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Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Background

Posted by Jason on February 10, 2012

For a while now, I’ve been kicking around ideas for an asynchronous, collaborative, semi-competitive worldbuilding game played using a wiki. At this point, I suspect you’ve either gone cross-eyed or else have gotten really interested. For the non cross-eyed among you, I’m going to take a stab at creating just such a game. I’ll put the rules in my next post, but first let me talk a little bit about my inspirations and goals–because I know how much the ladies love that.

To put first things first, I should give credit where it’s due. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using a wiki as a gaming platform since I stumbled onto Lexicon years ago. For those who are not familiar with it, Lexicon involves the players taking the role of scholars writing an alphabetical encyclopedia on some fictitious topic. Each round is indexed to a letter of the alphabet, and the entries for that round must start with that letter. There are also rules for linking back to other articles and adding “phantom entries” for others to fill in. I’m not going to go over those in depth here, largely because I will be stealing adapting some of them for my own game.

Perhaps even more influentially, I found a competitive variant called (I believe) Smacktalk that since seems to have disappeared from the web–or at least which my Google-fu is not strong enough to find. As I recall, after each Smacktalk round, the audience voted for their favorite entry of the round, and the player with the fewest votes was out. This was repeated until there was one person left, who presumably then took a victory lap around the wiki.

The last major inspiration came when I stumbled onto Microscope. Microscope is a game of collaborative worldbuilding, where each turn a player adds something new to an existing timeline. It’s essentially an elaborate variation of “Yes, and…” but with a focus toward developing a fictitious history. One of the things that particularly struck me is its non-linearity; on your turn, you can expand on any point in the timeline, leaving you free to jump around in your chronology at a whim. The things you create can vary in scale from an entire era down to a particular scene, which is role-played by the group.

Each of these games is great in its own right, but still not exactly what I was looking for:

  • I find the alphabetic requirement in Lexicon to be a bit too restrictive. Also, you only have 26 rounds and then it’s done, whereas I’d much prefer open-ended worldbuilding.
  • Since you only get one post per Lexicon round, you do best to use it on big posts which cover a lot of ground. But I think the fun of worldbuilding is sometimes in exploring the tiny little spaces and details, perhaps writing a short explanation of an interesting name for no reason other than that it amuses you and adds richness.
  • Lexicon is also a little too collaborative for me. I like having ways to mess with other players, even just a little, because I think it leads to more interaction between players. And interaction is fun.
  • I like the competitiveness of Smacktalk, but I don’t like that once you’re voted out you’re essentially out of the game. I want all the players to be involved, all the time. (Also, as a player, I would hate to be voted out in the first round and then miss the fun!)
  • Smacktalk also requires an outside audience to vote on entries, which is not something everyone will be able to muster.
  • Smacktalk only lasts as many rounds as you have players. That doesn’t seem nearly enough time to get into the really good parts of creativity.
  • Microscope seems almost perfect for wiki-play, except for the part where scenes are roleplayed in real-time. Arguably, you could just go without them, but a lot of the fun of that game lies in scenes.
  • Also, Microscope relies more on direct inheritance on a timeline (X comes after Y, Y leads to Z, Q came before all of them) rather than the cross-linking and discovery that makes wiki writing so fun.
  • In a similar vein, Microscope focuses (by design) primarily on events and chronology, whereas I also like exploring details of setting, people, culture, etc.

Additionally, one big criterion that none of these games fully address is asynchronicity. Perhaps I should explain what I mean. I don’t have much time to play games these days, and what time I do have tends to be sporadic. I can’t generally, for example, schedule three or four hours at a regular time for an RPG session like I used to. Therefore, when I can find a bit of free time, I like to be able to sit down, play, and enjoy for as long as I’m able. This doesn’t really work if you need to have other players present at the same time in order to play.

It works a little better with turn-based games, and I think this is what most people think of when they think asynchronous games. That is, one player takes a turn when he or she is able, then the next player when his or her time allows, and so forth. This works great for board games, and the iOS App Store has seen an explosion of such asynchronous board games recently–which I think is fantastic! But I feel that for RPG or writing-style games, having to wait for one or all of the other players to take their turn can be detrimental. It tends to leave everyone waiting for the slowest player, or else the game gets so slowed down that it just stops entirely.

What I’d prefer is a system where players can log in when they have time, and have a variety of options for play. That is, have a system whereby a player has a variety of choices available at any given time, and can choose to explore as many or as few of those as he or she desires whenever time allows. The problem, though, is in not over-rewarding players who have the most free time and can write the most, but rather in rewarding thoughtfulness and creativity over quantity. There’s also the problem of keeping one player from dominating the narrative through sheer volume.

So these are the inspirations for what I’d like to do in a game, and the problems that need to be solved. In the next post, I’ll lay out a set of rules that I’ve come up with for just such a game.

4 Responses to “Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Background”

  1. I find your ideas interesting, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. And wiki page. And 5th dimensional wiki-based play-by-seat-of-your-time-machine game.

  2. […] Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Background […]

  3. […] Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Background […]

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