Wading Through the MUD:

The Process of Becoming M** Literate

What is a MUD and who's there?

So what is a MUD, anyway? Multi User Domains are actually the more "legitmate" outgrowths of their predecessors, Multi User Dungeons, based on the popular role-playing games favored by computer hackers for the past two decades. These games allowed players from any remote computer to dial into a MUD via telnet, to create characters of their own, to engage in mythical adventures wherein they slew dragons and captured prisoners, and to enjoy exchanging these experiences with other players from around the world. Educators and communications researchers have recognized the potential that these environments have for improving collaborative intellectual work, and have replaced the term Dungeons with the more appropriate term Domains, not just to distance our M** spaces from their earliest gaming classification, but also to accurately describe the computer that we access when we dial in to a MUD. Even in our professional and educational M** spaces, though, much of the terminology from the gaming realm remains. A MUSH (Multi User Shared Hallucination) uses the same technology as the MUD, but it's acronym still carries more of the gaming connotation, or can imply that the M** space is largely devoted to creative exploration, as in fantasy writing or role playing. In either case, the domain (computer network) that we access when we telnet to a MUD has been customized by programmers, still known as wizards, for their magical programming abilities, to allow us to communicate with other users synchronously, or at the same time (as opposed to e-mail, which only allows us to communicate with other users asynchrously).

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Now that we know what a MUD is, whom can we expect to encounter there? Creators of the MUDs (wizards) invite other players to join them as characters or guests. Usually, when newbies arrive at a MUD for the first time, we can log in as guests and learn more about the MUD before we apply for a character. Once we have decided to request a character, we can usually name ourselves whatever we want. Although the most common (and most useful) character names are our real first names, many characters opt for playful nicknames, like scog or Shamrock, for instance. Once established, characters can set gender, appearance, and even mood before communicating with each other. For new users, this can be unsettling at first, for we are accustomed to using the computer as a technological tool, not as a social or physical extension of ourselves. But M** spaces are, after all, about people, exchanging ideas and information in real time, using the only means we have available at this point in technological development--text. So we rely upon commands such as @set gender as female or @describe me as "A newbie who's interested in learning to teach in the MUD with curly blonde hair and a puzzled look" to alert other players of our identifiying features and possibly of our interests. Players can look at these descriptions of each other, too. But what we enter in these fields is, again, entirely up to us, so that we can reveal as much or as little about ourselves as we desire.

And we must remember that anyone with a modem and the MUD telnet address can access and enter these spaces with us. Most MUDs allow us to check out the current attendance at any point by typing in @who, which displays a current list of users, their locations, the amount of time that they've spent online, and whether they're active or idle. But this list does not tell us who these people are. The command @whois may also help by identifying the real names and e-mail addresses of registered characters only, not guests. Thus, we can expect to meet teaching colleagues, researchers, graduate students, and even undergraduate students, all logged into the M** to exchange ideas and information with each other, and all of whom should interact under the prevailing netiquette or rules of conduct for the space. For many of us newbies, all of these commands may look confusing, but several of the web sites listed for practice include links to transcripts or logs of previous MOO sessions as well as tutorials on their web sites. Frequently, viewing these archives and tutorial guides is helpful to understanding how the commands affect the text on the screen.

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Last Update: June 8, 1996 by Claudine Keenan Send any comments to cgk4@psu.edu