Copyright and Mechanics

This past week I did an interview with a Brisbane researcher about game development and copyright. Her primary area of review was digital, videogames, where there’s a wealth of conflicting positions regarding the copyrighting of code.

We shared talk about Monopoly and its origin, or the way Scrabble iterated on earlier word games, we talked about the way game mechanics have already been tested in courts many times as uncopyrightable. This meant the court cases about BANG vs Samurai Sword, and permutations and reimplementations and so on, and then we were left with the question: Would you want to see more copyright in your field?

I don’t yet have a transcript of my answer so I can’t tell you what I said but I’ve been thinking about it. And I gotta say the idea of someone like Hasbro owning roll-and-move mortifies me. The notion that if a game company got in fast enough on a mechanic and everyone either had to pay royalties or suck eggs dizzies me.

At the same time, yesterday, I stood and saw a dozen people implementing a really interesting set of mechanics for their own little games, which I am so impressed by I’m keeping an eye out for, and it got me thinking about how nothing protects those developers from me being predatory. I mean, I don’t want to be a dick, but those ideas are rattling around in my head now. How long before I forget where they come from? How long before when I come around to look at a hole in a game and I see a way I can implement one of those ideas?

I don’t think I can stop myself and guarantee I’ll never use those ideas, just because as assiduous as I can be, I can’t say I won’t forget the source and either rediscover or implement the idea. It might be months or a year or two down the line, but it might be that they’ve sparked another idea in my head that will bubble up then. And then what?

The only real option here is to be conscientious, patient, and to try and encourage the people around you who are also creating, I think. You don’t really have the option to keep your ideas and concepts pure – or other people’s – and saving and preserving them. I think the only real solution to this can be communication, care, and a willingness to help one another… and recognise we can’t own mechanics.

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