Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wikipedia MUDslinging

From Plato to the Matrix people have pondered the question whether reality is absolute, or whether it is just an image in our brains. But whatever philosophy you adhere to, it is undisputed that if different people describe the same reality, you more often than not end up with different texts. Thus if you want to create a text describing reality, an encyclopedia, you end up with problems of subjectivity. Questions of who shot John F. Kennedy, how old is Earth, and is Hamas a group of freedom fighters or one of terrorists will be answered differently by different persons, depending on their beliefs. And when compiling such an encyclopedia, you not only have to decide what the truth is, you also have to make decisions which truths are important enough to be included in a "well-rounded education" (literal translation of encyclopedia).

Wikipedia, a collaborative project fueled by the work of volunteers, is battling with this sort of problems every day. And recently they ran into trouble with Richard Bartle, because they deleted the entry on the Threshold MUD. On the surface the discussion is about whether the entry has valid source material, but behind that is the simple question whether every single MUD is important enough to have it's own Wikipedia entry, or whether it wouldn't be sufficient to make one big entry listing the history of MUDs and be done with it.

Of course it is easy to make fun of the relative importance of entries in an encyclopedia in which Buffy has a longer entry than many real people. And the deleting and editing of pages on Wikipedia is often a process in which a fight for status in the Wikipedia community plays a larger role as the search for absolute truth or importance. But we have to accept the right of Wikipedia editors to delete unimportant entries, because otherwise we'd start seeing biographies of people's recently deceased hamsters and other entries nobody is interested in. Of course in the reality of Richard Bartle, or even in that of people like me blogging about virtual worlds, a classic MUD can be considered to be important. But in the reality of the average person, MUDs don't play a big role. Much fewer people played MUDs than are playing modern MMORPGs. For most people wanting to know more about them, the general Wikipedia article on MUDs is totally sufficient. The history of MUDs might make a good subject for a specialized website, but it's exclusion from a general purpose encyclopedia is easy to justify. The storm in a teacup some bloggers and MUD fan sites are trying to raise about the issue isn't going to change that. YRMV (Your reality may vary).

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