Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

6Thelanguageofvirtua lworlds

E-mails, chatgroups, and the Web have one thing in common: they
are all electronic interactions where the subject-matter comprises –
apart from the occasional aberration – real things in the real world.
This chapter examines a very different scenario: electronic interac-
tion where the subject-matter is totally imaginary. All communi-
cation between participants takes place with reference to the char-
acters, events, and environments of a virtual world. These virtual
worlds go by various names, but their most common generic des-
ignation is with the acronym: MUDs.^1
The term MUD has had two glosses, over the years. It originally
stood for ‘Multi-User Dungeon’, in the popular mind reflecting the
name of the leading role-play fantasy game devised in the 1970s,
and still widely played, ‘Dungeons and Dragons’TM. Since then,
hundreds of such D&D games have been published, extending the
concept from fantasy worlds to horror, science fiction, history, and
other domains. All have the same orientation. They are played by
groups of two or more people. One player, usually known as the
‘Game Master’, defines an imaginary environment in which the
players will move and interact, the kinds of obstacles they will en-
counter, and the kind of powers they have. Each player creates a
character and defines its attributes – size, shape, race, clothing,
weapons, and so on. Adventures deal with age-old themes, such
as a hunt for treasure, a battle between good and evil, or the res-
cuing of a person in distress. Games of several hours are normal;
games lasting for years are known. The MUD games have close

(^1) MUDs are also writtenMuds, especially in compound names, and several have now
lost their acronymic character. Many people usemudsas a generic term, without even
an initial capital. For an introduction to MUD history, terminology, and practice, see
Rheingold (1993), Keegan (1997), Cowan (1997), Cherny (1999: 4), Hahn (1999).

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