterly chilling.)
Garwulf number 38, my quick guide to buying swords, managed to bring out most of the sword fans. I got a deluge of sword stories, all of them interesting (well, there was one person who insisted that single-handed swords never weighed less than seven pounds and demanded that I make a correction, but I think most museum curators would disagree with him on that). One reader related how he had been able to handle a 2,400 year old Japanese sword. I only have space for one really interesting story, so I decided to go with the exception rather than the rule — Luca Lacchini from Italy wrote, after a wonderful description of a sword from Algeria:
“So, we have a heavy blade, a short hilt and an uneasy grip. It works fine. Realizing this stunned me. Last year, I took it and swung it along in my father’s back garden, then tried it against a block of wood (pine). The short hilt with the hand blocked between the flat pommel and the crossguard allows you to make extreme movements without fear of the weapon slipping away. The grip, although painful, is firm and secured even with sweaty palms. The unbalanced blade strikes at the target with unexpected violence and strength.
Lacchini then went to a local museum and examined some Medieval swords, discovering that the handling was very much the same. And thus we have the conundrum...were real Medieval swords truly light and wieldy, or were they heavy and devastating? And the answer is...both.
Every sword is different, depending on what it was built for, where it was made, and who forged it. I’ve handed antique swords that are remarkably light, and also quite heavy. However, before anybody wonders about the battle-worthiness of a light sword, I took Nightfire out for a cutting test over the weekend. Even unsharpened, it went through a freshly removed branch with a two inch diameter as though it wasn’t even there. And Nightfire is in the light and wieldy category.
(And, for those who kept asking me to post a picture of Nightfire, here you go! There are two pictures, one with Nightfire alone, and the other with Nightfire beside Guthbreoht.)
Garwulf #39, The Lawsuits of April, was my second major attempt to come to grips with the Bnetd situation. And, like the last tries, it managed to stir up quite a bit of controversy. Rossz Vamos-Wentworth raised a very interesting point about End-User License Agreements:
"You went on the assumption that the EULA is actually enforceable. For your information, not one single EULA has been upheld in a U.S. court. Numerous EULAs have been stricken by the courts. Generally, for the same reason - you can not create a contract after the transfer of goods, especially one that is not negotiated and is unknown to the buyer. The only contract that applies is the ‘point-of-sale’ contract. This essentially guarantees certain rights to the consumer - such as fitness of the product for what is advertised to do. No EULA can negate this, though many software EULAs pretend to with the ‘no guarantee of fitness’ clause.”
Rossz later added that there had been one exception, but the case was in regards to an electronic telephone book that had been sold in two forms, and the case had been where the non-commercial version had been used instead of the commercial one.
Burgess Allison agreed completely with my assessment, adding:
“Clarity is what everyone is looking for. Unfortunately, the legal system moves at decidedly non-Internet speeds, and it’ll take a long time for this case to make it through trial and appeals (assuming that the participants actually see it through to the end). Even then, if the case doesn't go high enough in the appeals process, then the precedent-setting value (i.e., the clarity) is minimal.
“Ironically, the enemy of clarity is cost. The participants may settle at any time — preventing the courts from providing an answer. Or one participant may stop trying very hard — which can produce a ‘bad’ result that doesn't focus on the actual legal issues. Or you might run into an activist judge who has an particular axe to grind--but if the participants don’t appeal then the ruling stands.
“Organizations like the EFF were created (in part) to make sure that important legal issues do get litigated and do reach the levels where they really make a difference.
“It usually takes longer than people think it should, but it really helps in the long run.”
As usual, the pair of emails I just mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. But, there are two more installments to cover, and space is short. So, with no further ado, onto Garwulf number 40, The Future of the Genre?.
While he agreed with me on most of my points, Lee Baxley did think that I had bit a bit harsh regarding Dungeon Siege:
“You left out one thing that made it a great selling point for me: Modability (is that even a word?). The creators of Dungeon Siege truly went out of their way to increase the reply value of the game by giving people the ability to modify the game on all levels. They took it a step further by releasing their Siege Editor (although still in beta form) so you can create your own maps/quests/characters/etc. This increased the value of the game ten-fold by making it possible to play an infinite amount of different games with it.”
I do hate to say it, but “modability” I’ve seen before too. In fact, I had a small hand in one of the versions of Diablo II: Cold Fusion. I really have become an old fogey, haven’t I?
Somebody who would only allow me to credit him by the very odd screen name of Walleye Carp thought I had hit the nail almost exactly on the head, but had missed one thing:
“What really makes a great game, is not ‘hack and slash’ style, but a gripping and involving storyline, realistic graphics, a simple interface, and multiplayer via Internet ability (very important), and you have the best game in the world. I think that while Story is Diablo’s shortcoming, Multiplayer ability is Baldur’s Gate’s downfall. As we get better and better gaming machines, we are going to demand more and more abilities from them. Great graphics, great story, take a sideline when Multiplayer ability steps onto the stage.”
Garwulf #41, To Judge a Medium, generated quite a bit of outrage. A couple of people wrote in saying that they had thought at first that I had actually been joking, and then the truth had dawned on them. Most readers who wrote in were absolutely amazed and horrified that such a ruling had ever been made. Only one person wrote in to declare that Limbaugh was right, stating that video games and movies are nothing more than entertainment, but truth be told, I can’t tell if he was kidding or not. If he wasn’t, I suggest that he go and see Schindler’s List, and then try saying that films and games are only entertainment.
James Wimsatt, in a very informative letter, wrote that a Federal District Judge cannot set precedent, as most District Court decisions are never officially published. Any precedent would be in the Circuit Court where an appeal is decided, but that would only be valid in that Circuit Court. Being a Canadian, I can’t say how accurate that all is, but the email address was connected with the Faculty of Law at Georgetown University.
Joshua Maciel brought up something new about school violence that had previously been linked to computer games that struck quite the chord with me:
“However, the truth of the matter behind school shootings (which is really one of those things that video games has gotten a bad name from) is that they are more closely related to the over-prescription of mind-altering drugs -- specifically Ritalin and Prozac.
“In case you didn’t know, Ritalin is an amphetamine. Basically you’re prescribing your child speed over a long period. The problem with amphetamines is that when taken in large enough quantities, they tend to produce psychosis which resembles schizophrenia and can involve long complex drawn out mass-murder plans and the like.
“Of course, I’m just a layman, so you probably don't want to take my word for it. Here's a handy link to read: http://www.oikos.org/ritalinkids.htm
“My contention is that video games are demonized because it's a lot easier to say that video games make kids kill people than admitting the sad truth — that a ‘disease’ with no symptoms other than decreased attention span and hyperactivity has caused parents to drug their children with a very dangerous mind-altering substance.”
As I said, this struck a chord. There is some circumstantial evidence for a neurological disorder that does cause difficulty concentrating and focusing, but Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) was also very fashionable when I was a child to explain children not behaving as their parents thought they ought to. I know...I was mis-diagnosed with ADD when I was a kid, and it took me a decade to get out from under the shadow of the mis-diagnosis (the actual problem turned out to be food allergies).
And that’s it for this installment by ‘ole Garwulf. Keep reading, and keep writing! I may not always have time to reply to your letters, but I read and enjoy every last one of them.
Next installment: The Fate of Siggard, in which the author explains where the Demonsbane story arc had eventually been intended to go.