Wading Through the MUD:

The Process of Becoming M** Literate

How do we communicate with characters?

How can we learn how to behave in the MUD? How can we "listen," "emote," or "talk" with other characters? We learn the best in this environment, like so many other electronic media, by lurking for a while. This is not a sinister or voyeuristic practice, though; it is a wise investment of our time that will later reap inestimable rewards in time (not to mention face) saved by eagerly interracting incorrectly or inappropriately. By lurking, we are listening quietly without interrupting. In general, since the MUD attempts to preserve the conventions of face-to-face conversation, the common sense rules of ettiquette also apply here. We would no more begin to "say" our comments uninvited in the MUD than we would "barge in" on a normal conversation. Thus, after logging in, checking out who's online, and observing the text exchanges for a few minutes, (or even a few sessions) newbies may want to emote an introductory action, such as a wave.

Typically, the command for this would be emote waves, (we can type this as :waves in shorthand) which displays that wave as the text "Newbie waves" to the other users who are logged on. We may smile, grin, laugh, frown, raise eyebrows, or any other action we can type in, to describe what we are feeling and how we would be reacting nonverbally in the situation we see created "virtually" on the screen. Emoting makes the otherwise sterile, text-based environment of a M** infinitely more personable for newbies and for veteran characters alike.

. . . . . .

Characters talk to each other privately by using whisper and page commands, and publicly by using say commands. Normally, each user types in a line or two of text, and then awaits a response from other users in the MUD. In this manner, characters converse as they would in actual face-to-face conversation, using both verbal and nonverbal signifiers, all expressed in text form. For the newbie, this can be the most difficult aspect of M** space to become accustomed to, but it can also be the most addictive aspect as well. Exchanging ideas with entire "rooms" filled with learned colleagues, both veterans and newbies, characters' text can literally fill the screen in a matter of seconds, often concerning several issues simultaneously. Elsewhere in this issue, Cynthia Haynes provides links to actual logs of LinguaMOO sessions, which are helpful examples of what the conversations look like on the screen. As Eric Crump tells us in "It's Fun to Have Fun, But You Have to Know How,"

...in a real-time environment such as a MOO... it's often difficult to follow a conversation due to the frantic pace, or the existence of multiple simultaneous "threads." But it's these threads that leave my head spinning and my heart racing, the gliding over the surface of a new topic at thrilling speeds and plunging in occasionally, connecting with others in a frenzied shouting match in a virtual room to the point of exhaustion, then getting up from my chair, looking around, and realizing that I'm the only one home. That's the future. But so is publishing on-line. And hypermedia. And exploring. And punning. And building. And learning. And having fun. (1995)
To help us to adjust, most M**s remind newbies that all of the characters logged on were once newbies themselves, and the most valuable command in those first few sessions may be '@page with "I'm new here, do you have a minute for a question?' Newbies should continue to explore the M**, both while it is occupied for meetings, and while it is vacant and quiet. Newbies need all the practice we can get in the M**, and as we learn how to communicate with others, we should be recording our progress privately, to remind ourselves as teachers of what points to stress to our students when we eventually incorporate this medium into our writing classes.

. . . . . .

After a few practice sessions, newbies may begin to realize that, while the exchange of words and ideas are an excellent teaching aid for collaborative writing, we need more than just listening, speaking, and emoting to teach in these environments. Although writing instruction can be achieved with just words and ideas, with just "people talking," the best teaching environments often have additional tools or objects for us to use, such as rooms, notes, display boards, texts, and recorders.

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