Conflict and competition in a collaborative, scholarly editing arena: prevention and mediation using MMORPG paradigms?
[Submitted by Sonja Sapach]
Gaming the Edition Blog
March 3, 2013
Question: Conflict and competition in a collaborative, scholarly editing arena: prevention and mediation using MMORPG paradigms?
Competition is in our nature. As much as we strive toward teamwork, friendly collaboration, and group cohesion, there will always exist the need for individual advancement and self preservation. However, as I write this, I am having a problem with it – feeling as if I am out of line suggesting that people participating in a collaborative endeavour may be in it for themselves just as much, or more so, than they are for the group. I acknowledge that this is a fact, but feel ‘wrong’ bringing it up as a negativism. As uncomfortable as I am with calling attention to this topic, it is something that we need to consider as we design various Gaming the Edition models. The goal of this blog is to explore the potential conflicts that may arise, but not to insult the individual motivations that we all have as team members. I am writing this to address the worst-case scenarios in order to help theorize a better model that addresses both individual and group needs.
The first question we need to address is what sort of individual interests motivate people to participate in a collaborative, scholarly editing environment? This involves setting aside the individual desire to help contribute to the success of the group as a whole – I am taking this as an obvious motivation, but one that is community focused, less likely to result in the type of competition and conflict being considered here. We can also set aside the motivation to learn a new skill, or experiment with something new. As we are considering a game-based ‘levelling’, apprenticeship model, participants are able to work on their own as they experiment and learn the basics of scholarly editing. The type of conflict being considered here is most likely to occur during collaboration on the ‘real’ editions – once player-editors have ‘levelled’ enough to hold their own and actively contribute.
I think the best way to discuss this is to introduce a fictional individual – We’ll call this person “Dr. X”. Dr. X is the epitome of individual selfishness, embodying every conflict causing motivation and attribute imaginable. Dr. X has absolutely no interest in the success of the team, and cares little about learning anything new – after all, Dr. X is a self-proclaimed expert at everything. Dr. X has decided to participate in a collaborative editorial environment like the ones we are prototyping in our Gaming the Edition research, with the exclusive goal of career, and self advancement. Not only that, Dr. X wants to get as much credit as possible for doing as little work as possible. Dr. X wakes up every morning wondering how many more people can be used and discarded during the quest for academic infamy – a truly diabolical, and completely fictional, evil “genius”.
So, having heard about the success of the Gaming the Edition project, Dr. X decides that it would be a perfect medium for padding the ol’ resume. Having completed the basic, quest-based training, it is time to select which project(s) to “contribute” to. Dr. X’s first plan is to contribute one sentence to every active edition in order to be included as an author/contributor on all of them without having to do any real work. Now, while I am having fun with Dr. X, this is a serious issue that we need to consider when designing a model. How do we determine if/when a player-editor has contributed enough to be considered an actual part of the collaborative team? All evil intent aside, if I am an apprentice player-editor, and I am testing the waters in various projects, when am I considered to be an actual contributor, and not just a curious observer? Is it based on time spent logged in to that particular edition? Is it based on number of words, or quality of words? This is actually a very difficult thing to consider. For a potential answer, let’s return to the familiar World of Warcraft guild example, parts of which might be helpful here.
Many guilds require that a player submit to some sort of interview process before being allowed entrance – to ensure a good fit. This is helpful as it protects the guild (somewhat) from players who intend to join silently and take advantage of others. So one potential solution is that the higher-tiered, managing editors can have some sort of entrance requirement for their edition – an interview, specific badges or achievements, etc. Other WoW guilds get around the same problem by having a trial period for new members, where they have limited access to the guilds resources, and must prove themselves in order to be given full access. So, in each edition, the managing editor(s) would monitor new contributors, ensuring that they were ‘pulling their weight’ before being promoted to full contributors or members. Some WoW guilds grant membership to anyone who wants it, but have additional requirements for participation in ‘end-game’ activities. This is a third option for Gaming the Edition. Player-editors would be free to join an edition, but would have to express a specific interest in ‘getting credit’ for the final product. In this case, manager-editors would determine a set amount of ‘work’ that a player-editor would have to do in order to be included as an author/contributor. Any of these options would be effective in thwarting Dr. X’s evil plan to be given credit for the hard work of the team without making any significant or valuable contributions. Dr. X’s name would not be on any final product and Dr. X would not be granted any of the group’s ‘badges’ or achievements.
With the first evil plan thwarted, Dr. X moves to plan B. Plan B involves taking over existing edition projects, criticizing, erasing, and outright insulting the work of the other contributors. Dr. X, being the expert at everything, decides to impose this expertise on as many existing projects as possible, and if the good name of Dr. X is going to be associated with any group work, then it better be done the Dr. X way. On the surface, this seems to be a challenging issue to address – acknowledging the actual contributions of individual members without allowing them to dominate or take-over a project. This, I believe, is where the social aspect of Gaming the Edition comes into play. While the managing-editor of a specific edition has some power over the project (as noted above), the development of the electronic edition is ultimately about collaboration and team-work. In a WoW type guild environment, there are always disagreements over the best way to do certain things, but these are typically resolved through respectful discussion. If someone is being blatantly disruptive, then the guild leader has the ability to remove the person from the group, but this is usually done as a last-resort. The type of disruption that Dr. X is causing, happens more often during group raids or dungeon runs in WoW, in which a self-interested player breaks all of the social rules in order to take all of the best treasure, and prove that they are the best player. In these cases, no single player can kick the offender out of the group. If discussion and compromise fail to solve the problem, a vote is called, where each member of the group anonymously votes to either ‘boot’ the offending player or allow them to remain in the group. Majority rules in these cases. This may work as a last-case option in our Gaming the Edition model. If Dr. X refuses to compromise and insists on ruining or ignoring the collaborative motivations and efforts at the heart of this editing model, an anonymous vote can be called, allowing all of the members of the team to decide if it is in the groups best interest to ‘boot’ Dr. X from the project.
In summary, I see two main sources of potential conflict in our Gaming the Edition model: Player-editors who refuse to pull their weight but expect full credit, and player or manager-editors who attempt to dominate an edition, minimizing the contributions of others. I have suggested some potential solutions to these problems based on various WoW paradigms. I can’t help but wonder, however, what I have missed. Are there other sources of conflict and/or competition that I am missing?
I have used the example of Dr. X as an extreme, worst-case scenario. But, by making such an obvious exaggeration, have I missed out on more subtle issues that need to be addressed? Does Dr. X have a subtler plan C in the works?