Question: copyright on text adventure walkthroughs

I am getting lazier every day; I have done absolutely nothing to find the answer to the following question (the sixth in a series) myself.

6. Can there be a copyright on a text adventure walkthrough?

(And: who owns this walkthrough?)

First, some definitions. A text adventure is a type of video game. Specifically, it is a type that is known as an adventure game: you replay a story that the programmer has come up with. You give the computer instructions, and in response the story unfolds. Typically, the instructions you give aid in the solving of puzzles. For instance, the computer has just told or shown you that you are in a room with a locked door, and in order to get on with the game you need to figure out how to unlock the door. Maybe there’s a key in the plant pot?

Text adventures are adventures in which these instructions are given by typing in English commands at a prompt. Typically the dialogue between the player and the computer goes as follows:

COMPUTER: You are in a room with a door to the North. There is a plant pot here.

PLAYER: OPEN DOOR

COMPUTER: The door is locked.

PLAYER: UNLOCK DOOR

COMPUTER: With what?

PLAYER: KEY

COMPUTER: You don't have the key.

PLAYER: SEARCH POT

COMPUTER: What do you know? Somebody has left a key here! (Transfering key to player)

PLAYER: UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY THEN OPEN DOOR

COMPUTER: The door is now open.

As you can see, the language employed by the player is pretty terse. This is partially to save time, but also partially because the so-called parsers that text adventure programmers use to “understand” the player, regardless of how rich and complex they are, still only cover a tiny sub-set of all possible English sentences, even if you limit this sub-set to one that is useful for the game at hand.

Now, a definition of the term walkthrough: a list of commands (in order) needed to solve the entire game.

Finally, you may need to know that there are linear and non-linear games: the former allow for only one possible path through the puzzle tree. Non-linear games on the other hand can be solved in different ways. (To return to the example: perhaps you can break the door open with a crow bar that just happened to be in your knap-sack.)

The above, by the way, is not a hypothetical question. If you strip away everything but the domain name in the URL of this entry, and press Enter, you will soon find yourself at a website that publishes walkthroughs for text adventures. If I were to find walkthroughs on the web without a license, would I be allowed to publish them here? And what if I found one with a license; would I be able to get the ‘author’ prosecuted for copyfraud?

Earlier questions

  1. Why does a work published after the death of an author receive a copyright? (answer)
  2. How can SNTE (the firm that maintains and exploits the Eiffel tower) claim a copyright on the image of the illuminated Eiffel tower when the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas has had a very similar lighted Eiffel tower since two years before?
  3. What rights does Microsoft base it’s licenses for protocols on?
    (2+3 as yet unanswered)
  4. Is it possible to create a public domain image based on copyrighted sources? (as yet unanswered)
  5. Who owns the copyright on an interview; the interviewer, the interviewee, or both? (partially answered)

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