Subscribers to this blog may know that while I teach Computer Game Programming, I’ve had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalising it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, “Plagiarism as a moral choice”, which looks at the real world pressure to “clone” the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds.

And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn’t a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by “turning the page and starting at the top of page 2″ as far as I know.

Or is there?

So, is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of “standing on the shoulders of giants?” or is the copying actually beneficial? What IS important, far more than the “Games iz Art!” debate, is whether derivative work is derogatory. Listen to Lone Ranger yourself? Suffice it to say that most Brits of a reasonable age will call out the TV programme not the original musical reference. The sad thing is once an association is there, it’s impossible to remove. The Hovis bread theme for example is more widely known than the identical largo from Dvorjak’s New World Symphony. None of these are plagiarism per se, but the reuse taints and diminishes the original by reducing the experience of the greater work – all these examples are where a small part/movement is isolated from and exaggerated above the whole – ruining their context.


By now you should know my hidden example was The Antiques Roadshow where “Experts invite members of the public to bring along their antiques for examination.” Of course, what it’s really about is voyeuristically hoping that someone’s priceless artefact is avarice, which is a deadly sin for a reason. There’s nothing like it for exposing the ‘value’ of things, instead of their value. The only exception to this was the recent Remembrance (world war) special where none of the items covered were given a price/market value; a major, but sadly brief departure from the tried and true global formula.


Yes, global! The show was revamped, with a theme but the cookie cutter has struck again. Listening to the various tunes though, paints a different feel for each. The musical expression can be deep, complex and inaccessible or light, superficial but easy to grasp. The analogy here is to game play mechanics. Remember when “sandbox” games were “GTA clones” or “first person shooters” (FPSs) were “Doom clones”?

Full circle…

So, it seems @dantheduck has a point. Copying, but hoping it magically comes out better, is what we do best. Angry Birds is a recent example, as are many PopCap games. Whether this is “right” is up to you!

* I’ve tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn’t want to sink into depression.

** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miamoto’s 6502 assembler implementation of Mario’s jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge.