Friday, June 22, 2012

On nuances of plagiarism

I have a perennial interest in gamebooks, which are the perfect way to meld my love of video games and my love of reading. Recently I've been into Tin Man Games' Gamebook Adventures, which brings the genre into the 21st century by using code to automate a lot. This isn't really a new idea. Fighting Fantasy Project has dozens of independently-produced gamebooks, some web-implemented, others in .pdf or Word format.

After getting a iPod Touch for my birthday, I've been working my way through the available GA books one by one, my latest conquest being book number 4, Revenant Rising. I was enjoying it up until the halfway point, where a dead minstrel spoke to me, giving information about a evil army I was currently trying to thwart. I was instantly reminded of a similar situation that occurred in one of my favorite FFProject indies, Hunger of the Wolf. At the time, I brushed it off and went on, but then I found another familiar situation: a detachment of said evil army camped by a river that I had to cross. And beyond that, a third set-piece: a village on fire, and me given a choice to rush into a burning building to save a peasant woman's baby, or confront the soldiers who were laughing at it.

With an eyebrow raise, I re-downloaded Hunger of the Wolf and took a look at them side by side. Sure enough, there's some utterly blatant ripping-off in evidence. Not only are the broad strokes of the plot similar, but huge swaths of the middle of Revenant Rising are simply copy-pasted from Hunger of the Wolf, with only slight modifications for the new setting and characters.

Curious as to how they expected to get away with this, I checked the credits page for Revenant and discovered exactly how they got away with it. The writer for Revenant, Kieran Coghlan, is the same man who did Hunger of the Wolf. The credits page also contains this line:

"Revenant Rising is based on an existing gamebook entitled 'Hunger of the Wolf' which is licensed to TMG by the writer."

In other words, Coghlan... plagiarized himself? My first thought, before I read the credits, was rage. My second was laughter: well, I guess that's okay, then! My third thought was "Wait, so I just paid $4.99 for something that was already available legally for free? With zombies instead of wolves?"

(I'm admittedly biased on the relative lack of wolves being a grave injustice.)

But this raises some interesting questions. Can an author plagiarize himself? Arthur C. Clarke copy-pasted an entire chapter of 2001 into the sequel and insisted (with some snark) that it was perfectly alright to do so. He has a point. If plagiarism is the theft of intellectual content, one can't really be accused of stealing something that was already one's own.

But on the other hand, if there's no foul play here, am I justified in feeling ripped off? Or is that just the gamer's sense of entitlement speaking?


1 comment:

  1. Laziness of writers can be the commonest cause of plagiarism, as they do not want to spend much time in doing research work. However, they must be aware that it takes no time to check duplicate content, as there are varieties of plagiarism checker tools available in the market.


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