Recent demonstration of a typewriter hacked to play Zork made me nostalgic for the golden age of MUDs, text-based roleplaying games that were, and in my opinion still are, king in the world of actual roleplaying – in line after pen and paper, of course.
MUDs (or any of the other MU* designations) were in essence MMORPGs in the days before graphic integration. They were interactive stories, playable solo or in a group with elements that were conducive to actual roleplay. In a good MUD story was the focal point, with social interaction spinning off plot with a life of its own.
In some cases MUDs were exactly like stepping into the pages of a book. Take into consideration my favorite MUD, one I still play on occasion, Discworld MUD. Discworld is based entirely on Terry Pratchett’s rich fantasy-slash-comedy novels. It’s stunningly detailed and unbelievably customizable, with every aspect of life in game up to the players. (There are rules, of course, but like any stellar game, the bulk is self-policing in the spirit of roleplay and character development.)
Readers of this blog know that I’m sort of…well…shall we say, down on MMORPGs. I’ve yet to find one in all my years of trying that offers a truly satisfying roleplay experience. So much of them seem dedicated to senseless PvP (which has its place, but not in excess) and mindless leveling, which on any scale grows intensely boring after a short period of time.
And there are idiots in MUDs, too. I can remember days spent playing Avalon, one of the oldest text-based games on the ‘net, when I couldn’t catch a break for the challenges to PvP that would be lobbed my way, typically when I was right in the middle of something time-consuming and precision-oriented, and not desiring the constant distraction in the least. But for the most part the spirit of MUDs seems to be very much about creating and adhering to a character, and facing consequences of your actions. Something that unless rules are severely violated doesn’t seem to be much of a concern in present-day MMORPGs.
The most common complaint by anti-MUD crowds is that play is often repetitive, and it can be. How many times can one type (or macro) “map” to pull up an ASCII map before one’s eyes blur? There’s a lot of “look east” and “drink potion” and such commands to daily life in MUDs. Some combat systems are a back and forth blur of text and numeric stats, confusing to the uninitiated eye. But get past the somewhat clunky limitations that MUDs’ fairly primitive coding imposes and you’ll find game worlds with little to no limit on imagination. You can only draw so many pixels in one scene, but you can paint a thousand portraits in the descriptions you assign to any given location.
If I sound overly-enthusiastic, I perhaps am. I was part of a development team for a highly addictive commercial MUD for several years. And the roleplay I enjoyed as a deity in that game, coupled with the expansive creative freedom the medium provided in actual game creation, cemented the common MUD’s place in my heart.
So, typewriter that plays Zork, I lift my glass in toast to you for bringing back to mind the good old days, when I didn’t have to look very far to find someone IC, OOC was not a condition of life, bashing was actually fun, and game worlds were limited only by the vision of the creators.