Blog post #4: Do I own my avatar or do I rent it?

So a close friend and I had a discussion about the rights of players and designers to the properties of MMOGs, which was somewhere along the same subject as the chapter “Whose Game Is This Anyway?” in T.L. Taylor’s Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Culture.

One of the interesting topics that cropped up was that of the ownership of avatars.  For anyone who has played MMOs for a lengthy period of time, especially role-playing games (RPGs), you really come to embody that avatar over time and to even integrate it as a part of your identity.  So it is not difficult for a player to think of himself/herself as “owning” that avatar despite its true ownership to the game designers.  As my close friend pointed out, the game designers not only own the avatars through copyrights and trademarks, but they “rent” them out to players.  Whether it is through money (i.e. monthly subscriptions) or personal investments (i.e. time and effort), the player can be seen as merely renting the avatar for personal enjoyment and identification.  Renting through money may be easy to visualize, but some may wonder how personal investments qualify as payment.  Players who enjoy building up an avatar often times must put in a great deal of effort for equipment, skins, skills, etc.  This time and effort, especially in an MMO environment, contributes in various ways to the game community and fosters further player interactions.  By maintaining the game community and encouraging game play, not only in one’s self but also in other players, the player essentially earns his/her keep.

Though I can agree on this “renting” perspective to some degree, I found this last statement by my friend a bit harsh and perhaps failing to acknowledge that MMO players “make” the game.  Or as T.L. Taylor puts it, players are the “co-producers.”  Players do not merely spend money or invest a lot of time into building an avatar to merely keep or earn it, but because they simply enjoy playing the game and interacting with other players in a virtual world.  Sure, the game designers may technically own all the rights to the contents and entities of the game, but it is ultimately the players that truly define and embody it.

This can even carry over to the concept of third-party sites, fanfictions, fanart, etc.  While game designers have every right to protest content that may be hazardous to game reputation or game community, there seems to be a problem of where to draw the line.  What is considered provocative?  What is considered damaging?  As long as it does not push moral boundaries, I personally see no problem with these outside-game activities since majority of these are ways for players to extend their enjoyment of the game beyond the virtual world.  Even in cases where the moral boundaries are exceeded, you can often times rely on the players themselves to regulate or hinder such activities.

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3 Responses to Blog post #4: Do I own my avatar or do I rent it?

  1. dargan99 says:

    Blog Post Response #2: I agree with Ashley’s argument, but would stress even further the importance of fan art and fanzines in today’s video game consumer society. League of Legends, for example, has amassed an enormous amount of fan-based artwork, as can be seen through Deviantart, reddit, and other social media sites. Even a simple google search can reveal thousands, perhaps millions of LoL artwork (warning: some may be pornographic).

    Fanbase production for not only LoL but other MMORPGs such as WoW and EQ demonstrates rather clearly in my opinion how personal these digital characters have become to their players. My opinion on fan-based artwork is based off of my favorite childhood hobby: modeling. My father always use to say, “if you can’t own a real ferrari, the next best thing is to own a model of a real ferrari!” Although in the back of my mind I knew they weren’t real cars, I grew attached to the little plastic casts that I had painstakingly sanded, painted, and glued together. And when the final pieces snapped into place, I would stand back and look at my brand new car with enormous pride.

    With a pen and paper, any fan can draw their favorite character with complete creative freedom. Their personal touch to the fanart they produce gives the character a look that is wholly unique to their drawing style. To a gamer, I believe the same principle applies. The sometimes unbelievable amount of time that players put into generating, outfitting, and maintaining their digital avatars creates a sense of unique ownership that video game producers simply cannot take away from them. I believe that Ashley’s use of the word “embody” adroitly captures the ownership that I speak of. Given the right amount of data and information, any video game producer can recreate, with almost 100% likeness, a player’s avatar’s stats, appearance, mount, disposition, etc. Yet no producer can embody the character with the emotions, struggles, and social experiences in the same manner that the player did.

  2. You raise some excellent questions about ownership in this post. But if you’re going to argue that players are co-producers of content, then how can you regulate what they do with it? How do you define what’s “hazardous” to the community or “damaging” or outside “moral boundaries”? If you create characters that go global (Harry Potter), for example, how can you control what people do with these, how they remix them, or how they share them? Or should you? I wish we had more time to talk about this in class, because your post raises a series of really critical issues.

  3. vhsieh11 says:

    Blog Response #2

    The argument that as player, we rent our avatars is one that I have never considered. Yet, it makes sense. I couldn’t help thinking about how we can rent houses and make it something of our own. However, there is still the lingering sense that with avatars, it is different. Maybe it’s the fact that avatars have no physical presence and only exist in the game world. But I would like to change my prospective, especially after our class discussion where numerous examples of how player do contribute to the game.

    As players, I think we are the ones that bring the avatars to life. With millions of people playing a single game, there are only so many avatars to choose from at the beginning and player’s avatars are going to overlap. But only the bare bones of the avatars are what the designers create. It is the decisions that players make that truly makes each avatar unique and that, I think deserves credit.

    As Paul demonstrated in his response, there is a lot of investment to an avatar outside of a game. I don’t think that game developers should discourage players to take the avatars beyond the game space. In my mind players give free advertisement when they take avatars outside the game world. But I only try to frame this perspective in terms of financial gains because that is how we have characterized majority of the game companies. Another perspective is that companies may not always want for their avatars to be portrayed a certain way. However, I don’t see how stopping fan creation would prevent that from happening. Images or written work will spread with or without the internet. Sometimes it is through world of mouth that someone becomes interested in a game.

    And to respond to Professor Stabile, I don’t see a means for regulation. When something becomes global I think that to a certain degree, ownership is lost. The creators would still have ownership of the original content but they cannot hold on to everything. I believe that in aiming for global success the company or individual have to be prepared to let go of some aspects. Or a more positive perspective is that a measurement of success came created by how much players want to expand off of the original ideas. Since I don’t think that companies can control how people remix ideas or share their ideas is what makes this all incredible. A single or multiple remixes would not affect everyone. Everyone has a choice to pick and choose what they consume. Because people are remixing avatars does not mean that the original avatar that game companies make no longer exist.

    The direction that this conversation progress in interest me because this conversation is not a new one. There is only a new factor and that is the internet. It will be interesting to seem if companies will be more open in the future or not.

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