Module 8: Critical Play and Crip Game Design
8.8 The Wikipedia Game
In this section we will learn about, play and create our own Wikipedia Game. For those who aren’t familiar, the game works by choosing two or more seemingly unrelated topics, objects, or people. The goal is to start on the Wikipedia page for the first word, and, by clicking on links within Wikipedia, eventually find your way to the page for the second word. Winning often means either getting to the second page first or using the fewest number of links. There are obvious limitations to this game—for example, the cultural policing of who or what does or does not have a Wikipedia page, which limits our choices.
What are we doing when we play this game? Rather than simply a form of entertainment, this game showcases the structure of the Wikipedia archive as a network of associated knowledge. Our ability to play the game ultimately demonstrates a certain amount of mastery in the performance of digital archival research. Playing in the archive is a form of active knowledge practice, in which we hone our skills in constructing links between data and in retrieving information. Different players employ different strategies in the game—some prefer to click semi-randomly, hoping to discover/uncover hidden connections in the archive. Others read the entire Wikipedia page looking for close connections and employ their previous knowledge of the cultural objects in order to plan a pathway before clicking. In the first instance, the player is exploring the archive and discovering links between two seemingly unrelated objects/events. In the second, players are retracing collective memories that are likely shared culturally. There is no right or wrong strategy to use when playing the game.
In this first game, we are going to draw a connection line between Disability Justice and Beyoncé.
- Navigate to the Wikipedia page for disability justice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability_justice
- Next, following links in Wikipedia, try to find your way to Beyoncé.
- Try to keep track of the links you followed, or go back when you’re finished and write them down.
(See Appendix 2 for the copyright statement for this video)
- Disability justice
- Mia Mingus
- Barack Obama
- List of Barack Obama 2012 presidential campaign endorsements
- Disability justice
- Audre Lorde
- Black feminism
- Misogyny in rap music
For those of you finished with the first pathway, or simply want to try a different story, we’re going to play the game again. This time, we’re going to start with coltan, and we’ll end with Taylor Swift. Here is the link to the Wikipedia page for coltan to start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coltan
Take a few minutes and reflect on both or either of your paths in the Wikipedia Game. Go back and make a list of the links you followed. Let the questions below guide your analysis.
- What was the chain of associations that you followed?
- How did you make decisions about what links to follow in the game?
- What was the most unexpected connection you made?
- Why was this an unexpected connection?
- What stories were told by associations, keywords, and links?
- What themes emerged?
- Were any of the themes unexpected or surprising?
- How did your story engage with cultural, societal, and political topics and issues?
- Did your story cross borders or span timelines/histories?
- Were there moments of friction or tension in your story?
- Did it make you uncomfortable?
- How do the start and end points shape the narrative we are telling?
In the first playthrough, connecting disability justice to Beyoncé through Barack Obama took a political and nationalist turn, associating Obama and Beyoncé in a way that seemed to link Obama and the American Presidency with disability justice and Black feminism, a troubled connection.
In the second playthrough, the pathway took a different turn, connecting disability justice with Audre Lorde and Black lesbian feminism and making a critique of misogyny in rap culture before ending with Beyoncé.
Due to the tenuous link to Obama on Mia Mingus’s page, the first pathway made a false connection between disability activism and political parties/governments. In contrast, it was good to see issues of racism and sexism emerging in the second playthrough. Positioning of Beyoncé as an inheritor of Audre Lorde’s Black feminist activism is an interesting idea.
In this first game, by drawing disability justice together with Beyoncé, there is a tenuous claim that the two are connected. Thus, the game design can lead players to associate Beyoncé with political activism and Black feminism. In contrast, by associating Taylor Swift with coltan, the game is designed deliberately to critique white feminism, American nationalism/imperialism, and capitalism. These design choices matter, as they make suggestions about how and what cultural objects are connected and carry meanings that are absorbed by players.
Designing Your Own Wikipedia Game
The Wikipedia Game can be an example of critical play. When you are designing your own game, engage in critical play design by asking yourself: What associations do I want players to make?
How they make those associations will be up to them, but the beginning and end points that you choose will shape the narrative and how they interact with that narrative.
- Ask yourself:
- What story do I want to tell with the player?
- What interactive, collaborative message am I trying to convey?
- Pick a theme related to disability justice that you want to explore and plan your Wikipedia pages accordingly—maybe you want to connect straitjackets to racism, Justin Trudeau to lead poisoning, or your hometown to Mad Pride or Disability Pride marches.
- Questions to ask yourself:
- Why have I chosen these points?
- Have I left space for player agency, choice, and unexpected connections?
- What are the main connecting lines I’m drawing with my framework—do they cut across time, borders, or disciplines?
- Create the game and then play it twice, marking down the different pathways you took.
- As an additional challenge, try ‘breaking’ your game on one of your playthroughs. Try to play critically and challenge the message you were trying to convey with your start/end points by making unexpected connections that subverts your initial message!
Spend a few minutes reflecting on the stories that emerged through clicking different links.
- Were you satisfied or not satisfied with the outcomes? Why or why not?
- What challenges did you face in designing your own game?
- What challenges or connections do you think players could make when playing your game?