Friday, December 27, 2013

Heroquest, Game Zone & A Classic Post

This is actually the third time I've posted this particular bit of writing on this blog... but based on the Heroquest debacle (what with a Spanish miniatures company having been shut down on two crowdfunding sites in their attempt to capitalize on the Heroquest brand - and now started up on a third crowdfunding site!), I figured it was time to bring it out again.

First, let me share a quote from game designer Mike Selinker:
I've seen the HeroQuest 25th anniversary game get booted off of Kickstarter, get booted off of Verkami, and then respawn on Lanzanos. It's unclear to me whether they'll get booted off Lanzanos as well, but it's no given. There's a very good chance Gamezone will get their money and (at least try to) make their game.  
It's a fairly simple situation to me: The rights holders for HeroQuest have not given permission to Gamezone to make this game, at least in English. The naming rights holders have also not given that permission. As far as I can tell, there isn't anyone who's given Gamezone permission except a legion of crowdfunding backers. 
So if you support this game, what you are saying is that you don't care if the rights holders of games get paid for their work. That's a tenuous position for me. It means you don't care if I and my coworkers are able to make a living off what we do without fear that our works will be stolen. I don't expect everyone to hold that value uppermost in their minds, but that value -- that I can make something, sell the rights to someone else if I want, and then make an income off the sales of that item -- is what keeps me making games that people seem to like. Activity that undermines that principle is very damaging to me, even if it occurs on a game I didn't write in a country I don't live in. 
So if you're supporting this blatant ripoff of Heroquest, I hope you'll reconsider your pledge. Thanks for listening.
And now I'll go on to put my two cents in...

This is yet another classic post about gaming AND following God from 2009. For the gamers out there, there is STILL not an "official" Race for the Galaxy app - though Keldon's AI is both wonderful and "blessed" by Rio Grande Games.

OK, this is going to start with semi-technical gaming stuff, but I promise I'll actually get to a spiritual point for the non-gamers out there if you'll just hang with me. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Mom & Liz.)
It's no surprise to anyone that I'm a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, a card game designed by Tom Lehmann that takes the role selection mechanic (you get to choose a particular special action each turn that you & all the other players get to do) and uses it to create a fast-moving game of interstellar exploration & development that plays well with 2-5 players... and even has a very nifty solitaire variant. Between face-to-face & solitaire games, I've played it over 100 times.
2013 Note: That's now 400+ times... not counting 1000+ games against the computer AI.
So I was pretty excited when I read a thread title on Boardgamegeek yesterday announcing an online version of the game. Well, that excitement quickly faded when I asked whether or not the developers of the online version had permission from the designer (Tom Lehmann) or the publisher (Rio Grande Games). 

Like I said, this is going to get technical for a minute. The law that governs the copying of games is, shall we say, "in flux." (Or, for the gamers in the audience, "in Fluxx." Thank you, good night - I'll be here all this week. Don't forget to tip your waitress!) The graphics of the game board, cards, and pieces are protected by copyright, as is the specific wording of the game's rules... but the mechanics are not. (Mechanics, in board game terms, are the ways that the game works - in Monopoly, the mechanics include rolling the dice & moving, purchasing or auctioning properties, collecting rents, improving properties, mortgaging, negotiating deals.)
So, if I choose to make a new version of, say, Uno (why, why, WHY would I do this?!), I might get away with it if I changed the card colors & design, called it "First & Goal" (which is what my unsuspecting players would be forced to yell when they got down to one card) and rewrote the rules. OTOH, if I kept their card design, called it "One" and essentially copied their rules, I'd be subject to some pretty swift legal attention.

2012 Note: when I wrote this, I had no idea that my good friend & game designer, Stephen Glenn, would publish a football game called 1st & Goal. Evidently I was in "gaming prophet" mode. It, by the way, bears NO resemblance to Uno.
So, the guys getting ready to unleash their homebrewed version of Race for the Galaxy online feel like since they're using new artwork (or at least trying to find new artwork) that they fall under the "fair use" doctrine of the copyright law. 

Legally, they may be right. (Like I said earlier, there's a lot of grey areas in copyright law... and the advent of the Internet and the easy publication of almost anything has made for a lot more grey.) But is it morally or ethically right?
In this specific situation, the designer has asked the individuals not to continue (which they have refused to do) and is, along with the publisher, attempting to negotiate to license the game officially to someone else. Seems pretty clear-cut to me: these guys are taking Tom's work and benefiting from it without him.
But the specifics aren't really the issue here... the question that has intrigued me is the differentiation between
  • what is legal?
  • what is ethical?
  • what is moral?
I'm in real danger of oversimplification here as I begin this discussion - actually, there's no question I'll be doing just that. Bear with me.

Legal refers to what is lawful - do the written rules of the society permit or prohibit a particular action? Ethical refers to what is right - how should an individual or group conduct themselves as a responsible member of a society? Moral refers to what is good - what is the best behavior in light of truth & the reality of evil?

I don't want to go rabbit-chasing, but you need to know that the previous paragraph would make some academic types crazier than Carrot Top on a bad hair day. Not everyone agrees that there is any qualitative difference between morality & ethics... and don't even get started about the theories about where moral/ethical norms come from. Anyway, just wanted you to know that the preceding is my personal attempt to define the three terms.

OK, an example, courtesy of a poster on - until 1863, slavery was legal in the United States. It was the law of the land that one man could own another man... but that did not make it ethical (right) or moral (good).

Another example, this time from the Old Testament - when Shadrach, Meschach & amp; Abednego are "prompted" to worship the huge idol or face being burned alive, they had the choice to do what was morally good (honoring God) and ethically right (being true to what they believed)... or they could simply do the legal thing and grovel on their knees.

Yes, I realize that pirating a game with an online version & the slave trade are not the same thing - not even close. (It's also not the same as worshipping a 70 ft. idol - I figured most of you would understand that.) But it is a clear example of the principle I'm trying to get across - just because something is legally permissible doesn't make it ethically right or morally good.
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NIV)
So, what does all this mean for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus? Again, this is just me typing here, but I think the Biblical standards are:
  • "the good of others" (see the verse above)
  • the honor of God
  • just because I can do something doesn't mean I should do something
When we're faced with difficult decisions, our tendency is to rely on the letter of the law, whether that is a particular interpretation of the Bible or the Federal case law. As believers in Christ, that simply isn't enough - we must let go of the permissible and instead grab on with both hands to what is right & amp; true, what is pure & good.
Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10, MSG)

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