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 Stolen authorship in the digital world

Last week something curious happened. The writer Sam Maggs (who at 33 years old exemplifies a new batch of authors who pivot between novels, comics and video games), denounced the deletion of his name from the game Ratchet & Clank: A Separate Dimension (2021), one of the best on Play Station 5.



The complaint on his Twitter spoke, in principle, of the name of the female protagonist of the delivery: Rivet, a finding that he claimed his own but that in the end had been, like so many other ideas of his, awarded the company behind the game. But his thread ended up deepening (and exposing) a larger, growing and pertinent problem that surrounds the digital world and that every day becomes more important to deal with: authorship, a diffuse concept in the world of video games.



In his 2010 comic cartoonist’s winterthe great Paco Roca reflected a similar reality: at the end of the 1950s, Spanish comic artists were not the creators of his works (we are talking about immensely popular comics like Inspector Dan either Zipi and Zape), but mere employees of the publishers, who became owners of the characters. Roca’s history reflects how those artists (Escobar, Cifré, Peñarroya…) stood up to the most famous publishing house (Bruguera) pointing out an uncomfortable reality: that in the arts the status of author must be earned.



And it is that the comic is not an exceptional controversy. Many media have gone through a similar process: it happened to cinema in the first third of the last century and medieval painters were considered artisans, not artists. It is something common in the first bars of life of a medium. Well, in video games it constitutes a present problem that has not been resolved, as the case of Maggs exemplifies: many contracts specify that any idea that is released in a brainstorming ceases to be the writer/designer/developer and becomes the company; and it’s not uncommon that if any of the components leave development before the end of the game, they will be removed from the credits regardless of their input.



An image from 'The cartoonist's winter' (2010), by Paco Roca.An image from ‘The cartoonist’s winter’ (2010), by Paco Roca. Material para Manualidades - Tienda online de materiales económicos para hacer manualidades: bisutería y complementos, scrapbooking, costura y labores. Material para manualidades



People would be surprised at how easy it is (many times) to contact directors of great games via Twitter or more prosaic means, abandoned by an industry that should pamper them and who often dedicate themselves to butting heads trying to build more personal projects. There are a handful of exceptional names, of course. the creator of Mario and Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto; the father of the saga metalgear, Hideo Kojima; Director of The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann; or the one of God of War, Cory Barlog, are names that have come out of anonymity and permeated popular culture, but their cases can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The uncomfortable truth is that the companies behind video games (we are talking about the big ones, not the independent ones) are not the companies most likely to hype the name of a creator, often for fear that, if they achieve their own fame, they could fly free and create your own works without the umbrella of the brand.



Kojima’s, in fact, is a paradigmatic case. Fired from Konami in 2016 after the release of metal gear solid v, created his own studio, Kojima Productions, with which he developed Death Stranding (2019). The fact that those two games were labeled “A Hideo Kojima Game”. That is to say, “a game of Hideo Kojima”, in the way that on movie posters it is specified that the director is Christopher Nolan or Pedro Almodóvar, or on the covers of books that the author is Edna O’Brien or Javier Cercas, was (is) a milestone. There is a company behind the works, obviously, but the author is not ignored.



The cartoonists could. Filmmakers too. Of the painters it is not necessary to speak because many of their names have been in the Olympus of artists for centuries, such as those of writers or architects. Maybe it’s time to put parents to the games. Perhaps it is time that the Kojimas, or Miyamotos, are not the only ones we can call “artists”.



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