Borrowin’ Morrowind

So I’m a filthy stinking thief. Well, maybe. It’s complicated.

See, as you know, I’ve been playing through the entire Elder Scrolls series. Started with Arena, then moved on to good old Daggerfall. Both weren’t really an issue, since both were released as free downloads by Bethesda. There are some issues with arena, since someone out together a version of arena that worms Ike a charm and is utterly superior to tie official download from Bethesda that uses the CD version of the game that isn’t technically legal. But, honestly, its not like Bethesda is going to lose any revenue from that.

The next game in the series is the third main-series game, the widely-beloved Morrowind. It’s a bit different. It’s not being released for free. It’s still on sale right now. You can buy it on Steam if you like. But I didn’t! Nope, I did something so terrible, so evil, so reprehensible that one must shudder at the thought…

I borrowed it.

That’s right. I borrowed Morrowind. I have a friend of mine here in Toronto who is a big ol’ Elder Scrolls fan, and she already has both the regular and Game Of The Year version of the game, with all the extras. It even has the “creation kit”, which the Steam version very much does NOT have. I asked her about it, and she was happy to lend it to me.

So here I am. Playing a version of the game that I didn’t pay for. What perfidy! What horror! O, the despicable SHAME of it! I am clearly a wretched soul, thieving rightful sales revenue from the poor downtrodden Zenimax corporation!

Well, no. Obviously not. Borrowing a game is no more shameful than borrowing a DVD or a CD or a book. It’s also no more or less shameful than, say, renting the thing or buying it used. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that is being decried by so many developers and publishers and even media figures for some reason. The simple act of friendship that I benefited from is now so loathsome that entire digital rights management systems are being designed, implemented and enforced to prevent it from happening.

Certainly it’s the case with Elder Scrolls. I can’t do someone the same favor with, say, Skyrim, that my friend did for me. Even if I wanted to pass it along, and wasn’t going to be playing it myself, it’s linked to my Steam account. You aren’t technically supposed to be sharing or giving those to people. It’s against the EULA and TOS and whateverthehell other incomprehensible documents that lawyers serve up for people to scroll down through in sheer bafflement.

(People do share online accounts, naturally. But you aren’t supposed to.)

So I have to thank my friend—her name is Karen, by the by—for making this possible, and I really do regret that it’s so difficult to do the same favour for people. I’d love to lend Skyrim to a friend for a week or so to let them give it a try, the way that I used to lend people PC games and can still lend them console games, and books, and DVDs, and everything else. But I can’t. Kindness is the province of desperadoes. MORAL people tell their friends to buy their own.

Anyway, I’ve played through the first bit of Morrowind. It’s good. Really good. The graphics were great for the time, and are even surprisingly good now with a little work. But I’ll get to that next time, when I talk about Morrowind and modding. It’s kind of a crazy story, but it shows why open platforms matter so much.

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14 thoughts on “Borrowin’ Morrowind

  1. Cool that you enjoyed Morrowind. It is my favourite Elder Scrolls game. 🙂 First time I tried it I was hooked. The game is deep and mysterious and drags you in. Wonder how many hours I spent playing that game. 😀 I’ve yet to try Skyrim though, but will probably do that some time in the future.

  2. Brandon Van Every says:

    A borrowed book is a physical object that’s difficult and cumbersome to copy. When you give it back, you’re very unlikely to have the text of the book anymore. The “morality” of borrowing it is based on the likelihood that you won’t be copying it, even though in principle you could run the whole thing through a copying machine, or nowadays an optical scanner.

    A borrowed piece of software is very likely to be copied by your friend, and never deleted. You probably didn’t loan out your original DVD, you probably copied it, because you probably didn’t want your friend to break or lose it. The number of friends who will actually delete games off their system or snap DVDs in half when they’re done “borrowing” them is vanishingly small. So even though you might be in that tiny minority of people who actually would do such borrowing, in exact physical analogy to a book, most people are living in the digital age and have “digital” morality. Copying means nothing to them, they just do it. The industry reacts accordingly, trying to constrain their morality.

    Why are you surprised or indignant about it? Digital media is obviously not a book. That’s why we have things called ebooks.

    • craigbamford says:

      Digital media is exactly like a book. Once a book is read, it’s read; like movies and other media, it usually only experienced once or twice. That’s one of the reasons why Video on Demand services are wiping away DVD sales. People don’t want to buy, they just want to rent. Books also aren’t difficult to copy; as you said, about twenty minutes with a photocopier can do the job, if you’re intent on it.

      But I think you missed the point here. I’m the one who borrowed the game, not my friend. And, no, my friend doesn’t have an install of the game. It wouldn’t benefit her if she did: the game’s copy-protected, and she doesn’t crack copy-protection. Certainly if this were a console game, this wouldn’t be an issue at all; they’re as “digital” as anything, yet they’re rented, borrowed, resold and bought used all the time, to cries of “SHAME!” and “EVIL!” from so many.

      Your digital age means that futile attempts to prevent illegal copying somehow punish legal borrowing. Well, that’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous with Morrowind, a piece of software on physical discs, and it’s equally ridiculous with ebooks.

      (As for lending ebooks: you are aware that libraries routinely do that…aren’t you?)

      • Brandon Van Every says:

        They’re not “exactly” the same or Gutenberg would have been doing digital media. The industry doesn’t care which of you was the “friend.” Most friends transfer perfectly copied DVDs between them, so that’s what the industry plans for. Your perfect copies may explode if they meet in cyberspace, but otherwise, nobody would know. Libraries are losing their ability to loan out infinite ebooks; Harper Collins for instance recently set a limit of 26 borrows and then the license is over. I’d provide a link but your blog ate my last reply; maybe that was link related.

      • craigbamford says:

        That library lending limit has nothing to do with the “digital world”. It’s completely arbitrary.

        As for Gutenberg, the concerns of the time were very similar to the concerns of ours. The difference isn’t even the speed of copying; a press can work VERY quickly once it’s set up. The difference is merely ease of copying.

        Besides, all that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I can’t lend a Skyrim disc to a friend, or the Steam account that it is (arbitrarily) attached to. Steam accounts cannot be accessed by more than one person at a time, any more than any other online account. Your complaints about copying are irrelevant. So why can’t we lend them?

        Edit: By the by, I’m baffled that you think that people don’t lend DVDs. Maybe your social group routinely rips and copies. Me, I’ve borrowed and lent both books and DVDs. Heck, I’ve even borrowed DVDs from the library, just like thousands of other people do every day.

      • Brandon Van Every says:

        “Merely” ease of copying? Methinks you need to review Karl Marx and ownership of the means of production. And I’m not complaining, that’s your job.

      • craigbamford says:

        It’s not my job. There’s no ads on this site: I’m providing it gratis!

        And you’re still missing the point, Brandon: that this crusade against borrowing, lending and resale—a very capitalist crusade, mind—that we’re seeing right now doesn’t have anything to do with either the ease of copying OR the cost of copying. If it were, we wouldn’t see publishers railing against the console resale market. It’s about delegitimizing simple, normal, perfectly ethical, and even laudable human behavior. Lending a book to a friend has always been something that we believed to be a moral and social act. That act’s being taken away from us.

        If you ARE a Marxian, Brandon, your quarrel’s not with me. It’s with the people who are taking away your rights.

      • Brandon Van Every says:

        Actually it’s about content developers trying to figure out how they’re going to get paid in a world where most people freely distribute digital copies without any qualms. They used to have physical lock-in as their basic tool; now they don’t. So it shouldn’t shock you that they’re trying to devise “something.” Nor that societal ethics change in the wake of new technologies.

      • craigbamford says:

        Except that it isn’t about copying. As I said in both the piece and in our conversation, the resale market (like with console games) is treated as “theft” now by publishers and developers, and we also have (as you mentioned) book publishers who are setting completely arbitrary limits on ebook lending.

        So if it isn’t about copying, as these cases prove and as the point about non-transferable Steam accounts proves…then what IS your point, Brandon?

      • Brandon Van Every says:

        It is about copying, and business models. You’re just on a different side of the equation as to whose needs should be served.

      • craigbamford says:

        Brandon, who’s “copying” a console game? Who’s “copying” a Steam account? Who’s “copying” those lent ebooks? Who’s “copying” those library DVDs?

        We aren’t talking about copying. We certainly aren’t talking about piracy. And while, yes, we may be talking about business models, you haven’t breathed a word about what sort of “business model” is supposed to force consumers to condemn simple acts of friendship, community spirit, and charity.

        (It also makes your citation of Marx honestly bizarre.)

      • Brandon Van Every says:

        It is clear that you value your slant on IP issues very deeply, to the point of not really hearing any other perspectives, so I will bow out of this exchange now.

      • craigbamford says:

        You can do as you wish, of course. But I would ask you to remember that treating everybody as a pirate is unlikely to endear them to your “business model”. Whatever it may turn out to be.

      • Completely agree, Craigbamford. +1

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