It’s kind of a thing

May 8, 2002

Are video games speech?

A recent article in Salon discusses a recent court ruling that video games are not speech, in the sense that they do not have protection under the First Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech; I imagine we Americans mention it often enough that pretty much everyone’s heard of it by now, but one can’t be too certain).

Apparently, the logic of the ruling lies in the judgement that video games are not forms of expression, like movies or books, but are more like board games and sports, which are evidently not protected. The thing is, video games are awfully hard to categorize that way. On one end, they often are reproductions of board games or are highly abstract, like Tetris. On the other end, games like the recent editions of Final Fantasy draw their attraction more from the story than their gameplay, which can be quite simplistic. (Not that Final Fantasy is simple; the management aspects can be quite daunting.)

The author, James Wagner Au, is a big proponent of the idea that video games are working towards becoming an art form of the level of movies (which is why he has a sometimes-excessive focus on characterization, IMHO). That’s certainly one direction the field is going, but “video game” is a very broad category. About all they have in common is the “video” and “game” parts (there’s also some sort of computer involved in every case I’m aware of). Certainly, some video games are not speech, in the sense that they’re too abstract to communicate ideas; but I won’t say that no video games are speech. #

Interface techniques to avoid

Some free advice to any user-interface designers out there: Never, never, never, never interrupt me when I’m doing something. If I’m typing in a text-entry field or navigating a complex hierarchical menu, do not suddenly pop up a window in front of what I’m doing and redirect my input to Crazyville. Similarly, if I’ve initiated a lengthy action in some application and I then switch to a different program while it’s being performed, don’t barge in front of what I was doing to tell me the task is complete.

I’m not saying “Never notify”. Obviously, there are times when the computer needs the user’s response to something as soon as possible. But those cases should be rare. If an application needs the user’s attention, it should note it somewhere and patiently wait for a response.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been working on something when AIM popped up a message window in front of me—usually when I was remotely logged-in to a Unix system—and suddenly the commands I was typing are showing up in the “Send” box.

I used to think it was a Windows problem, but now Mac OS X does it, too. It’s even had situations where the system gets confused about which window is in front, and suddenly the “front” window isn’t the “active” one—but that’s a different, more obvious flaw.

My point is this: I, as the user, am the master of the computer. It works for me. It, therefore, should be respectful and not get in my way when I’m doing stuff. #