TEXTUALITY IN CYBERSPACE:
MUDS AND WRITTEN EXPERIENCE
BY JEFFREY R. YOUNG

OPENING SCREEN

Philosophers and postmodernist critics discuss the way humans 
communicate, engineers and computer systems designers create ever-
integrable networking capabilities and work to improve human-
computer interfaces, but at the crossroads, people are playing 
games. While the philosophers and engineers sleep, the MUDers are 
at their computers, hour after hour, playing in the cyberspace. In 
Multiple-User Dungeons/Dimensions (MUDs), text-based virtual 
realities accessible via Internet, thousands of people share fantasy 
space, or "live" electronically. They walk and talk, build and 
destroy, hug and have sex while sitting at isolated computer 
terminals scattered throughout the world. 

Their activities, if considered out of the context of the 
computer network, are certainly not unusual. In a sense, the kinds 
of socialization taking place on MUDs represent the simplest and 
most mundane of human interactions. What is interesting about MUD 
life, and what MUDers seem sometimes to forget, is that these 
"events" take place without their physical counterparts. Outsiders 
are quick to point out that nothing "happens" on these computer 
games, and look upon this growing subculture with a derision and 
sense of deviance. These addicted computer users, some of whom 
profess to play for tens of hours a day, may not agree. These 
textual environments, as innovative applications of computing and 
networking technologies, provide new and powerful ways for humans to 
express themselves.

THE ARGUMENT

MUDS offer new and HIGHLY COMPELLING LANGUAGE EXPERIENCES. In 
both LANGUAGE STRUCTURE and SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS, MUD allows people 
to express themselves and explore identity in a simple (text only), 
user-controlled environment. 

The medium's primary mode of dialog -- two-way typing in real 
time -- takes advantage of the newest means of communication: 
computer networks. WRITING 'CONVERSATIONS' is thus a new concept, 
one which hovers between resembling speech and resembling writing, 
but which in its mixing of forms gains entirely new resonances and 
characteristics. Since writing is expected to take longer than 
speech to produce and can be drafted and honed in isolation before 
being sent out over the MUD, input is usually better structured and 
more topically focused than spoken exchanges. However, like speech, 
the sense of 'breath,' or distinct presence in time, and the freedom 
to move freely in the text base forces words into smaller spaces 
(TEXT BITS) than in traditional written works on paper. The device 
that transmits the communication of MUDs, the COMPUTER SCREEN, 
further blurs distinctions between writing and speech. On the 
screen, written words are both concrete and fleeting, making words 
more malleable than in bound books, but more solid than speech. NEW 
VISUAL CUES mix with language characters to compensate for seeing 
the objects described in these on-line discussions, furthering a 
sense of presence and engagement.

In the virtual text world of MUD, the reader is in control. 
They control WHAT THEY SEE OF THE VIRTUAL WORLD and WHAT THE VIRTUAL 
WORLD SEES OF THEM through the use of MUD's OBJECT ORIENTED 
PROGRAMMING ENVIRONMENT. The framework that allows PERFORMATIVE 
LANGUAGE control constantly reminds readers of their authoritative 
stance and critical distance from their own speech and experience. 
As a result the text gains a unique BLEND OF TRANSPARENCY AND 
OPACITY, as players constantly shift stance from immersion in the 
imaginative space to evaluation and control over the textual 
objects.

So what KINDS OF EXCHANGES happen in this new medium? Because 
of the both distanced and direct nature of MUD interaction, players 
are more socially confident than in face-to-face situations: MORE 
INPUT IS OFFERED, input IS MORE FREELY OPINIONATED, and there is 
LESS PRESSURE FOR PARTICIPANTS TO CONFORM TO NORMS.

The surprising trend that people are more friendly, emotional, 
and expressive in this decentered medium highlights deep 
inadequacies and disintegration in present real-world societies. 
The promise of Computer Socializing is that, should MUD become more 
widespread, it could become an important SUPPLEMENT TO REAL LIFE. 
If this new communication medium, one that merges literary and oral 
strengths, is in fact closer to human thought, and represents a MORE 
GENUINE FORM OF EXPRESSION, perhaps cyberspace will be the choice 
location to meet and develop relationships with real-world others. 
And perhaps our real world will gradually be shaped by tendencies of 
the Net, just as telephone and television technologies have 
influenced our view of ourselves and our surroundings.

BIRTH OF MUD

MUDing began as a computer form of the popular fantasy board 
game "Dungeons and Dragons" (D&D) in which wizards and warlocks used 
equations and dicey probabilities to fight each other or team up 
against imagined creatures. The source code for MUD1, an object-
oriented computer program written in C for Unix that mixed the 
fantasy world of D&D with the text environments of popular computer 
word games such as Infocom's "Zork," was first written by Richard 
Bartle and Roy Trubishaw in 1979-80, and is considered the first 
Multiple User Dungeon (Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about MUDs, 
"What is a MUD?"). As MUDs developed, system operators gradually 
realized that the computer opened dimensions the board game never 
imagined. Instead of just fighting imaginary monsters, players 
could use the computer-networked environment to communicate with one 
another in a shared space. TinyMUD Original, developed in 1989, was 
the first MUD to drop the adventure gaming aspect altogether to 
concentrate solely on social interaction between characters (FAQ, 
"What Different kinds of MUDs are there?"). As of late 1992, there 
are 207 operable MUDs, many of which are social, rather than "combat 
oriented" (Cartwright, 24). Each MUD system can accommodate 
hundreds of active users at once, and may have thousands of 
characters stored in the database. If every registered user on 
LambdaMOO were to log on at once, for instance, there would be 7993 
players wandering around in the MUDworld, though the average active 
population of Lambda is about 200 (From "help wizzes" file on 
LambdaMOO (accessible by typing 'help wizzes').

Though there are many books on the Internet and the hype-laden 
Information Superhighway, few authors take these games seriously. 
When MUDs are mentioned, they are often referred to as a deviant 
form of network use, where users 'eat up disk server space and tie 
up wires for hours on end goofing around.' As one MUDer notes in a 
help file, "Most schools (universities are where most MUDs 
originate) classify MUD as a game, and games as non-essentials. 
Therefore, if your school decides to shut off all games, or disallow 
you to telnet out to play MUDs, you're stuck" (FAQ, "I paid money 
for my account! MUDing is a right, isn't it?"). But a closer look 
at these "games" reveals that much more is going on here. More than 
any other service on Internet, MUDs draw people in, spurring an 
involvement that often becomes an addiction. It is not unusual for 
serious MUDers to spend "as many as 120 hours a week engaged in such 
on-line activities." (Cartwright, 24). Because so many people do 
get hooked into these worlds -- tying up data lines as they live in 
the cyberspace -- many schools are forced to outlaw MUDs altogether. 
As a professor at New Mexico State University e-mails, "Our computer 
center pretty much bans them except deep in the night, since they 
claim too much of our unix resources" (e-mail from Stephen 
Bernhardt, 4/26/94). However, there must be some attraction that 
keeps thousands of users logged-into MUDs, choosing on-line life 
over excursions in the real world.

COMPELLING SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT

One explanation for the addictive quality of MUDs is that the 
people using them are somehow socially inept, and find a community 
of kindred spirits in cyberspace. This notion coincides with a 
stigma that has long been attributed to computer hackers or hobbyist 
in general, as evidenced by the existence of books like The Invasion 
of the Computer which gives a profile of computer users as 
maladjusted, shy, quiet, and generally lacking the social skills 
necessary to succeed in 'real world' human interaction. This narrow 
view of computer usage is easily disputed, however. For the most 
part, it is true that MUDers are generally computer hobbyists, but 
this is because these are the only people with the technological 
resources to use these text environments. MUDs require a fair 
amount of computer hardware, in addition to network capability and 
Internet access, which at present the average home computer owner 
may not have. This by no means indicates that only self-proclaimed 
computer nerds would find MUDs compelling, however. In research and 
other general applications (such as pilot programs for classroom 
settings) that have used MUD environments, subjects found that, as 
they learned the basics, they often chose to log into the system 
even after the 'regular hours' of the experiment (Britton, 12). 
"Sociologist Barry Wellman made a similar kind of observation after 
noticing how 'shocked' some of the non-participants in the 'on-line 
party' were at the amount of joking and personal exchanges among 
those who did take part" (Hiltz, 114). 

"It's not the shock of recognition," a Wired magazine reporter 
wrote after experiencing MUD, "it's the shock of communication. The 
organic sensation that you're connected to people evaporates from 
the printed page" (Quittner, 93) but is alive on MUD. This novel 
form of communication appeals to a basic desire to connect directly 
with others. There is no other medium that allows so many people to 
interact remotely in a common 'space.' But if merely interaction 
was the goal, why would people choose this mode of personal 
gathering over face-to-face encounters? The answer lies in looking 
at how this new interaction is structured -- its MEDIUM (the 
computer), FORM OF LANGUAGE, and CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK -- to see why 
networking on MUDs forms a new type of community: one which allows 
people to negotiate a strong sense of self and individuality while 
participating in public space. 

PART I: A NEW TYPE OF LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE
THE LINGUISTIC 'FEEL' OF MUDING

There is something magical about entering the main area of 
FurryMUCK and watching the screen fill with descriptions of strange 
characters joking and frolicking around you. This mystc is 
amplified by the realization that what you say and describe yourself 
doing will be seen and commented on by this motley bunch of 
critters. The ability to interact with others over the computer 
breaks preconceptions about what it means to communicate with 
someone. Both the language structure facilitated by MUDs and the 
computer language that allows messages to be passed over the network 
cause a distinct 'feel' of MUD interaction.

Simply looking at the interactivity of MUD doesn't address the 
lure of these environments. After all, we interact face-to-face 
with others all day long in the real world. There is something else 
exciting about exchanges on MUDs that is harder to put a finger on. 
Watching another character, you notice that it describes itself 
singing a certain song, and you think to ask if they've heard of an 
obscure band you like. You type out a question and hit the return 
key. Your question goes out to everyone in the room, and you wait, 
watching actions of other characters in the meantime. You watch a 
minute pass, and a reply comes back on your screen: the other 
player loves that band too. You ask another question about music, 
and the online 'conversation' begins. 

Perhaps the only experience that closely resembles this 
language event in real life is passing notes during class in grade 
school. You write a note on a scrap of paper, and stealthily pass 
it to Lucy, anxiously watching as she writes out a note in reply. 
The message is passed back to you and you read it with excitement, 
ready to send another note. Asking the same question of Lucy 
orally, outside of class, never seems the same as scrawling out the 
words as fragments on a physical object and visually handing the 
meaningful note back and forth.

WRITING 'CONVERSATIONS'

MUDs allow writing to take on a function traditionally thought 
to be the unique domain of speaking: two-way instantaneous 
communication. The metaphoric terminology of MUD refers to 
characters 'speaking' to one another, but what users are really 
doing is writing. This distinction would not be lost on Walter Ong 
or other scholars who traced the change in human expression from 
pre-literate societies to those that have developed writing systems. 
Ong showed that the way thought is structured by people in cultures 
without literacy is different than in those that have adopted 
writing systems (Ong). When writing, the same people use different 
syntaxes and word choices than they do when speaking the same idea. 
Thus, not surprisingly, the written "speech" on MUDs is different 
than oral speech in face-to-face encounters. This was confirmed in 
a recent study of computer conferencing done at MIT: 

Among experienced users, the "written equivalent" of the 
language content tends to be somewhat better organized 
and more fully thought out than comparable statements 
recorded from a face-to-face conversation. This is 
because the participant has a chance to take as long as 
desired to think about a response or comment, to 
reorganize and rework it until it presents the idea as 
fully and succinctly as possible. . . . on average the 
written channel will tend to have a somewhat richer and 
better-organized content than spoken conversations, in 
terms of topic-related information (Hiltz, 82-3).

Just like when writing notes in class, the time between messages is 
longer than in face-to-face oral communication. Whereas in face-to-
face questions, long pauses make participants uneasy and are one of 
the most severe "faultables" of spoken interaction (Goffman, 225), 
written notes are expected to take longer to produce. The result is 
indeed a different looking/sounding content of communication, an 
insteresting mixture of what in speech would be stilted language, 
mixed with a few typical typos. 

The conversational aspect of MUDing is so strong that many 
'newbies' transfer 'inappropriate' conventions from face-to-face 
communication to the textual world. In some instances, forgetting 
that responses in MUDs are written, not spoken, results in 
inefficient use of the text world. Take the scenario from this help 
file on LambdaMOO, for instance: 

When paging, just page the question. You don't need to 
start with "Can I ask you a question?" (Answer: you can 
and you just *did* --- this is an example of a real-life 
courtesy that actually becomes counterproductive when 
translated to the MOO; if one sees an actual question, it 
is possible to deal with it relatively quickly, whereas 
if the page is merely a "mind if I interrupt?", time is 
lost waiting for the actual question to appear) 
(LambdaMOO help file).

It seems that MUDs present a confusion of expectation in language 
experience. As users translate their conceptions from real life to 
the virtual text world, they often 'forget where they are' so to 
speak. Though the interactivity of MUDs causes the partial illusion 
of face-to-face, spoken dialog, MUDers are quick to condition each 
other to keep the written aspect of the computer conferencing 
closest in mind. Just as literate cultures look condescendingly at 
primary-oral cultures as being 'wrong' in their thinking, MUDers who 
forget they are writing, not speaking, when online are brought back 
in-line. 

In the content-density and mannerisms of MUD conversations, 
players are clearly a community of writers, not speakers. Though 
their interactions resembles face-to-face communication more than 
writing ever has, MUDers carefully maintain the distinction of 
literacy. Though they 'act' together communally on the MUD, they 
are also clearly writers in isolation, carefully forming phrases 
before sending them out over the net into the public conversational 
space.

HYPERTEXT AND THE NEW MEDIUM OF THE SCREEN

In many ways, MUDs like FurryMUCK and LambdaMOO operate as 
books do, especially since they are completely textual. The first 
MUDs were simply on-screen books that led users through a narrative, 
with the occasional opportunity to fight one-on-one with other 
players. Traditionally, the only experience requiring the reading 
of text for so long at one sitting is found in bound books. For 
this reason, MUDers often carry over concepts from reading and 
writing physical texts into MUD space. But the assumptions 
associated with the reading of physical books, like the assumptions 
for face-to-face communication, do not transfer perfectly into 
screen-based, or hypertexts. In fact, as New Mexico State 
University professor Steven Bernhardt, one of the pioneering 
researchers of hypertext, notes: "Thinking, working, and composing 
in the new medium of hypertext has a grammar all its own, a grammar 
with a steep learning curve and challenging new conceptual 
structures" (Bernhardt, in press), adding that, "We are in a state 
of rapid evolution, with heavy borrowing on the history of text on 
paper, applied sometimes appropriately and sometimes inappropriately 
to the new medium" (Bernhardt, College Comp., 151). In the medium 
of the screen, text is both physical (letters on the screen) as it 
is in books, and fleeting and ethereal like speech, again causing a 
strange middle-ground between and written and oral sensibilities, 
and new freedoms and constraints on language.

WINDOWS INTO TEXT

The page of a book is fixed -- paper size sets the amount of 
type possible on a page. On the screen, however, the monitor's 
glass is simply a window into a boundless cyberspace. Instead of 
page-turning in a linear body of book-text, the screen can scroll in 
any direction. Not only can this window be moved more freely over 
the text, but multiple pages can be layered on the same screen. On 
MUDs, for instance, a user can have one 'window' open with a 
connection to LambdaMOO, and a separate opening connected to 
FurryMUCK at the same time. The user can be participating in two 
separate 'texts' simultaneously, organizing the 'windows' so that 
both are visible side-by-side on the screen at once. In hypertext, 
there is no single order or configuration for large bodies, or 
databases, of language.

In fact, the metaphors referring to reading 'through' text in 
a book are inappropriate to reading the computer screen. In a book, 
there is nowhere to go but "forward," turning to the "next" page of 
text, but in hypertexts, readers can move in many directions, and 
there is no 'one' right way to go. 

LINKING PASSAGES

Screen text is not fixed ink on a physical page, but data 
units in a random-access storage allowing them to be recalled in any 
order. This requires an added burden on the text: not only must 
information be presented, but it must include directional markers, 
or links, that let readers know how to get to it. "It is like 
writing in a third dimension, with layered objects in graphic space" 
(Bernhardt, 151). In MUDs, users can build onto the text world -- 
creating buildings, rooms, and objects. Using the [@create] 
command, creators must not only write the descriptions others will 
see when entering their room, but also code the [@link] commands 
that allow users to enter and leave the room with the standard 
directional functions ([N], [S], etc.) (Furry Builders Guide). 
Without these links, a room is a page no one can turn to. 

In hypertexts, information is not necessarily cumulative, 
since the author cannot assume the reader came into a certain part 
of text from a set path. In MUDs, many players can use the 
[@teleport] command to pop into any room from anywhere. Unlike in a 
physical book (in which, admittedly, anyone can flip immediately to 
any page), hypertexts are supposed to accommodate such leaping, 
which the computer makes easy and natural. As Bernhardt identifies, 
screen text is "Situationally Embedded: The text does not stand 
alone, but is bound up within the context of a situation" 
(Bernhardt, 152).  This embedding makes itself clear not just in 
the operational structure (the OBJECT ORIENTED PROGRAMMING language) 
of MUDs, but also manifests itself in the content of hypertext. 
Passages must not only be linked to other pages, but they must 
explain how they are linked so the reader can judge which path to 
choose. The most obvious example of this is in the spatial 
connection of rooms in MUDs:

West of the Gardens

The western most part of the yard. Compared to the 
gardens closer to the house, the grounds here seem 
neglected. A kennel is to the southeast. A striped 
white & blue awning appears to the south. To the west, 
over a low fence and through a thin grove of trees, lies 
a large meadow. A battered tool shed sits to the north 
and to the east is the main house and grounds. a bubble 
is sitting in here. Crickets chirp to the twinkling of 
the stars as the smell of wood smoke and roses permeates 
the damp night air.

You see Chapel and ArVee here.

Descriptions such as this provide a visual map to facilitate 
navigation from text passage to text passage in the MUD.

TEXT BITES

Because readers of hypertext are constantly navigating through 
sections of text, writing is forced into small 'bits' of highly-
topical information. Instead of each page-full of text having its 
set place in the whole, hypertexts (like this one) collect isolated 
fragments. "The text is composed and presented in self-contained 
chunks, fragments, blocks" (Bernhardt, 159). Though MUD 
communication is written, therefore producing MORE WELL-THOUGHT-OUT 
REMARKS, these remarks must be confined to tight spaces. Of course 
there is nothing stopping MUDers from writing long treatisies, but 
the structure of this textual world favors smaller 'text bites' that 
can be read quickly -- just as television favors video and 'sound 
bites' -- so the reader can learn what they need and move on. As 
studies show, (written) comments on computer-conferencing systems 
are more focused than similar responses in face-to-face 
interactions. This is likely due not only to the fact that 
responses are written instead of spoken, but also that the 
hypertext's non-linear structure pressures participants to stick to 
the topic and not wander off into irrelevant rambling. In MUDs, 
this means that utterances are in some ways not as rich as their 
spoken counterparts. This deficiency seems made up for, however, by 
the 'user-friendly' ease of access of hypertext. 

CONTROL OF VIEW

Since most sections of text on MUDs are condensed and clearly 
labeled (by LINKS), users gain greater control over what information 
they consume and what they do not. In a real life cocktail party, 
for instance, a person has little choice over who they listen to -- 
a certain voice might stand out, or a social convention might 
require the person to politely listen to certain others. In the 
"online part"y of MUD, users have much greater control over which 
rooms they enter and whose language they read. The clearly labeled 
chunks of text can be quickly scanned and accessed on demand. In 
LambdaMOO, players may even choose to screen out certain types of 
text (usually that of a specific player) using the [@gag] command. 
This allows each person to edit the social situation for maximum 
comfort. Such capabilities give readers a feeling of control over 
language, making them not just readers, but navigators of a text 
base that is rigidly encapsulized and categorized.

MULTIVOCAL TEXTS

Because MUDers can, and are expected to jump around inside the 
hypertextual narrative world, there is much less pressure to present 
a single coherent voice in a given text. In fact, hypertext 
encourages and rewards providing a wide range of materials for the 
reader to explore. In conventional books,

Paper collaborators may have different intellectual 
perspectives and writing styles, and the challenge of 
collaboration is to bring the separate voices into 
harmony in a seamless, linear text. (Anson 85). A 
hypertext, on the other hand, can be a text with seams. 
Collaborators with multiple perspectives can contribute 
to the heteroglossia without 'continuity of tone, style, 
and voice'. (Bolter 16) (Bernhardt, in press). 

In fact, there is no reason not to include completely unrelated 
works in the same database. "Because the electronic text is not a 
physical artifact, there is no reason to give it the same conceptual 
unity as the printed book, no reason not to include disparate 
materials in one electronic network" (Bolter, 7). The new tendency 
of hypertext is not toward an editor or publisher pruning down, or 
compiling works to provide only pertinent information, but to let 
the readers decide what is pertinent, giving full access to all the 
information available. The MUDs (and hypertexts in general) that 
are the most successful are those that promise the greatest number 
of players, the most information stored in the database, and the 
largest chorus of voices available to be sampled by users.


WRITTEN OBJECT

Not only is the metaphorical space of hypertext visual, but 
the screen interaction provides 'visual speech.' While typing 
conversations, MUDers watch their words and the responses of others' 
form in front of them. Unlike oral conversation in which words are 
fleeting, existing only for an instant, in MUDs, the utterances of 
others appear on screen and remain. The words themselves become 
objects, which the player can react to and handle at their leisure. 
Like in a word processor, words can be cut and pasted on MUDs. Only 
now, instead of moving their own text, users are free to cut others' 
responses and paste them back. An online conversation resembles 
tossing a ball back and forth, or more specifically, like passing a 
written note on a slip of paper back and forth rapidly and 
repeatedly, making the text a physical object in cyberspace.

Hypertext is both fixed and malleable. As players type out 
remarks, they are free to edit and rewrite until they are ready to 
send the lines out. Once the message is sent, however, it is 
'bound' that way and appears on other users' screens. Staring at 
the words as objects on the screen, MUDers are often more aware of 
minor language errors than in oral speech. Players often reflect 
on, and post corrections to, minor text errors they have made:

Green_Guest notes that his vowels are beginning to 
disappear on him....
Cyan_Guest says, "and=an by the wa"y
Jenine says, "yet another double term sentence" 
(LambdaMOO).

In speech, since it must be created instantly and disappears an 
instant later, people tend to forgive many 'slips of the tongue' 
(Goffman, 222).  MUDers have a harder time ignoring the visual 
presence of errors. This not only lessens the TRANSPARENCY of the 
language environment, but also reminds participants that they are in 
a DISTINCTLY WRITTEN WORLD, in which stricter rules of accuracy are 
in effect. 

VISUAL CUES

Many channels of communication available in face-to-face 
encounters are missing in MUDs -- primarily visual information such 
as, facial expression, eye contact, and body movement (Hiltz, 89). 
To make up for these missing signals, MUDers use the visual field of 
the computer screen (taking advantage of the WRITTEN OBJECT) to 
produce new kinds of cues. "What may seem an inadequate set of cues 
in computerized conferencing for novice users may later be overcome 
by participants learning how to substitute for missing kinds of 
cues" (Hiltz, 89).

If players want to show their character is thinking something, 
they represent their words symbolically, using a set of bubbles 
similar to those seen in comic strips.:

. o O ( MMm. Guest sex/ )
. o O ( yes )

If players want their characters to emphasize a point, or create an 
[@item] that carries a message about themselves, they might produce 
a symbolic 'cardboard sign':

Jorry holds up a sign that says _______
                | ahhh |
                 -------

Or if players want to give a small picture of what their area looks 
like, they can arrange standard text characters in the physical 
space of the screen so that they resemble the object itself.

These visual cues increase the reader's engagement in the fictional 
world, by taking advantage of the physical arrangement of text. 
Words become mixed with glyphic symbols adding a level of richness 
to the interaction that aural speech cannot attain.

OBJECT ORIENTED PROGRAMMING AND THE POWER OF THE READER

There is a new language operating in MUDs in addition to 
simply written (as opposed to spoken) English. Players must use the 
MUD's computer environment, or programming language, to pass their 
words along to other players. To the disembodied player's 
character, the commands of this programming language make up the 
equivalent of a physical body in cyberspace. Its purpose is to move 
the character from place to place, inflect and direct voice, and add 
gesture and expression. 

This is done through a simple and highly-intuitive programming 
style known as Object Oriented Programming (OOP). All of the 13 
existing MUD operating systems are OO-based. The commands of MUD 
correspond, where possible, to their physical counterparts in the 
real world. The command for "sa"ying something, for example, is 
simply the word "sa"y and an open quotation mark, or abbreviated as 
simply a quotation mark placed before the text to be "said." (To 
say "hi there" simply type: ["hi there]. The computer then prints: 
[you say, "hi there"] on the screen for all to see.) To make a 
gesture to accompany speech, a player simply types [pose: smiles], 
and [player smiles] appears. Spatial movement inside the virtual 
world works in the same manner. To walk north, users simply type 
"go north," or "n" for short. Not only the commands, but everything 
handled by the computer language is treated metaphorically,

employing the same terminology used in real life. 
Most objects correspond to entities in the real world 
(animals, cars, buildings etc.) or sometimes to easily 
recognized abstractions like a contract or an aeroplane 
journey. This immediately offers the attraction that 
problems may be solved using the vocabulary of the 
problem domain i.e. we can translate our understanding of 
the real world directly into software models and maintain 
the semantic connections between them with reasonable 
ease (Worthington, 53). 

The characters and WORDS ARE VIRTUAL OBJECTS, and the commands 
provide links between them. "When a meaningful message is received 
by an object, the appropriate method is invoked and the object 
either enters a new state or reports its state to the client" 
(Worthington, 54). 

The computer does not discriminate. All related objects are 
treated equally by the machine. "All items on the MUCK, whether 
they be players, rooms, exits/actions, things, or programs, are 
assigned a number. Any number refers to a specific item (whatever 
type it may be) in the database. Each item in the database is 
stored in much the same way regardless of type" (FAQ, glossary). 
Since there is no human author choosing exactly which information 
gets presented and in what order, hypertexts take no part in the 
marginalization of certain VOICES or information. Consider the 
debate currently surrounding the literary cannon, for instance. 
This problem of 'which works to include' is virtually a non-issue in 
hypertextual terms, since the ideal is a database of all materials 
that the reader could navigate through on their own.

PERFORMATIVE WORLD

In OO worlds, all language is what Derrida termed 
performative: its utterance "produces or transforms a situation, it 
effects" (Derrida, 9). Whatever a player says happens, does happen. 
In verbal exchanges, on the other hand, performatives are rare, most 
frequently found in ritual or ceremony, such as pronouncement of 
marriage or christening of a ship. In text, performatives are 
standard practice. Consider a novel, for instance. Nothing happens 
except what the author tells the reader is happening -- all of which 
is accepted (in the world of the novel) as occurrence. OOP takes 
the performative power of text one step further, allowing the 
player/reader (not simply the author) to "utter" performative 
statements. "The computer is a self-contained world in which the 
whole process of semiosis can take place. Say that the writer 
creates the following structure in the electronic writing space of 
the machine. Not only the words in each topic, but the topics 
themselves and the link that connects them are part of the process 
of signification" (Bolter, 197). This continual authority of 
language elevates it to a more confident footing. Once again, it is 
clearly the reader who is in control of hypertext. It represents 
another blurring of the boundary between oral exchange and written 
exchange in MUD environments. 
 
CONTROL OF SELF

MUD players are in complete control over how they are looked 
upon in the textual world. By using the [@describe] command, MUDers 
literally define themselves. There is no set format or guideline 
for what should be included in these descriptions. While most stick 
to physical traits (of a fictional self), players use the 
descriptions to say things about character that physical appearance 
would fail to relay. When other characters encounter them and type 
[look], they will see the description that the player has written.

In real life, there are all kinds of unintended visual and 
aural cues accompanying encounters which may or may not reflect 
accurately on character. Prejudices of the real world may impede an 
intellectual woman to be taken seriously by some men, for instance. 
In the MUD, such a person can set their gender to male and converse 
for a while. Or they could leave gender undefined or neuter. 
Because self-authored text is the only information representing MUD 
personae (even name is chosen by players), players have full control 
of the self they present to the virtual world. 
 
SELF AS OBJECT: THE DECENTERING GRAMMAR OF MUDS

In a MUD, users create a virtual self, or character, to act 
for them in the MUD world. The self, like everything else in MUD's 
OOP environment, becomes an object, one completely at the user's 
control. As in a novel, the MUDer looks into a narrative world from 
the outside. Unlike a novel, however, players are like Olympian 
gods, moving their character pieces as detached observers, while at 
the same time keeping an emotional connection to their self-
fashioned mortals. 

Because players invent a characterization of self and role-
play in cyberspace, they gain a physical and emotional detachment. 
Instead of feeling along in the MUDworld, players think how their 
character would react to situations. One FurryMUCK character showed 
her dual loyalty when this author's MUD character, Marshdarter, 
asked for some help with the commands.

Leticia whispers, "ah.. In Character, Leticia is NOT a 
nice person.. my Player (the person sitting at the 
computer) IS a nice person, and will help you, as long as 
you whisper.." to you.
Marshdarter looked at Leticia, curious to see who this "NOT nice 
person" was:
Mistress Leticia is black, a deep, shiny black all over 
her skin.
Her eyes are black, TOTALLY black, no whites or irises 
showing
at all, her teeth and tongue startling flashes of color 
when she opens her mouth or smiles. She looks human, 
except for her eyes, her color, and her long, thin 
fingers (and are there more than 5 fingers there? - it's 
hard to tell, but you think so.) Her hair is snowy white 
and silken-soft, hanging to her shoulders and blown by 
any tiny breeze at all.
She wears a long gown of deepest black silk, deeply 'vd 
between
her breasts, with a white silken netting (or webbing?) 
keeping
her decent. the gown rests on her shoulders by thin 
straps,
and gathered at her waist is a belt of scarlet silk, 
showing
off her generous curves. Around her neck is a white silk 
choker.
The choker has a black, hourglass-shaped stone set in the 
front,
(Or IS it black? colors seem to swirl deep within the 
stone, drawing your eyes, tempting you to `gaze' into 
it's depths..
Carrying:
clrtemp

"I am mysself, in character ," she typed, "- Leticia, an 
anthropomorphic black widow sspider.." (FurryMUCK). Of course, how 
close the character is to a player's 'true self' of themselves is up 
to them. MUD is an ideal place to explore facets of personality or 
explore otherness. Some characters have one personality trait that 
they emphasize in all their interactions. This male author found 
that more players answered his questions when he described himself 
as a curious female than as a curious male. 

Even the grammar required for expression in MUD is distancing. 
Since the [pose:] command simply lets others know your character is 
posing a certain way, pose texts need to be written in third person. 
This author learned this by trial and error:
pose: spin around three times and raise arms to the furry 
sky
Marshdarter spin around three times and raise arms to the 
furry sky
S'A'Alis yips, "Ta da!"
pose: exudes thanks from every follicle
Marshdarter exudes thanks from every follicle 
(FurryMUCK).
No action can be properly expressed without this linguistic reminder 
that not the player, but the character -- the altered or displaced 
self -- is acting in the cyberspace.

TRANSPARENCY/ NON-TRANSPARENCY OF HYPERTEXT

MUDs constantly remind you of the computer-driven environment. 
The computer language that is required to navigate through the text 
world and the ability to author as well as read, keeps players at a 
critical distance as they experience the virtual world.

When characters are writing their own experiences, language 
gains a strange exchange between transparency and opacity. Players 
are both drawn in by others' written expression, and must step back 
and compose their own textual response, paying strict attentions to 
syntax and format:
It compels us to reconsider the relationship between the 
text and the world to which the text refers. In the 
world of print, the ideal was to make a text transparent, 
so that the reader looked through the text to the world 
beyond. This was the goal of realistic painting as well 
as the traditional novel . . . In a digital rhetoric, 
transparency is not the only virtue. The reader can be 
made to focus on the verbal patterns, on the text as a 
texture of elements. The text can be transparent or 
opaque, and it can oscillate between transparency and 
opacity, between asking the reader to look through the 
text to the "world beyond" and asking him or her to look 
at the text itself as a formal structure (Bolter, 167).
Even once players become ultra-familiar with the language of MUD (so 
that it becomes second-nature) the computer environment will not 
allow full transparency. Intermittent system maintenance on the 
home server or the network at large causes delays and interruptions 
that effect every character on the MUD. These events, such as the 
lag, or the time between when the command is entered and when it is 
executed, can be so severe that players comment upon the lag like 
people complain about the weather. 'The lag is so bad today' 
characters often rant. This event reminds all players that they are 
not walking around in a fantasy world, but sitting in a room typing 
at a computer. Even regular system maintenance like updating the 
database can cause disturbances that characters (and players) cannot 
ignore:
## Game will pause to save changed objects in two 
minutes. ##
## Saving changed objects ##
## Save complete. ##
Bill_T_Cat thinks the save was a religious experience!
Snow bounces out of the save!

In a way, players don't want to fully enter this fictional 
world. One major benefit of MUD is that it is a fictional place 
populated by real people. If the same delays existed in a computer 
game where the player acted against the machine, few would bother 
playing. On MUDs, players put up with system delays and other 
setbacks to keep their connection with others out there on the Net.

PART II: SOCIAL ASPECTS OF MUD

In concert with these LINGUISTIC IMPLICATIONS and constraints 
of MUDs are the social interactions that take place in cyberspace. 
How are these addicted and casual MUD players using this distinct 
new medium? The kinds of speech footings and assumptions of this 
new medium of communication make interactions in the new social 
space more open and direct.

On MUDs, the DECENTERING, ANONYMOUS quality of the fantasy 
forum allows more people to loosen up so that MORE PEOPLE 
PARTICIPATE and PARTICIPANTS GIVE MORE OPINIONATED RESPONSES than in 
face-to-face interactions. Whereas in real life encounters, people 
constantly use language to negotiate a safe and proper distance 
(Goffman, 128), in MUDs, the physical distance is set and the common 
computer environment acts as the normalizing force. This distancing 
provided by the computer allows people to drop many polite 
formalities of speech, and 'get to the point.' In a book compiled 
by a 'Netizen' and published over Internet, one user commented upon 
this directness common on MUDs:
I'm in awe of the power and energy linking thousands into 
a virtual intellectual coffee-house, where strangers can 
connect without the formalities of face to face rituals 
(hello, how are you today. . .) to allow a direct-
connected style of communication that seems to transcend 
the 'how's the weather' kind of conversation to just let 
us connect without the bullshit (Net book, ch. 
7_Netizen).
Also, since the niceties of speech are in many ways foregone in 
MUDs, and because of the MULTIVOCAL TENDENCY OF HYPERTEXT, there is 
LESS PRESSURE FOR PLAYERS TO CONFORM TO NORMS. In fact, new and 
interesting points of view are rewarded. Entering the Park on 
FurryMUCK or the entrance hall of LambdaMOO, characters say quick 
(and often creative) hellos, and jump right into 'conversations' on 
topics ranging from religion and politics to how to use the network 
itself. Since language (and its VISUAL OBJECT) is the only 
interaction available in these online parties, participants are 
forced to use MORE SKILLFUL, CREATIVE, or TOPICALLY INTERESTING 
language in order to engage others. For the most part, MUDers meet 
the challenges of the textual environment, creating ONLINE 
COMMUNITIES that can become part of their real life identity and 
enrich their lives. The new medium allows them to explore 
themselves and their actions objectively and re-envision their sense 
of self and community.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN MUD

With the promise of more direct and open discourse, MUDs can 
begin to sound utopian, but the limitations imposed by the text-only 
environment can present a serious obstacle to 'entering' this brave 
new world. Consider the following dialog involving a skeptical MUD 
'newbie':
Purple_Guest says, "I've been on here for 3 hours and 
haven't had an experience yet!"
skyguy tickles SuzieB for several minutes.
Veal_Guest points its meister at Purple_Guest.
Brown_Guest says, "i know what you mean purple...."
Sasquatch teleports in.
SuzieB [to Purple_Guest]: What sort of experience were 
you expecting?
jeco [to Purple_Guest]: you're not trying hard enough.
skyguy smiles at SuzieB.
Veal_Guest pulls the trigger on its meister.
The meister glows in happy rainbow colors, then 
Purple_Guest is showered with little daisies. Warm 
feelings of love and peace fill the air (LambdaMOO).
To enjoy this textual world requires an active imagination. Many 
new MUDers enter with high expectations and are sometimes 
disappointed. Because MUDs are interactive, they require users to 
put something in, in order to get something back. In this case, 
players must use their words to attract others to 'converse' with 
them:
Cyan_Guest [to Jorry]: Well, some of my best experiences 
here have happened by accident. Generally, it helps to 
seek out characters who you find interesting, characters 
who have an active imagination and make an honest attempt 
to say things that are fun to read (LambdaMOO).

Once players become comfortable with the commands and basic 
mood of a specific MUD they usually begin to encounter and converse 
with the same characters time after time, and gradually develop 
online relationships. In fact, due to the DIRECT NATURE OF LANGUAGE 
in MUDs, relationships generally develop more quickly here than in 
real life. Characters are often 'very affectionate' with each other 
verbally, and greetings like this one on Furry are not unusual: 
Lenore hugs Tiggster! He slowly wraps his arms around 
his true love, staring for a moment into her eyes, and 
you see that she seems to melt in his arms....They 
embrace for what seems like hours, hardly moving, like 
statues in love! (FurryMUCK).
At the far end of this emotional spectrum is NETSEX, which is one of 
the few aspects of MUDs that have been picked up by major media. 
(Unfortunately, since the only press MUDs get concerns NetSex and 
presents these worlds as 'dens of iniquity,' some players clearly 
come looking for cheap thrills, usually to be disappointed that 
players want to have a relationship instead!)

In addition to participating in dialog, players can build onto 
the world of MUDs, creating rooms, objects and embellishing their 
character's description using the OBJECT ORIENTED LANGUAGE of these 
worlds. 
Leticia murmurs, "people do more than jusst talk here.. 
they alsso build thingss and program.."
People spend hours building public spaces for others to enjoy, such 
as amusement parks, short games and riddles, or teleportation and 
travel devices. The reward is the ability to watch others enjoy 
your creation, and the feeling of belonging as an active participant 
in the online community. Just as in real life, other players 
appreciate and reward the hard-work and support of others.

MUDers are using the medium of cyberspace to create new 
communities to SUPPLEMENT THEIR REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE. Some online 
relationships develop into real life meetings, and ideas are 
exchanged and developed in the unrestrained imaginative environment.

LIBERATING ENVIRONMENT

'Speaking' from a distance, with the ability to CONTROL MANY 
ASPECTS OF ONE'S PRESENTATION OF SELF, MUDers who might be reluctant 
to contribute to real world discussions seem to open up in 
cyberspace. As Hiltz notes in his recent study of computer 
conferencing versus face-to-face group discussions, "more opinions 
tend to be asked for and offered" (Hiltz, 125). Most of the minute 
inadequacies that might cause someone not to put in their 'two cents 
worth' (such as fears that looks, gender, or other physical quality 
will weaken the validity of their remarks) are overcome on MUDs, 
where physical presence is not transmitted. 
Cyan_Guest [to Jorry]: It's different than real life in 
the respect that it doesn't matter what your MOO-friends 
look like physically. Here, interaction is mental rather 
than physical. Whereas dirty hair and an ugly mole could 
be quite disruptive to a real life conversation, here it 
doesn't factor into things at all (LambdaMOO).

Also, MUDs manage participation more broadly and evenly than 
spoken group meetings. In a face-to-face group, there is usually 
one or a few people who dominate discussion. 
Bales found that in face-to-face discussion there usually 
emerges a 'top man' who sends and receives 
disproportionate number of messages and who addresses 
considerably more remarks to the group as a whole than he 
addresses to specific individuals (Bales et al., 1951, 
p.465) (Hiltz, 107).

But in MUD, many users can enter their responses simultaneously, 
with less loss of information. In person, even two people talking 
at once is hard to follow, where in MUD, ten or more players may 
send short responses at the same time, and all can be read by other 
players (separately) at their own pace. Of course, even in computer 
conferencing there is a point of overload or 'spam' -- where the 
screen is so cluttered with continual input that the general train 
of conversation is impossible to follow. Because MUDs accommodate 
more participants at a time, however, the sense that one person 
'should' dominate disappears, and there is more equal participation 
among users. 

MORE OPINIONS OFFERED

In computer conferencing environments like MUDs, users 
generally make less guarded remarks. "There is less explicit 
agreement or disagreement with the opinions and suggestions of 
others" (Hiltz, 125). Again the trend is slightly functional: 
because MUDers are reading the responses, they can digest a broader 
range of ideas in a short space of time. In spoken conversations, 
changing to new views quickly makes discussion hard to follow, 
whereas on MUDs, such switches are the norm and keep players witing 
to see what surprising thing will be typed next. But there is also 
a social freedom on MUDs, the freedom from the eyes of those who 
might judge you based on looks as well as speech-content.
SatNam [to Jorry]: Well, on the MOO, you can be more 
like yourself, because there is no one watching you. I 
think people fall in love more on the moo because they 
can be themselves.

Along with open airing of opinions, MUDers are generally more 
affectionate and friendly online than they are in real life. "In 
the face-to-face condition, there is usually a brief period when the 
participants exchange names, but no extensive socializing among 
strangers who were brought together for this single group meeting. 
In the CC condition, however, we observed very overt attempts to be 
personal and friendl"y (Hiltz, 112).

There is a sense in computer network environments that the 
ideas will truly speak for themselves. This sense makes players 
much more comfortable and bold in their remarks.

NON-CONFORMITY

When reading a book, readers must follow the path of the 
author, and when in daily social interactions, those same readers 
tend to conform to narrow bounds of speech and actions. "One of the 
most important of the potentially dysfunctional aspects of face-to-
face group problem solving is the tremendous pressure on 
participants to conform" (Hiltz, 106). In the hypertextual world of 
MUD, where players control the imaginative space, those same players 
also flaunt their differences. Visitors to cyberspace describe how 
surprised they are at the diversity of voices in MUDs.
"Another memorable aspect of online conviviality was 
learning just how wide is the spectrum of human 
experience. In our schools and media we are led to 
believe that the range of human behavior is relatively 
narrow; true deviance is the purview of criminals and 
crazy people. No. Online, I discovered that the range 
is virtually a universe wide" (Jacobson, 331).
MUDs BETTER ACCOMMODATE A WIDE RANGE OF VOICES than conventional 
books and media. On MUD, there is no cultural norm. Since 
characters can 'be' whatever they can imagine and describe, everyone 
is a minority of one. The focus of the textual environment is to 
fashion a distinctive self and rehearse it in cyberspace. 

TOO EXPRESSIVE, PUBLIC SPACE OF IMAGINATIONS

In most areas of the MUD, cyberspace is a public space. Like 
any public space, speech and actions affect others. Though the 
writing of MUD is produced at isolated computer terminals, the text 
goes out over data wires or phone lines to become part of a widely-
read interactive web. As fictional environments, MUDs resemble 
traditional fantasy texts, in which readers explore a new world in 
their imagination, a world where anything is possible. An attitude 
of anything-goes is potentially dangerous in the public imaginative 
space of MUDs, however. System operators post reminders that just 
as in real life, actions on the computer network may have 
consequences:
You shouldn't do anything that you wouldn't do in real 
life, even if the world is a fantasy world. The 
important thing to remember is that it's the fantasy 
world of possibly hundreds of people, and not just yours 
in particular. There's a human being on the other side 
of each and every wire! ...People who treat others badly 
gradually build up bad reputations and eventually receive 
the NO FUN Stamp of Disapproval (FurryMUCK help file).
MUDers have been known to go too far in their expressiveness. 
Because it is not really you 'doing' the online actions (but your 
fictional persona) and because there are no victims in (physical) 
sight, players sometimes perform actions that are hurtful or 
offensive to other characters. As an online help manual points out 
in an etiquette section: "Avoid 'power-playing' and 'violence.' 
Even though you may not think you are doing anyone any actual harm, 
many people get annoyed by it, and such activities may make you 
unpopular . . . wandering into the Park and spraying bullets at 
everyone there is strongly discouraged" (FurryMUCK Beginner's 
Guide).
Tumbl_weed [to Jorry]: you also have to be careful if 
you have a smartass personality. Sometimes things don't 
turn out the way you say them and someone gets 
insulted...

SatNam says, "Yeah, some people forget that the people 
are real, and insult a lot of people."

NETSEX AND PHYSICAL VS. EMOTIONAL DISTANCE

Perhaps most curious to outsiders (and greatest cause of 
criticism of these new cybercommunities) is the phenomena of MUDsex: 
high-speed two-way erotica typing, which sometimes involves 
masturbation. Those hoping to do some info-highway rubbernecking on 
MUD will certainly be disappointed -- believe it or not, players on 
MUDs are, for the most part, discreet in their online heavy petting. 
MUDs provide private areas where characters can close the door and 
turn off the virtual lights, and it is in the virtual back rooms and 
bedrooms that NetSex occurs. What do couples get out of this highly 
emotional activity when it's filtered through cyberspace?

The easiest comparison to NetSex is phone sex, but this 
comparison may be unfortunate. If a player were hooked into MUDs 
just for NetSex, then this link would be appropriate, but most 
people who take the time to learn the MUD programming languages and 
design their character are interested in more than a one-night 
stand. Picking up the phone and dialing a sex line invests no 
commitment, whereas the hours of learning required just to be fluent 
enough in the MUD system to have NetSex (much less find someone to 
have it with) makes the event more significant. As communities that 
are often looking for a self-respecting communal identity, MUDs try 
to resist being characterized as online whorehouses. Marshdarter 
(author's character) mentioned a recent Wired magazine article about 
MUDs (which focused heavily on NetSex) to one character and met a 
disgruntled reply:
Leticia murmurs, "THAT article again. :("
Leticia murmurs, "THAT article, if you noticed, had two 
descriptionss, and about a paragraph (rather biased) 
about Furry.. the rest about LambdaMOO, but they decided 
to portray Furry ass a den of iniquity.."

People on MUDs don't walk up and proposition you with NetSex. 
The event generally occurs between characters who have first 
'talked' and interacted over a period of time. Once NetSex is 
considered in relation to real life sex, it is interesting to note 
the implications of online intercourse.

Participants in NetSex maintain a strict physical and 
emotional distance while still enjoying what can be a fulfilling 
exchange between two people. With all the fears our society 
associates with casual sex (pregnancy, disease, etc.), NetSex 
provides a safe opportunity for sexual play. In fact it is possible 
that MUDs provide an outlet for those who are shy in real life to be 
more aggressive sexually. Just as MORE OPINIONS ARE OFFERED on the 
Net than in real life, some MUDers are more open in their 
affections. So much so that the amount of sexual innuendo and 
flirtation becomes notable to other players. 
Diadalos says, "has there ever been two minutes on this 
thing where there hasn't been the mention of sex... do 
you guys conduct yourself like this in RL?"
The answer clearly is no. These players use the semi-anonymous 
medium of MUDs to explore aspects of self and expression they would 
not ordinarily venture in face-to-face exchanges.

FRAGMENTING READERSHIP

Ironically, with all these opportunities for the reader to 
CONTROL THE ORDER and EXPLORE VARIOUS VOICES in hypertexts, readers 
end up further away, rather than closer to these texts, and in some 
ways each other. Since the infinite writing space cannot be fully 
consumed, a computer-reader's mentality is geared toward extracting 
the information specific to individual needs. This shifts focus of 
writing from author-centered to reader-centered. People reading a 
hypertext never have an overall shared experience. Players of MUDs, 
unlike readers of a bound book, each have unique experiences.

The structure of community suggested by hypertexts is not one 
valorizing and providing common, shared experiences, but celebrating 
individuality and expressing very separate identities in a common 
medium. No longer is the author lord of the text kingdom. In 
hypertexts, readers are free and encouraged to read only what 
interests them. Instead of appointing the author as a 
representative to explore 'databases' of available information and 
report back, readers now represent themselves in these vast 
databases, compiling their own personal and unique books. 

BEYOND MUD: THE NETWORK'S INFLUENCE

It is often said that we live in a media-dominated society. 
Currently, 'media' is predominately television, but also bound 
books, whose structural model is one of central authorship and 
strict linear flow. These do not have to be the dominant media, 
however, and this does not have to be the prevailing model. MUD 
represents a technology that is available now, that challenges 
preconceptions of media and social form. MUDers, some of whom have 
already crossed over into this medium, are now filling their 
previous television-watching and book-reading time hypertext-ing in 
cyberspace. If the networking technology and knowledge were more 
widely available, perhaps we would already see a mass movement to 
join those addicted to the new language experience. "Among 
experienced participants in computerized conferences there emerges a 
strong urge to check in several times a day to receive any waiting 
messages and to see what is happening in various conferences" 
(Hiltz, 103). If such a movement began, soon people would find 
their lives more closely resembling MUDs than television: rather 
than modeling physical appearance on visions of supermodels gracing 
tv and magazine advertisements, people would be searching the world-
wide web of cyberspace to find clothing and other items that are 
distinctly their own; rather than joking about the latest celebrity 
scandal, people would hone in on the latest jokes within their 
circle of well-matched, online friends; perhaps at some point, "The 
ideal of stability and cohesion (would) largely disappear. Few 
(would) feel the need to assert such cohesion, since even the 
smallest group of writers and readers can function happily in its 
niche in the electronic network" (Bolter, 238).

A PURER FORM OF INTERACTION?

Writing has long been glorified as the purest form of 
expression. As a tool for organizing thoughts and preserving 
memory, writing revolutionized humanity's ability to solve and 
understand problems. "The interdependence of the development of 
writing and modern civilization is well documented" (Coulmas, 8). 
So powerful is written language that we have come to think that the 
mind itself operates in a linguistic fashion when encoding ideas:
Literacy has been long regarded as the stabilizing pillar 
of culture and of intelligence. . . Because of its 
connection with mental skills, literacy, in the sense of 
alphabetic literacy, has meant the ability of the 
individual to rise above particular circumstances and 
enter a shared world of intelligibility. This shared 
world of intellect is believed to disclose a superior 
reality which encompasses and masters the commonsense and 
mostly inarticulate grasp we have on things we deal with 
intuitively (Heim, 23-4).
But ironically, writing is not as natural to man as spoken language. 
"Writing is a cultural achievement rather than a universal property 
and as such is much less important than speech to our self-
understanding" (Coulmas, 3). There is a living, organic quality of 
speech -- spoken words are born, mature and die in the breath of a 
moment. Derrida noted this characteristic of text when he wrote, 
"What writing itself, in its nonphonetic moment, betrays, is life. 
It menaces at once the breath, the spirit, and history as the 
spirit's relationship with itself (Derrida, 25). 

MUDs (and computer conferencing in general) provide a blend of 
writing and speech that may represent a purer form of expression 
than either achieve separately. The experience of MUD is more 
highly cerebral than speech -- players analyze their actions closely 
as well as constructing both the verbal content and computer 
commands to send their messages -- and yet all this takes place in 
(slightly slower) real time, where players 'speak' to one another 
with written notes passed from computer to computer. "It's the 
closest thing I can think of -- unpleasant as the thought might be 
-- of plugging electrodes into my brain" one professional writer 
says about hypertext writing (Hurwood, 105). 

As this hypertext has suggested, the medium of Multiple User 
Dungeons offers many benefits over both speech and writing. In 
hypertext communication, "It becomes difficult to say where thinking 
ends and writing begins, where the mind ends and the writing space 
begins. With any technique of writing -- on stone or clay, papyrus 
or paper, and particularly on the computer screen -- the writer 
comes to regard the mind itself as a writing space" (Bolter, 11). 
MUDs offer a writing space that is highly malleable, yet sometimes 
concrete, where the inherent programming structure works as one of 
the only stabilizing forces in a free realm of imagination and 
expression. 


WORKS CITED

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Bernhard, Stephen A. Unpublished article received via e-mail. Is 
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Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the 
History of Writing. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum 
Associates, Publishers, 1991.

Cartwright, Glenn F. "Virtual or Real?: The Mind in Cyberspace." 
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Computer Writing Environments. ed. Bruce K. Britton and Shawn M. 

Glynn. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 
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Coulmas, Florian. The Writing Systems of the World. Cambridge, 
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Derrida, Jacques. "Signature Event Context." Limited, Inc. 
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FurryMUCK Help Staff. "FurryMUCK Builder's Guide." Internet ftp 
site: sncils.snc.edu.

FurryMUCK Help Staff. On-line Help Files.

Goffman, Erving. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of 
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hauben@columbia.edu. "The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net has 
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Heim, Michael. Electronic Language: A Philosophical Study of Word 
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Hiltz, Starr Roxanne and Turoff, Murray. "Social and Psychological 
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Hurwood, Bernhardt J. Writing becomes Electronic. New York: 
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in Passing." Global Networks: Computers and Interntaional 

Communication. Linda M. Harasim, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT 
Press, 1993.

LambdaMOO Help Staff. On-line Help Files.

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the

Word. New York: Methuen, 1982.

"MUD Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) #1: Basic Information about 

MUDs and MUDing," posted to [MUD.General] newsgroup on 
Internet, March 16, 1994.

Quittner, Josh. "Johnny Manhattan Meets the FurryMuckers." Wired, 
March 1994, pp. 92-97, 138.

Worthington, Bill and Robinson, Brian. "The Medium is Not the 
Message: Mixed Mode Document Technology." Multimedia Information. 
ed. Mary Feeney and Shirley Day. London: Bowker Saur, 1991.

Transcipts from MUD sessions: FurryMUCK various long-ins during the 

period from March 17- May 1, 1994; LambdaMOO from April 15- 
May 1, 1994. 


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 copyright 1994, Jeffrey R. Young
  comments, reactions welcome:
   jryoung@phoenix.princeton.edu