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Happy as a Player in MUD

By Brett Matthews

In which the author examines the many masks of MUD players.

If you've never played a MUD, you can find out all about them on the net. This is one of the most helpful sites.

Have you ever played a MUD? In my opinion MUD's are the ultimate in virtual existence. An e-mail address and a web page are one thing but to create and maintain another personality in a virtual community is a whole new experience. Don't believe what Steve and Murray tell you, it leaves the creation of a CRPG character for dead.

Probably the best way to describe a MUD for those of you who have never experienced one is that it is something like a combination of a chat program and those text based adventures from the early 80's (Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy was one of the more popular examples of these), where you move by using the arrows keys and you get a text description of each location, then you could perform some action in that location. The big difference with MUD's is that you are playing with lots of people from all over the world.

Text based MUD's are the more common. There have been some attempts at graphics based MUD's, which have proved very popular with some but from what I've understand they are still ironing out glitches. Besides which, I live in the outer suburbs on a slow telephone exchange, with a slow computer and a slow ISP. So graphics based MUD's are not an option for me. The well resourced and more centrally located may like to give them a go.

One of the most authorotative of MUD indexes is The MUD Connector

MUD's have been around for about 15 years. The original MUD is no longer active but it's direct descendent, MUD II, is still going. There are heaps of MUD's out there and always new ones coming on-line. Most of them are free but a few are pay-for-play. Of course the ones that cost are generally better in quality.

One of the great things about MUD's is that age is no barrier. One game controller I spoke to boasted an age range of 12 to 75, however you're more likely to come across people between 15 and 35. It is also worth remembering that there is about a 75% male bias. I'll come back to this later.

One thing to remember is that unlike table top gaming where you chose the group you are playing with, in MUD's you don't know much about the other players other than they can write English and have access to the net. This leads me into the remainder of the article.

But first a word of warning, it is not a good idea to tell people too much about yourself in a MUD. Particularly now with telephone directories on-line with reverse search capabilities it is very easy for someone to discover a lot about you from the very little information you may give them.

One thing you do find with MUD's is that you tend to play with people in your own timezone (bar the occasional person who keeps strange hours). This isn't so bad because you develop a consistent group of friends to adventure with, and you also develop regular enemies and often a nemesis who could be lurking nearby at any time and will keep you wondering about a knife in the back.

Of course, not all MUDs involve combat, or even gaming. They are also used widely as educational and professional tools.

The aspect of MUD's that most interests me is the way in which people relate to each other. With most gaming, table top and live action gaming in particular, players have "time out" to relate to each other as players, rather than as characters. However, in MUD's you are always in character. Sure people might ask you what you do irl (in real life) but if you spend too long in the one location chatting to someone and not constantly monitoring what is happening, there is a good chance you will be skewered. Most players are not too sympathetic to people who just want to come and chat.

They say that in real life only two things are certain: death and taxes. While you will certainly come across deaths aplenty, there is nothing more certain in MUD's than demonstrations of the fine art of flirting.

Before you play a MUD you need to decide if you are open to this idea, because if you don't you will be caught off-guard and may do something you'll wish you hadn't. Are MUD's a legitimate way to meet people? Are nightclubs? Either way you are going to meet people you have never met before and you may be genuinely attracted to someone's personality.

Remember you don't know anything for sure about this person you are flirting with, what country they are from, what nationality they are, how old they are or even what gender they are. This is not necessarily a bad thing because you can find yourself getting on well with people with whom you may not have otherwise associated. However, don't assume a female character is being played by a female player. Do you really think you could tell? Remember these games are 75% male.

Regardless of your sex, playing a female character can be trying because you are very likely to face sexual harrassment from other characters.

It's particularly when people start flirting on MUD's that you have to decide for yourself, where reality stops and fantasy begins. People don't so much mind you killing their character or stealing all their positions, but if you break their heart, who's heart have you broken? People tend to take three basic positions about the relationship between reality and MUD's.

There is NO relationship:
Some people strenuously maintain that reality and MUD's are entirely separate. This is often used to justify being a complete bastard to someone, like continually stomping on a much weaker character.

One person who held this position married another character in one of the MUDs I played. Under intense questioning he later admitted that it was important to him that the player behind the other character was around his age and he was also annoyed because he suspected she had a second character.

This struck me as inconsistent, if they were only role-playing, why would these things be a problem? He has said that he thought the other player was married, but that it didn't matter to him. All in all it was an interesting combination of what mattered and what didn't.

Ever had an interesting romantic entanglement on-line? Why not tell us all about it?

Part of Real Life:
Some people maintain that there is a very thin line between the two. As one person put it to me: "Emotions are real, wherever you feel them. Emotions are the basic substance of reality, and being limited in one or another sense (as you are in a MUD) just heightens the senses that ARE being used."

While I can accept that this is true and is why morality doesn't remain in the real world but accompanies you into the MUD, people can take this too far and forget that others are just living out their fantasies. When playing a MUD you are engaged in, well, make believe at the time.

Moderation:
Then there are the moderates. While they remain aware that they are playing a MUD, they also engaged in the fantasy Role-Playing World. Otherwise they could just be on a chat program. However, unlike tabletop role-playing, players can never really be out of character, whatever Brett wants to say or do, has to be done by his character. We can use cumbersome devices like - "The player says/ feels ..." but that implies that everything else is done in character.

There are times when you really need to say something to the player, not the character. Such as "Stop killing me, it's really starting to piss me off."

A question you should always have in mind when interacting with someone at length in a MUD is: who is saying this, the character or the player? This question is usually not answered with any certainty. I find it a central tension of virtual existence and it is part of what intrigues me about it.

So if you haven't tried it yet, my advice is give virtual life a try, however, remember that flirting will occur and be ready for it. Flirting can be a lot of fun but it can cause genuine distress to people too.

The eternal question is, do MUD's strip away the irrelevancies of appearance and personal idiosyncrasies to reveal the true person or do they allow people to mask those things they wish to hide?


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