Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of virtual worlds 177

everyone, too; some sites now restrict the introduction of new char-
actersbecause ofspiralling population growth,anddo notwelcome
publicity (which is why I do not give site references in this book).
At the same time, MUDs can become defunct, once their players
get fed up or move elsewhere. And if groups adopt too exclusive
an attitude towards their membership, they reduce their long-term
prospects of survival.
Although chat is ubiquitous in virtual worlds – even in adven-
ture games – it would be wrong to think of MUDs as a variety of
synchronous chatgroups (chapter 5). The reality which exists in a
chatgroup situation, such as in Internet Relay Chat, is a function
solely of the online participants. Take away the people, and there is
nothing left. The reality which constitutes a MUD, by contrast, is
independent of the players. Take away the typists, and the virtual
world they have created remains, permitting new players to enter
and interact at any time, as long as the server is operational. A
MUD world is a database of connected functional spaces (rooms),
described according to the theme of the MUD: they may be in a
castle, city, space station, planet, road, field – or, of course, simply
simulating the rooms in an ordinary house. The rooms which exist
are textually described within the database. When you log-in, the
description of where you are would appear on screen, in such a
style as the following:^11

You are in a square in the middle of the city of Langscape, on
planet Zorb. A large fountain is in the centre of the square. To the
north there are sounds of a street battle. To the south you can see a
series of shops selling the latest weapons. [etc.]

The compass directions relate to the computer screen: ‘north’ is to
the top of the screen. You navigate through the MUD world by text
commands which can be general (e.g. ‘move west’) or specific (e.g.
‘go to control centre’). As you proceed, the screen describes where

(^11) For other examples, see Iro (1996), Cherny (1999), and several logs at Because of the concern over privacy,
I have constructed most of the examples in this chapter myself, using an imaginary
MUD, but all examples are closely modelled on the real virtual examples illustrated in
the literature.

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