Free Culture Flash game

Over on Play This Thing! Greg Costikyan reviews Paolo Pedercini's fascinating -- if simplistic -- Free Culture game:
So like, this is a Flash that has you moving little idea objects into the little heads of little ol' people who turn green when you feed them thoughts. When you feed the people ideas, they then poop out more ideas -- literally, off the top of their heads. A vacuum cleaner called capitalism keeps sucking up ideas to feed to the passive consumers, who have turned gray. By moving your mouse around to herd the ideas to the people, you keep the mojo flowing and eventually become the John Lennon/V for Vendetta guy of the game world, turning it into some kind of user-created-content lovefest. It's like the end of The Invisibles, but not as vivid.

The argument seems to be this: When ideas are shared, everyone gets richer, because the total number of ideas tends to increase in a recombinant explosion of creativity. Copyright is kind of fallacious, because all patterns of information are by default in the commons of vast, unexplored or previously explored possibility space. Ideas only become intellectual property when someone takes them out of the commons and stamps a (C) on it. The game is basically inviting you to say: "Fuck that!"

Free Culture (Thanks, Greg!)


  1. How annoying, and the frustration takes the form of “Why don’t these commons dolts actually do something, instead of waiting for copyleft to clumsily nudge ideas into their brains? At this rate, wouldn’t they be better served by the `idea scoop’ of capitalism?” Is that the point? How cynical.

  2. Nice idea, though I’m annoyed at the gameplay. The people in the commons will grab ideas if you get them close enough, but the cursor doesn’t allow very fine control. Meanwhile, the more ideas there are in the commons, the more the vacuum-cleaner can steal, so getting the last few people out of the ring and into the commons seems a little too hard for me. YMMV, of course.

  3. So, yeah, the review is on my site, but I didn’t actually write the review… That was Patrick Dugan (aka the99th).

  4. you literally cannot lose this game. I decided to be an ass, and make all the damn hippies get jobs, but no matter how hard you try, new hippies keep popping up.

    next up: watching the game run without user input.

  5. I wouldn’t call it a game persay but more an educational simulation of sorts… in part because you can’t actually lose… if you push ideas into the heads more ideas come out and the more you have to fight Capitalism from taking the ideas, it gets very difficult very quickly, it shows that too many ideas someone is going to swoop in and take some of them and commercialize them for the passive consumer. Trying to do the opposite you also cannot do, because you need ideas from the commons in order to keep your passive consumers passive. Its an interesting simulation, granted I have not played well enough to be able to make all free culture radicals and no passive consumers… which is the point, but ultimately not really possible… its a shell game, no real win, but no real failure either.

  6. The way to win this game is to use the power of the evil vacuum. When it starts sucking, you do not try to fight it directly. Instead use it’s power and at the same time you redirect the yellow ideas into the heads of the nearest little green men. This starves the vacuum, and it cannot feed the gray consumers who then defects to commons. I’m not sure if this is a hidden message from the creators of the game.

  7. Such a flawed review of this game. You’ve got it all wrong Señor Doctorow. The vacuum (opposition agent) isn’t “capitalism” it’s the “vectorialist.” This game doesn’t bash Capitalism, it celebrates it.
    Here’s a quote from the creators’ blog:

    “The goal is to provide a simplified interactive rendition of theories and propositions about knowledge capitalism (es. Negri, Lessing, Wark).
    It’s a game you cannot lose. Even if you stop playing the game always tend to a dynamic equilibrium between market and Common. The basic
    assumption is that there will never be a complete privatization of shared knowledge and without a strong opposition (represented by the player’s action) the forces of the market will indefinitely exploit the innovative ideas emerging from the society.”

    Capitalism protects the free exchange of ideas, no matter what shoddy practices vectorialists attempt to subvert or impede.
    While I disagree about the over-use of copyright laws, they do serve a purpose. Artists own their work, Scientists own their discoveries, Engineers own their inventions, etc. etc. This game isn’t meant for the abolishment of privatizing ideas, it’s about analyzing the context of which ideas should be exchanged.

  8. #6 I agree, the game needs some rule tweaks to be losable, and needs varying difficulty levels.

    Luckily, the creators take their own advice and release an FLA! So if any experienced flash game designers were to come by, they might feel entertained by the idea of releasing their own version! (Under CC-by-na-sa, of course!)

  9. Versh,

    “This game doesn’t bash Capitalism, it celebrates it.”

    No, the idea was to give a dynamic representation of the parasitic relation between a sphere of shared information/cooperative creativity and the market.
    The vectorialist is the capitalist of the information age or at least a certain breed of capitalists (a reference to McKenzie Wark’s “a Hacker Manifesto”) and depends on the exploitation of this sphere. The end state of the game is pointing to an utopian society liberated from the intellectual property.

    It’s an experiment though, it’s funny to see how it can be misinterpreted…

  10. Irrespective of the inherent flaws in this “game”, in my own journey I have found that a life lived purely according to the tenets of copyfight and freeculture is infinitely more rewarding and, dare I say it, sensible, than the capitalist alternative.

    Ten years ago, when I still subscribed to the conservative, Austro-Rothbardian ideals of big-C Capitalism, I was a lonely, desperate slave to the pound. My stupid, repetitive existence was played out in a pathetic snot bubble, a thousand light years from star system reality, utterly devoid of joy or even the sweet pain of suffering.

    Now I live in a squatted building, claim benefits and eat food that I find in the skips at Budgens. Anything else I want, I steal. My remaining clothes stink of acrid happiness. Girls want to fuck me – and so do their fathers. I am the crusty ubermensch, the filthiest Buddha.

    Come into the light.

  11. @11, Molleindustria,
    Don’t you see, it’s only a Capitalistic system that would even allow the premise (free exchange of ideas) to function.

    Okay, let’s go with an example:

    Dude creates an awesome codec that is half the file size with twice the viewing quality. Dude calls it Dishwater.

    Dude, being an open-source minded person decides not to patent, copyright, or claim ownership of Dishwater. Even though he’s entitled to own his property, he decides not to. He posts it online with instructions, soon enough, various websites start using the Dishwater codec.

    Enter the Company X. Company X wants to add Dishwater codec to their list of codecs for their upcoming media player. No one seems to claim ownership to the Dishwater codec, so Company X takes the source and slightly modifies it, and calls it SoapyWater. SoapyWater is exactly like Dishwater, only SoapyWater is copyrighted.

    Company X makes a lot of money with SoapyWater. Dude remains in mild poverty. He want’s a piece of the pie.

    Dude becomes upset, claiming his intellectual property shouldn’t be owned by one individual. This is a contradiction of course. If the Dude really believed that, he would have copyrighted it as his and distributed as he saw fit. He has no grounds to make a complaint. Sure, Company X is in the wrong, but legally there’s not retroactive solution. There’s a system in place to protect intellectual property, but the Dude side-stepped it for some naive utilitarian idealism.

    This type of “exploitation” only occurs when Capitalism is abused, and is not the base nature of the system.
    Yes, there is absolutely a parasitic element interfering with the distribution of ideas. To prevent exploitation, creators/artists need the system they all too often damn.

    Anyway, a “society liberated from intellectual property” would be a dystopia, not a utopia. If you work hard, shouldn’t you get paid for it? Sure maybe not insanely rich, but shouldn’t you be able to support a living off of your own volition?

    Artists, creators, inventors should be free to own their own creations and distribute them as they see fit. If they want it shared exclusively in the open-source community, there should be steps to protect it from a larger group from interfering.

  12. “Dude, being an open-source minded person decides not to patent, copyright, or claim ownership of Dishwater…
    No one seems to claim ownership to the Dishwater codec, so Company X takes the source and slightly modifies it, and calls it SoapyWater. SoapyWater is exactly like Dishwater, only SoapyWater is copyrighted.”

    That’s what happens in the game if you don’t play and that’s the reason why there are licenses as GNU-GPL and CC: to keep knowledge available to everyone and avoid appropriations.

  13. @mattl that’s pretty not true. Actionscript is just ECMAScript with some extra libraries, it’s easily decompilable, free compilers exist, open source players exist, etc.

  14. @scarybug — and have you tried one of the free software players? Flash is a proprietary plugin, and it is scary to think that ‘free’ cultural works can depend on it.

  15. What the heck?

    What does copyright have to do with ideas? Ideas are fundamentally NOT covered by copyright laws.

    Let’s look at an example. The Harry Potter books are copyright. Does that mean that it failed to give anyone ideas?

    Of course not. Not only that, but it means that people must become CREATIVE if they want to express those ideas, since the only way they are forbidden to express those ideas is as a copy.

    This means that the copyright rule has help create a more diverse expressions of ideas. If it wasn’t for copyright, then many of those ideas would have been expressed as straight fan-fic copies.

    Let’s do a thought experiment.

    Imagine that there are two authors, both inspired by an idea triggered by reading a Harry Potter book. One author expresses this idea in a way that doesn’t violate copyright, by writing a story set in a new world with new characters of the author’s imagination .. just the seed of the idea was triggered by a Harry Potter story.

    The other author expresses this idea as a direct copyright violation – a Harry Potter fan-fic.

    Which of the two do you expect would be more creative?

    So did copyright encourage creativity, or stifle it?


Comments are closed.