IndieGames have a really interesting story about Symantec's response to Zach Gage's indie game, Lose/Lose, that Kieron wrote about here. The impish game's a shmup that deletes files from your computer every time you shoot an enemy ship. Which is something anti-virus computer-protecting Symantec have now identified as a threat, and labelled it a trojan.
At the moment Symantec are only identifying it as a risk for Macs, and only referring to Lose/Lose as a Mac game. Either this is just their Mac portal, or they aren't aware it's on PC too. Or perhaps I've missed the PC-equivalent announcement. But the point is, Lose/Lose now even has a virus codename: OSX.Loosemaque. Now that's a badge few developers can claim.
Symantec do recognise that it's a game, and importantly in their video (below) they recognise that Gage goes to great lengths to make it clear that the game will delete your files. Their given reason for considering this warning not enough is interesting:
"There’s nothing stopping someone with more malicious intentions from modifying it slightly and then passing it on to unsuspecting users, causing significant damage to a computer."
That's presumably true. But can you label something that openly declares it deletes files a "threat"? Could you say the same of any respectable legitimate application used to format your hard drive? Or does Lose/Lose's mischievous nature put it in another category? The game is definitely damaging to your computer, and saying that it is doesn't mean it does any less damage when played.
This ambiguity is perhaps unfairly removed when you visit the threat's page on the Symantec site. Here it is simply described as:
"OSX.Loosemaque is a Trojan that appears to be a video game, but deletes files from the home folder when a user plays it."
Which is completely true, of course. But rather missing some significant nuance. When you go for further details it gets deeper into the oogie-boogie language.
"The Trojan may arrive on the computer as a application folder with the following name: lose lose.app
When executed the user is presented with a video game."
Presumably the fear is someone sends the file to their buddy who is unaware, and runs it. Or presumably this general language takes into account the feared potential changes that would remove the warnings. The Symantec description concludes:
"When the user character is destroyed, the game ends, and the Trojan sends the user's score to the following server, then deletes itself from the compromised computer"
Having not played the game (obviously) I'm not sure if this last part is definitely the case. Does it really delete itself like a sneaky virus might? (It seems it does.) So what do you think? Are Symantec right to label this as malware? Or is it artistic expression being misunderstood and unfairly victimised?
Whatever the case, it's certainly great publicity for the game that's just
been nominated entered itself for next year's IGFs. We've contacted Gage to see what he thinks. All credit to IndieGames for the story. And you can watch the Symantec video below. (It's fun hearing the game referred to as a "threat".)