"It's still not perfect."
A lot of recent games have this pathetic desperation for you to "share" them. Skate 3 wants me to upload videos of my pretend self skateboarding in its pretend city. Blur invites me to Tweet my latest race victory - say, what's that sound? Oh, it's hundreds of "unfollow" buttons being clicked at once.
Skate and Blur are both fine titles, but begging to be one of the popular kids works no better for video games than it did for me when I was in junior high. Ahem.
One of the more effective (albeit work-intensive) ways that developers entice players to share is by crafting a world that defies solo exploration. When that happens, the FAQ creators go to work and, as Gardner pointed out, an organic collaboration ensues. Put a vast frontier out there and people will work together to understand it. FAQ means community.
In some cases, the mass collaboration gets so big that a single-author FAQ just won't cut it anymore. That's the case with The Vault - the Fallout wiki - which is one of the most impressive fan-created resources on the web. It catalogs every cranny of the Fallout mythology, but it's not an info dump like a lot of wikis. It feels curated because founder Pawel Dembowski, a 27-year-old student from Poland, has set the tone since he founded The Vault in 2005.
Eurogamer: When you started The Vault, was it just you?
Pawel Dembowski: It was originally part of Duck and Cover, a Fallout fan site. I had help from some other users, but it was mostly me doing the edits back then.
Eurogamer: Was the Duck and Cover project a wiki, as well?
Pawel Dembowski: It was a wiki from the beginning, although it goes back to the Fallout Bible, which was a guide to the Fallout lore by Chris Avellone, one of the Fallout 2, and now Fallout: New Vegas, designers.
The Fallout Bible was never finished because Avellone left Interplay. So the wiki's purpose was, to an extent, to continue the work. [And] also to document all Fallout lore in the hope that it would be helpful to Bethesda when creating Fallout 3.
Eurogamer: Do you think it was?
Pawel Dembowski: I know it was.
Eurogamer: They've told you as much?
Pawel Dembowski: Yes, and it's actually evident from some in-game content. One funny example is one of the terminals in the Citadel in Fallout 3, detailing the history of the Maxson family, the leaders of the Brotherhood of Steel. There are entries for Roger Maxson, the founder of BOS, his son Maxson II and his grandson John Maxson.
The thing is, Maxson II was what I called the guy in The Vault because there was no canonical first name given for him anywhere in the games. Instead of giving him an actual name, the devs simply copied the name of the article - "Maxson II" - assuming that it's canon.
Eurogamer: Did The Vault take off quickly? How did the community grow?
Pawel Dembowski: For most of its life it was only me, or me and a couple of other editors who mostly got bored after a while and left. It didn't really take off as a community until just before the premiere of Fallout 3.
Just look at this chart and guess what point is the premiere of Fallout 3.
Eurogamer: One of the common issues on Wikipedia is that different camps may have different interpretations of what is factual. Are there ever disputes like that on The Vault?
Pawel Dembowski: Yeah, there are. Sometimes there are disputes even among developers. Two of the original developers of Fallout, Chris Taylor and Tim Cain, have entirely different theories on how ghouls are created in the Fallout universe, for example.
Eurogamer: How much time do you spend on the project now?
Pawel Dembowski: I don't have as much time for it as I used to, but it has developed such an active community that I don't need to oversee it myself as much. It's still not perfect. There's always a lot of stuff to fix or expand upon.
The best of fandom
To sit down and assemble a 4-megabyte raw-text walkthrough, you pretty much have to be a nerd - otherwise the word has no meaning. But I use "nerd" as a compliment here, even if it's easy to interpret it otherwise. After all, in the kingdom of game nerdery, you have many lesser species - the fanboy, the troll, the agoraphobe, the addict, and so on - who get more than their share of the attention.
If anyone ought to carry the nerd standard, though, it should probably be the FAQ writers. They represent the best of us, making the medium less intimidating to connoisseurs and novices alike.
That's what charms me most about the whole FAQ enterprise: It opens up the discussion. I like that gaming can be difficult, but it doesn't need to be exclusive. Some of us need a little help and the FAQ writers don't judge. They just hope to have the answers.