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.


Mike Reardon said...

Wow, very incisive. I edit Wikipedia and just recruited some folks in FL to help out...and I hate those reality shows...

Moulton said...

One of the longtime, heavyweight admins on Wikipedia is a chap named Moreschi.

He's stepping back from Wikipedia to work on other projects that he has more faith in.

Moreschi writes, "At this point, I do not believe the English Wikipedia is capable of digging itself out of the hole it has created for itself. The inmates really have taken control of the asylum. The sheer quantity of raving nationalists, quackery-pushing psuedoscientists, and fringe-adoring conspiracy theorists that dominate Wikipedia's articles just about everywhere makes genuine improvement nigh on impossible. Moreover, these types are frequently allowed to run around for months on end, causing immense harm, before something is done about stopping them. The ArbCom [Arbitration Committee] is overwhelmed by the case volume and the administrative corps is largely incompetent when it comes to coping with the problem. Wikipedia seems doomed forever to be regarded as a forever-dubious "first reference only", unfit for any serious scholarly research. Many of our contributors, and their articles, deserve better than this, and for this reason I would advise them to check Veropedia out."

Veropedia is a newly launched derivative project that culls selected articles from Wikipedia and subjects them to scholarly peer review before publishing them. Articles published on Veropedia are not editable by the public.

Moulton said...

There are now a quarter of a million biography pages on Wikipedia.

And it's becoming a status symbol to have such a personal biography page on Wikipedia.

That's just one more reason why Wikipedia is becoming more and more like an online role-playing game, with more and more narcissism-driven content and clique-driven editing.

Dr Zen said...

"Becoming". Dude, when was it ever not?

The problem is that the ideal shines; the reality sucks. And it pretty much always has.

private musings said...

Hi Moulton - and thanks for pointing me in this direction. You're taking exactly the approach that I would support!

I touted the idea of a wikipedia ethics committee on the mailing list, and in conversation with Jimbo - and recent events seem to me to practically demand it.

A check and balance would go a long way. Not only are the ends justifying the means with far too little ethical consideration, but the culture now turns in on itself, and begins to punish outsiders, by blaming the whistleblower, and shooting the messenger.

I believe those inclined to agitation are now gearing up to really stir the pot (apparently mainstream media journalists are now involved) - which is a shame - because (perhaps unlike you?), not only do I believe the project will continue to evolve apace, but that it can heal itself.

I hope so,



private musings said...

could you email me? - I gather you may be interested in some sort of program with banned users. I'm not yet a fully fledged member of that esteemed group, but would like to chat...

Moulton said...

Wikipedia is suffering from an appalling lapse of ethics.

I agree there needs to be some kind of remedial program to introduce an ethical foundation into the culture.

However, I don't see any practical way of nudging the community in that direction.