Xbox One And The Digital Dark Age 2013-05-25
According to reports, the new Xbox console must check in with Microsoft once every 24 hours. This is a huge departure from previous generations and it highlights one of the great tragedies of our time.
As an example, as long as the hardware I have is functional, I can still insert an NES cartridge into my nearly-30 year old NES and have it work. Someone should be able to do the same 1000 years from now, provided the mechanical bits of the NES are still functional. (and they can legally reproduce a working model otherwise)
What happens ten years from now when these Xbox One DRM servers are shut down?; Occasionally vendors in similar situations will disable the check or allow the community to take over their operation, but there's no guarantee this will happen.
It's quite possible that by 2020, it will be illegal to play the Xbox One games you've purchased with your own money. Companies may 'promise' that this won't happen but we've already seen lots of rights to various games get lost in one various legal quagmire or another, leading to situations where no one actually knows who, if anyone, owns the IP to a particular game.
In the past paying customers could modify the hardware or software to work around these issues, but this was made illegal, in the US, at least, by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. The DMCA passed unanimously, by the way, showing that concern for the long-term protection of our cultural history is not on anyone's mind.
Yes, I do consider video games art. I think we can expect The Legend of Zelda and the like to be seen in the same sort of light as the Iliad is today; One of the first works in its form, influencing generations of artists and players. This will not happen anymore. No matter how good a Half-Life 3 is, it will eventually be locked away in some company IP vault never to see the light of day.
What will people a thousand years from now think happened to the art produced in this century? It's all locked away, rights either lost in the graves of dead companies or hunted to extinction by their creator's IP troll heirs.
They could either view eternal copyright and anti-DRM-circumvention laws as something similar to the burning of the library of alexandria, robbing the future of untold troves of art and knowledge, or they'll think nothing at all, that were simply savages devoid of any real creativity beyond animated cat pictures. A true digital dark age.
Just like the first dark age; It's not dark because nothing happened, it's dark because no one can really tell what happened.
I once heard civilization described as a sense of permanence. What does it mean when our art is no longer permanent? Are we less civilized?.