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10:01am on Tuesday, 10th January, 2012:

Naming and Claiming


Bartle's Law of Naming and Claiming:
For any phenomenon that you consider to be blindingly obvious, eventually some smartass intellectual will give it a name and history will thenceforth record them as the discoverer of that phenomenon.

Doesn't it annoy you when something you noticed years ago is suddenly picked up by some academic, given a name, then all of a sudden it's some new discovery?

Back in September, as the Daily Mail put it, "Researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Stockholm University have for the first time identified evidence of Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), which results in some gamers integrating video experiences into their real lives.". This would be the same experience that many, many gamers have noticed for many, many years and discussed among themselves many, many times. We even had it in text MUDs, it's been known about for decades. As of September last year, though, on the basis of a series of in-depth interviews with 42 gamers (which is actually a huge number compared to how many these studies normally have), it's forever to be known as GTP.

I hate it when that happens! It's like patenting something after it's been in the public domain for years. Individuals get credit for noticing what tens of thousands of other people have already noticed!

I don't mind it when the proclaimed discoverer/inventor of a phenomenon genuinely got there first. Many years ago, I was at a talk by Edsger Dijkstra in which he complained that George Boole shouldn't have had Boolean algebra named after him as it was such a simple concept (a bit rich, coming from the man who created Dijkstra's algorithm, but that's by the by). Boole probably did invent Boolean algebra before anyone else, so credit where credit is due.

The same can't really be said for one of Boole's contemporaries, Augustus De Morgan, who had the even more obvious De Morgan's laws named after him despite the fact that they were well-known before his time. I don't believe he named them De Morgan's laws himself (other people did that), but he did lay claim to them. I was taught De Morgan's laws as an undergraduate; De Morgan gets all the credit for having formulated the laws. However, the content of the laws were known to William of Ockham centuries earlier than De Morgan; even more damningly, they were known to Aristotle two millenia before. Do we call them Aristotle's laws, though? No, we don't. We call them De Morgan's laws because he wrote them down using Boolean algebra. But they're utterly obvious!


So obvious is it that this phenomenon of naming and claiming the bleeding obvious exists, it's only a matter of time before some smartass intellectual notices it and gives it a name. Rather than wait for some other smartass intellectural to appropriate everyone else's observations, I'm therefore pre-empting them by doing it myself.

Yes, I am completely aware that Bartle's Law of Naming and Claiming is a prima facie example of Bartle's Law of Naming and Claiming. That's kind of the point...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).