Capitalism, Communism, and League of Legends

The Western worldview demands that one player be the best. It demands that one player’s success or failure be attributable to their own hard-earned genius or shameful failure. The analysis of performance and outcomes is simple (and simplistic), under this view. If your teammate Jax lost top lane, it’s because he is bad. If your teammate Vayne killed all 5 of the enemy team, it is because she is extremely good. For the Westerner, a few numbers tell the whole story: The players with lots of kills are good players and they are the cause of victory. The players with many deaths are the bad players and they are the cause of defeat.

I posit that this view is misguided and the consistent success of Eastern teams over Western teams can be interpreted as evidence of different views of teamwork. Perhaps some of these differences are manifestations of the emphasis placed by American capitalism and democracy on individual performance, and the emphasis placed by communism and agrarianism on community and role-interconnection.

Having no more than a general education regarding Eastern culture (so, take this with a grain of salt), I suggest that it is easier for a member of an Eastern culture to see a League of Legends game as deeply teamwork-oriented in a way that does not resonate with Westerners. For the Westerner, in all things, there must be a single person whose genius and skill determines the outcome; something analogous to the “Great Person” theory of historical interpretation (that history is largely shaped and determined by singular individuals who “move history,” rather than economic, cultural, or other larger, faceless forces). I wonder if it is easier for Eastners to embrace the notion that no single person on a team can succeed without the entire team.

Eastern teams do recognize individual talent, of course, but they place it in a different context. One of the best players in Korea for the first 3 seasons of League of Legends was MadLife. He played Support, and led his team to victory through leadership, macro-play decision making, vision control, protecting teammates, initiating fights at the best moments, as well as some amazing mechanical prowess to disable key points of the enemy team.

In contrast, the players who generate the highest levels of hype in NA and EU are Midlaners and ADCs- players with more potential to score more kills. The Eastern teams understand that the game is not about individual glory, but about 5 players filling different but equally essential roles. Western team struggle to internalize this lesson, and emphasize the “highlight-reel” ability to get kills over the more abstract strategic value of vision and communication.

In my personal experience playing on the North American server, it is difficult for Westerners to see the web of interconnection between each player’s actions, whether the outcome is success or defeat. The relationship between Taric’s wards and Vayne’s pentakill goes unmentioned. The only time such elaborate interconnection is brought up is when players experienced an undesired outcome, as illustrated by Tim Buckley:

The greatest success (measured both by victory and by enjoyment) I have experienced in League of Legends has come when the team recognizes both their dependence on their teammates as well as their teammates’ dependence on them. When a team sees themselves as 5 individuals operating side by side towards a semi-common goal, disaster and frustration result. When a team sees themselves as one entity that can be subdivided and grouped as multiple co-dependent organs, with an interdependence as intricate as any mechanical, electrical, biological, or structural system, I am reminded why I play the game at all.

Ethical Behavior in an Unethical System

It may be surprising to those who hold with the popular, cynical view about lawyers, but law schools require students to take an ethics course (sometimes called “Professional Responsibility”) and pass an ethics portion of the bar exam prior to being licensed as an attorney. For all of the images of lawyers as greedy, selfish, despicable creatures who will bring about all manner of misery through all sorts of distortion of truth (and there are plenty of real-life examples, no doubt), I know many attorneys who take their roles extremely seriously.

I once heard a US District Judge in the Midwest relate her experience of being nominated to the position. In preparation for an official nomination, she met privately with the governor. A general question was asked about any possible ethics issues that might arise during the nomination process. She admitted to the governor: “If you ask people I practiced with, you will get all sorts of stories about how mean I was, how rude, how harsh, abrasive, profane- and those stories are all true. But I never, never, acted unethically.” I’m not sure why- maybe it was the way she told the story- but the value that attorneys can and should place on ethical behavior struck me hard when I heard this.

In writing this entry about Legal Ethics, I found most of my examples relating to war. My drafts included discussions of Just War Theory and the Nuremburg Defense to explain why Role Morality was initially appealing but ultimately unsatisfying. I thought this woefully off-topic, but perhaps it is entirely appropriate to the adversarial system of law we have in the United States. Jurist Jerome Frank compared this adversarial trial process to “throwing pepper in the eyes of a surgeon during an operation.” I am generally inclined to agree, although drastically better alternatives that can be smoothly implemented do not readily present themselves. Some argue that when both defendant and prosecutor do their best to twist and spin testimony at trial, the system ultimately sorts out their efforts to arrive at the just conclusion. One problem is how often at least one side gives something less than their best effort, or how often the best efforts of each side are unfairly mismatched.

Ultimately, I don’t like Role Morality. I don’t like it generally and I don’t like it specifically for attorneys. But my rejection of it raises an issue: If the faithful fulfillment of roles within the Justice System cannot be an acceptable moral code, can an acceptable moral code be found within the Justice System? If this System cannot be altered, can one behave consistently (with rules extending beyond a “case-by-case” basis of evaluation and action) and ethically? If I know me, my answer is a Virtue Ethics burrito filled with a Kantian reading of Aristotle and generous amounts of sliced Kierkegaard, with some Derrida and just a pinch of Foucault.


For more information on Role Morality, this quick video does a good job:

In IP, Words Are All We Have.

Intellectual Property is strictly a creature of law and language- it exists only in word and in law. (Unless it also exists in ethics and metaphysics…)

Why do I keep writing about language on a blog about IP law and videogames? With most things we talk about in our day-to-day lives, there’s a tangible object that correlates to our discussion. If we argue about who owns a piece of land, a TV, a sandwich- there’s a THING that we can point to and say “THAT is what I’m talking about.” But there isn’t a physical object of “right to publish.” Sometimes there’s a contract, but the contract is only words- which brings us right back to language. The only “thing” we have is a linguistic representation of an intangible and [I argue] abstract idea.  For me, this sets IP law apart from every other type of law. And yet, IP law is most closely related to Property law: a type of law characterized by exactly the opposite features- you can always point to land, heirs, tenants, chattels and everything else in property that isn’t IP.

We don’t speak carefully about technology. We play fast and loose with our words. If I “show” a moving picture, I don’t literally reveal a DVD, videotape, or reel to people. When I listen to a CD, I don’t actually put my ear up to the disk. Rather, we watch the content on the DVD and listen to the content of CD through the use of the appropriate devices. These devices reveal the content to us that is otherwise inaccessible. This sort of language is fine for casual use, but it can create confusion when it is used to analyze more complex issues. More careful language reveals the issues at stake: the content of the media is at issue, not (usually) the physical vessels for that content.

What IS intellectual property? The performance? The idea? The sounds or notes? The pattern or choreography? None of these- it is the right to use and profit from such things. Owning IP is like owning land in that the locus of the ownership is in the right to use and deny others’ use. What is land ownership besides the right to determine who uses the land and in what fashion? Maybe it turns out that IP licensing isn’t so different from land ownership. Although we may say “I own Blackacre” without objection, what I really mean by such a statement is that “I decide who uses Blackacre and how.” Although our law does not recognize that anyone can own “The Ballad of Blackacre,” we do recognize that some entitiy may own the right to decide who uses the song and in what way. In both cases, the claim of ownership is really a claim against the world. If we balk at the abstract nature of IP claims, it may be because we do not appreciate the abstract nature of the claims we make about real and personal property.