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Copyright and Culture: Video Games versus the Rest.

Video games represent a departure on copyright practices from most other mediums.

There’s Twitch and YouTube, both which feature non-gaming content, but both of which are home to huge amounts of gaming content. You can watch thousands of games played in their entirety on these websites, and in many cases developers are not just passive in their support, but are engaged and cultivate this. You do see the occasional developer push back at some of the customs and practices of their audiences, but they are the exceptions. Most studios and developers and artists are happy to have people tinker around unless they cross some pretty major lines.

Contrast that with basically every other form of copyrighted commercial content. A clash of realities, as though there were a dimensional rift between games and everything else. While you can screenshot and share parts of an article on social media, or you can post a reaction clip or make a meme from film or television, there are limits to what you can get away with. You can’t watch a feature film with an audience on Twitch, and generally cannot use your favorite music in the background either, sometimes even the music of the game you’re playing. There are even examples of multi-media franchises with books, films, maybe even comics or a video series, all closed down, and then the video game, openly streamed.

Over time, this distinction of how different types of copyright holders respond to public celebration of their work will shift the public’s attitude toward copyright. The public has never had a strong grasp of intellectual property law, which has been a messy and harmful system of laws that always have sought to protect the wealthy over being functional (this is a leitmotif of law).

This becomes even more apparent when considering how long people spend playing games versus engaging with other media. It’s quite easy to spend hundreds of hours over time playing a game, but even if you listen to that three-minute song on repeat 24/7, it will take 2000 listens to get you to 100 hours. Most books and films and television shows are watched once, and even mainstays like Seinfeld, Friends, or The Office only have two to five days of episodes, which are on par with many games.

The fact that games are interactive further departs from other media. Yes, people tap their feet or sing along, or they engage emotionally with the story, but they don’t affect it. They aren’t in control of the camera, they can’t throw in an extra chorus to the song.

Between that interactive engagement and the ability to further engage with new content from streamers, video makers, modders, and multiplayer experiences, games have a lot of hooks to get into the culture of their audience. These experiences add up to the conclusion that gaming will have a major impact on how copyright will develop in the next decade.

There will be a push toward making other forms more interactive, where possible, which will include relaxing some industry attitudes toward sharing of their content. Music can be made interactive. Film can be, too. It’s not clear how long-form text would work, but perhaps. An interactive song might work somewhere between full-on remixes and the static track you listen to on a music site. Remixing film and serial video content might include offering cut-lists up so that people can focus on one character or story arc. With technologies like virtual reality, it might even include being the camera in a space, with different people offering up different takes on a story by shifting the viewpoints.

At the same time, there will be a pushback against current copyright laws. The inability to share some types of culture effectively will frustrate a people who are used to sharing their gaming experiences. Surely some enhancement of fair use makes sense, as does shortening length of copyright. Practically everyone who graduates high school has read some subset of around 100 books, and most of them are still under copyright despite a universal role in education.

In the meantime, games will continue to be more familiar and friendly to many as an art form, as it represents something nearer to open culture.

Conservative Insecurity and Media

Cultural insecurity weakens conservatives’ cultural role, creating a feedback loop.

Not all media pleases us. A statement that is true for all. I don’t follow sports, for example. The conservative view of media is different. To some extent they may even believe the mainstream media is meant to attack them for who they are rather than attacking their political positions. Even when they don’t, they often see mainstream media and culture as nothing but a middle-finger to them. It’s a cultural issue, but also one of how conservative tastes seem to run.

If you spend some time in the history of media (say, 1800–present), one fact stands out: for a long time and continuing to today there has always been an element of pandering, of coddling the readership. If you read about how southern newspapers treated the civil rights movement, for example, it was often to spare the feelings big and small of the White southerner and to be vicious and remorseless toward the Black population. At other points in history and in various contexts, similar behavior against various out-groups.

And that is what conservative media reminds most of. It is that warm, soft blanket wrapped around the shoulders of the poor victim of the big bad world, the conservative reader or viewer. That seems to be key to their taste in media. At times and places the mainstream media retains that tendency toward its new audience. It’s not as constant or obvious, partly because of the diversity of the mainstream audience, but it does still exist. And at other times the target of affection remains the conservatives, particularly when they cry outrage, convince the mainstream that an issue is important or controversial, that reversion to the old media comes out: poor downtrodden conservatives, oh huddled mass of conservative Christians being set upon by the evils of diversity or common sense.

The loss of local and regional publishing likely has made the media world all the harsher for conservatives, as they no longer have their woobie. While conservative media is successful at pandering and peddling bullshit to sell bullshit, they do not have the same local touch that the bygone papers did. The biggest factor in local and regional publishing was that it was the paper of record, being required for all business-types, and therefore a privileged publication whose pandering was seen as part of the very fabric of society, business, and culture. The modern talk radio or right-wing websites have no such honor or distinction.

But as lame as it all is, yes, there is still sympathy in my heart for their frustration. I don’t want to subscribe to Fox News, particularly as it becomes more racist and extreme (partly in response to other, even worse conservative media), but good luck finding a streaming service or cable service that lets you opt out. Hell, I don’t necessarily want to subscribe to MSNBC or CNN, either. I avoid cable news, and I only watch local news when there’s bad weather.

Not subscribing is one thing, but trying to avoid the general mainstream viewpoints about the world would be about as easy as avoiding plastic. So, damn tough for conservatives who genuinely feel affronted by the media. It’s usually not media bias—the world is the world—but it’s still uncomfortable for them.

Even things as wholesome as children’s media has problems for conservatives. Their kid’s friends all like some wizard orphan thing, and oh God! are they inviting that devilry into their home? It’s tough to think your values are pitted against letting your kid seem normal to their peers.

The setting-apart of conservatives, whether in conservative media or conservative Christian media, results in a kind of feedback loop. They are a smaller portion of the mainstream audience and their political policies are unpalatable (except for some business policies), so they get a harsher treatment by the media and culture. That makes them even less likely to engage in mainstream media, and they cut themselves off even more.

Longstanding issues that have taken on new outrage, like cancel culture, must be looked at in terms of the overall conservative relationship with the media. Conservatives often try to organize boycotts and other retaliation for particular media targets they find offensive, and their actions must be understood in terms of defensiveness and insecurity, rather than as noble exercises in protecting family values. Meanwhile, their exceptions to cancel culture are mostly virtue-signaling about their general distaste in the mainstream culture.

The value of families and cultures is that ultimately we get to decide what’s appropriate, mediated through our communities. While one hopes there’s broad agreement that economic structures that prevent, for example, unsubscribing from media outlets we despise, and while we do suffer some loss of beloved media, there’s no question it’s a valid expression of the public to make their voice heard.

Any attempt to reform conservativism needs culture-policy reform. That’s especially apparent when seen in terms of the media issues. More moderate conservatives likely already don’t care that much about the mainstream media, except when it rails on conservatives per se. They count themselves in that group, even as they aren’t particularly insecure or down for the more extreme conservative media. Having some kind of moderate-conservative movement would allow the mainstream media and culture to create a distinction: mod-cons and the rest. That would spare the moderates from the shame and bother that is put upon the far-right, while giving those farther to the right a real path back toward the mainstream.

Re: FW: [JOKE] Thoughts About Memes

Why are memes so prevalent?

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there was a phenomenon of older relatives sending quackery to peoples’ email. These were wide in variety, including Neiman Marcus cookie recipe spam (Snopes: 3 November 1999: “Is the Neiman Marcus Cookie Story True?”), captioned images, and jokes, and they were almost always a transcript of forwards from across the internet, lasting for years and years.

And lots of them were political, and they were corny, and why did said relative have your email address, anyway?

But history likes to trick us. It likes to take a thing and twist it around and spit it back at us. So the same dreck that clogged our inboxes was inexplicably made cool once everyone left email in favor of Facebook and other social media platforms. The meme was born.

I don’t know what it means. Surely others have noted this FWD-to-meme evolution and how the former was as uncool as could be and the latter is seen as a form of net-cred. My best guess is that the elders impersonated youngsters on various zines and boards and whatevers, disguising their forward spam as coming from fellow youths. Now we have politicians memeing it up on their Twitter accounts, and nobody is running away from the damned things as last-year or overdone.

What, just because they’re funny?! Laughing gas is funny, too, but you don’t see people sending laughing gas over the internet!

Memes have always existed. Once upon a time folks would clip memes from the funny pages or newspapers or magazines. But they were always on the kitschy end of the thing, not some everyday, always-on device that would overrun real discussions.

These days, serious posts have the replies jammed full of videos of people making reactive faces. Use your words, people! I always ask myself, are there really people who go through and watch all those videos, anyway? God knows.

Some people had Monty Python and the Holy Grail memorized. I’m sure such people still exist, with different source material. On the other hand, the Christians and Jews and Muslims have been line-and-versing their memes out for centuries.

It strikes me as odd that we have this kind of short-circuit in our brains that says if you can encapsulate some idea in this trendy way, it suddenly takes on some special character. Like an advertising jingle that gets stuck in your head.

There are various possibilities for the rise of memes. One is that it’s platform metrics that drive them. Engagement, the mere reply or acknowledgment of a piece of content, is seen as key. Memes are a cheap way to engage, and the platforms like that.

There are others that say in our hyperconnected world nobody has time to think. Busy Twitch chats are full of stamp spam because nobody could usefully converse at 1000 lines/second. On the other hand, someone’s got time to make all those fancy plates of food showing up on Instagram (or are they just output from a generative adversarial network?).

One other possibility is they are a sign of the singularity. That as culture sublimates into the digital realm, human interactions become more and more patterned upon how consciousness directly relates the world to itself, with very id-based reactions to everything, and therefore the expressivity of a networked world naturally devolves into visceral-first communications.

Who knows?