The Ethics Behind "Rewritten" Games

Jun 5, 2022 | 1 Votes by jose 10 rate Your vote
Many games from the past are no longer available. However, game nostalgia is such a strong force that many look for ways and means to play their beloved games again. One way to bring back these long-forgotten games is to re-write them, however, there are certain ethical factors to consider when doing such a thing.

WWGDB - The Ethics Behind "Rewritten" Games

The game industry today is populated by so many current games that there are times that gamers themselves have difficulty in choosing the games they wish to play. However, the game industry has existed for quite a while, and many games have accumulated throughout the years. Many of these games that came out decades ago may have been archived, if not entirely forgotten, but a number of them have made such profound impressions on those who have played and experienced them. These fans usually develop a deep feeling of nostalgia for their old favorite games, and many of them would likely jump at the chance to play them once again.

To remedy the nostalgic situation, some game fans who also happen to be developers themselves find means and ways to bring these long-gone games back for themselves and others. This is where software emulators and archived copies of the game (for the emulated formats) were popularized as a go-to for such nostalgic gamers. However, not all the old games can be brought back using emulators. Many MMORPGs of the gaming past had totally disappeared when the publishers themselves closed them down, and the developers discontinued any updates and support for them. In cases where the game could have only been accessed online, or for either some other reason that the old game would no longer fit in today's gaming world, rewriting the game would be the practical option in bringing it back.

Thus, rewritten games are these old games that have been closed down by their creators and publishers and have been brought back by fans by creating a rewritten code copy of the game with all the attributes of the original so that the old fans may enjoy it once again and at the same time, attract new players, and gain a new following as well. This, however, can be done in different ways and applies to the different kinds of games as well. An example would be the classic old text games that have dropped out of sight through the ages. Back in the early days of micro-computing, in the days of the Apple 2, Commodore 64, and the TRS-80, all text games became one of the most popular ways to have fun with your PC. Many of these games (with the exception of the few classics like Zork and Colossal Cave) have been long forgotten into oblivion.

Nellan is Thirsty ReWritten



One such game is a free2play Public Domain all-text game called "Nellan is Thirsty." The game first came out as a printed source code in 1980 in a computer magazine called Recreational Computing. This was common practice back in the day as many free games and apps were usually written in BASIC, then printed and distributed so that the micro-computer hobbyist of the time could type it into their Apple, Commodore, and whatever brand of computer they had. These were also machine-specific,, so you had to use the code intended for your PC. Nellan Thirsty was all text and became popular for the Commodore 64. As years went by, the game was forgotten until it was rewritten in our current time as a graphical point-and-click adventure game for the PC, and later was eventually ported over to mobile devices for a greater reach. In the new GUI version, the characters and story are the same, but the original BASIC code has been replaced with a more current C++ program along with the graphics and other modern features in the game.

The Club Penguin Fiasco



Another prevalent and controversial example was the online social-media Club Penguin Rewritten game. The original Club Penguin game was developed and released by New Horizon Interactive in 2005. It was such a big success that in 2007, both the game and its creator were acquired by Disney. The game was run for another ten years, but in 2017, it finally came to a close. Many old time players and fans of the game where caught in the Nostalgic effects as it played an essential part at specific points in their lives. Thus, rewrites of the game started to sprout up on different unofficial servers so that the old fan base could experience the game online once again. One of the most popular of these rewritten Club Penguin games was Club Penguin Rewritten. The game had acquired millions of followers, both old and new.

In rewriting old games, and releasing the new version of the game for the gaming public to enjoy, is not a simple thing. There are certain considerations or moral principles to take into account when recreating such games. One of the most important considerations is the copyright of the work. In the case of written and created works or content, the work in question is also known as an Intellectual Property (IP). Ethics dictates that a creator's IP should be respected and should not be stolen and/or violated. Another thing to consider is game ideas and play mechanics (in general) cannot be copyrighted. So if you can copy how a game is played but present it as a new game, there is no violation with regard to the original game. If, however, the game is copied almost as-is (characters, graphics, and overall look of the game), one can get into trouble with the game's current copyright holder.

In the case of Thirsty Nellan, although the character and story was the same, and the gameplay was the one different, Nellan is Thristy was released in the Public Domain and is an open source game. One can re-create the game in so many different versions, and it will still not violate any IP laws. Unfortunately, Club Penguin Rewritten is a clone of the original Club Penguin game, and having Disney as the Intellectual Property owner is like having Nintendo breathe down on anyone who mistakenly uses any of it's characters in one own published works. Also, Disney is well known for its overprotectiveness and use of its copyright, like in the case of Miley Cyrus, who couldn't even use her name and image because Disney owned it and practically owned her as a person. Sadly, Disney owns the rights to Club Penguin, and though the fans had a noble cause in rewriting and bringing back the game, they just didn't own the copyright.

For whatever reasons there are in rewriting a game, whether for good or bad, if the IP holder has not given any specific permission to use the game for other purposes, the moral principle under the law would be to respect the owner's rights. However, there are many instances where materials coming from an original work are used and allowed under the Fair Use Law (which is very legal) and also for other non-commercial purposes. In the case of Club Penguin Rewritten, though the game was free2play, there were some monetization features in the game, and it was attracting millions of users as well. In a situation like that, calling attention to oneself often ends up as a disadvantage, if nothing else.

To sum it all up, when it comes to games or any other published works, the prevailing ethical principle to consider would be to always respect the rights of the copyright and intellectual property owner.

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