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Suicide for Fun and Profit
caution: long rant follows

Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes...
(M*A*S*H theme, stolen shamelessly without apology)

I 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...

I 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).

MOOs 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 peaceful talk-spaces.

MUDs 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.

What 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....

MUD Through the Eyes of a DM (or wiping the MUD from my eyes for a moment)

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 YES!

What do you think?

Join an active online teaching community and share your opinions/concerns ...

Mail me with your ideas/feedback - I'll post it for others to see if you like.

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