Let’s get this out of the way: Youtube – for all of the cool videos and channels it’s home to – is made up primarily of game analysis, reviews, news and playthroughs. It’s one of the reasons why I love the website so much. The best way to critique video games is by using footage from a playthrough for analysis. Like using quotes in literary analysis, it provides evidence for the many outlandish theories which come about from interpretative fiction.
But Youtube has begun to pull videos from gaming channels like AngryJoeShow and PewDiePie under quote-unquote ‘copyright infringement.’ Because these channels have been using footage from their video game playthroughs, Youtube has been ‘acting on behalf of game companies,’ to flag these videos, and has recently introduced a new automated system which rifles through every single video uploaded to Youtube very, very, very slowly searching for gameplay videos. That means that Youtubers such as Philip DeFranco (who does not review or critique video games, but runs a Monday – Thursday current events show) will have to wait up to five days to get his video approved by Youtube. Youtube Creators whose content isn’t game related will also be affected by this change. A video below by Youtuber Angry Joe goes into how it affects personal livelihoods, it’s pretty sickening.
Okay, so you’re up to speed.
But here’s the question: who does a video game playthrough really belong to?
If we were discussing film or TV, the answer would be simple – the producers, the director, the actors, all of the people involved with the creation of this product. If a Youtuber showed footage of this copyrighted product on their channel and claimed ad revenue from it, this would be legally and ethically wrong. You’re profiting off of another person’s work.
But video games are different, it’s one of the reasons why it’s such an excellent medium of entertainment. It’s interactive. It’s personal. My playthrough of open world games like Skyrim or Mass Effect will be entirely different from your playthrough. It’s my story, my character, and therefore the playthrough is my property.
The game creators design the world in which you play. They design the characters you interact with and they design the scripted events which appear throughout your story. But your dialogue choices, the order in which you shoot bad guys, steal from villagers or even explore the world around you. Think about those old books you may have read as a child. The choose-your-own adventure types where you’d start at point A, and throughout the story you’d make choices which tailored how everything would end. The author can lay out the many paragraphs throughout the book which may form your story, but if you took all of the paragraphs you specifically followed, joined them all together, added in some of your own backstory, changed the names and published the novel it would be 100% legal.
Now if that, which is a conflagration of ethics regardless of the legality, is legal, why shouldn’t a video game playthrough be so? The Youtuber isn’t even ripping off the game developer here, they’re just recording their game experience. The game developer has laid out the foundations for story development in-game, but it is the Youtuber who uses these foundations to create, to comment, to critique, to analyse and to form their own story about their Dovakhiin, or their Commander Shepard.
To use an analogy, imagine two playthroughs of Skyrim.
In playthrough 1 the protagonist is a heroic paragon called Marcus, a Nord who saved the day. He received orders from an Imperial captain to wipe out an evil sect called the Dark Brotherhood. He was an unwitting hero who initially was unwilling to follow the path of the Dragonborn but eventually stepped up to slay the world-eater, Alduin. He was happily married and lived in the capital city of Solitude.
In playthrough 2, the protagonist is a man called Cain who denied his destiny and became a vampire-lord. He lives in Castle Volkihar with his fellow vampires, away from prying eyes. By contrast he is the head of the Thief’s Guild. He has no interest in marriage or wives, he’s happy to live a lustful life with his vampiric mistresses.
Do these sound like the same game to you? They sound like two different Elder Scrolls games to me. The player is a creator too, too often we forget that. They have the right to record their adventures in these worlds.
Youtube shouldn’t have the right to take that away.