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Sorrel’s Side Quests: It’s time to rethink copyright in gaming

Every Halloween season, I get the itch to play a new game. Sometimes it's a brand new horror game (this year, we had no shortage of those, such as "Signalis"). Other times, it's a classic I've never played before. This year, I checked out the original "Silent Hill." 

There's just one problem: playing the original "Silent Hill" in 2022 is functionally illegal.

"Silent Hill" was released in 1999 for the original PlayStation, and it's seen very few rereleases since then. The original PlayStation game currently retails for around $200 secondhand, not counting the cost of an original PlayStation and an adapter for modern monitors. Per fansite Silent Hill Memories, the one other release on the PlayStation 3 is no longer available.

So where does that leave "Silent Hill," a certifiable classic and one of the most revered games of its generation? How does one play it legally on modern hardware? The short answer is that you can't, at least not without major stumbling blocks. Emulators, pieces of software that functionally trick your computer into believing it's a different piece of hardware, are an option for the PlayStation. Still, it isn't easy to use them legally.

Emulators require files from original copies of the games they're emulating, and those files can be obtained in two ways. The first way is to dump the files yourself by getting a copy of the game, a disc drive and some specialized software. This can be wildly expensive, and technically, it constitutes breaking the game's digital rights management system, which is strictly illegal in the U.S. 

Although, as far as my research has indicated, no one has ever gotten into legal trouble for dumping files for personal use.

The dramatically more popular and accessible way to use an emulator is to find an archive of game files and download them from someone else. To be completely clear, this is piracy, and it is distinctly illegal. Meaning the only legal way to play a game like "Silent Hill" is to find a secondhand copy (which will only become more expensive over time) and a secondhand console.

It's worth noting that in all this secondhand purchasing, one party makes absolutely no money: The copyright holder. The people ostensibly being "protected" by this archaic copyright system don't benefit from it in any way. Sony, the company that owns the PlayStation brand, has yet to produce the original PlayStation since 2006. "Silent Hill" developer and publisher Konami certainly doesn't make any money from an eBay transaction between a collector and a consumer. No one involved in the production of either game or console benefits from this incredibly broken system, and neither does the player.

Playing old games is either prohibitively expensive or unambiguously illegal, and nobody benefits from that. What, then, is the solution? The obvious answer is that we must rethink how copyright works in games. If a game can no longer be acquired from the people who own it, then there's no reason it should have to be purchased. 

Gaming moves fast. Hardware enters and exits production quickly, and games enter antiquity in a matter of years. If a game's developers and publishers aren't willing to keep up with that pace and keep their games accessible on the hardware available to consumers, then the copyright ought to lapse within a matter of years. This is, of course, more of a naive fantasy than an attainable reality. Still, in a world where game producers aren't making money from purchasing, the only way to keep that game alive for future players is to put it in their hands, free of charge and free of copyright.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Opinion Writer

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