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The Game Is On

Game main page.

Game main page.

Gamification. One of those horrible buzzwords that are thrown around by everyone these days, between “cloud computing” and “the internet of things” (as opposed to the internet of people fitted with ethernet jacks, or those who get a good WiFi signal on their tooth fillings). Sure enough, gamification in the Wiki-verse has not been met with resounding success yet, unless you consider Wikipedia itself a MMORPG, or count the various vandal-fighting tools. Now, editing Wikipedia is a complex issue, which doesn’t really lend itself to game-like activity. But there’s a (not quite so) new player in town: Wikidata. I saw an opening, and I went for it. Without further ado, I give you Wikidata – The Game (for desktop and mobile)! (Note for the adventurous: Tools Labs is slightly shaky at the moment of writing this, if the page doesn’t load, try again in an hour…)

So what’s the approach here? I feel the crucial issue for gamification is breaking complicated processes down into simple actions, which themselves are just manifest decisions – “A”, “B”, or “I don’t want to decide this now!”. I believe the third option to be of essential importance; it is, unfortunately, mostly absent from Real Lifeā„¢, and the last thing people want in a game is feeling pressured into making a decision. My Wikidata game acts as a framework of sub-games, all of which are using that three-options approach. The framework takes care of things like landing page, high scores, communications etc., so the individual game modules can focus on the essentials. For this initial release, I have:

The "merge items" game.

The “merge items” game.

  • Merge items shows you two items that have the same label or alias. Are they the same topic, and should thus be merged? One button will merge them on Wikidata (and leave a deletion request), the other will mark the pair as “not the same” within the game, not showing this specific combination again.
  • Person shows you an item that has no “instance of” property, but might be a person based on its label (the first word of the label is also the first word in another item, which is a person). One button sets “instance of:person” on Wikidata, the other prevents it from being offered in this game again.
  • Gender shows you an item that is a person, but has no gender property set. Set the property on Wikidata to “male” or “female”, or skip this item (like you can do with the other games – skipped items will show up again eventually).

There is also an option to randomly pick one game each time you press a button in the previous one – slightly more “challenging” than the single-game mode, which one can play at quite high speed. Of course, this simplification misses a lot of “fine-tuning” – what if you are asked to decide the gender of an item that has been accidentally tagged as “person”? What if the gender of this person is something other than “male” or “female”? Handling all these special cases would, of course, be possible – but it would destroy the simplicity of the three-button interface. The games always leave you a “way out” – when in doubt, skip the decision. Someone else will take care of it, eventually, probably on Wikidata proper.

Another point worth mentioning is the speed of the game. I took some measures to ensure the user never, ever, has to wait for the game. First, all the potential decisions are made server-side, and written into a database; for example, there are ~290K people waiting for “gender assignment”, and candidates are updated once a day. Upon loading the game website, a single candidate entry from each game is loaded in the background, so one will be ready for you instantaneously, no matter which game you choose. Upon opening a specific game, the cache is loaded with four more candidates, and kept at that level; at no point, you will have to wait for a new page to appear once you made a decision on the current one (I actually had to add a brief fade-out-fade-in sequence, so that the user can notice that a new page has been loaded – it’s that fast). Actions (merging items, requesting deletions, adding statements, remembering to not show items again) is done in the background as well, so no waiting for that either.

What else is there to say? The tool requires the user to allow OAuth edits, for both high-score keeping and accountability for the edits through the game. The game interface is English-only at the moment, but at least the main page has been designed with i18n in mind. The games are designed to work on desktop and mobile alike; passing time on the bus has never been that world-knowledge-improving! As a small additional incentive, there are high-score lists per game, and the overall process players have made in improving Wikidata. Finally, the code for the individual games is quite small; ~50 lines of code for the Person game, plus the updating code to find more candidates, run daily.

Finally, I hope some of you will enjoy playing Wikidata – The Game, and maybe some of you would like to work with me, either as programmers to share the tool (maybe even the good folks of WMF?), or with ideas for new games. I already have a few of those; I’m thinking images…