Video games and theatrical performances

Let me begin with a quote from a recent interview with my favorite writer, Chris Avellone, who said of his feelings on the digital distribution of video games:

“I love digital distribution… Of course, one of the greatest things about digital distribution is what it does to reduce the used game market. I hope digital distribution stabs the used game market in the heart.”

The used games market is upsetting to developers like Avellone because the developers make no money directly off of games sold in that market. Some say it is good for the industry as a whole, in which case perhaps the rising tide lifts all boats, but there is room for debate.

Now, here is a quote from a not-so-recent interview with my other favorite writer, W.S. Gilbert, talking about the problem of Americans pirating his and Arthur Sullivan’s comic operas:

“It is the American pirates for whom we have a deadly hatred. But we shall soon be even with them… We… are determined to do battle with every American manager who attempts to produce one of our plays without paying the fee. We have fought, we are fighting, and we intend to fight, cost what it may. The pirates are beginning to fear our pugnacity, and I think we shall win in the end.” 

Reading these two quotes set me thinking about the similarities between the medium of video games and that of theatrical performances. While selling used games is not quite analogous to pirating stage plays, it may be, I think, even more analogous than pirating video games is to pirating stage plays. And really, all are almost identical from the perspective of the creators.

Avellone inspired some anger with his comments. (Gilbert probably did too, but there was no internet in his day, so we don’t know what his fanboys and haters thought.) Since eliminating the used market would make it harder to get games cheaply, some fear it would hurt the medium, both artistically and economically.

And indeed, one could make the same argument about theater performances. After all, if Americans were putting on unlicensed performances of Gilbert and Sullivan, did that not signify healthy demand for good comic opera? I mean, contrast this with the present-day when, I suspect, most people wouldn’t go see it for free. And indeed, after so many American productions of H.M.S. Pinafore, G&S and Richard D’Oyly Carte moved to get in on the action with their next opera. (About, amusingly, pirates.)

Economically speaking, used game sellers, game pirates and theater pirates are all quite similar in their effects on the market. However, if we consider games and plays from an artistic, and not economic perspective, there are also similarities. The first thing that springs to my mind is that the practice of “modding” games is quite analogous to some of the updating and setting changes given to stage plays. I don’t know if I’d say West Side Story is to Romeo and Juliet as Counter-Strike is to Half-Life, but the practices seem to me to be similar. (There is also the fact that in both stage productions and video games, it sometimes falls to the fan community to restore a piece to its originally intended form.)

There’s more freedom, I guess, in games and plays than there is with movies and books. I suppose you could also argue the same is true with music, as musicians may cover a song and in so doing change its meaning. But since many songs ultimately depend on the skills and intentions of one performer, as opposed to being collaborative like games and plays, the analogy is not quite as good.

If you are wondering what my point with this post is, there really isn’t one. I’m just kind of musing.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting face I came across. A game release this year earned 400 million dollars in the first 24 hours of release. The last Harry Potter movie has earned 391 million and is the best earning movie of the year.

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