Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blogs and Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games

Every few years, the Internet spawns a new technology that captures the imagination of the public.

The World Wide Web has given rise to Web Forums, Blogs, and Wikis.

Now we have Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMPORGs) such as World of Warcraft and Second Life.

What's interesting is that the social dynamics on these diverse systems all have a lot in common.

On an MMPORG, one expects to sign onto an adventuring guild and do battle against dragons, monsters, and rival guilds.

Oddly enough, the same thing can happen on Web Forums, Blogs, and Wikis. Guilds, cliques, and alliances form and do battle with competing factions. The social dynamics can vary from that of a Chess game to a Soap Opera to an epic Greek Tragedy.

So what does any of this have to do with Media Ethics?

After all, an adventure drama is a far cry from a journalistic enterprise.

Or is it?

After all, the talking heads on the 24/7 cable channels mix journalism with verbal jousting.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert convert newscasting in satire.

One of the strangest beasts in this transformation of journalism into drama is Wikipedia — the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit." Superficially, Wikipedia may look like a high-tech encyclopedia. But in many ways it functions as a Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game, not unlike Dungeons and Dragons.

Guilds, cliques, and cabals battle it out on a daily basis. Like Chess, one tries to marginalize opposing pieces, or remove them entirely from the playing board. There is an obscure variant of standard Chess, called Put-Back Chess, where a captured piece is returned to the board on the next move. On Wikipedia, the equivalent variant is the Sock-Puppet, in which a defeated Editor surreptitiously returns wearing a new identity.

Not surprisingly, the ethical scholar or journalist would find Wikipedia a bizarre medium in which to craft a high quality article, especially on a controversial subject where competing factions are pushing competing points of view. To survive on Wikipedia, it helps to be mean-spirited, evasive, and allied to a powerful guild.

The ethical and scholarly journalist need not apply.