Patenting Video Games as an Analytic Exercise
My initial reaction to discovering the Tapper patent was that it seemed like a hilarious parody. There are many silly patents, but this patent isn't silly in only the usual way, that it proposes an invention where I'm skeptical patent protection is really in order. It reads parodically because it seems to be describing the wrong thing entirely: It takes the formal structure of a patent, which is most at home when describing machines and other devices, and uses it to write a strange kind of gameplay summary and walkthrough. Summary of the invention, detailed description of its preferred embodiment, diagram and block diagram of the apparatus, flow chart of its operation, list of specific claims, etc.—where each of these is just explaining the gameplay of an arcade game in which you serve beer!
But, in my opinion, this exercise in describing gameplay through the lens of patent structure ends up being very interesting. It's inadvertently carrying out a really detailed formalist analysis of the videogame, which sheds light on it from several angles. Especially interesting is that, while very detailed, it also has a strong push towards abstraction and generalization. The format requires it to remain at the level of prose description and diagrams, not the game's source code or circuitboards. The need for a patent to describe a general invention rather than just a specific game contributes to this abstraction push, not least resulting in the excellent title, worth repeating: "Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels".
Besides the imagery of ravenous images, parts of the document even have a literary feel. You read, in deadpan voice, the same gameplay description that has appeared several times appearing once more, but in different form and with different registers of description. And the claims section feels a bit like glitch art.
While I don't encourage anyone to attempt to actually patent their games, writing a patent for one might be an interesting exercise. Producing a complete set of patent diagrams and formal descriptions for a game can be proposed as an analytical method useful for shedding a certain kind of light on games through detailed description: a close "legal reading" of a game.
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