for Fun and Profit
caution: long rant follows
is painless, it brings on many changes...
(M*A*S*H theme, stolen shamelessly without apology)
am currently a Dungeon Master (DM) of a Mordor-based MUD (Multi-User Dungeons&dragons)
called terraMUD. I think
it is timely to chronicle my observations of what it is like to be stuck in
the MUD (or at least what it is like to be hooked on this style of RPG).
This article is divided in to two sections - the second section is devoted to
observations from recent MUD experiences, the first section looks more generally
at MUDs and multi-user environments as learning tools. The title of this article
will be explained in the second section of the paper
- bear with me...
was first introduced to MUD by some students in 1992 who invited me onto a diku-MUD
called Sanctuary. As far as my understanding goes, each 'style' of mud depends
on the code-base and structure of the underlying database. Some MUDs are based
on conventional D&D scenarios, some are based on book series (like 'Wheels
of time') and some are based on popular fantasy genres - Tolkienesque and the
like. I must admit to spending hundreds of hours (many late nights prior to
work days ... one of many reasons I constantly have dark circles under my eyes)
playing in MUDs with my wife who is similarly addicted. The curious thing is
that I could, at the time, justify the extraordinary amounts of time I spent
because I was chasing a particular level, bit of gear or treasury of gold whilst
balancing all else that a busy teachers life contained - time
is relative. I am sure those students looked after me just enough to make
me a MUD addict and I both thank and blame them for that. The only way to escape,
as I later discovered, was to cold-turkey and just stop playing - replacing
the game time with such irrelevant tasks as sleep and normal social interaction
in the real world).
differ significantly in their intent from MUDs (I am a wizard in terraMOO
and QMOOnity). IWHO a MOO is primarily
a social learning environment - cooperative chat and smart-object manipulation
is the focus. One thing many kids I work with in our MOO complain about the
lack of in combat in the MOO. Personally I have no problem with the lack of
combat engines in my MOO - it can be a distracting enough environment to learn
in without having additionally to worry about being attacked. It is arguably
difficult to concentrate on instruction and tasks when simultaneously attempting
to slay a beast and cast a spell, but I may be wrong (remember my brain is old
and therefore not as clever as the kids I work with). Chat, both within room
and remotely to other characters in the MOO are central to why you are there.
Collaboration and exploration are also important in MOO, as is the intelligent
manipulation of things you find in your travel. MOOs are, however, inherently
on the other hand have a social component - chat, broadcast messages, remote
tells, interactive creatures, emotes and socials are all very important components
of enjoyable MUDding; but the bottom line is you are there to attack things
for gear, points and money. MUDders master weapons, learn spells, read descriptions
and travel to exotically described locations, meet interestingly described creatures
and attempt to kill them. Battle and cooperation are central to MUD success
and this aspect of the game brings about some interesting changes in personality
that I shall explore in the second part of this article. I have, however, begun
a re-examination of the role such an RPG can play in an educational environment.
I think successful gaming strategies encourage some of the best (and possibly
worst) thinking strategies and this aspect deserves exploration. I am sufficiently
aged to remember a Department of Education initiative called 'Pieces of Eight'.
I remember attending Computer Coordinator seminars where this problem solving
program was showcased - a simple RPG set on an island - it involved mapping,
logic and maths problems and was fun (which meant it couldn't be at all educational,
surely). I find myself drawn to gameplay and use it extensively when teaching
programming as there are many terrific logical contortions possible when facilitating
human-computer interaction in a gaming environment.
is most satisfying from my perspective is that this sort of game still has appeal
- this is amazing when looked at in the context of the 'normal' gaming experience
of todays youth. Graphic first-person shooter games with battle splats in surround
sound stereo and 256 shades of red for bloody body parts are the norm so why
do players who were hooked on that sort of game play MUD also - I think the
answer is complex, but involves harnessing the power of the imagination....
Through the Eyes of a DM (or wiping the MUD from my eyes for a moment)
- a MUD as a
programming phenomenon is both terrifying and fascinating. I downloaded the
database and the interface engine for our school's Unix internet gateway machine,
edited the code and compiled the daemon (unix geek speak for a network
program I think) and currently run it from there. I have subsequently been
in touch with the author of this MUD (he wrote it when he was a Uni student
in the US and, as it turns out, hadn't looked at the code in years) to clarify
aspects I was modifying and am once again blown away with the accessibility
that the 'net gives you the the world. The code is open-source and relatively
well documented which is also amazing (and so very different to anything in
the PC/MAC world).
- I am in awe
of the complex suite of programs that cooperate and create the gaming engine.
Anyone who contemplates creating one from scratch needs to be sedated (smile,
nod then step back as they implode). Managing the exploits that buggy code
allow is ...interesting (he says through clenched teeth). Complicate this
by allowing more than one user to be part of your game at the same time and
you ahve some really interesting execution thread issues.
- The DM learning
curve is steep. I am sure there are many things that players assume I know
how to do that I havn't the foggiest about - smile and nod is my standard
approach (dang, my secret is out). The world is a database of rooms, creatures,
objects and players - all of which are editable within the game (if I could
just master that then some form of virtual deity status would be deserved).
The environment is all TEXT, but rich in description , functionality and meaning.
MUDders have more than a well-developed sense of direction - they use graphic
organisers more commonly called maps. My MUD has a number of well-controlled
pieces of geography (Oceancrest, Brownhaven and Kista) and players can download
the blank maps and annotate as they explore, taking notice of where they find
this and that. Some students refuse, point blank, to do this. These same students
constantly get lost, forget where to go for certain things and ask DMs for
help the most. Successful MUDders READ and more important UNDERSTAND the texts
they are reading. Information and player clues are everywhere if you take
the time to look for them.
exploit weakness. It is interesting to me in this day and age that
game cheat codes are traded as part of the gaming experience. I was naive
enough to think that people would play the MUD as is, but many have decided
to be creative with the rules by pushing the envelope of what is possible
(legitimate exploits or not?) ... let me explain with some examples.
You decide if they are legitimate nor not:
- When a
new character is created, that character is given a standard-issue weapon
and some money as a starter for a long and productive life. Players have
discovered that if you create a character, then get that character to
give another one of your characters their gold and then suicide that newly
created character you can turn a tidy profit. I noticed one evening in
particular, this endless logging on and then suiciding only to discover
it was being used as a money-making venture.
can buy goods from stores. Characters can recycle (for monetary reward)
found goods. Put 2 and 2 together to arrive at 5 and one player discovered
that you can buy a cheap item and then recycle it for more than you paid
for it - how is that for enterprise?
is packs is a more efficient way of bringing down prey that is above your
current level. What makes pack hunting interesting is if some of the members
of the pack are only along for the ride because they know a spell that
can heal another damaged player - sort of like a private doctor. More interesting still is the collecting and quaffing of major quantities of restoratives during battle. No these are not exploits, just behaviours that seem to have evolved naturally.
- Each monster
that you play some part in the downfall of gains you points (XP). When
a battle gets too intense it is sometimes possible to flee from
the battle before you are killed. When you attack a monster, you are added
to it's enemy list and stay on the enemy list until that
monster is killed. Some monsters autoattack anyone on their enemy list
when they enter the room the monster is in. One exploit used commonly
is to take a swipe at a monster way outside your level, then flee before
taking too much damage yourself. When someone else comes along and kills
the monster, you get some of the XP points of the kill without doing anything
else - nice work if you can get it.
are common. This sounds unsavoury and it probably is - the way you better
yourself in MUD is by attacking and killing things. I had to chuckle when
I heard of a year 8 student who was explaining to his mum about the game
he had been buried in for the last 4 hours and how told off he was for
attacking something whilst she was watching him play. "Play nice"
was her comment. "Nice and dead" was the reply. As mentioned
earlier, pack hunting is common - some rooms spawn particuar types of
monsters regularly - MUDders tired of wandering around can wait in these
rooms for the prey to come to them. Late at night you can find herds of
players doing just that in a frenzy of carnage - all good clean fun what?
can attack other players (in my MUD, only if both nominate as chaotic).
Player killing is not really bullying I guess because the victim has had
to nominate themselves as a 'soft target' first. Some forms of MUD bullying
do exist, however: players can boycot talking to another player thus isolating
them, players can punch and kick other players eventually rendering them
unable to speak or move momentarily - I only found this out when I observed
it happening - seem sporting to you? This is different to casting spells
IWHO as it seems a little more bloody-minded or am I looking at it the
is ok if you can get away with it (except when you steal from someone
who has dialup and therefore has fractionally more lag than you). During
a battle, when you kill things the gear they are carrying is deposited
in the room they die in. Some monsters protect gear lying around, others
actually pick it up and wander off with it. When the room is clear of
hoarder monsters you can get what is lying around. Some characters lurk
in a room, not being part of the battle and grab everything the moment
the battle is over - vultures also do this don't they?
is fun - and you can get into role. You can gang up with a crowd of yourself,
plant one of your characters in a group of other people as a mole, pretend
to be someone else, be a whole new gender and curiously enough, you can
attack yourself (if chaotic) for points. There is something not quite
right about levelling one character through experience gained by killing
yourself (or more correctly another of your own characters) but there
Should you play MUD? Is there anything vaguely educational in this form of active
problem solving? Is there any appeal in this sort of textual adventure? IWHO
What do you
Join an active
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