The proliferation of various games being played on Wikipedia turned the subject from pure fun into a more serious debate last week, as growing uneasiness about game-playing led to calls for them to be removed from the site. Recent attempts to play chess or checkers on Wikipedia have been a particular focus of attention.
Complaints about these practices have come from a number of Wikipedia editors, who have been vocal recently on the wikiEN-l mailing list, citing the principle that Wikipedia exists to create an encyclopedia. Based on this reasoning, they would prefer that games and contests be directed towards writing articles or otherwise improving the content of Wikipedia. Meanwhile, others have defended the games as a lighthearted opportunity for people to interact and foster community spirit.
Most of the games currently listed in the Department of Fun have at least a nominal relationship to Wikipedia as an encyclopedia project. For example, there have been regular trivia contests and scavenger hunts where competitors must track down information in articles as part of the game. However, other games like chess are also included although they have only a tenuous connection to work on Wikipedia.
The chess game has been set up as a subpage in the sandbox, which is designed as a temporary space for people to experiment while learning how to edit Wikipedia. However, a chess championship page was set up in the Wikipedia namespace to conduct an extended tournament, with the games being subpages of the main championship page. An attempt to have this set of pages deleted was resoundingly rejected in May.
The creation of a checkers page by Jaberwocky6669 provoked a new round of debate on the appropriateness of these pages last week. The page was initially treated as a speedy delete by Danny, but then undeleted and submitted to votes for deletion. Jaberwocky6669 later nominated Wikipedia:N degrees of separation for deletion as well.
Besides the question of whether these belong on Wikipedia at all, several other objections were raised. Danny argued that it would distract people from the actual purpose of Wikipedia and potentially "turn it into yet another gaming site." He also pointed out that playing games involving active and rapid edits clutters up the log of recent changes for those patrolling for vandalism.
Ironically, sj noted that Danny had listed himself as a "member" of the Department of Fun. In defense of those participating in the games, he pointed out that relaxing and having fun would be beneficial to the community, and that some similarly "non-encyclopedic" projects like BJAODN are tolerated. Reflecting the changed mood of the discussion, however, voting on the potential deletion of the checkers page was going much differently from the earlier chess vote. The chess championship was not deleted partly because many of the players objected, but even Hedley, a participant in the tournament, said, "I agree that games may be going too far."
Various solutions have been proposed. Eloquence suggested ending use of the sandbox "as a VfD-resistant incubator for games which distract from the purpose of building an encyclopedia." A number of people have recommended that games unrelated to Wikipedia itself should be moved to Wikicities. Developer Tim Starling suggested that this operated as a sort of psychological barrier, however, being "on the wrong side of the virtual boundary which surrounds our homey little region of cyberspace." He offered instead to set up a separate wiki on the Wikimedia Foundation servers, assuming that this idea is supported by the community.