Wading Through the MUD:

The Process of Becoming M** Literate

How and why do we move, create, and recycle objects?

What can we expect to do in the MOO? As newbies, we may be confused and overwhelmed at first by the ways in which we can interact with objects. In addition to looking at objects, we can also manipulate in many different ways, depending on the features that their creators have established. For example, we can look at an object called note, but we can also read that object as well. We can pick it up, carry it, drop it, and even recycle it to be used later on as something else; for every object in the MOO is actually a programmed piece of the database that players may control. By manipulating objects in the MOO, we are extending or redefining the database ourselves, a concept which may seem intimidating to newbies, but the implications of this for us as teachers in a collaborative discipline such as writing are enormous. We can create virtual blackboards, writing templates, invention devices, vocabulary lists, recorders, television sets, videos, just about any type of object that we can think of for use in our teaching. Not only can we do this, but we can teach our students to do it as well.

In "Programming for Fun: Muds as a Context for Collaborative Learning," Amy Bruckman points out that

In text-based virtual reality environments on the Internet called "MUDs," participants meet people from all over the world. They can not only explore the virtual world, but extend it, creating new objects and places. MUDs are Constructionist environments in which people build personally meaningful artifacts. But unlike many Constructionist environments, MUDs place special emphasis on collaboration, encouraging construction within a social setting. (1994)
To most writing instructors, computer programming seems intimidating for all it's technical details, but upon further exploration of object oriented programming, many newbies find that it is a remarkably simple blend of technical computer language, (using @ : ; "" symbols as commands) which provides the heart of the program, and our native English, which provides the soul. However, Bruckman points out that for newbies, these activities are often difficult to approach at first, invariably time-consuming, and frequently require us to reflect upon what we are doing, and why.
The first step in learning to program is perhaps the hardest. The initial barrier is primarily emotional. Most adults who do not have formal technical education suffer from some degree of technophobia. On MediaMOO, a user named "cdr"[6] made a set of clear, simple tutorials. Seven of the eight MediaMOO programmers interviewed to date began by doing one of these tutorials. Susan comments that for her, the tutorials' primary function was to help her overcome that initial emotional barrier: "I did cdr's tutorials and I realized 'I can do this!' But then I had to step back and figure out what it was that I had done." (1994)
While they are written clearly, the cdr tutorials in MediaMOO do require the newbie to manipulate a few objects before viewing them. For instance, the newbie must type:
. . . . . .

Teachers who become builders in the MOO can @dig entire classrooms, complete with exits to offices or other rooms, and fill these spaces by using @create to design books, display devices (televisions, chalkboards, signs, notes), recording devices, tools, and toys, all to help orient the students' experiences to whatever reality the instructor wants to create. On AcademICK, for instance, the wizards have filled this MUSH with virtual time periods, where players enter the Mists and select an archway to enter Medieval England, Ancient Greece, or any of several other themed rooms, each filled with appropriate cultural artifacts for the students to interact with and write about in the MUSH. Players interact with each other as characters of those time periods.

In the "MOO Quick Start" guide at Missouri's MOO, Cindy Bartorillo provides a Summary of Manipulation Commands, some of which are excerpted below to demonstrate how simple the programming language on a MOO can be, even for newbies:

We should remember, though, that each MOO differs slightly from the others, and some require certain commands to include the @ prefix while others do not, some are case sensitive while others are not, and some use the terms shown above while others do not. Each MOO usually has its own online help system, which is always available to newbies who type 'help' at any time, and many MOOs maintain Web pages with more visually appealing (and more easily navigatable) lists of commands for newbies.

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