Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
The evolution of video games
Venerable sequential artist Scott McCloud examines the world of video games in an ongoing series for Computer Gaming World magazine. In the March 2003 issue (pgs 38-39) McCloud writes about "The Everchanging Landscape" of gaming techniques and perspectives. For a long time, video games were largely re-implementations of traditional paper or head-based games ported to the computer screen. But as gaming has exploded it has shed the baggage of its "real world" counterparts and now exploits capabilities beyond those of the old medium.
"Imported -> Native. Gradually, computer games are weaning themselves from the need to imitate pre-digital gaming and are discovering their native strengths."
Is today's onscreen Help and documentation, like video games of the early '80s, stuck in the rut of trying to emulate their paper predecessors? I think so. Although there are scattered attempts at doing things with Help that would be impossible in books, such as automated tasks and video, for the most part the DNA of the printed word underlies everything we do. That's fine, lets not discard something that works simply because it was invented hundreds of years ago, but simply re-implementing it without adjustments for the current world is lazy and impedes our profession.
Find a copy of Computer Gaming World on a newsstand and read this piece. Then disregard the medium of video games and apply its message to onscreen Help. It's sure to spark some new ideas.