Let’s Play? I Don’t Think So…

YouTube gaming networks such as Polaris could come under fire following the recent content crackdown on game footage

Before I begin talking about the topic at hand, I would first like to apologise for my absence from this site. My year has been devoted to writing. Not necessarily for this particular website, but instead for myself. During my final year at university, I produced a thesis that looked at the qualities of cinematically inspired video games that set them apart from the media in which they derive so many tropes. Although this particular discussion has begun to seem behind the times in the world of gaming, the comparison between video games and cinema has added a new angle in light of the recent crackdown on the use of copyrighted game footage by YouTube video content producers.

In the December 12th edition Content Patch, YouTube-based video game commentator, TotalBiscuit, discussed the crackdown that was occurring in great detail. Due to the introduction of an automated review and comparison method that has been implemented by YouTube, channels that devote themselves to video game coverage in a wide range of capacities (including journalistic coverage of the field and Let’s Play-ers) have been met with action that prevents them from monetising their videos. The review system compares footage owned by game production companies to the footage used by these gaming channels and attempts to match the footage in the hope of attributing the visual and audio content to its original producer. However, the system itself is loaded with flaws.

Firstly, the review doesn’t necessarily have to be issued by the games original producer in order to create a claim against the ‘offending’ channel. What this means, is that game production companies that do not discourage their players from capturing and using footage for the discussion and sharing of the game are still finding that action has been taken against their players against their will. On top of this, these claims attempt to remove the right of the user to monetise their footage, instead having this feature forwarded to the games production company. Instead of the money going towards the channel that is responsible for producing the discussion of the game, it would instead go to the games producer.

Before I go on, I want to make something very clear. Video games are a media platform that continues to set itself apart from its cinematic counterpart. Viewing the use of video game footage as something that should be observed in the same light as sharing a large portion of film on YouTube undermines the quality of video games that makes it unique; its degree of freedom and interactivity to its player.

While it could seem detrimental for scenes of linear games to be shown at great length by these gaming channels, they serve a greater purpose than merely sharing the games plot. The reason that player go to these channels is not to find out just what happens in the game, but instead intend to enter the discussion that surrounds the game. It is this idea of discourse that helps to set these channels apart than the discussion of a cinematic piece. When I start to look at a game using footage from a game converge site or a Let’s Play series, I enter the viewing process with a certain level of understanding as for what I am going to take away from viewing a particular piece of content. While I may walk away from a Let’s Play video with a certain knowledge of some events that may occur within the game, I also understand that the experience that is held by the person playing the game in the video is going to be different to my own experiences when interacting with the game.

Video games present their players with a unique experience on every occasion that they chose to pick up a controller or sit at their computer. It is with this in mind that we can start to see the flawed nature of this YouTube imposed review system. Video game footage should not be subject to a broad-stroke attempt to prevent the use of copyrighted footage as each playthough of a game comes with a unique presentation that cannot be attributed to the games developers. Games require players in order to reach their full potential as an art form. Their characters and environments can’t come to life without the imparting of force from their controller-wielding player. Additionally, this experience deviates further from its original design when the discussion of the game is added by the content creators that make these sorts of videos. They add an element of discourse that remains outside the game, inviting players to explore and discuss the finer elements of the game without personally interacting with the source material. While showing full-length cutscenes within the game may be detrimental to the players experience further down the track due to their presentation of a linear experience that cannot be altered by the player, the discussion of the game shouldn’t be a cause for concern from both YouTube and game development studios.

I write this piece for the same reason that I want to see this style of content being shared on a daily bases; I want to see the discourse surrounding video games grow and flourish. Like many other lovers of games, I believe that this particular method of detecting copyrighted material detriments the very industry that it’s trying to serve.

Resources

Content Patch: YouTube copyright blitz focuses on gaming channels