I’ve been surprised recently by the frequency with which I hear people (even those who should know better!) express concerns about sharing ideas in public or online before they are fully articulated or “protected.” This strikes me as symptomatic of a cultural moment marked by both desperation and the subtle triumph of today’s intellectual property regime.
I think it is worth thinking clearly about the consequences within a community of sharing vs. not sharing ideas. In the commercial realm, it is probably reasonable to expect the worst. This is why we have ham-fisted systems such as copyright, digital rights management and the DMCA. On a listserv devoted to Games for Change (G4C), a newcomer recently expressed her #1 concern with participating on the list as “How do I protect my idea?”
A number of the responses to her message suggested ways to import the copyright-centric conventions of commercial culture into the G4C community. I suppose that this would indeed prevent someone from stealing an idea, commercializing it and cutting the originator out of the profits. At the very least, it would provide lawyers with ammunition to use in court when a lawsuit for copyright infringement goes to trial.
Assuming that this is not really the primary issue for a community focused on social issue game design, I would instead propose a thought exercise to explore possible “worst-case scenarios” if we were to treat the G4C community as a shared, collective space for exploring and developing ideas at all stages.
Worst case #1
You mention an idea on the G4C list; someone takes it and makes exactly the game you were intending and they do so before your game can get off the ground. Perhaps the game will have the very impact you wanted to achieve, which is not all bad; or it will fail without taking up any of your time or resources. Everyone in the community will know what happened and the “stealer” will be regarded with suspicion thereafter.
Worst case #2
Someone takes your idea and tries to make a game out of it but botches the job; in this case, you can go on to make the game you originally envisioned, with the benefit of learning from their mistakes. The stealer will thereafter be regarded as both untrustworthy and incompetent.
Worst case #3
Your idea is not exactly “stolen” but it sparks a creative impulse in someone else, who makes a related project with significant variations, perhaps applying it to a different social issue or context. Again, your idea has brought something good to the world; you are free to go ahead and make your game, having learned from, or perhaps even collaborating with, those who made the other project. In this case, it is worth asking whether your current idea is really 100% original. Surely the best ideas sometimes build on the creativity of others; perhaps the initial idea was made possible precisely because someone else decided to share their own thinking with you or the world.
Worst case #4
Your idea circulates through the G4C community, you receive suggestions for improvement, references to related projects and ideas for collaborators; the original idea evolves and becomes stronger and more achievable; you make connections with others of like mind and G4C becomes an even more dynamic, creative space. In this case, you no longer feel total ownership and control of your original idea; it is no longer “intellectual property,” but it has become one among many parts of a community that shares certain goals and values.
In any case, participating in such a community improves the chances that any given idea will not be the last one (good or bad) that you ever have and certainly it increases the likelihood that both your idea and the community will get better. For me, the question comes down to what kind of creative communities I want to be a part of. I come to communities such as G4C to find creative, socially conscious people who care about issues and the potentials of games to make a difference in the world. Such a community is enriched when ideas are shared freely and openly and it is greatly impoverished, even poisoned, when ideas are held back or treated as property to be either protected or stolen.
Ideas are cheap and they should be plentiful; doing good work that makes a difference takes a whole community.
The ugliness of political advertising is nowhere more apparent than in the wave of anti-China ads airing in the weeks prior to the 2010 mid-term elections. These ads show that racism and xenophobia are strategies used actively by both Democratic and Republican parties when attempting to deflect responsibility for the domestic economic crisis.
These ads are also remarkable for their shameless use of iconic imagery (maps, flags, stars, dragons, Chinese characters) and sounds (gongs, Chinese music and language) to signify the evilness of China and to accuse incumbent politicians of colluding in China’s economic rise, ostensibly at the expense of American businesses and jobs.
On October 9, the New York Times reported that “at least 29 candidates have unveiled advertisements suggesting that their opponents have been too sympathetic to China and, as a result, Americans have suffered.”
The clips linked here represent only a fraction of the more egregious instances of scapegoating China for America’s economic woes. For more examples, search for keyword “China” on Critical Commons.
Collective Action is an hour-long screening program of DIY video that premiered at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles on October 5, 2010. Showcasing a wide range of online, geek, remix, and fan culture, Collective Action was curated to highlight the most recent trends and techniques emerging from the worlds of anime music videos, political remixes, fan vids, videoblogs, activist media and the YouTube scene. Produced by Steve Anderson, Mimi Ito, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Holly Willis, this program picks up where the 2008 event, 24/7: A DIY Video Summit left off, defining and celebrating media made outside of commercial or industrial contexts.
View or download the complete Collective Action program. Distributed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license
Mobile Commons is a mobile web application designed to provide access to the full contents of the Critical Commons database, allowing users to add voice-over commentaries to media contained in the system and to view media and commentaries via most internet-enabled mobile devices including the iPhone, iPad, Android and most Symbian-based smart phones.
Critical Commons is a research platform and resource for media scholars and educators that launched in Spring 2009 with support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning competition. The Critical Commons database contains hundreds of high-resolution video clips and was recently redeveloped to include a mobile application. It is being used widely in support of classroom teaching, electronic publication and as an online space for scholarly research and writing. Along with the Shoah Foundation, the Hemispheric Institute, and the Internet Archive, Critical Commons has been selected as an inaugural partner in the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, a Mellon-funded initiative in the digital humanities. The goal of Critical Commons is nothing less than a transformation of the way media is used in research and teaching and an expansion of fair use protections for educators across multiple disciplines.
There are certain kinds of histories that popular media is ill-equipped to tell, including the nuanced portrayal of conflicts and contradictions within progressive social movements. This is especially true when hard won advances of the Civil Rights movement are coming systematically under threat, as they are in contemporary American media and political culture. From the beginning, AMC’s Mad Men has pursued a deliberate revision of previously imagined televisual histories of the 1950s and 60s, resisting easy cliches and historical consensus (the 1950s were a time of placid prosperity and teenage highjinks; the 1960s were all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, etc.).
In this scene from Season 4 (originally aired September 19, 2010), a political radical who is passionately advocating civil rights for African Americans mockingly dismisses the notion of extending the movement to include similar rights for women. As the show has progressed through four seasons and a similar number of years in TV time, the Peggy Olson character (Elisabeth Moss), has emerged as an increasingly effective, organic intellectual speaking on behalf of rights for women, while still retaining her sense of self as an apolitical career woman focused on local, personal struggles in a Madison Avenue advertising firm.
In an earlier episode from Season 4 (originally aired August 29, 2010), Peggy, the smart, capable copy editor who is coded in the show as “plain” grows tired of being subjected to misogynist abuse by an overbearing colleague and turns the tables on him by challenging him to undress. She then catches him becoming aroused and refuses to stop looking at him until it eventually drives him from the room. While many forms of the visualization of female pleasure are allowable by the codes of Hollywood cinema/TV (and commercial pornography – e.g., faked orgasms and feigned pleasure in being the object of the male gaze), looking is rarely among them. This scene belongs among a handful of similar moments on film/TV, including the scene in Dorothy Arzner’s Dance Girl Dance when Maureen O’Hara confronts the audience in a burlesque show. Peggy is empowered in this scene both by fully possessing and exploiting her own ability to “stare back” at a naked man but in reasserting her own sexuality and by ultimately taking control of the space of the room.