Reverence for knowledge and history are two things that are absolutely essential for the continuance of any great civilization. At times in our history we have had emperors, kings and dictators who have seen fit to destroy and control knowledge. The ancient library of Alexandria that was burned comes to mind; the knowledge that was lost there was a travesty for mankind. Sadly the book burners and censors disguised as Utopian crusaders for the democratization of knowledge have descended upon the Internet and are attempting to shape history and knowledge in their own image. Welcome to Wikipedia.
It has come to my attention that the so-called “democratic” information project editable by the public called Wikipedia has seen fit to delete the entry of Threshold RPG. Threshold RPG is a MUD published by Frogdice Games and has been around since June of 1996. During that time it has enjoyed significant critical acclaim and popularity. Even the esteemed Richard Bartle the creator of the original MUD and veteran virtual world guru Raph Koster have voiced their support for the retention of Threshold’s entry in Wikipedia. MMO maven Scott Jennings has also written a great article that illustrates the absurdity that has characterized the Wikipedia editorial process.
Just this week Michael Hartman the CEO of Frogdice wrote a brilliant account of the corruption, treachery and deceit at Wikipedia entitled: Wikipedia’s War on Gaming History and Threshold RPG. In his exposé, he explains the background of how and why a few corrupt individuals at Wikipedia decided to embark on a crusade to essentially remove the existence of Threshold from the history of the web.
In a nutshell Mr. Hartman explains the crux of the matter:
The deletionists’ main argument was that Threshold was not notable enough for Wikipedia – an utterly absurd argument. Threshold has been in operation for almost 13 years, is (to my knowledge) the only role play enforced game EVER commercially available, and is especially unique in areas of in-game politics, law, and religion.
The fact of the matter is that if you go to Google and type in Threshold RPG as a search term, the Wikipedia article is ranked #2 — that alone is proof in the pudding that easily refutes the absurd notion that Threshold is “not notable enough”.
Bartle and Koster to the Rescue
Then in the same piece, he continues describing the depth of support shown to Threshold by virtual world luminaries and the gaming public:
Recognized experts in the field quickly posted about the issue on their blogs, attesting to the notability of Threshold. Among these experts were Dr. Richard Bartle (creator of MUD1 – the first MUD/MMO ever and the most recognized expert in the field) and Raph Koster (a developer on LegendMUD, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and more).
This past year I came to the defense of Richard Bartle despite the calls from some in the MMO blogosphere to marginalize him. I have also frequently praised Raph Koster for what he has tried to accomplish in the realm of virtual worlds. I feel it’s important to recognize and revere the contributions of the giants in our field.
It’s a good thing we have elders in the MMO community like Richard Bartle and Raph Koster who remember; they give us a sense of perspective with regard to where we as MMO enthusiasts have come from in the grand scheme of things. Web based media does not have the luxury of print media in that we have no hard copy history of our art form. Without our luminaries MUD, MMO and gaming history could be destroyed by the whim of the deletion crazy admins at Wikipedia. As a gamer, game designer and more importantly a citizen of this thing we call the Internet, this kind of despotic behavior on the part of the volunteer staff at Wikipedia is unacceptable.
As a commentator on MMOs and virtual worlds I find this extremely troubling and upsetting. For the MMO enthusiast, MUDS (multi-user dungeons) are *our* heritage and we need to stand up to the bullies that would try to revise and edit history. For those that want to delve deeper into the particulars on this issue Michael has started a series of articles on his Muckbeast blog.
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
The fundamental problem with Wikipedia is that it uses a flawed promotion system whereby volunteers who contribute articles earn points. Eventually they become powerful admins. The problem with having an unpaid volunteer system is that it is essentially “paying” them with titles and power in lieu of money.
The other problem is that the fastest way to earn points is to delete articles, which has the deleterious effect of removing information from Wikipedia instead of adding to it. It is far easier to destroy then it is to create. A project like Wikipedia that deems to hold the public interest with regard to being a virtual library of the “people” like Wikipedia should be held to a higher standard then it currently is. Their current admin policy which incentivizes and rewards destruction and penalizes creation is woefully flawed and should be overhauled immediately.
How Not to Run a Volunteer Program
As a former Senior Guide in the EverQuest Guide Program I am not unfamiliar with the politics of a poorly run volunteer program. Years ago in the infancy of the program the vast majority of the volunteer Guides I came in contact with were good and ethical yet there were a minority of of them that craved status and power. Those people quickly rose in the ranks and become Senior Guides and the very best brown-nosers and ass-kissers became Elder Guides.
Back then, most of the Elder Guides were much like the corrupt admins of the Wikipedia program — ruthless, power hungry, ambitious and willing to crush anyone that stood in their way. Of course this system was nurtured and managed by a certain upwardly mobile person at SOE who shall remain nameless. Nevertheless, volunteer programs need to have a solid system of governance and administration that has checks and balances that can prevent abuses of power.
The Google and Yahoo Connection
Another issue is that Wikipedia is in cahoots with major search engines like Google and Yahoo — both who provide financial and infrastructure support. No matter what you search for both of these search engines give preferential treatment to Wikipedia. The only reason why Wikipedia remains popular is because of it’s hegemonic relationship with Google and Yahoo. Without any disclaimer or warning, Wikipedia is thrust down the throats of unsuspecting people just looking for some factual information on the web. Little do they know that the information on Wikipedia has probably been censored, edited and shaped by self-serving, power hungry volunteer admins with an axe to grind.
Other Problems With Wikipedia
Wikipedia has come under scrutiny in the past few years for a host of problems which are directly attributable to it’s flawed and reckless policy of allowing anyone regardless of knowledge or expertise to edit their pages. Wikipedia Watch hosts an very revealing catalog of some of their most notorious abuses and is well worth checking out.
John Siegenthaler Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960’s who was the victim of character assassination by Wikipedia vandals makes an interesting comment:
…while Wikipedia may provide a great deal of factual information, it also is a flawed and irresponsible research tool. What purports to be helpful fact may well be harmful fiction. And, there is no way to tell the difference.
In fact even the co-founder of Wikipedia Larry Sanger who is no longer involved with the project realizes that his creation is in trouble.
Nevertheless, everyone familiar with Wikipedia can now see the power of the basic Wikipedia idea and the crying need to get more experts on board and a publicly credible review process in place (so that there is a subset of “approved” article — not a heavy-handed, complicated process, of course). The only way Wikipedia can achieve these things is to jettison its anti-elitism and to moderate its openness to trolls and fools; but it will almost certainly not do these things. Consequently, as Wikipedia increases in popularity and strength, I do not see how there can not be a more academic fork of the project in the future
The Cult of the Amateur
Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur is very critical of the Web 2.0 “revolution” and of course it’s darling: Wikipedia:
Instead of a dictatorship of experts, we’ll have a dictatorship of idiots
Here’s an trailer of a video produced by VPRO the national public television network in the Netherlands called The Truth According to Wikipedia. It explains the rise of Web2.0 and Wikipedia with some great clips featuring the founders of Wikipedia and comments from Andrew Keen.
In the final analysis, the cure of excess administration is worse then the disease of not enough. We need to err on the side of more information rather then less. More choice is good, lack of choice is bad. In the marketplace of ideas we the Web surfing public should be given all points of view if possible and then be allowed to make our own choice as to what we believe. The price of having too much information is caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. Everyone has an axe to grind, so never assume what you are about to read is impartial. On the Internet trust no one, not even me.
Despite the fact that people can say pretty much anything they want and hide behind the cloak of anonymity, more must be done to bring journalistic credibility and scholarly authenticity to self-proclaimed web institutions like Wikipedia. Allowing power hungry volunteer admins at Wikipedia to decide gaming history for us is insanity; their actions are blatant censorship. Therefore due to continued incidents of editorial and administrative abuse, Wikipedia can no longer be trusted as a source of publicly edited history by any reasonable person. Instead go to a real encyclopedia.
Our professor usually has a hard time to explain students why they may “google for information” on Wikipedia, but why he only accepts written sources. Sometimes Wikipedia lists sources, but not always. So if sources are listed, why not use them instead of Wikipedia.
Often junior students see this as a crusade against Wikipedia and online sources of information in general. But he is right, what information you get presented might be the result of brutal mobster-style power fights by semi-experts, not necessarily morons, but not experts either.
I usually wonder why Wikipedia still works in general. I had a similar incident at Wikipedia like Muckbeast/Michael & Threshold and questioned the system already before.
I wonder how Wikipedia will evolve in future. How it will be in 10 years from now. The excellent initiative shows that the need for experts has been recognized, but as the video pointed out, “the crowd” is in control by large. Not necessarily a bad thing, but democracy and freedom of speech does not really equal rule of the mob.
P.S.: I am pretty confident that Threshold will get its page back, but I shiver at the mere thought of how much “mud” (pun intended) people fighting for it will have to go through. Edit wars are usually won by the more persistant side, so an enduring idiot is probably the best at Wikipedia power games… :/
Great article, Wolf! History wasn’t my favorite subject through much of school, but as a senior in high school, I started to really enjoy it. Much of that enjoyment comes from the largely objective nature of education, and the ability to see how other people handled things. An honest assessment of history is crucial to understanding how to make progress. This is as true in the game industry as in anything else.
I see an encyclopedia as a record of history, from the ancient to the contemporary. It needs to be objective to be useful.
Democracy can be a nice check and balance against abuse, but it’s also tightly geared to the lowest common denominator. Making history a matter of democratic opinion is doing it a pernicious disservice.
We totally agree with the gaming community’s sentiments about the aforementioned article being deleted, but let’s be fair: Wikipedia remains a very solid source of information, and is considered on par with traditional encyclopedias as far as accuracy is concerned overall.
Arguably, any repository of information will somehow be subjective, because it’s put together by humans; subjectivity is a universal human trait.
I always figured Wikipedia was an honest and benign “online” encyclopedia. I implicitly trusted Wikipedia until I found out about the problem with Threshold. I must admit I was sucked in by Wikipedia’s “power to the people” hippie ethos and their black and white faux academic look of their site.
My concern is that if this kind of nonsense is happening with a subject that we have some familiarity with then how do we know that the same kind of systemic abuses are not going in other areas that aren’t in our realm of expertise?
Brilliant Article and so true. Over the years I have watched Wiki Volunteers systematically revise history and perform Character assassination (CCP and the folks at EvE come to mind) all in the name of fair use rational which means if I argue delete and get enough people to agree with me I can basically do whatever. I must warn you Wolf Wiki is a vengeful entity…..there are those that will try to scandalize you after this.
@WyldKard: The problem I have with the whole matter, like Wolf pointed out, is that based on the Threshold (and other similar matters, eg the webcomics purge of 2007), I have a hard time conceiving the displayed behaviour as an exception rather than the norm.
Before the Threshold article was nominated for deletion (both times), it had been subject to an edit war: people trying to improve the article while the deletionists were continuously undoing their changes until the article was in a state where it no longer met basic inclusion criteriae. Then there’s the matter of being able to keep nominating something for deletion until it gets deleted, again as point in case, the second deletion review started within two days of the Threshold entry’s complete rewrite from scratch.
If this happens on (relatively) trivial entries, what does this say about more well-know and controversial topics?
Thanks for bringing more attention to the issue, Wolf. As some of you know, in addition to being a blogger I am the owner of the company that makes Threshold. The chaos from this incident cost us at least a week and a half of work, which is insane. We fought it not because of the value of the entry to us, but because of the effect it might have on gaming history in general. I don’t know much about the webcomic purge of 2007, but it sounds like something very similar.
The shame of it is that articles on “obscure” topics like computer games, web comics, etc. are what Wikipedia does best. If I am doing serious research, Wikipedia is not where I go. But if want information about some random, weird thing, it is great to be able to go to Wikipedia and get some info about it.
Unfortunately, we have nermals trying to “level up” on Wikipedia as if it were some type of MMO. They are ruining the place.
Muckbeast – Game Design and Online Worlds
Just to interject, a search on Encyclopedia Britannica produces no results (at the time of writing).
Whereas, interestingly, in hindsight, this page exists on Wikipedia.
A general disclaimer: I know this is an older post, but it was assigned as a reading assignment for a course I’m currently taking… i.e., this isn’t intended as flamebait but an update.
The same problem has happened big time on the Amanda Knox Trial. Under “The Murder of Meredith Kercher” it’s been nothing but trolls and fools on it who tried to take it over. So, even though there is much info put into this link it’s all corrupt stuff. Things are on there that are easily provably not true.
Fortunately for us, in our case Jimbo Wales has stepped up and is looking into this particular Wikipedia link. In the meantime nothing can be edited until he’s unblocks it all. Thanks for this valuable article. 🙂
Today it was reported at Breitbart.com that another website called Ace of Spades revealed that Wikipedia volunteers scrubbed an entry “Critical Race Theory” to protect CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien who in turn is protecting Barack Obama.
Just more proof of corruption — not just in the realm of MUDs — but in the realm of journalism.