College Students Confirm Identity Theft in Video Games

aThere’s quite the lawsuit making its way through the legal system at the moment and it has the potential to completely upend the way college sports does business. At the core of the issue is that the NCAA and its member schools make a shit ton of money off of its players, but those players don’t see a dime. The counter argument is that the players receive a free education, which is quite valuable these days and will continue to get more so as the cost of tuition sky rockets. They also get plenty of free meals and other perks of playing. But quite honestly, it doesn’t seem to stack up against the billions of dollars being raked in every year thanks to their hard work and dedication.

The debate rages on from both sides with quite reasonable arguments regarding who should be paid, how much should they be paid, would paying them bankrupt the system, would such a system bring even more inequality to the bigger versus smaller programs, and so on and on. And while I’m not entirely sure where I fall in the argument, there is one small aspect of the lawsuit that I can get behind fully.

The video game industry is ripping them off.

No we're not using people's images for profit without permission or payment at all!

No we’re not using people’s images for profit without permission or payment at all!

Everyone is entitled to sole propriety of their own image and name. For example, you can’t use Brad Pitt’s face chomping down on a new and improved Twinkie to sell the oft-misunderstood treat without both his permission and, mostly likely, compensation, typically in a monetary form. This is the reason that the NCAA doesn’t put players’ names on the back of their jerseys both during the game and when said jerseys are sold in retail stores. They’re not allowed.

EA Sports seems to have forgotten this rule, however, each time they make a new version of their NCAA College Football game. Of course they’re not dumb enough to use any of the players’ names. But when there’s a 6’3”, goofy-looking, white, left-handed quarterback wearing the number 15 on the Florida Gators, you know damn well that’s Tim Tebow. While faces aren’t exactly the same, the general features are there. So are every single player’s height, weight, number, and skill level. Only somebody who knows nothing about college football would fail to recognize the sport’s premier athletes.

But of course, a court wants actual facts when it settles disputes, not just juxtapositions.

So recently researchers from Indiana University went out to see just how easy it is to identify players in the games. With the help of some colleagues, Galen Clavio and Patrick Walsh, assistant professors in the IU School of Public Health, surveyed 422 game-playing college students from four different football-playing schools to see how well they could recognize players.

Each participant was shown the same 12 “national” players – the top eight players in the entire game as ranked by EA Sports as well as four additional players chosen at random. They were also shown nine players from their own school’s team – the top six in addition to three random players.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.20.27 PMFor each player, the participants were shown two screen shots from the EA Sports game, each taken from “roster” screens. So the images weren’t taken from actual game play. Instead, they were taken from screens that show an individual player’s position, number, team, height, weight, skill level, and image.

So how did they do?

On average, the college students could identify the “unidentified” player on the screen 50 percent of the time. That may not seem like a high number, but when you take into account the randomness of a lot of the chosen players, it really is. Most average fans aren’t likely to know more than a few people on their own school’s team. What’s more, they’re not likely to know players at positions other than quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. A few defensive backs and linebackers might slip in there, but not typically.

For example, the top eight national players that were shown include the likes of Jermaine Greshman, Ciron Black, and Eric Berry. Even though I’m a pretty big college football fan, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that they were the tight end for Oklahoma, the left tackle for LSU, and the strong safety for Tennessee, respectively. But if you ask me who the quarterbacks of Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas were, I could easily spit out Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy.Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.20.38 PM

It seems I’m not alone. Tebow was identified correctly 90.8 percent of the time, Sam Bradford 72.5 percent of the time, and Colt McCoy 79.4 percent of the time.

Oh yeah, the players’ likenesses aren’t being used at all. And even though an overall score of 50 percent isn’t that high, anything above zero percent should be unacceptable, according to the rules and laws.

So while I’m not sure where I stand on paying players still in college, I think it’s rather reprehensible – and illegal – to be exploiting their likeness for profit without their consent.

The study, “College Athlete Representations in Sports Video Games,” was published in the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics by Clavio and Walsh, as well as Anastasios Kaburakis, Saint Louis University; David A. Pierce, Ball State University; and Heather Lawrence, Ohio University.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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