Imaginary Realities 1999 April Edition

Summary of April 1999 issue of Imaginary Realities. Imaginary Realities was an ezine dedicated to MUDs.

Summary of "A Rape in Cyberspace" by Julian Dibbell

The full version of this article may be reproduced. The link to the full article is here.

"This article originally appeared in The Village Voice, December 21, 1993, pages 36 through 42." Later, the article was included in Dibbell's book, My Tiny Life.

From the Wikipedia page about this article, "A Rape in Cyberspace" describes a "cyberrape" in a multi-player computer game or MUD called LambdaMOO that took place on a Monday night in March 1993 and discusses the repercussions of this act on the virtual community and subsequent changes to the design of the MUD program.

A player named, Mr Bungle misused a command that attributes actions to other players that they did not issue. One of the the victims later that night posted, " I'm not calling for policies, trials, or better jails. I'm not sure what I'm calling for. Virtual castration, if I could manage it. Mostly, [this type of thing] doesn't happen here. Mostly, perhaps I thought it wouldn't happen to me. Mostly, I trust people to conduct themselves with some veneer of civility."

The author writes, "Months later, the woman in Seattle would confide to me that as she wrote those words posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face--a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words' emotional content was no mere playacting."

Calls for "toading" of Mr Bungle rose all over the MOO. Only "wizards" had permissions to alter the database and remove characters from the MOO. It was not easy to get any wizards to make the change, because they had turned governance of the community over to the players, who never got around to making an actual government. The final meeting about the fate of Mr Bungle faded with characters losing interest and leaving one-by-one.

It was also at this point, most likely, that JoeFeedback reached his decision. JoeFeedback was a wizard, a taciturn sort of fellow who'd sat brooding on the sidelines all evening. He hadn't said a lot, but what he had said indicated that he took the crime committed against legba and Starsinger very seriously, and that he felt no particular compassion toward the character who had committed it. But on the other hand he had made it equally plain that he took the elimination of a fellow player just as seriously, and moreover that he had no desire to return to the days of wizardly fiat. It must have been difficult, therefore, to reconcile the conflicting impulses churning within him at that moment. In fact, it was probably impossible, for as much as he would have liked to make himself an instrument of LambdaMOO's collective will, he surely realized that under the present order of things he must in the final analysis either act alone or not act at all.

So JoeFeedback acted alone.

He told the lingering few players in the room that he had to go, and then he went. It was a minute or two before ten. He did it quietly and he did it privately, but all anyone had to do to know he'd done it was to type the @who command, which was normally what you typed if you wanted to know a player's present location and the time he last logged in. But if you had run a @who on Mr. Bungle not too long after JoeFeedback left evangeline's room, the database would have told you something different.

"Mr. Bungle,'' it would have said, ``is not the name of any player.''

The end result was that a citizen voting system was put in place whereby wizards could be forced by general consent to use their powers as the community desired. Member players gained the @boot command to kick guest players that were abusing the game. Also, a player vs player arbitration system was put in place.

Mr Bungle did open a new account as Dr Jest. However, he toned down his bad behavior a little. His new character was ostrisized. Eventually, he either created a new cleaner character, or stopped logging in all together.

Summary of "Embarassing Mischannels" by John Hopson

Mistells, AKA mischannels, result in some out-of-context humor. The players on the author's MUD started ranking mistells on a scale of 0-10. The list the author provides includes one ranked at 11.

Ranked 9: "No, this was before I ran up those gambling debts. I killed him because he was blackmailing Marion about her secret affair with Karjat"

Summary of "Gender and the Mud" by Marcie Kligman

Marcie is a player and creator for Discworld.

This article documents the results of an online survey of 11 women and nine men MUD players on Discworld about gender bias and experiences related to gender in the MUD.

Most players did not experience severe discrimination based on sex other than being hit on, or not being let into the witch's guild due to being male.

All the men had tried women roles. Less than half the women had tried men's roles.

"Men who had played female characters generally noticed that questions they posed to other players were answered quicker, that they received more assistance in the form of money and other help, and tended to be attacked less often." Though, this was not universal.

Men playing women noticed being hit on and affectionate comments. At least, one stopped logging into the account because it was too much to handle.

Women playing males noticed language changes when other players talked to them. Less use of words like "babe", and less notice of their aggressive behavior as a character by other players.

"The women who had cross-played also responded that it was what they had predicted. One woman claimed that it was 'great fun', and another 'loved...being extravagantly chivalrous to female characters. In a way, I loved doing all the things girls wish guys would do.'"

Players of both genders reported being hit on. One male player said, "I did have one guy ask me to marry him, because he thought I was a female. When I told him I was male, he retracted his proposal. I was hurt and disappointed, .... I had already picked out a gown and everything."

The author was surprised to see that women did not have the same grouping of experiences. Their experiences varied greatly. Same for men.

Summary of "Languages in Muds" by David Bennett

David is an admin for Discworld MUD, and edits the MUD magazine.

Adding ethnic languages to a MUD enhances player immersion in your world. However, isolating low level players from each other due to language barriers prevents them from enjoying the social aspect of your MUD. Have a way for them to learn or speak a common language for player-player interaction.

You can implement languages with an on/off knowledge, or a progressive skill based method. In a progressive skill based language system, larger percentages of the language become clear (instead of gibberish) as the skill of the player advances in that language.

With a progressive language system, you must decide if the language is learned from listening to it, from NPCs, other players or a combination. Also, does the partially understood language mask individual letters, random words, or entire sentences when a skill is not maxed out for that language? "It makes sense to make the transformations work on a word by word basis and only transform a certain amount of the words, such that the longer words are the harder to recognize."

Dialects of languages, or older variations of languages could require a higher skill than modern standard dialects of a language to understand.

Use a random number generator with a fixed seed for each language and dialect, so that the randomization of understood and garbled words is reproduced with the same results every time the language is heard.

"Some very simple transformations of text can result in a distinctly different looking word. For example: if you map the 26 basic letters to 10 letters in a new language system, with a few special transformations for some two letter sequences, you can end up with a very foreign-looking language." Transforming based on syllables instead of letters adds a nice effect. Garbling words instead of letters or syllables might work best.

Another transformation that works well is to have a list of commonly mistaken words in the foreign language. So, when the player almost knows the language, all words translate, except that some words are literally the wrong words. This could require a large substitution table for the language, so might take more processing power than simpler methods of garbling the language.

Above all, don't let the language system get in the way of playability of the game.

Summary of "Limited Advancement" by Derek Harding

Derek Harding was an admin for Discworld MUD.

Unlimited character advancement in MUDs leads to boredom for the players. "There are no more challenges left to the game. There is nothing left to achieve. You can kill anything, steal anything from anyone, cast any spell or ritual at will. I know it sounds idyllic to a player struggling to improve but oddly enough that is the point! All a mud can really offer is the struggle to improve and the sense of achievement that comes with succeeding in that struggle."

Three techniques for limiting player advancement:

  1. Purge all players at regular intervals. Essentially, reset the MUD.
  2. Create a hard limit were the character is retired or "reaches wizard status."
  3. Decrease the speed of advancement as levels of character increase.

Under all techniques for limiting advancement, characters will eventually reach the limit, or reach the point that advancement happens so slow that advancement is no longer a reason to play the MUD.

Summary of "The Mudder's New Clothes" by Rebecca Handcock

Rebecca was a red haired, snowball throwing, Ph.D. student from Australia studying in Toronto at the time of publication of the original article.

In the real world, we wear clothing for protection, individual expression, and group identification. In a MUD, the most compelling reason for clothing is as an expression of individuality. Some MUDs allow the player to write a description of their own clothes, while others provide special shops that allow the upgrading of clothing as quest successes allows enough wealth to do so.

The author recommends the following titles to the reader:

  • Barber, E.W. (1994). "Women's Work : The first 20,000 years". Norton : New York

  • Barnard, M. (1996). "Fashion as communication". Routledge : London

  • Bouncher, F. (1967) . "20,000 years of fashion : The history of Costume and Personal Adornment". Abrams New York

  • Davis, Fred. (1992). "Fashion, culture, and identity." University of Chicago Press : Chicago

  • Joseph, N. (1986). "Uniforms and nonuniforms : communication through clothing". Greenwood Press : New York

  • McDowell, C. (1992). "Dressed to kill : sex, power & clothes" Hutchinson : London

  • Ribeiro, A. (1986). "Dress and morality". Holmes & Meier : New York

  • Tarrant, N. (1994). "The development of costume". Routledge : London