What Is the Worth of Your Save Data?

What Is the Worth of Your Save Data?

We live in a peculiar time, a time in which not only money, but the things we purchase with money are kind of amorphous concepts. Sure, food, cars, and couches are still all real things. But games are not necessarily “real” things anymore. You don’t have to purchase a retail disk to have a game anymore. Instead, you can just purchase what is essentially a license to use a game program and download it off the internet. Data, essentially, has a monetary value, and when you purchase that data, it is now yours. It is, to a certain extent, your property.

Now, in our civilized society, it’s against the law to just destroy someone else’s property. You can’t, for example, head to my house and light my couch on fire because you don’t like me. You can’t bust up my car because you think it’s funny. You can try, of course, and you might get away with it, but if I report it and you get caught, you could be responsible for those damages or worse, go to jail. Our concept of ownership and the protections that ownership grants you are pretty necessary for society to function.

Similarly, if you destroy my data, I can still press charges. If I’m, say, working on a big project for my company that has taken me years, and you specifically break into my computer with malicious intent and delete everything having to do with that project, I can press charges. If you hack a company’s computers remotely and delete that data, they can press charges. Finally, if you hack into someone’s bank account and spend their money, you can still press charges even though the only real thing you are doing is altering data.

The reason why you can press charges in these situations is pretty simple. We as a society have come to agree that certain types of data (bank data, personal information, job related data, so on so forth) has value. I’m not a lawyer so I’m uncertain of the actual precedent, but in short, destroying a data object is much like destroying a real life object, especially if it has serious consequences for your life.

So now I ask this question, what is the worth of save data?

I bring this up due to a recent story about a griefer running an online scam in order to delete people’s data in Destiny and Grand Theft Auto V . As reported on by Gameinformer , this griefer used the PS4’s share play to delete a young Destiny player’s characters and rare items.

Now, if this was an item that the player spent real life money on, there might be a case for destruction of property. But the thing is, these items and characters aren’t really a product of the expenditure of money. Rather, they are a product of the expenditure of effort. Hours and hours and hours of gameplay go into raising characters like this and decking them out with rare equipment.

But then we have to ask ourselves, how much money does effort translate into? After all, that’s how jobs work, right? We spend our time and effort to complete a task and we get paid for it. While characters in Destiny aren’t currency, they could certainly be considered a piece of property created through time and effort.

Look at it this way. Let’s say I build myself a house. I don’t pay any money for it. Rather I go out into the forest, cut down my own wood, and build myself my own residence. It’s a product solely of my effort and hard work, and not a monetary exchange, but it’s still my property. If you lit my self-built house on fire, I could still press charges.

So couldn’t it be argued that players “build” their characters in games like Destiny?

What Is the Worth of Your Save Data?

A lot of people have said “well, he deserved it” because he was irresponsible with share play options. To an extent, I see their point. But then again, does irresponsibility really excuse damaging behavior? Let’s say you have a bag and in that bag is a bunch of money. You put it down on the subway to tie your shoe, and someone takes it. You may have been irresponsible to not hold onto your bag while tying your shoe, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone else has committed theft, a crime.

Similarly, would you tell someone who parked his car in front of his house “well, you deserve it for leaving your car out in the open” if someone came by and wrecked it maliciously? Even in bad neighborhoods that’s still vandalism and is still a crime, and if you catch the person responsible, you can press charges.

So does the fact that this child was irresponsible with his save data really excuse a malicious activity taken toward it?

It’s very easy right now to say, “Suck it up and move on with life,” as the griefer said in his interview with Gameinformer, and that may simply be because we don’t value save data all that much. If someone destroys something that is worthless, then surely we wouldn’t consider that to be a crime. But it did have emotional value, and it certainly caused this Destiny player and his family distress. Of course, many people probably look at the emotional value of this save data as comparatively worthless compared to things like family heirlooms.

Either way, it seems obvious to me that there was some value lost here, and while a character or two in Destiny may not anger people now, as real life money becomes more and more intertwined with virtual worlds, “pranks” like this may start to enter a legal grey area. If, say, these characters cost ten dollars to make, it could be argued that at the very least ten dollars was lost when the characters were deleted. Similarly, as people become able to sell and resell digital items for real life money, like Team Fortress 2 hats or the horrible experiment that was the Diablo III real money auction house, having your data deleted could, at the very least, amount to theft.

So I’m a little worried if we look at this loss of data as just OK. A lot of people are calling this a “life lesson.” Even though this griefer’s actions lost someone their characters, got another person mistakenly accused and subsequently threatened, and generally caused problems for people he knows personally, he was completely unapologetic, shrugging off his essentially malicious behavior as just a fact of the internet. He even called the threats that resulted from his behavior as “human nature” saying that “people just get pissed on the internet and say what they want.”

So, is the life lesson here that in our current day and age, someone can steal and destroy your property and there’s nothing you can do about it as long as it takes place on the internet, because the internet already tolerates bad behavior that we probably wouldn’t tolerate out here in meat space?

If so, that’s a pretty shitty life lesson, and a pretty shitty life.

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