[PSYBER/B Social Psychology of Psyberspace]


Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) and Mud Object-Oriented (MOOs)

The Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) is an online, ongoing game with infinite participants. Each player logs onto a server, with nothing more than a command-line text interface, and is asked to create a character. This character can be anything that the player imagines- within the rules of the game. The important thing is that characters do not have to resemble the player in any way.

These characters are then set loose in a made-up dimension. Usually, MUDs have a theme (such as fantasy adventure) and players travel around in this virtual world meeting other players, fighting creatures created by the server, and sometimes fighting other players. Often, however, Mudders find themselves simply chatting with the other players. While experiments have been done with other media, MUDs are usually completely written word. A player writes a description of themself, and can examine their surroundings by typing a command such as ³look², which will call up something like this:

You are stood on a narrow road between The Land and whence you came. To the north and south are the small foothills of a pair of majestic mountains, with a large wall running round. To the west the road continues, where in the distance you can see a thatched cottage opposite an ancient cemetery. The way out is to the east, where a shroud of mist covers the secret pass by which you entered The Land.

This description is from the first MUD, called The Land, which was created in 1979 by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle in Essex, England (Rheingold). The descriptions and adventures are written by the creators of the MUD, who call themselves "Gods". Players can also interact with their enviroment with commands like "get treasure" "go west" and "fight goblin". Fight enough goblins and your character gains experience points and levels, with these levels come additional powers such as access to restricted parts of the MUD and the ability to kick other players off. If your character rises to still higher levels, he or she will become a Wizard, the highest user level and most coveted of titles.

When players need help with an adventure, or just want a boost for their characters, it is the Wizards with whom they must plead. However, should their character die (or die one too many times, depending on the MUD), they have to beg one of the Gods to become resurrected. Thus the object of the game is to gain power for your character.

Originally, MUDs were created solely as games. The MUD has its roots in adventure role-playing, such as TSRıs Dungeons and Dragons, where players create characters and are taken through an imaginary adventure, slaying monsters and gaining treasure. Role-playing games became popular in the early 1970s, taking over the war simulation game crowd because role-playing games call for participation by the players instead of direct competition (Dibbell). Inevitably, someone came up with the idea of playing these adventure role-playing games on a computer, and in 1976 two hackers from Palo Alto (Will Crowther and Don Woods) created Adventure, the first computer role-playing game. It then took only three years for Trubshaw and Bartle to create a program where multiple users could interact in the same virtual environment, and the MUD was born. Soon, there were hundreds of MUDs with any theme imaginable- science fiction, Star Trek, even little furry animals.

Over time, the administrators of these MUDs began to notice a pattern: some players never played the game at all, but instead just talked to the other players, in taverns and bars within the game. In 1989, a grad student at Carnagie Mellon named James Aspnes created TinyMUD, the first "social" Multi-User Dungeon, one that was created as an environment to talk to people in and not as a game to play. Along with this change came the ability of players (not just Wizards) to alter the environment, adding to the setting by writing their own narrative. In 1990 this was taken a step further with the creation of LambdaMOO, a social experiment hosted by the Xerox Corporation.

Pavel Curtis, with the help of Stephen White, created the first MOO, which is an object-oriented MUD. What this means is that participants can create, manipulate, and trade software objects that are written using simple code. These objects might be just for looks, like a hat, or they might have code that tells the user the time, like a watch. Objects can be as simple as a rock or as complicated as a Rube Goldberg device (an amazing collectively built one of which exists in the backyard of the LambdaMOO house). On a MOO, each person is given their own little space and can fill it up with their own objects. There is still a heirarchy, with various powers granted, including more memory to create more objects.

LambdaMOO ushered in a time of MOOs as social experiments. MOOs were created that were educational tools: Science MOOs, or therapy MOOs, and so on. It is here that we glimpse a higher purpose of the MUD: as a tool to help people, not just entertain people.

MUDs can be addicting, though. In addition to the lure of chatting (which will be discussed on other pages), the MUD offers the chance of advancement. Sometimes this advancement is based on the number of hours youıve played. As you can imagine, this only increases the amount of time the players spend on the MUD.

As each MUD is its own society, each comes with its own social rules and moreys. Certain things are offensive on a MUD, for example, shouting all the time (typing in all caps). If you pester people enough, they will start attempting to kick you off or even ban you from the MUD, depending on the degree of your annoyancy.

While some MUDs are governed by their Wizards and Gods, the LambdaMOO has become entirely self-governed: no player has the power to control other players (with some exceptions) and the entire MUD society must govern itself through a ballot-based arbitration system.

Learning the rules of a MUD requires participation, just as learning the rules of any group of real world individuals. In fact, communities online mirror real life communities in many ways: there are cliques, there are outcasts, and there are leaders. The only difference is that these people communicate only mentally, and are in real life situated all over the world.

MUD communities are not without problems. In addition the the addiction of the players (which can only help the MUD), there are social issues to deal with. There have been cases described as virtual rape, where one character takes unwelcome liberties with another. And there is harassment. MUD administrators wishing to deal with these problems are torn between maintaining the freedom that draws people to the MUD and imposing rules so as to make the MUD a better place. Different MUDs will have different ways of dealing with this, from a strict set of rules for an adventure MUD to the self-governance of LambdaMOO.

While they originated as simply games for imaginative computer geeks to play, MUDs are now becoming a cultural phenomenon that demands to be treated as a real community. Mudders live real lives, and they spend time visiting their respective virtual communities to talk, play, and share. Sometimes they spend an overwhelming amount of time there, but one MUD defender puts it this way:

"It is clear that too much mudding is associated with poor grades, difficulties forming real-life relationships, and inattention to practical matters, especially school work. I know people who dropped out of prestigious universities after spending far more time mudding than attending to academics. Did mudding cause these problems? Or did these problems cause mudding?" (Burka) So, while there may be problems associated with MUDs, they also offer too many possibilities to be completely banned. MUDs represent, along with IRC, the first virtual communities. As computer technology advances, the participation in these communities can only increase. Who knows what awaits the Mudder as advancements are made in graphics, virtual reality, and camera technology? Perhaps one day Mudders will be viewed as pioneers in a virtual frontier.

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"A Brief History of MUDs: From Time Immemorial to the Present" From the cutting-room floor of My Tiny Life: Being an Account of the Author's Residence Among the People of a Virtual World Called LambdaMOO, a book-in-progress by Julian Dibbell (julian@mostly.com), to be published by Henry Holt in the foreseeable future. http://www.levity.com/julian/history.html

Burka, Lauren P. "MUD Addiction- or, Get A Real Research Topic Already" At the MUDDEX: http://www.linnaean.org/~lpb/muddex/

Rheingold, H. "Multi-User Dungeons and Alternate Identities". In The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier (pp145-175). New York: Addison-Wesley

This web page was created by Jon-Richard Little, Jeremiah Jackson, and Chuck "Cold Turkey" Cohara for PSY 380.k at Miami University.
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PsyberSite, Miami University.This document was created April 19, 1998 and last modified on  Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 17:34:05.  This document has been accessed 1 times. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University