Flutterby™! : The MUD turns 30

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The MUD turns 30

2008-10-21 14:18:40.322792+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

Rafe points out that today marks the 30th birthday of the MUD. Richard Bartle has a few thoughts:

So standing back and looking at it, the answer as to why there is not a lot of fuss over this 30th anniversary is that in the great scheme of things, it isn't actually important. The mainstream isn't interested because virtual worlds haven't had much impact; developers aren't interested because the paradigm is obvious; players aren't interested because knowing doesn't add anything to their play experience; academics might be interested in the historical facts, but anniversaries don't figure in their analyses.

I think there are two things to point out to that:

  1. "The mainstream isn't interested because virtual worlds haven't had much impact", true, and yet....
  2. "developers aren't interested because the paradigm is obvious"... well... no. One of the things that the MUDs had (have?) that the modern MMOs don't is a user developable world. I don't currently have an actively changing web code base, flutterby.com is stable and works, and I haven't figured out how to tackle a replacement for the off-the-shelf stuff I'm running over at flutterby.net, but I think that to some extent the early days of weblogs were people who might otherwise be playing around with the MUD environment, but started thinking that maybe those efforts at construction would be better played out in something with general interest.

I think that was the start of my disillusionment with games, that as a framework for connecting with other people they were too structured and too constricting, and as an environment for development and learning and breaking conceptual thinking they were playing too much in someone else's world.

[ related topics: Games Weblogs Net Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-10-21 16:16:30.055996+00 by: other_todd

Ah, but, if the world is NOT structured and therefore somewhat constricting, it ceases to work as a game. The number of people who play EVE, which takes place in an open universe with no sysop-imposed quests or plotlines, is always going to be sharply limited by this (to cite the first example that comes to mind). "What, you mean all we do is fly around, explore, trade with each other, and have space battles?"

In general the division is stark: There are online environments like There or Second Life which do not try to be games, do not try to have stories, and tend to die, since as a social environment they do not improve much on a chatroom, as a shopping environment they do not improve on Amazon, and there's no other there in There. (The primary genius behind There saw this coming ages ago and changed over to IMVU, which is just a chat room with avatars, period.)

Second Life is currently being driven by deviants and perverts, bless 'em, but Linden doesn't like to admit that, instead concentrating on the various companies and commercial projects that are trying out virtual spaces there. (A co-worker of mine recently attented a Sun symposium conducted entirely in SL. They even gave out virtual swag.) If either thing fails - if the commercial interest turns out to be not all that and a bag of chips, or if the deviants get bored and move on - SL is dead.)

And then there are games, which must impose structure or they eventually fail as games. The irony here is that the games COULD make their world more customizable - that is, the technology is there. But I have played many, many of these games and every single time I have seen an "open play" area or some part of the structure that allows the players to write their own chunk of the story in any way, those are the parts of the game world that gather dust.

Frankly, the real problem is that we, the masses, are collectively not very good story writers. Writing game plots takes a certain skill that is a lot harder to do well then it looks, and most of us, I think, would rather absorb someone else's creative labors and play in someone else's framework than do the hard work of building a framework ourselves.