Since I just started playing _World of Warcraft_, I had a look today at Richard Bartle’s “typography of online players”:http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm, which Espen Aarseth refers to in his great paper “Playing Research”:http://www.fineartforum.org/Backissues/Vol_17/faf_v17_n08/reviews/aarseth.html. From there I went on to Bartle’s blog. For those who don’t know, Bartle was involved, with Roy Trubshaw, in creating the first Multi User Dungeon (MUD), a text-based online role-playing environment, in 1978. [I could be wrong, and maybe he’ll correct me if I am.]
In the referenced post, Bartle is complaining about a book about virtuality that he started reading. Now, being a pioneer of imaginary online worlds, he quickly identified a host of factual errors in the book, and wondered how he could trust the author on anything if she’d got such basic things wrong.
I write about this kind of thing in the second chapter of my thesis, and I’m not the first to. People writing about technology from a humanities perspective often aren’t expertly familiar with the subject matter: they just jumped on the bandwagon because their subject is new and cool. “Nick Montfort”:http://nickm.com, one of my favourite writers on the subject of videogames, complains about errors in writing about text adventures in his history of the genre, “Twisty Little Passages”:http://nickm.com/twisty/.
Sometimes these errors can be really ridiculous. For instance, in “Joystick Nation”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0316360074/ref=benhourigan-co20, J.C. Herz claims that George Lucas worked on the _Wing Commander_ series, which was set in the _Star Wars_ universe. In fact, George Lucas had no input and the games are not set in the _Star Wars_ universe at all. She also makes mistakes about non-gaming things, falsely reporting that pop group a-ha (of “Take on Me” fame) were Swedish, when they were in fact Norwegian.
“How am I going to be able to trust anything else factual in the book, knowing that this one sentence contains so many errors?” Bartle asks. The answer is that you can’t.
In my thesis, I mercilessly attack people who make factual mistakes. And I’m terrified that I’ll make some myself. I’m also certain that I will, not because I don’t know what I’m talking about, unlike Herz and the other writers about games who’ve probably played less than a hundred (and probably less than ten) of them themselves. I’ve probably played over 1000 videogames, but that’s just a fraction of the total, and there are so many things to know that I couldn’t get everything right myself, and there’s very other works that record facts on which I can rely for aid.
So in a few years, it’s likely that someone better informed than me will view me as an untrustworthy source. It’s unfortunate, but probably unavoidable.
On a more triumphant note, thanks to a link from Bartle’s post, I also discovered that “singular they”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they, which I have used intuitively for a long time, is relatively widespread. Now if my supervisors object when I use it, I’ll tell them to f*** off (politely, of course).