The Tapper Videogame Patent as a Series of Close Readings


DiGRA/FDG '16 - Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG
Dundee, Scotland: Digital Games Research Association and Society for the Advancement of the Science of Digital Games, August, 2016
Number: 1
Volume: 13
ISBN / ISNN: ISSN 2342-9666

The popular 1983 arcade game Tapper seems simple at first. The player controls a bartender, and serves customers beer, racing against the clock to serve them before they run out of patience. What then to make of a 10,000-word patent application filed in 1984, claiming protection for the game as an invention? Arguing over the patentability of videogame designs isn’t the purpose of this paper; rather, the Tapper patent document itself turns out to constitute a remarkable series of close readings of the game from multiple angles, while illustrating methods for game analysis that are of interest beyond patent law. This starts from its abstract yet evocative title—“Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels”—and continues from there, along the way touching on a number of subjects also considered by more recent authors.