Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History

December 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Wikipedia deleting BBS Door Game Entries

As we speak, certain vigilante Wikipedia users are hard at work erasing whatever scraps of little-known BBS door game history that resides in Wikipedia's databases. The first casualty in this war was the entry for Space Empire Elite, which was deleted early this morning.

(For those of you unfamiliar with BBS door games, here's a brief definition: BBS door games are computer games, usually text-only, that were traditionally played over modems and accessed through dial-up BBSes. They are called "door games" because users pass through a figurative "doorway" from the BBS software into another program (the game program) to play them. One of the most notable examples is TradeWars 2002.)

The problem, it seems, is that the games aren't "notable" enough and lack the sources for a Wikipedia article.

Here's an excerpt of the conversation between Dr. Chad Nilep (Cnilep), the Wikipedia user who nominated Space Empire Elite for deletion; Sue Rangell, another user who doesn't like non-notable games; and Josh Renaud (Kirkman), a door game proponent who authored several door game pages on Wikipedia.

Aside from some of the snippy remarks made, this game was not notable even back in the BBS era. I'm old enough to remember. Tradewars, Wolfenstein, and Zork are all names that became legendary, and we still hear about them even today. You can still find "Remember when?" articles that mention those games. Those articles fail to mention this game. That is why it isn't notable. This game doesn't make that cut. It was a just another door game, lost in thousands. Some people played it, but it never stood out. My apologies to the nostalgists, myself included, but it lacks the "wow factor" the others mentioned have. I will agree with a merge into a list of old BBS games, but this article has no stand-alone value and adds nothing to Wikipedia. –Sue Rangell ✍ ✉ 03:23, 1 December 2012 (UTC)

So something's significance depends on whether people still talk about it? I'm sorry, that doesn't wash. This game *was* notable in the BBS era. It was one of the most popular games played on Atari ST BBSes. This game is an early creation of Jon Radoff. It was one of the early BBS door games to implement inter-BBS play, making it a precursor of massively-multiplayer games. And Space Empire Elite directly inspired the creation of Solar Realms Elite and Barren Realms Elite, both of which people still remember (and play) today, not to mention all the other SRGames and others like Space Dynasty. Kirkman (talk) 23:52, 1 December 2012 (UTC)

Kirkman is correct that WP:Notability is not temporary. The question of whether Space Empire Elite is notable does not relate to the game's current fame. On the other hand, WP:Subjective importance does not constitute notability by Wikipedia standards, either. The WP:General notability guidelines require published sources. If such publications can be found and cited, notability might be established. I tried and failed to find independent publications (beyond the two books by Wolf currently cited), but others might have more luck. Cnilep (talk) 05:39, 2 December 2012 (UTC)

Agreed. It wasn't notable even back then. If it had been, it would be remembered with the other games that were notable from that time. Being an inspiration for other notable games does not make it notable. Notability simply isn't tranferred like that. This article fails all five points in WP:GNG, WP:NRVE, and WP:NNC. The ability to stand with it's own article simply isn't there. –Sue Rangell ✍ ✉ 19:57, 2 December 2012 (UTC)

The kind of arguments put forth by Sue Rangell here boil a historian's blood. Oh, the sheer audacity required to judge what is or what isn't notable enough to be part of online history!

But let's be honest with ourselves. Wikipedia isn't a historian's or archivist's paradise. It's a living, breathing collection of documents with its share of flaws, biases, and tastes that aggregate from territorial users that can be fickle and cruel. Entries have to battle to survive in that environment, and that is unfortunate for history at times, but that's the way the system is set up over there.

If you go by Wikipedia's guidelines, most BBS door games are not "notable" by Wikipedia standards — or "Wiki-notable," as I will now derisively call it. And true, they were not played by very many people and they were very little known (relative to games like Super Mario Bros. 3, for example), but they were, as Josh Renaud argues, important parts of history that should not be forgotten.

I want to blame the Wikipedia users who delete this history, but the truth is that Wikipedia is not the place to write original history, and articles without sources will eventually get axed. As a result, this is not a battle worth fighting until we have the proper ammunition.

So lets make some sources ourselves.

We Can Write BBS Game History Together

If we want to preserve BBS door history, let's do it the right way. If you have information on a BBS door game you'd like to enshrine in a Wikipedia-proof format, write it up in an article with some screenshots and email it to me. I'll publish it on VC&G, and the game will be one source closer to being official history in Wikipedia's eyes.

Even if Wikipedia users don't like the result, the info on the game will still be out there on this blog (and eventually mirrored on the Internet Archive).

Meanwhile, I'll be working on some articles about BBS door games that I have been promising myself I'd write since I started this blog in 2005. Expect the first one soon.

[ Update: 12/09/2012 - I forgot to mention that two other BBS door game Wikipedia entries have recently been threatened with deletion: Solar Realms Elite (definitely an important game) and Space Dynasty. ]



21 Responses to “Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History”

  1. Josh Renaud Says:

    Great post, Benj. I want to point out that the SEE wikipedia article *is* preserved.

    I mirrored it (and all other WP BBS door game articles) on my new wiki: http://breakintochat.com.

    My own goal is to begin finding more sources about BBS door games to flesh these articles out. They also need better writing. I welcome anyone to help me.

    And of course I will contribute to your VC&G project, as well.

  2. mro Says:

    The best thing to do is not play the game with wikipedia. there are deletionists that like to remove articles to give themselves CRED in what is really a mmorpg to them.

    Don't give wikipedia credibility. it's not worth using, its best strength is that wikipedia content is often plagiarized from other sources

    it's an ugly website put up by a pornographer who has delusions of grandeur

  3. Ant Says:

    WTFrak? We need to make our wikipedia for BBS games and others.

  4. Asterisk Says:

    Of course, once there is an established database of BBS door games external to Wikipedia, it will serve as a source for citations for Wikipedia articles, and the "non-notability" problem will instantly go away. The paradox of deletionism in action.

  5. opendna Says:

    The "notability" argument from Wikipedia Deletionists is fascinating because it basically outsources judgements of significance to major media conglomerates.

    If you rely on newsmedia for a historical account of BBSes, you'd conclude that BBSes barely existed. If you rely on scholarship, you'd conclude that BBSes were only used for intra-institutional communication. If, however, you measured nodelists, directories, and message archives, you'd conclude that BBSes were used recreationally by tens of millions of people and were probably more popular than the Internet until about 1995.

    You can try an rely on the trade press, but few of those publications were ever digitized. Find copies of Boardwatch or Computer Shopper from 1994 online? Forget about it. Pblishing houses (and libraries) have long since pulped those publications, so the only copies remaining are in personal hordes. To make matters worse, those publications barely got a mention in the newsmedia. If the Wikipedia Deletionists notice how few references those Wiki pages have, they'll file a deletion request there too; if their arguments win, those pages should be deleted.

    Ain't that sick? Publications with circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which documented an industry which tens of millions remember, do not meet the criteria for notability on Wikipedia. If you followed the Deletionist logic methodically, you could purge almost the entire pre-Internet history of computing from Wikipedia.

  6. opendna Says:

    John: I suggest that you expand the mission of http://breakintochat.com to include all things BBS. Apparently archives of such stuff are rarely more "notable" than the originals, but it'll be damn hard to write about (ie) the demo scene without access to troves of material.

  7. Josh Renaud Says:

    Opendna, brilliant comments.

    Recently I went through an archive of "BBS Magazine" from early/mid-1990s. What interested me was how little they talk about the actual BBS scene. The topics are usually more about how to make money from your board, how to connect to the internet, best shareware or PC games, listings of BBSes, etc. But very few articles about the actual BBS scene itself (say, an interview with game author, etc).

  8. geni Says:

    opendna Sources don't have to be online and centeral libaries will have retained their copies.

  9. Josh Renaud Says:

    Opendna, that is definitely part of the long-term idea (hence the more general BBS name), but I want to start with a focus on games since that area has been neglected.

    Geni, you'd be surprised. My local library clears stuff out somewhat often. To use an example from a different field, I have been finding it almost impossible to get old issues of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly in libraries. The magazines were cleared out long ago at most places.

  10. Mystery8 Says:

    Perhaps this should be considered for any future donations to Wikipedia. As in I'll never make any.

  11. geni Says:

    Josh Renaud I doubt your local library is a central library. Central libraries are things like the British library which don't throw things out. Certainly they were able to produce old Amiga Computing magazines when I wanted them.

  12. jay Says:

    hey guys, vintage gamer here, maybe its serendipitous I found this page. If you guys want to preserve the history of BBS gaming, might you consider using my site. It's built precisely to solve this problem.
    I made the BBS door game page here: http://histowiki.com/2333/history/history-of-bbs-door-games/

    feel free to add relevant factoids, images, videos, etc, in the comment section, or the Histowiki facebook fan page, and I will curate it all for you, for the time being. Or, if any of you want to take charge of the page, that would be great too!
    I'll put the word out about this cause via press release.
    Happy to do it!

  13. jay Says:

    Also, if you guys reject my idea, no worries, i might also suggest a way to collaborate on building its history with Storify.com. its a neat online app for this sort of thing. heres an example:
    http://storify.com/HistoWiki/histowiki-com-s-collection-of-bbs-door-games-histo

  14. Koos van den Hout Says:

    Not to just add another url where BBS history is preserved but I'd also like to mention http://bbs.wikia.com/ .. the 'recent changes' has too much spam in it but there are good articles in that site.

  15. Zoë Blade Says:

    It looks like the August 1996 issue of Computer Currents magazine featured an article about door games, if that helps? The Internet Archive has the article preserved over at http://web.archive.org/web/19960517170439/http://currents.net/magazine/backiss/archart.html?onlc0807 I found it by searching old USENET posts for mentions of magazine articles about door games, finding the appropriate sites of those magazines, and using the Wayback Machine to view those sites as they were at the time. This method could probably yield even more results if anyone has the time to spare.

  16. captain WTF? Says:

    They want to AfD Solar Realms Elite? WTFFFFF???

    Let's also delist all games pre-GTA 3, since basically nobody cares about them either. Home of the underdogs would provide a nice list of all the games that need to be deleted because they're basically unloved and forgotten, and have never been studied by people important like social scientists and cultural theorists, only played by forgettable losers who don't write enough books.

    I mean really. Would the notability of SRE change if some queer theorist wrote a book about how it represented the sinthome of BBS culture when grafted onto Hitchock's the Birds?

  17. Josh Renaud Says:

    Nice find, Zoe.

  18. George Dance Says:

    It's not just articles on gaming that have been deleted. Last April an editor decided to delete articles on leaders of the Libertarian Party of Canada, on the grounds that the party wasn't "notable" (as it never elected anyone), and succeeded in deleting all but two (Stan Tyminski and Neil Reynolds, who were deemed "notable" for other things).

    I think your solution is the right one; gamers, like other victims of changing Wikipedia policy, should set up their own specialized encyclopedias, copy articles from Wikipedia to there, and write new articles there. It's foolish to try to turn the sum of human knowledge over to one group. I'd add only two things:

    (1) There are online alternatives to Wikipedia — the one I'm most familiar with is Wikinfo — which welcome articles on more obscure subjects. They are something to consider in addition to the specialized encyclopedias.

    (2) Any articles that have already been "deleted" are not lost; they've just had access restricted to administrators. Any administrator can undelete any of them, permanently, or for purposes of copying them to another venue.

  19. Steve Lovelace Says:

    The upside is that the more we talk about BBS history here and elsewhere, the more notable it becomes.

  20. hahnchen Says:

    Take a look at Raph Koster's comments from 2009 about preserving the early history of MUDs on Wikipedia and beyond (another vintage computer gaming field).

    http://www.raphkoster.com/2009/01/05/losing-mud-history/
    http://www.raphkoster.com/2009/01/08/wikipedia-muds-and-where-the-sources-are/

    Sometimes, a lot of times, Wikipedia is lazy. If it isn't on Google, it doesn't exist. But I know of niche publications like Boardwatch which should have covered BBS Door Games. Go and find some copies.

  21. Dan Says:

    On a similar note, Wikipedia deleted the article on the Cuban Mafia, because despite it being overthrown by a communist revolution, Wikipedia claims there's no proof the Cuban Mafia exists.

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