Presentation Abstract

Sounding the MOO'd: Audio and Voice in Text-based Virtual Environments

More and more MOOs, MUDs, and other forms of text-based virtual environments are shifting into WOOs, or webbed MOOs, capable of launching web browsers with graphics or images, embedding RealAudio files, and even running VRML, or 3-D interactive web pages. The MOO is often characterized as a kind of "virtual reality," and this characterization would seem to benefit from additional prosthetic devices. But is sensory immersion an apt measure of virtuality for a textual medium such as the MOO? Enhancement of the written word is nothing new--medieval illluminations, modern comics, and contemporary books on tape all deliver texts amplified through media; radio enlivened static written scripts, and television and film further realized the virtuality of words... or did they not instead inaugurate new genres whose viability left intact that of written text?

The widespread perception of MOOs as “virtual realities” and the widely held notion that full sensory immersion represents the apotheosis of the virtual collude to hasten the transition from MOO to WOO *specifically* as a fulfillment of the MOO’s promise. I contend that this transition, so scripted, sacrifices the singular textuality of the MOO, which Erik Davis has called (and Michael affirmed as) “the apotheosis of writing,” and whose spontaneous interactivity distinguish it from other textual genres. It is a crucial distinction, I maintain, and one that provides a better backbone for the virtuality of the MOO than the model of immersive virtual reality. The interactive nature of MOOtext, whether the interaction is among players or between a solo player and the MOO itself, gives rise to multiple voices; it is this multiplicity of voices, the differential play of voices, that constitutes virtuality in the MOO.

I will construct a MOO space that explores and demonstrates a range of modalities for and relationships among voices in the MOO, and will also consider the pedagogical implications, particularly for distance education and for the teaching of literature. It is crucial for the survival of MOO as a cybergenre that the transition to WOO be understood NOT as the gradual fulfillment of the MOO’s potential, but as an increasing compl(ex)ication of its textuality.

Author: Jane Love


Target Audience: Intermediate

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