When people talk about ‘next generation’ games and game platforms, they frame the discussion in terms of hardware progression for visual rendering, hard disc storage, and so forth. But games are more than just their hardware substrate. They are a set of community practices, of the developers, and especially of the players. I can’t say the endless step up in graphics quality impresses me, since the main consequence of this isn’t ‘progress’ so much as escalating development costs and consequent regression of quality of life for game developers. What does impress me, however, is something others might not even think much about: community-led game wikis.
My criticism (and praise) of the Wikipedia is laid out in Wikipedia Knows Nothing (available as a free ebook - a quick read and worth a look for its novel concept of ‘knowledge’ alone). But precisely the limits of Wikipedia as an alleged alternative to an encyclopedia are the strengths in a game wiki. You can’t sanely want the geeks of the internet fighting over which corporate media trivia to index when you want access to reliable knowledge on arbitrary topics (under any conception of ‘knowledge’), but when it comes to pooling information about a videogame, nothing could be more perfectly suited to the task than an army of dedicated fans pitching in. Even the potential for pointless argument is effectively curtailed by the common focus and the precision of scope!
In the early days of videogames there was no internet and our source of supplemental information were game magazines. These did a fantastic job, frequently with direct support from developers (Nintendo counted on magazines to distribute secrets regarding 1986’s Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, for instance) but often they had to rely on the sheer tenacity of their writers to map and solve the games of the 1980s. In the late 90s, magazines gradually became mere wrapping paper for distributing demo discs, and then demos went digital, and print magazines all but died.
And then there’s game wikis, community-driven, with neither expectation of pay nor (as with Wikipedia) any obvious power to silence or covertly dominate ideological disputes. Players participate out of love of the game and a desire to help. Even the thought of credit here can’t undermine the claim to altruism since who can honestly name anyone who contributed to a game wiki they used...? It is love for (and pride in) a game that encourages a player to contribute their time to a wiki. Only the ceaseless gerrymandering of altruism in the futile attempt to render the term empty of meaning can prevent its application to the game wiki and other such sites of community co-operation. If only more of the internet was so blessedly free of rancour and naked self-interest!
A Hundred Cyborgs, #75, part of a ten part mini-serial on Gamer Cyborgs.
Check out the new ebook edition of The Virtuous Cyborg!