Preservation of Online Video Game Servers

Project Goals:

  • Art Restoration & Preservation of Newly Formed Video Game Era
  • High Speed Real Time Encrypted Networking
  • Negotiation of Terms With Large Corporations and Their Excessive Use of Legal Force
  • Liberation of Art

Through Encryption, Anonymity, and Distributed P2P Client Networking

The plan I had at the beginning was to effect a noticeable problem that was starting to crop up all over the place. Encryption kept coming up over and over again in the media. One surprising thing I heard was Snowden say after his leak of classified NSA documents detailing a global surveillence system in an interview with the guardian, “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.” I thought he would have believed at that time the government or basically any corporations or even individual hackers being able to break encryption would have made it invalid, but in fact you can put large but not inpentrable barriers in the way of spying. The exception are cases where computer hardware is shipped with vulnerabilities designed directly embedded into its circuitry before programs running on them can even attempt to be attacked. However these kinds of vulnerabilities can still often be identified by clever and observant hackers and will cast a somewhat disreputable image against the company involved, so it is possible they are not yet widely used. We can also see in the recent Apple - FBI case being reported in the media that it would seem 3 letter government agencies do not have the total oversight they would like to have. Amazingly the most recent OS running on iphones apparently has encryption built in so that users don’t need to worry about setting it up. FBI lawyers were then blocked up in the courts before they decided to run a brute force hacking tool that reportedly costs over a million dollars and ended up being able to break the encryption of the phone. Importantly they did not however already possess immediate access to it.

In the paper, “Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity”, Scott Aaronson describes across a number of different cases how knowing that a problem is computable does not give us the exact work required to perform the computation or more importantly, the result of the computation itself. So, knowing that a valuable message will face decryption given only a matter of time, does not give the length of time required to perform the decryption, and it also does not give the decrypted message. These are important facts to keep in mind when deciding whether encryption schemes would be a valuable system to adopt in one’s own daily life when accessing computer networks. My objective wasn’t for these powers to be disbursed so that everybody can become involved in it. Most resist the demand for this type of engagement and with good reason that it is unnecessarily complex and often unclear how to incorporate into one’s life. For example, the dark net is a network existing on top of the internet that can only be accessed using special applications like the Tor Browser software. In a recent poll 70% of a general cross section of the American public responded that they would want the dark net shut down, presumably having been convinced that it is a vehicle for drug dealers, terrorists, and child predators to congregate together without facing apprehension by the police. Following these public sentiments, senators Burr and Feinstein have introduced the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016”, which would require companies like Apple and Google to introduce backdoor decryption methods into their devices so that law enforcement can access them when necessary. Feinstein said that, “Silicon Valley has to take a look at their products, because if you create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way—to behead children, to strike innocents, whether it’s at a game in a stadium, in a small restaurant in Paris, take down an airliner—that’s a big problem.” If a backdoor can be used by the government it is also open to being attacked by the very set of criminals it is worried about creating vulnerabilities in encryption purportedly in order to protect against.

More importantly, this whole discussion leaves out the detail that the same network is also used by political activists being targeted both through mass surveillence and individual harassment, whistleblowers and leaks of both illegal and legal varieties, with the latter often being personally dangerous and a target for silencing, and by corporations themselves for communicating messages with legitimate and non-harmful needs for secrecy. In an op-ed on encryption and terrorists, Nadim Kobeissi has said that, “The encryption software community writes a large variety of software, from secure instant messaging to flight tower communication management to satellite collision prevention … we’re using mathematics and engineering to contribute towards a society that’s safer, more capable and able to communicate with a sense of privacy and dignity inherent to all modern societies. In a way, we’re implementing a fundamental technological advancement not dissimilar from the invention of cars or airplanes.”

I’m not interested in shifting mass public opinion. We can stop this problem short at the point now where only a minority of people will ever be involved, and it will be their responsibility to bring it to an end. That there is some chance they will not fulfill that responsibility does not mean that it would be good to pass it on to everybody under our existing sham of a democracy. What I wanted to achieve was to make myself a virus, I wanted to worm my way into the very thinking process of those in standing power and to convince them that they are wrong, that they should do things another way, that they should bring the current system of state-corporate domination over encryption to an end. I didn’t think this could be achieved through asking legislators to write better policy because they are so deliberately corrupt and a part of the very problem I am working against. I did think they are a little bit on the idiotic side and so would be easily manipulated if only I could have my voice get heard. However that is asking a lot to have your voice get carried all the way that far up, and so I am now thinking rather that I would just like to be entertaining to a niche consumer audience who I can sell enough fictional thriller adventure stories to to get by on.

During the years of 2015-16 I began working on a writing project where I seek to analyze the forces at work behind encryption computer algorithms, how they are currently used most often to perpetrate state-corporate violence, and that there is a possibility for them to be redirected in the favorably benign pursuit of novelty. In this same time a volunteer ran, non-profit group going by the name of Nostalrius released a private emulation server of an old version of the online game World of Warcraft as it had been abandoned by their creators Blizzard, but remained well-loved for many reasons by those who had played. Over time the server grew in popularity until it was hosting 150,000 active accounts in its last weeks when a cease & desist letter was sent to their hosting company in France demanding that they immediately end all operations presumably due to a shaky copyright infringement claim.

While the long, drawn out legal battles over this issue slowly take place in the courts, it would be interesting to research what other actions could be taken to restore and preserve more permanently the classic games our generation grew up with and which now constitute a significant culture-shifting form of art. World of Warcraft at one time maintained over 10 million active subscribers worldwide. First, as much as possible we should attempt to have it clarified in the courts exactly when a company loses its claim to an abandoned game that can only be played on an online server. The website has been performing an archival project of software from early in Apple’s history from a period when it was selling Apple II home computers in the late 1980s. They have said about their archival project that, “if the copy protection of a floppy disk-based Apple II program was strong and the program did not have the attention of obsessed fans or fall into the hands of collectors, its disappearance and loss was almost guaranteed. Because many educational and productivity software programs were specialized and not as intensely pursued/wanted as “games” in all their forms, those less-popular genres suffer from huge gaps in recovered history. Sold in small numbers, these floppy disks are subject to bit rot, neglect, and being tossed out with the inevitably turning of the wheels of time.”

There is a long history of game companies taking legal action against fan projects in order to maintain overall protection of their IP. It is always at risk of becoming invalidated and specially in the US where if infringement taking place is not actively protected against this could even be used as evidence itself that the company no longer maintains an adequate claim on its former IP. This leads many companies to pursue excessive litigation just to protect against that problem, let alone in a fight against actual infringement. An additional issue is that courts dealing with digital copyright law and computer technology issues more at large have so far shown an embarrassing ignorance of the facts. They have consistently ruled in favor of large corporations who are viewed as conducting respectable business and against these much smaller fan projects that are claimed to be thieves when there is in fact thorough protection for remixing, text and data mining, and interoptible services that creatively engage with so-called original works.

A number of other routes could be experimented with, escalating in complexity. Administrators of private servers should first always take precautions to hide their identity in order to not be targeted directly by hostile legal teams of large game corporations. Their servers should be hosted in countries who choose not to abide by overbearing United States digital copyright law, which extends to similar laws in many countries including much of Western Europe - but importantly not yet the entire world. Because even countries who do not normally abide by American law are coerced to agree regularly at the right price, if administrators’ identities are sufficiently protected they can always move hosting providers if their current one does end up being targeted.

Traffic to the server should be encrypted and anonymized as much as possible in order to protect what kind of data is being sent, which is easily achieved with currently available encryption schemes but might end up introducing unreasonable latency issues for the networking of a high speed real time game. This sort of network traffic has not been well studied because normally networked traffic is considered to be either fast-moving and unprotected, or encrypted and therefore necessarily slow-moving. It is the kind of networking you might find underlying say - an online stock market that moves an enormous amount of money quickly but must be safeguarded against attack or just simple spying on bids. Nonetheless there is a history of successful attacks that have been made against large corporations which you would have thought could have enforced even the minimal safety standards that would have protected against what have turned out to be very simple attacks.

Lastly, we might consider rebuilding a distributed, P2P-based client that does not rely on a constant connection to a central server but instead spreads computation responsibility out to all of the clients. This solution potentially introduces unreasonable latency and requires potentially the most to be done in order to achieve a working implementation but could serve as the basis for similar P2P client applications made both in games and in other domains where encrypted, high speed networking would be useful. The research in general should serve an open source guide for underground groups to maintain communications in regard to historicly significant digital environments that are always at risk of sudden traumatic closure, and involves the restoration and preservation of digital arts, preemptively deterring excessive corporate litigation, and for delivering encrypted traffic through a high speed distributed P2P network.