wikipedia as a field medium—the case of the DeFRaG mod
Still I am preoccupied with writing my article on “The playful appropriation of gamespace—From skilful playing to gamemodding and back again,” or so. A bit late, you may say, as the article is due in two weeks already [Yes, Mr Chair of Anthropology, Sir, I am also going to prepare that presentation you invited me for, in time ;-) But, as you know, I am—just like you—more prone to the hands-on things, than to theoretical write-ups. Erh … which doesn’t show up prominently in my publications till now, I know.], but I am going pregnant with this at least ↵since 2004. The article will be focussed on the culture of trickjumping, Q3A-trickjumping and the DeFRaG mod in particular. In here I have partially documented my efforts of getting in touch with the whole thing via practice and “sensuous research”. Apart from reading around widely, watching trickjumping-movies, and hopping and climbing through maps myself, I also frequent the according websites, portals, and forums. But honestly I did not quite know how to gain real access in an anthropological sense, as I didn’t really have something to offer, and I do not want to bore people by asking silly, uninformed questions and such.
Then, within the forum ↑Trick Jumping (Q3) at ↑OPC I stumbled over the thread ↑Wikipedia. Back in 2005 someone had created the Wikipedia-entry ↑DeFRaG (computer game), and in late September a vote for deletion of this entry was called. An according ↑debate on the proposed deletion of the article started , and ultimately led to its deletion. The arguments for deletion consisted of alleged breach of several Wikipedia policies. The voiced arguments were, that DeFRaG was a “Non-notable game mod”, and that there were no secondary sources cited in the article: “References to fan sites are nice and such, but they don’t really qualify as reliable secondary sources. What we are looking for is something like an article about it in PC Gamer or Computer Gaming World or something like that. Other mods have been featured in popular online/print magazines, so this is not discriminatory against mods or anything.” Primary sources less valuable than secondary ones of the shiny tabloid computer-magazine kind? This in a way truly strikes me as being odd. But that may be just me as an anthropologist.
But the thing indeed is a bit more complicated, because there rightfully is the Wikipedia policy of “no original research in entries”. That’s sensible, because Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not an academical journal.
In the debate it was also voiced, that “fan-sites are hardly suitable source material for an encyclopedia.” I disagree, because “fan-sites” do offer a variety of material of different provenance. There e.g. is ↑“Zigzagging Through A Strange Universe” by Anthony Bailey of Quake-done-Quick (QdQ) fame (see ↵snaking and strafejumping). The article originally was published as an editorial at Planet Quake on 12 October 1997 and tells the story of QdQ, the discovery of trickjumping being possible, and ultimately a part of the story of the machinima-phenomenon’s emergence. Stanford historian of science and technology Henry E. Lowood deems this editorial so reliable a source that he cites it extensively in his articles “Real-time performance: Machinima and game studies” (2005, ↑iDMa 2(1): 10-17) and “High-performance play: The making of machinima” (2006, see ↑delayed access). But then of course Bailey’s article in a way is a primary source, written by someone who not only was there, but was an integral part of the ongoings. Nevertheless I take a sensible editorial like Bailey’s to be a more reliable source than a quick write-up in some glossy magazine at the newspaper kiosk. In the case of the information given by Bailey we now do not have a problem with Wikipedia policy anymore, because Lowood used said information and wrote two beautiful articles which can be safely cited and nobody will deny their reliability.
Anyway, back on topic. When I read that thread at OPC I saw my chance of access in a fair way. One of the milestones of my access into the Max-Payne-modding community was my volunteering for translating German modding-tutorials into English for publication at MPHQ. I wasn’t much of a mapper or even modder back then, but here I had something to offer. It tremendously helped me improving my modding skills, and it helped the community at large. Now an analogous thing happened. I am hardly beyond the very basics of trickjumping, and I for sure can not make a Q3A-movie. But I can write academical texts. Or at least texts that seem to be academical. The Q3A-trickjumping community obviously is interested in having an entry on DeFRaG at Wikipedia, so I jumped in, told who I was, and what I was about to do, and offered my help for the Wikipedia entry. It was accepted, a discussion and more interaction spawned. Luckily I remembered that Sotamaa (↵2003) had mentioned DeFRaG in an academical paper of his, and within the community a ↑German article on trickjumping at Spiegel online was unearthed. So I sat to work, wrote a new draft of “DeFRaG (computer game)”, posted it to the trickjumpers the day before yesterday, and feedback immediately came. The better part of yesterday I spent by translating the whole thing into wiki-editish, organizing, enlarging, and honing it. Finally I blew it online at Wikipedia. It’s tremendous fun, I learned a lot, and it simply feels good to create a Wikipedia article in collaboration with the people touched by the subject. But what exactly am I doing here? There are no ethical difficulties, the people perfectly know who I am and that I am writing an article on trickjumping—that’s not what I am aiming at.
Rather I meditate a bit about the fact that I am using Wikipedia for this little fieldwork, if it can be called that. Mind, this approach does not take information from Wikipedia, but goes the other way round and works by feeding information into Wikipedia. Funny, ain’t it? But here again ethical implications may pop up, because I still may well breach Wikipedia policy, the “no original research” thing in particular. If you are interested enough, go over and ↑check out the article, so that you know what I mean. I guess the requirement of furnishing reliable sources to proof that the DeFRaG mod is notable and relevant enough to be covered by Wikipeida, is fulfilled by the references Sotamaa 2003 and Kringiel 2006. But what about the majority of the article’s content? Isn’t it original research nevertheless? I took utmost care not to let sift in my thoughts, you’ll see that I am not babbling about “sociocultural appropriation” or “embodied knowledge” at all. I tried to only relate “facts”—the mentioning of “transformative high-performance play” I eased by “Following the argumentation of […] Henry E. Lowood”. But the whole section on techniques I wrote draws on primary sources (tutorials and discussions published online by the community), and on personal experience, the experience of strafe-jumping in particular. I would not have been able to write like that on strafe-jumping like that, if I wasn’t able to perform the practice myself. You may have noted that there is no explanatory text accompanying “Half-beat strafe-jumping” and “Inverted strafe jumping”. Yes, I have read tutorials and descriptions of these techniques, watched demos of them, but I did not yet get it. And I can’t perform them.
So, now, is it original research, or not? To the best of my knowledge there simply are no academical publications on trickjumping I could refer to. Right now I am myself preparing the first one focussing on the phenomeneon. I am for sure not the academical authority on the history of first-person shooters—that’s David Kushner, and not the academical authority on the history of modding and machinima—that’s Henry E. Lowood. But, hell, I am the academical authority on the culture of gamemodding and trickjumping ;-) But even if one believes my preposterous gibberish, this doesn’t resolve the problems with Wikipedia policies, as what I am doing may well be seen as some kind of collaborative partial pre-publication via Wikipedia. Once my article is published, it can be cited by the entry. But then, Wikipedia definitely is not the place for self-pimping …
wikipedia as a field medium—the case of the DeFRaG mod