For those who don’t know, a MUCK is a textual multi-player virtual world. One of the best known MUCK code bases is TinyMUCK (which is the base of Fuzzball MUCK which is what I hacked a few features in for Redwall MUCK). The world is built by players/members (not by programmers). It’s made up of rooms interconnected by exits and with the means for non-programmers to create freely.
The MUCK tech was old in 1995. There are still MUCKs out there (even Redwall MUCK).
Now, the MUCKs aren’t 3D virtual reality, but they are virtual reality. They were absolutely multi-user, and they had community. And each MUCK world is essentially a different place full of virtual places.
What Does a Text World Look Like?
If there’s not shiny three dimensional moving graphics how can there be a world? Here’s how the bank of my pond (I’m Otter) looks when you enter it if I’m awake (logged in):
Bank The bank of a small pond, barely wide enough for an otter to dive and not hit the other shore. The pond is fed from a small stream, and shows signs of traffic along its bank, as though there was something within it. Exits: [A]long a [S]tream, [F]ar [B]ank of the pond, a [Tree] by the pond, [West] towards a trail Contents: a (rotten log) sits by the bank of the pond With: [DYN] (Otter) the monk
It’s a very simple world. It’s old, and it’s user-base has shrunk since Brian Jacques passed on and new books stopped coming out. But here’s some stats from the current day’s usage meter:
WhenGraph by Riss. * = 1 connections. Low and High counts by hour. Time Low ---graph--- High T00 2 ***************** 17 T01 3 *** 3 T02> 3 **** 4 T03 2 ** 2 T04 1 * 1 T05 2 *** 3 T06 0 * 1 T07 2 *** 3 T08 1 * 1 T09 0 0 T10 0 * 1 T11 1 *** 3 T12 1 * 1 T13 2 ** 2 T14 1 ** 2 T15 2 ** 2 T16 3 **** 4 T17 4 **** 4 T18 2 *** 3 T19 2 **** 4 T20 2 ****** 6 T21 5 ******** 8 T22 2 *** 3 T23 2 **** 4 High since last restart (16:21:36 12/22/21): 17 at 16:50:56 12/29/21. All time high: 121 at 21:16:55 07/12/00. On now: 4. WG #help for help
For years, we ran with 100+ people at a time. Mostly high school and college students. Our staff was mostly made up of high school and college students, too.
Pros and Cons of Text Worlds
One of the benefits of text worlds is the ease which with one can create.
For instance, here is my in-world character, when someone types ‘look otter’:
A rather small otter, with the normal brown coloring on what fur you can see. Most of his body is covered by a gray robe, neatly hemmed at the bottom so it doesn't drag the ground. His footpaws are bare, and his face carefree. His ears seem to extend out every now and then, even when there are no noises to be heard and his eyes are never still. He breathes evenly, moving smoothly and precisely--not clumsy as so many of his kind. His tail shows signs of having been broken and re-set. He sneezes and scratches his nose. Carrying: Cup sack
To make a character, it’s as simple as logging in as a guest and typing some text. Some people struggle for hours to get their descriptions just write. Some bang out simple ones. Mine was not particularly brilliant by any measure. Though if you look at him multiple times I added code (as any player can!) that causes the descriptions to vary slightly.
In a graphical system, those who are uncomfortable with a “blank slate” and text can generate a character by customizing and tweaking various representations. That’s a lower barrier of entry (pick a stock, hit a color selector, done) than text. But, if there’s a goal to truly have a unique and intentional specific look, unless the player is an artist or hires one, that’s not easy (and depending on the virtual world, may not even be possible).
A text world also requires typing for speaking. The MUCK doesn’t have voice (though I did hack in a voice tech using Speak Freely in the late 90s as an experiment–clunky). I actually had parents talk to me on the game saying that their kids were getting better grades in school because their writing was improved. That was impressive.
At the same time, those who type slowly can easily feel overwhelmed. For perspective, I cut my teeth in IRC. I would be on multiple IRC channels talking about different topics with many people in real time — and I read fast too. So, on the MUCK, I could easily keep up and speak in a room with a dozen players talking at once. That caused some players to simply leave or get quiet.
In a graphical world, especially with voice, the ability to just interact is much higher. It’s easy to talk.
It’s not necessarily a virtue, though, that you can’t (when angry or hurt) delete your words before you send them. It’s quite easy to hurt feelings without the “real world” full sensorium. Neither text nor VR provides that.
The major players are going to create what are effectively “walled gardens.”
For instance, Second Life has been around doing graphical worlds for years. But, you can’t make a character in Second Life and then take it into any other universe NOT in their system.
Likewise, the MMOs don’t allow characters to walk between systems either.
Thus, should Meta, Apple, and Microsoft all build what they call “metaverse” what they’re really building are client/server systems where within their systems you can use VR and avatar-based presence. That’s not bad, but …
The dream has always been of inter-connecting different worlds. Is such possible?
You are reading this site via a web browser. The World Wide Web is a protocol (HTTP) and standard format (HTML). Links freely move the browser between my site and other sites. That’s what a real Metaverse would be and let you do.
So long as the major players want lock-in for control of their players it’s not going to happen, but we will have pretty 3D avatar locations.
Just remember, if you go exploring (in any virtual world, text or VR) that there are real people interpreting your words and actions. I shouldn’t have to stress that, but I learned long ago that it’s very easy to be a real jerk online (not that any of my readers would be) and it’s real easy to be one by accident.
So, whether you’re in text world or 3d world (or anything in between) remember:
A brave heart and a courteous tongue will take thee far in the jungle…
Keep the Light,