Game Pile: The SCP Wiki

The SCP wiki for those of you not already aware, is a collaborative fiction wiki written and maintained since 2008, though its origins are earlier still, back on the creative hotbed of late 00s internet culture that is 4chan. It is presented to users in the form of a wiki, which is composed largely of documentation for a fictional organisation operating in a world that is largely like ours except for a range of horrible things that the organisation is managing. This management takes the form of, as per the organisation’s name, Securing, Containing and Protecting. These documents are structured as a set of rules for how to keep these things contained – measures that keep these things in some form or another, ‘safe’ from normal society. These things are all put under the heading of ‘anomaly’ or ‘anomalous’ and they range from retellings of classic myths and just general spooky stuff in the modern day.

I am generally down on the SCP foundation as it is presented; by volume, a large number of entries are not, to me, interesting, and the format encourages a particular kind of storytelling that makes important things unimportant and very often fails to use the things that are interesting about the universe in a meaningful way. There’s a lot of stuff that is, essentially, ‘gosh, wouldn’t a horror story about this idea be kinda cool? Well, good thing I don’t have to tell it.’ It’s story chunk puree. As an edifice, the It also has Some Copyright Problems that it’s working on, and Some Content Problems in general.

This is not to say that the wiki is at all bad, nor that the writing presented on it is bad. There’s plenty of good stuff, and sometimes there’s some excellent stuff presented in it, but what tends to make SCP good is some form of off-site curation. Randomly wandering around will both present you with lots of the writing that complies with the worst trends of the space, the dozens of murder ghosts and evil doctors and What If This Was An Excuse For Sexual Violence (a category that I understand has been extremely diminished in recent years, but also, kinda telling that they needed to diminish it). If you look to single creator’s bodies of work, you can see a number of generally coherent ideas and they’re fun and interesting, but then you lose the joy of the fractal, diversified nature of the wiki.

I recommend that you find some curators, people who are, in their own way, sharing the stories from the SCP Wiki they like, and partaking in the reading experience that way. That’s a good way to get an experience of the setting without necessarily having to deal with standard crap piffle.

But Talen, you may be saying, or you would if you’d be so kind as to help me out with a rhetorical device, this is one of your Game Pile videos, why are you talking about a wiki that isn’t a game? Ho ho, you’re confused!

And of course, I would then, because like I said, you’re helping me out, give you a sly smile and a wink as I raise a finger and say: SCP is a videogame.

And no, I don’t mean any of the videogames made in the SCP universe, or the videogames made to be SCP-universe compatible, or whatever, I mean that the literal actual SCP wiki is itself, a videogame.

This is one of those conversations about what constitutes a game, and what we use to mean a videogame, and that’s an argument about the boundaries and definitions we use for games. Now, when it comes to academic terminology, it isn’t that a word has an always correct meaning, it’s that when you use a word, you want to make sure, at the start of the conversation, you introduce what you mean by it. This means that if you want to refer to a project by its scale, you could be talking about the size of a building, or you could be talking about the colour of a dragon or the presentation of a weight. The important thing is succinct, clear presentation.

When I say that the SCP wiki is a videogame, I’m doing it to establish a standard, concise position. As an example, in Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois (Staunchly Clownhating Prick) defines a game as having these six traits:

  • It’s non-obligatory
  • It’s separate from ordinary life
  • It’s uncertain, so you don’t know the results of play
  • It is governed by rules that suspend ordinary rules and behaviour that is important to the play of the game
  • It involves make-believe or imagined realities

And so far, so good, these all work for the SCP wiki. Where Caillois would argue it stops being a game is here:

  • It is unproductive, in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins

I think that games can have creative outputs, especially because games change us as people, so any skill developed while playing a game that can be transferred is, by necessity of improving the human, a productive activity. That means that to Caillois, the SCP wiki would not be a game, let alone a videogame.

Models like this are somewhat challenging prospects. You want to provide a way of looking at the project that’s useful, and also not have glaring exceptions that make it obviously non-workable. My model of games I take from Bernard Suits’ book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. His idea of games is much, much simpler:

  • A game is the optional struggle against unnecessary obstacles

This is a definition that’s deliberately extremely wide. If you were in one of my classes or you watched other videos I made on the subject, you’d know why I use that: I want to include as many possible games as I can, to ensure as many people get included in the conversation about games as possible.

Another word I use when describing games is the idea of paratext. Paratext is the media that exists in the space between definitely just the text and definitely not the text. There’s a gray area that includes a lot of things like the media used to present a text – like the paper a book is printed on, or the type of screen a videogame is displayed on. Particularly, one of the paratexts in games that’s very important is the act of playing them. Until a game is played, it is inert; all the components are there, the text, but any individual play may differ from another play based on a host of possible emergent factors. To play a game then, is to create a paratext of how that text is engaged.

In the SCP wiki, participants in the wiki are encouraged to join the forums; forumgoers are encouraged to look at, comment on, and engage with others’ work; and the quality of works is measured by how well they succeed or fail based on this voting system. Even if you do not create, you are encouraged to become part of the scoring system. There is a way to succeed, a way to fail, and you do this all through a digital front-end, a web browser capable of interacting with the forums. The game is in how well you can engage other players, and there are numerous strategies for doing so. You could become expert on lore, or you could create a curated canon, or you could make a puzzle out of presenting particular ideas as SCPs. It is fundamentally, a creative game, with thousands of players, and the product is something that exists between definitely text and definitely not.

It is