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Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs

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Abstract

ABSTRACT Four approaches to playing MUDs are identified and described. These approaches may arise from the inter-relationship of two dimensions of playing style: action versus interaction, and world-oriented versus player-oriented. An account of the dynamics of player populations is given in terms of these dimensions, with particular attention to how to promote balance or equilibrium. This analysis also offers an explanation for the labelling of MUDs as being either "social" or "gamelike".
HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES:
PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS
Richard Bartle
[1]
MUSE Ltd, Colchester, Essex.
United Kingdom.
richard@mud.co.uk
ABSTRACT
Four approaches to playing MUDs are identified and described. These approaches may arise
from the inter-relationship of two dimensions of playing style: action versus interaction, and
world-oriented versus player-oriented. An account of the dynamics of player populations is
given in terms of these dimensions, with particular attention to how to promote balance or
equilibrium. This analysis also offers an explanation for the labelling of MUDs as being
either "social" or "gamelike".
PREFACE
Most MUDs can trace their lineage directly back to Trubshaw's 1978 game (Bartle, 1990b;
Burka, 1995) and, perhaps because of this heritage, the vast majority are regarded as "games"
by their "players". For the convenience of its readers, this paper continues to view MUDs in
this tradition; however, it should be noted that MUDs can be of considerable value in non-
game (ie. "serious") applications (Bruckman, 1994a; Kort, 1991; Bruckman & Resnick, 1993;
Curtis & Nichols, 1993; Evard, 1993; Fanderclai, 1995; Riner & Clodius, 1995; Moock,
1996). Indeed, the thrust of this paper emphasises those factors which should be borne in
mind when attempting to create a stable MUD in general, whatever the application; it is only
the terminology which is that of "fun" MUDs, not the subject matter. In any case, even those
MUDs which are built, from the ground up, to be absolutely straight are still treated by users
as if they were games in some respects, eg. by choosing whimsical names rather than using
their real ones (Roush, 1993).
It is worthwhile considering for a moment whether MUDs (as they are generally played)
really are games, or whether they're something else. People have many recreational activities
available to them, and perhaps MUDs fit some other category better? Looking up the word
"game" in a dictionary of synonyms (Urdang & Manser, 1980) elicits three related nouns:
"pastime", "sport" and "entertainment" (a fourth, "amusement", is the general class of which
the others are all examples). So it might be useful to ask:
Are MUDs
games? Like chess, tennis, AD&D?
pastimes? Like reading, gardening, cooking?
sports? Like huntin', shootin', fishin'?
entertainments? Like nightclubs, TV, concerts?
Or are they a combination of all four? Perhaps individual players even see the same MUD
differently from each another?
These questions will be returned to at the end of this paper, along with some proposed
answers.
A SIMPLE TAXONOMY
This work grew out of a long, heated discussion which ran from November 1989 to May
1990 between the wizzes (ie. highly experienced players, of rank wizard or witch) on one
particular commercial MUD in the UK (Bartle, 1985). The debate was sparked by the
question "What do people want out of a MUD?", and comprised several hundred bulletin-
board postings, some of considerable length, typically concerning what the players liked,
what they didn't like, why they played, and changes they would like to see to "improve" the
game. Some 15 individuals took a major part, with perhaps another 15 adding their comments
from time to time; this comprised almost the entire set of active wizzes during that period.
Although at times the debate became quite intense, never did it lapse into the flaming which
typically ends most open-ended, multi-speaker, online discussions.
The fact that the people contributing to this argument were the most advanced players in a
MUD which allowed player-killing might, on the face of it, be taken as evidence that they
would probably prefer more "gamelike" aspects over "social" ones. However, this was not the
case: the MUD in question had players of all types in it, even at wiz level. (Later in this
paper, an analysis is given as to how such a MUD can come to be).
When the participants had finally run out of new things to say, it became time for me (as
senior administrator) to summarise. Abstracting the various points that had been raised, a
pattern emerged; people habitually found the same kinds of thing about the game "fun", but
there were several (four, in fact) sub-groupings into which opinion divided. Most players
leaned at least a little to all four, but each tended to have some particular overall preference.
The summary was generally well received by those who had participated in the debate.
Note that although this MUD was one in which player-killing was allowed, the taxonomy
which is about to be described does (as will be explained later) apply equally to "social"
MUDs. The advice concerning changes which can be made to affect the player make-up of a
MUD is, however, less useful to social MUDs, or to ones with a heavy role-playing
component. Also, the original discussion concerned only non-administrative aspects of
MUDding; people who might play MUDs to learn object-oriented programming, for
example, are therefore not addressed by this paper.
The four things that people typically enjoyed personally about MUDs were:
i) Achievement within the game context.
Players give themselves game-related goals, and vigorously set out to achieve them. This
usually means accumulating and disposing of large quantities of high-value treasure, or
cutting a swathe through hordes of mobiles (ie. monsters built in to the virtual world).
ii) Exploration of the game.
Players try to find out as much as they can about the virtual world. Although initially this
means mapping its topology (ie. exploring the MUD's breadth), later it advances to
experimentation with its physics (ie. exploring the MUD's depth).
iii) Socialising with others.
Players use the game's communicative facilities, and apply the role-playing that these
engender, as a context in which to converse (and otherwise interact) with their fellow players.
iv) Imposition upon others.
Players use the tools provided by the game to cause distress to (or, in rare circumstances, to
help) other players. Where permitted, this usually involves acquiring some weapon and
applying it enthusiastically to the persona of another player in the game world.
So, labelling the four player types abstracted, we get: achievers, explorers, socialisers and
killers. An easy way to remember these is to consider suits in a conventional pack of cards:
achievers are Diamonds (they're always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig
around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are
Clubs (they hit people with them).
Naturally, these areas cross over, and players will often drift between all four, depending on
their mood or current playing style. However, my experience having observed players in the
light of this research suggests that many (if not most) players do have a primary style, and
will only switch to other styles as a (deliberate or subconscious) means to advance their main
interest.
Looking at each player type in more detail, then:
i) Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal, and all is
ultimately subserviant to this. Exploration is necessary only to find new sources of treasure,
or improved ways of wringing points from it. Socialising is a relaxing method of discovering
what other players know about the business of accumulating points, that their knowledge can
be applied to the task of gaining riches. Killing is only necessary to eliminate rivals or people
who get in the way, or to gain vast amounts of points (if points are awarded for killing other
players).
Achievers say things like:
"I'm busy."
"Sure, I'll help you. What do I get?"
"So how do YOU kill the dragon, then?"
"Only 4211 points to go!"
ii) Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them. They try
progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for interesting features
(ie. bugs) and figuring out how things work. Scoring points may be necessary to enter some
next phase of exploration, but it's tedious, and anyone with half a brain can do it. Killing is
quicker, and might be a constructive exercise in its own right, but it causes too much hassle in
the long run if the deceased return to seek retribution. Socialising can be informative as a
source of new ideas to try out, but most of what people say is irrelevant or old hat. The real
fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence.
Explorers say things like:
"Hmm..."
"You mean you don't know the shortest route from <obscure
room 1> to <obscure room 2>?"
"I haven't tried that one, what's it do?"
"Why is it that if you carry the uranium you get radiation
sickness, and if you put it in a bag you still get it, but if
you put it in a bag and drop it then wait 20 seconds and pick it
up again, you don't?"
iii) Socialisers are interested in people, and what they have to say. The game is merely a
backdrop, a common ground where things happen to players. Inter-player relationships are
important: empathising with people, sympathising, joking, entertaining, listening; even
merely observing people play can be rewarding - seeing them grow as individuals, maturing
over time. Some exploration may be necessary so as to understand what everyone else is
talking about, and points-scoring could be required to gain access to neat communicative
spells available only to higher levels (as well as to obtain a certain status in the community).
Killing, however, is something only ever to be excused if it's a futile, impulsive act of
revenge, perpetrated upon someone who has caused intolerable pain to a dear friend. The
only ultimately fulfilling thing is not how to rise levels or kill hapless drips; it's getting to
know people, to undertand them, and to form beautiful, lasting relationships.
Socialisers say things like:
"Hi!"
"Yeah, well, I'm having trouble with my boyfriend."
"What happened? I missed it, I was talking."
"Really? Oh no! Gee, that's terrible! Are you sure? Awful, just
awful!"
iv) Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others. This may be "nice", ie.
busybody do-gooding, but few people practice such an approach because the rewards (a
warm, cosy inner glow, apparently) aren't very substantial. Much more commonly, people
attack other players with a view to killing off their personae (hence the name for this style of
play). The more massive the distress caused, the greater the killer's joy at having caused it.
Normal points-scoring is usually required so as to become powerful enough to begin causing
havoc in earnest, and exploration of a kind is necessary to discover new and ingenious ways
to kill people. Even socialising is sometimes worthwhile beyond taunting a recent victim, for
example in finding out someone's playing habits, or discussing tactics with fellow killers.
They're all just means to an end, though; only in the knowledge that a real person,
somewhere, is very upset by what you've just done, yet can themselves do nothing about it, is
there any true adrenalin-shooting, juicy fun.
Killers says things like:
"Ha!"
"Coward!"
"Die!"
"Die! Die! Die!"
(Killers are people of few words).
How many players typically fall within each area depends on the MUD. If, however, too
many gravitate to one particular style, the effect can be to cause players of other persuasions
to leave, which in turn may feed back and reduce the numbers in the first category. For
example, too many killers will drive away the achievers who form their main prey; this in
turn will mean that killers will stop playing, as they'll have no worthwhile victims (players
considered by killers to be explorers generally don't care about death, and players considered
to be socialisers are too easy to pose much of a challenge). These direct relationships are
discussed in more detail towards the end of this paper.
For the most part, though, the inter-relationships between the various playing styles are more
subtle: a sharp reduction in the number of explorers for whatever reason could mean a
gradual reduction in achievers, who get bored if they're not occasionally told of different
hoops they can jump through for points; this could affect the number of socialisers (the fewer
players there are, the less there is to talk about), and it would certainly lower the killer
population (due to a general lack of suitable victims).
Making sure that a game doesn't veer off in the wrong direction and lose players can be
difficult; administrators need to maintain a balanced relationship between the different types
of player, so as to guarantee their MUD's "feel". Note that I am not advocating any particular
form of equalibrium: it is up to the game administrators themseles to decide what atmosphere
they want their MUD to have, and thus define the point at which it is "balanced" (although
the effort required to maintain this desired state could be substantial). Later, this paper
considers means by which a MUD can be pushed in different directions, either to restore an
earlier balance between the player types, to define a new target set of relationships between
the player types, or to cause the interplay between the player types to break down entirely.
However, first a means is required of formally linking the four principal playing styles into
aspects of a unified whole; this helps account for different degrees of adherence to particular
styles, and aids visualisation of what "altering the balance" of a MUD might actually mean.
INTEREST GRAPH
Consider the following abstract graph:
ACTING
Killers | Achievers
|
|
|
|
|
PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD
|
|
|
|
|
Socialisers | Explorers
INTERACTING
The axes of the graph represent the source of players' interest in a MUD. The x-axis goes
from an emphasis on players (left) to an emphasis on the environment (right); the y-axis goes
from acting with (bottom) to acting on (top). The four extreme corners of the graph show the
four typical playing preferences associated with each quadrant. To see how the graph works,
it is appropriate to consider each of the four styles in detail:
i) Achievers are interested in doing things to the game, ie. in ACTING on the WORLD. It's
the fact that the game environment is a fully-fledged world in which they can immerse
themselves that they find compelling; its being shared with other people merely adds a little
authenticity, and perhaps a competitive element. The point of playing is to master the game,
and make it do what you want it to do; there's nothing intrinsically worthwhile in rooting out
irrelevant details that will never be of use, or in idling away your life with gossip.
Achievers are proud of their formal status in the game's built-in level hierarchy, and of how
short a time they took to reach it.
ii) Explorers are interested in having the game surprise them, ie. in INTERACTING with the
WORLD. It's the sense of wonder which the virtual world imbues that they crave for; other
players add depth to the game, but they aren't essential components of it, except perhaps as
sources of new areas to visit. Scoring points all the time is a worthless occupation, because it
defies the very open-endedness that makes a world live and breathe. Most accomplished
explorers could easily rack up sufficient points to reach the top, but such one-dimensional
behaviour is the sign of a limited intellect.
Explorers are proud of their knowledge of the game's finer points, especially if new players
treat them as founts of all knowledge.
iii) Socialisers are interested in INTERACTING with other PLAYERS. This usually means
talking, but it can extend to more exotic behaviour. Finding out about people and getting to
know them is far more worthy than treating them as fodder to be bossed around. The game
world is just a setting; it's the characters that make it so compelling.
Socialisers are proud of their friendships, their contacts and their influence.
iv) Killers are interested in doing things to people, ie. in ACTING on other PLAYERS.
Normally, this is not with the consent of these "other players" (even if, objectively, the
interference in their play might appear "helpful"), but killers don't care; they wish only to
demonstrate their superiority over fellow humans, preferably in a world which serves to
legitimise actions that could mean imprisonment in real life. Accumulated knowledge is
useless unless it can be applied; even when it is applied, there's no fun unless it can affect a
real person instead of an emotionless, computerised entity.
Killers are proud of their reputation and of their oft-practiced fighting skills.
The "interest graph" is a representational structure which can chart what players find of
interest in a MUD. The axes can be assigned a relative scale reflecting the ratio of an
individual's interest between the two extremes that it admits. Thus, for example, someone
who thinks that the people who are in the world are maybe twice as important as the the
world itself would lie on a vertical line intersecting the x-axis at a point 1/6 of the distance
from the origin to the left edge; if they had little interest in bending the game to their will,
preferring their actions to have some give and take, then they would also lie on a horizontal
line at the bottom of the y-axis. The interesection of the two lines would put them in the
socialiser quadrant, with leanings to explorer.
It is, of course, possible to analyse the behaviour of individual players quantitatively by
processing transcripts of their games. Unfortunately, this is very difficult to do except for
very limited domains (eg. forms of communication (Cherny, 1995a; Cherny, 1995b)). An
alternative approach might simply be to ask the players what they themselves like about a
particular MUD: even a short questionnaire, completed anonymously, can give a fair
indication of what players find enjoyable (Emert, 1993). Such information can then be used
to determine the make-up of the MUD's player base, so that in times of falling player
numbers the current composition could be compared against some earlier ideal, and remedial
action taken to redress the imbalance. This "ideal" configuration would, however, be specific
to that particular MUD, and its precise form is therefore not addressed here. Instead, the more
general issue of how to alter the balance between player types is considered, along with the
gross effects that can be expected to follow from having done so.
CHANGING THE PLAYER TYPE
BALANCE
A stable MUD is one in which the four principal styles of player are in equilibrium. This
doesn't imply that there are the same number of players exhibiting each style; rather, it means
that over time the proportion of players for each style remains roughly constant, so that the
balance between the the various types remains the same. Other factors are important, to do
with the rate at which new players arrive and overall player numbers, but their consideration
is not within the brief of this paper; the interaction between players of different types is
within its brief, however, and is discussed in some detail later.
The actual point of balance (ie. whereabouts in the interest graph the centre of gravity of the
individual players' points lies) can vary quite enormously; it is up to individual administrators
to determine where they want it to lie, and to make any programming or design changes
necessary to ensure that this is where it actually does. What kind of strategies, though, can be
employed to achieve this task?
In order to answer this question, consider the interest graph. If it is regarded as a plane in
equilibrium, it can be tilted in a number of ways to favour different areas. Usually, this will
be at the expense of some other (opposite) area, but not necessarily. Although tilting can in
theory occur along any line in the plane, it makes sense (at least initially) to look at what
happens when the tilt lines coincide with the x and y axes if the graph.
What follows, then, is a brief examination of means by which a MUD can be adjusted so as
to favour the various extremes of the interest graph, and what would happen if each approach
were taken to the limit:
PLAYERS
Putting the emphasis on players rather than the game is easy - you just provide the system
with lots of communication commands and precious little else. The more the scales are tipped
towards players, though, the less of a MUD you have and the more of a CB-style chatline.
Beyond a certain point, the game can't provide a context for communication, and it ceases to
be a viable virtual world: it's just a comms channel for the real world. At this stage, when all
sense of elsewhere-presence is lost, you no longer have a MUD.
WORLD
Tilting the game towards the world rather than its inhabitants is also easy: you simply make it
so big and awkward to traverse that no-one ever meets anyone in it; alternatively, you can
ensure that if they do meet up, then there are very few ways in which they an interact.
Although this can result in some nice simulations, there's a loss of motivation implicit within
it: anyone can rack up points given time, but there's not the same sense of achievement as
when it's done under pressure from competing players. And what use is creating beautifully-
crafted areas anyway, if you can't show them to people? Perhaps if computer-run personae
had more AI a MUD could go further in this direction (Mauldin, 1994), but it couldn't (yet)
go all the way (as authors of single-player games have found (Caspian-Kaufman, 1995)).
Sometimes, you just do want to tell people real-world things - you have a new baby, or a new
job, or your cat has died. If there's no-one to tell, or no way to tell them, you don't have a
MUD.
INTERACTING
Putting the emphasis on interaction rather than action can also go a long way. Restricting the
freedom of players to choose different courses of action is the mechanism for implementing
it, so they can only follow a narrow or predetermined development path. Essentially, it's
MUD-as-theatre: you sit there being entertained, but not actually participating much. You
may feel like you're in a world, but it's one in which you're paralysed. If the bias is only
slight, it can make a MUD more "nannyish", which newcomers seem to enjoy, but pushing it
all the way turns it into a radio set. Knowledge may be intrinsically interesting (ie. trivia), but
it's meaningless unless it can be applied. If players can't play, it's not a MUD.
ACTING
If the graph is redrawn to favour doing-to over doing-with, the game quickly becomes boring.
Tasks are executed repeatedly, by rote. There's always monotony, never anything new, or, if
these is something new, it's of the "man versus random number generator" variety. People do
need to be able to put into practice what they've learned, but they also need to be able to learn
it in the first place! Unless the one leads to the other, it's only a matter of time before patience
is exhausted and the players give up. Without depth, you have no MUD.
From the above list of ways to tilt the interest graph, a set of strategems can be composed to
help MUD administrators shift the focus of their games in whatever particular direction they
choose. Some of these strategems are simply a question of management: if you don't tell
people what communication commands there are, for example, people will be less likely to
use them all. Although such approaches are good for small shifts in the way a MUD is
played, the more powerful and absolute method is to consider programming changes
(programming being the "nature" of a MUD, and administration being the "nurture").
Here, then, are the programming changes which administrators might wish to consider in
order to shape their MUD:
Ways to emphasise PLAYERS over WORLD:
add more communication facilities
add more player-on-player commands (eg. transitive ones like TICKLE or
CONGRATULATE, or commands to form and maintain closed groups of personae)
make communication facilities easy and intuitive
decrease the size of the world
increase the connectivity between rooms
maximise the number of simultaneous players
restrict building privileges to a select few
cut down on the number of mobiles
Ways to emphasise WORLD over PLAYERS:
have only basic communication facilities
have few ways that players can do things to other players
make building facilities easy and intuitive
maximise the size of the world (ie. add breadth)
use only "rational" room connections in most cases
grant building privileges to many
have lots of mobiles
Ways to emphasise INTERACTING over ACTING:
make help facilities produce vague information
produce cryptic hints when players appear stuck
maximise the effects of commands (ie. add depth)
lower the rewards for achievement
have only a shallow level/class system
produce amusing responses for amusing commands
edit all room descriptions for consistent atmosphere
limit the number of commands available in any one area
have lots of small puzzles that can be solved easily
allow builders to add completely new commands
Ways to emphasise ACTING over INTERACTING:
provide a game manual
include auto-map facilities
include auto-log facilities
raise the rewards for achievement
have an extensive level/class system
make commands be applicable wherever they might reasonably have meaning
have large puzzles, that take over an hour to complete
have many commands relating to fights
only allow building by top-quality builders
These strategies can be combined to encourage or discourage different styles of play. To
appeal to achievers, for example, one approach might be to introduce an extensive level/class
system (so as to provide plenty of opportunity to reward investment of time) and to maximise
the size of the world (so there is more for them to achieve). Note that the "feel" of a MUD is
derived from the position on the interest graph of the MUD's players, from which a "centre of
gravity" can be approximated. It is therefore sometimes possible to make two changes
simultaneously which have "opposite" effects, altering how some individuals experience the
MUD but not changing how the MUD feels overall. For example, adding large puzzles (to
emphasise ACTING) and adding small puzzles (to emphasise INTERACTING) would
encourage both pro-ACTING and pro-INTERACTING players, thereby keeping the MUD's
centre of gravity in the same place while tending to increase total player numbers. In general,
though, these strategems should not be used as a means to attract new players; strategems
should only be selected from one set per axis.
The effects of the presence (or lack of it) of other types of player are also very important, and
can be used as a different way to control relative population sizes. The easiest (but, sadly,
most tedious) way to discuss the interactions which pertain between the various player types
is to enumerate the possible combinations and consider them independently; this is the
approach adopted by this paper.
First, however, it is pertinent to discuss the ways that players generally categorise MUDs
today.
THE SOCIAL VERSUS GAMELIKE
DEBATE
Following the introduction of TinyMUD (Aspnes, 1989), in which combat wasn't even
implemented, players now tend to categorise individual MUDs as either "social" or
"gamelike" (Carton, 1995). In terms of the preceding discussion, "social" means that the
games are heavily weighted to the area below the x-axis, but whether "gamelike" means the
games are weighted heavily above the x-axis, or merely balanced on it, is a moot point.
Players of social MUDs might suggest that "gamelike" means a definite bias on and above
the x-axis, because from their perspective any explicit element of competitiveness is "too
much". Some (but not most) players of gamelike MUDs could disagree, pointing out that
their MUDs enjoy rich social interactions between the players despite the fact that combat is
allowed.
So strongly is this distinction felt, particularly among social MUDders, that many of their
newer participants don't regard themselves as playing "MUDs" at all, insisting that this term
refers only to combat-oriented games, with which they don't wish to be associated. The rule-
of-thumb applied is server type, so, for example, LPMUD => gamelike, MOO => social; this
is despite the fact that each of these systems is of sufficient power and flexibility that it could
probably be used to implement an interpreter for the other one!
Consequently, there are general Internet-related books with chapter titles like "Interactive
Multiuser Realities: MUDs, MOOs, MUCKs and MUSHes" (Poirier, 1994) and "MUDs,
MUSHes, and Other Role-Playing Games" (Eddy, 1994). This fertile ground is where the
term "MU*" (Norrish, 1995) originates - as an attempt to fill the void left by assigning the
word "MUD" to gamelike (or "player-killing") MUDs; its deliberate use can therefore
reasonably be described as a political act (Bruckman, 1992).
This attitude misses the point, however. Although social MUDs may be a major branch on
the MUD family tree, they are, nevertheless, still on it, and are therefore still MUDs. If
another overarching term is used, then it will only be a matter of time before someone writes
a combat-oriented surver called "KillerMU*" or whatever, and cause the wound to reopen.
Denial of history is not, in general, a wise thing to do.
Besides, social MUDs do have their killers (ie. people who fall into that area of the interest
graph). Simply because explicit combat is prohibited, there is nevertheless plenty of
opportunity to cause distress in other ways. To list a few: virtual rape (Dibbell, 1993; Reid,
1994); general sexual harrassment (Rosenberg, 1992); deliberate fracturing of the community
(Whitlock, 1994a); vexatious litigancy (Whitlock, 1994b). Indeed, proper management of a
MUD insists that contingency plans and procedures are already in place such that antisocial
behaviour can be dealt with promptly when it occurs (Bruckman, 1994b).
Social MUDs do have their achievers, too: people who regard building as a competitive act,
and can vie to have the "best" rooms in the MUD (Clodius, 1994), or who seek to acquire a
large quota for creating ever-more objects (Farmer, Morningstar & Crockford, 1994). The
fact that a MUD might not itself reward such behaviour should, of course, naturally foster a
community of players who are primarily interested in talking and listening, but there
nevertheless will still be killers and achievers around - in the same way that there will be
socialisers and explorers in even the most bloodthirsty of MUDs.
Researchers have tended to use a more precise distinction than the players, in terms of a
MUD's similarity to (single-user) adventure games. Amy Bruckman's observation that:
"there are two basic types [of MUD]: those which are like
adventure games, and those which are not"
(Bruckman, 1992)
is the most succinct and unarguable expression of this dichotomy. However, in his influential
paper on MUDs, Pavel Curtis states:
"Three major factors distinguish a MUD from an Adventure-
style computer game, though:
o A MUD is not goal-oriented; it has no beginning or
end, no 'score', and no notion of 'winning' or 'success'.
In short, even though users of MUDs are commonly called
players, a MUD isn't really a game at all.
o A MUD is extensible from within; a user can add new objects
to the database such as rooms, exits, 'things', and notes.
[...]
o A MUD generally has more than one user connected at a time.
All of the connected users are browsing and manipulating
the same database and can encounter the new objects created
by others. The multiple users on a MUD can communicate with
each other in real time."
(Curtis, 1992)
This definition explicitly rules out MUDs as adventure games - indeed, it claims that they are
not games at all. This is perhaps too tight a definition, since the very first MUD was most
definitely programmed to be a game (I know, because I programmed it to be one!). The
second point, which states that MUDs must involve building, is also untrue of many MUDs;
in particular, commercial MUDs often aim for a high level of narrative consistency (which
isn't conducive to letting players add things unchecked), and, if they have a graphical front-
end, it is also inconvenient if new objects appear that generate no images. However, the fact
that Curtis comes down on the side of "social" MUDs to bear the name "MUD" at least
recognises that these programs are MUDs, which is more than many "MU*" advocates are
prepared to admit.
This issue of "social or gamelike" will be returned to presently, with an explanation of
exactly why players of certain MUDs which are dubbed "gamelike" might find a binary
distinction counter-intuitive.
PLAYER INTERACTIONS
What follows is a brief explanation of how players predominantly of one type view those
other players whom they perceive to be predominantly of one type. Warning: these notes
concern stereotypical players, and are not to be assumed to be true of any individual player
who might otherwise exhibit the common traits of one or more of the player classes.
The effects of increasing and decreasing the various populations is also discussed, but this
does not take into account physical limitations on the amount of players involved. Thus, for
example, if the number of socialisers is stated to have "no effect" on the number of achievers,
that disregards the fact that there may be an absolute maximum number of players that the
MUD can comfortably hold, and the socialisers may be taking up slots which achievers could
otherwise have filled. Also, the knock-on effects of other interactions are not discussed at this
stage: a game with fewer socialisers means the killers will seek out more achievers, for
example, so there is a secondary effect of having fewer achievers even though there is no
primary effect. This propogation of influences is, however, examined in detail afterwards,
when the first-level dynamics have been laid bare.
ACHIEVERS V. ACHIEVERS
Achievers regard other achievers as competition to be beaten (although this is typically
friendly in nature, rather than cut-throat). Respect is given to those other achievers who
obviously are extraordinarily good, but typically achievers will cite bad luck or lack of time
as reasons for not being as far advanced in the game as their contemporaries.
That said, achievers do often co-operate with one another, usually to perform some difficult
collective goal, and from these shared experiences can grow deep, enduring friendships
which may surpass in intensity those commonly found among individuals other groups. This
is perhaps analagous to the difference between the bond that soldiers under fire share and the
bond that friends in a bar share.
Achievers do not need the presence of any other type of player in order to be encouraged to
join a MUD: they would be quite happy if the game were empty but for them, assuming it
remained a challenge (although some do feel a need to describe their exploits to anyone who
will listen). Because of this, a MUD can't have too many achievers, physical limitations
excepted.
ACHIEVERS V. EXPLORERS
Achievers tend to regard explorers as losers: people who have had to resort to tinkering with
the game mechanics because they can't cut it as a player. Exceptionally good explorers may
be elevated to the level of eccentric, in much the same way that certain individuals come to
be regarded as gurus by users of large computer installations: what they do is pointless, but
they're useful to have around when you need to know something obscure, fast. They can be
irritating, and they rarely tell the whole truth (perhaps because they don't know it?), but they
do have a place in the world.
The overall number of explorers has only a marginal effect on the population of achievers. In
essence, more explorers will mean that fewer of the really powerful objects will be around
around for the achievers to use, the explorers having used their arcane skills to obtain them
first so as to use them in their diabolical experiments... This can cause achievers to become
frustrated, and leave. More importantly, perhaps, the number of explorers affects the rate of
advancement of achievers, because it determines whether or not they have to work out all
those tiresome puzzles themselves. Thus, more explorers will lead to a quicker rise through
the ranks for achievers, which will tend to encourage them (if not overdone).
ACHIEVERS V. SOCIALISERS
Achievers merely tolerate socialisers. Although they are good sources of general hearsay on
the comings and goings of competitors, they're nevertheless pretty much a waste of space as
far as achievers are concerned. Typically, achievers will regard socialisers with a mixture of
contempt, disdain, irritation and pity, and will speak to them in either a sharp or patronising
manner. Occasionally, flame wars between different cliques of socialisers and achievers may
break out, and these can be among the worst to stop: the achievers don't want to lose the
argument, and the socialisers don't want to stop talking!
Changing the number of socialisers in a MUD has no effect on the number of achievers.
ACHIEVERS V. KILLERS
Achievers don't particularly like killers. They realise that killers as a concept are necessary in
order to make achievement meaningful and worthwhile (there being no way to "lose" the
game if any fool can "win" just by plodding slowly unchallenged), however they don't
pesonally like being attacked unless it's obvious from the outset that they'll win. They also
object to being interrupted in the middle of some grand scheme to accumulate points, and
they don't like having to arm themselves against surprise attacks every time they start to play.
Achievers will, occasionally, resort to killing tactics themselves, in order to cause trouble for
a rival or to reap whatever rewards the game itself offers for success, however the risks are
usually too high for them to pursue such options very often.
Increasing the number of killers will reduce the number of achievers; reducing the killer
population will increase the achiever population. Note, however, that those general MUDs
which nevertheless allow player-killing tend to do so in the belief that in small measure it is
good for the game: it promotes cameraderie, excitement and intensity of experience (and it's
the only method that players will accept to ensure that complete idiots don't plod inexorably
through the ranks to acquire a degree of power which they aren't really qualified to wield). As
a consequence, reducing the number of killers too much will be perceived as cheapening the
game, making high achievement commonplace, and it will put off those achievers who are
alarmed at the way any fool can "do well" just by playing poorly for long enough.
EXPLORERS V. ACHIEVERS
Explorers look on achievers as nascent explorers, who haven't yet figured out that there's
more to life than pursuing meaningless goals. They are therefore willing to furnish them with
information, although, like all experts, they will rarely tell the full story when they can
legitimately give cryptic clues instead. Apart from the fact that they sometimes get in the
way, and won't usually hand over objects that are needed for experiments, achievers can live
alongside explorers without much friction.
Explorers' numbers aren't affected by the presence of achievers.
EXPLORERS V. EXPLORERS
Explorers hold good explorers in great respect, but are merciless to bad ones. One of the
worst things a fellow explorer can do is to give out incorrect information, believing it to be
true. Other than that, explorers thrive on telling one another their latest discoveries, and
generally get along very well. Outwardly, they will usually claim to have the skill necessary
to follow the achievement path to glory, but have other reasons for not doing so (eg. time,
tedium, or having proven themselves already with a different persona). There are often
suspicions, though, that explorers are too theoretical in most cases, and wouldn't be able to
put their ideas into practice on a day-to-day basis if they were to recast themselves in the
achiever or killer mould.
Explorers enjoy the company of other explorers, and they will play more often if they have
people around them to whom they can relate. Unfortunately, not many people have the type
of personality which finds single-minded exploring a riveting subject, so numbers are
notoriously difficult to increase. If you have explorers in a game, hold on to them!
EXPLORERS V. SOCIALISERS
Explorers consider socialisers to be people whom they can impress, but who are otherwise
pretty well unimportant. Unless they can appreciate the explorer's talents, they're not really
worth spending time with. There are some explorers who treat conversation as their specialist
explorer subject, but these are very rare indeed; most will be polite and attentive, but they'll
find some diversion if the conversation isn't MUD-related or if their fellow interlocutor is
clearly way below them in the game-understanding stakes.
The explorer population is not directly affected by the size of the socialiser population.
EXPLORERS V. KILLERS
Explorers often have a grudging respect for killers, but they do find their behaviour
wearisome. It's just so annoying to be close to finishing setting up something when a killer
comes along and attacks you. On the other hand, many killers do know their trade well, and
are quite prepared to discuss the finer details of it with explorers. Sometimes, an explorer
may try attacking other players as an exercise, and they can be extremely effective at it.
Explorers who are particularly riled by a killer may even decide to "do something about it"
themselves. If they make such a decision, then it can be seriously bad news for the killer
concerned: being jumped and trashed by a low-level (in terms of game rank) explorer can
have a devastating effect on a killer's reputation, and turn them into a laughing stock
overnight. Explorers do not, however, tend to have the venom or malice that true killers
possess, nor will they continue the practice to the extent that they acquire a reputation of their
own for killing.
The affect of killers on the explorer population is fairly muted, because most explorers don't
particularly care if they get killed (or at least they profess not not). However, if it happens too
often then they will become disgruntled, and play less frequently.
SOCIALISERS V. ACHIEVERS
Socialisers like achievers, because they provide the running soap opera about which the
socialisers can converse. Without such a framework, there is no uniting cause to bring
socialisers together (at least not initially). Note that socialisers don't particularly enjoy talking
to achievers (not unless they can get them to open up, which is very difficult); they do,
however, enjoy talking about them. A cynic might suggest that the relationship between
socialisers and achievers is similar to that between women and men...
Increasing the achiever/socialiser ratio has only a subtle effect: socialisers may come to feel
that the MUD is "all about" scoring points and killing mobiles, and some of them may
therefore leave before matters "get worse". Decreasing it has little effect unless the number of
active achievers drops to near zero, in which case new socialisers might find it difficult to
break into established conversational groups, and thus decide to take their play elsewhere.
Note: although earlier it was stated that this paper does not address people who play MUDs
for meta-reasons, eg. to learn how to program, I believe that their empirical behaviour with
regard to the actions of other players is sufficiently similar to that of socialisers for the two
groups to be safely bundled together when considering population dynamics.
SOCIALISERS V. EXPLORERS
Socialisers generally consider explorers to be sad characters who are desperately in need of a
life. Both groups like to talk, but rarely about the same things, and if they do get together it's
usually because the explorer wants to sound erudite and the socialiser has nothing better to do
at the time.
The number of explorers in a MUD has no effect on the number of socialisers.
SOCIALISERS V. SOCIALISERS
A case of positive feedback: socialisers can talk to one another on any subject for hours on
end, and come back later for more. The key factor is whether there is an open topic of
conversation: in a game-like environment, the MUD itself provides the context for
discussion, whether it be the goings-on of other players or the feeble attempts of a socialiser
to try playing it; in a non-game environment, some other subject is usually required to
structure conversations, either within the software of the MUD itself (eg. building) or without
it (eg. "This is a support MUD for the victims of cancer"). Note that this kind of subject-
setting is only required as a form of ice-breaker: once socialisers have acquired friends,
they'll invariably find other things that they can talk about.
The more socialisers there are in a game, the more new ones will be attracted to it.
SOCIALISERS V. KILLERS
This is perhaps the most fractious relationship between player group types. The hatred that
some socialisers bear for killers admits no bounds. Partly, this is the killers' own fault: they
go out of their way to rid MUDs of namby-pamby socialisers who wouldn't know a weapon if
one came up and hit them (an activity that killers are only too happy to demonstrate), and
they will generally hassle socialisers at every opportunity simply because it's so easy to get
them annoyed. However, the main reason that socialisers tend to despise killers is that they
have completely antisocial motives, whereas socialisers have (or like to think they have) a
much more friendly and helpful attitude to life. The fact that many socialisers take attacks on
their personae personally only compounds their distaste for killers.
It could be argued that killers do have a positive role to play from the point of view of
socialisers. There are generally two defences made for their existence: 1) without killers,
socialisers would have little to talk about; 2) without evil as a contrast, there is no good. The
former is patently untrue, as socialisers will happily talk about anything and everything; it
may be that it helps provide a catalyst for long conversations, but only if it isn't an everyday
occurrence. The second argument is more difficult to defend against (being roughly
equivalent to the reason why God allows the devil to exist), however it presupposes that those
who attack other players are the only example of nasty people in a MUD. In fact, there is
plenty of opportunity for players of all persuasions to behave obnoxiously to one another;
killers merely do it more openly, and (if allowed) in the context of the game world.
Increasing the number of killers will decrease the number of socialisers by a much greater
degree. Decreasing the number of killers will likewise greatly encourage (or, rather, fail to
discourage) socialisers to play the MUD.
KILLERS V. ACHIEVERS
Killers regard achievers as their natural prey. Achievers are good fighters (because they've
learned the necessary skills against mobiles), but they're not quite as good as killers, who are
more specialised. This gives the "thrill of the chase" which many killers enjoy - an achiever
may actually be able to escape, but will usually succumb at some stage, assuming they don't
see sense and quit first. Achievers also dislike being attacked, which makes the experience of
attacking them all the more fun; furthermore, it is unlikely that they will stop playing after
being set back by a killer, and thus they can be "fed upon" again, later. The main
disadvantage of pursuing achievers, however, is that an achiever can get so incensed at being
attacked that they decide to take revenge. A killer may thus innocently enter a game only to
find a heavily-armed achiever lying in wait, which rather puts the boot on the other foot...
Note that there is a certain sub-class of killers, generally run by wiz-level players, who have a
more ethical point to their actions. In particular, their aim is to "test" players for their
"suitability" to advance to the higher levels themselves. In general, such personae should not
be regarded as falling into the killer category, although in some instances the ethical aspect is
merely an excuse to indulge in killing sprees without fear of sanction. Rather, these killers
tend to be run by people in either the achievement category (protecting their own investment)
or the explorer category (trying to teach their victims how to defend themselves against real
killers).
Increasing the number of achievers will, over time, increase the number of killers in a
typically Malthusian fashion.
KILLERS V. EXPLORERS
Killers tend to leave explorers alone. Not only can explorers be formidable fighters (with
many obscure, unexpected tactics at their disposal), but they often don't fret about being
attacked - a fact which is very frustrating for killers. Sometimes, particularly annoying
explorers will simply ignore a killer's attack, and make no attempt whatsoever to defend
against it; this is the ultimate in cruelty to killers. For more long-term effects, though, a
killer's being beaten by an explorer has more impact on the game: the killer will feel shame,
their reputation will suffer, and the explorer will pass on survival tactics to everyone else. In
general, then, killers will steer well clear of even half-decent explorers, except when they
have emptied a game of everyone else and are so desperate for a fix that even an explorer
looks tempting...
Increasing the number of explorers will slightly decrease the number of killers.
KILLERS V. SOCIALISERS
Killers regard socialisers with undisguised glee. It's not that socialisers are in any way a
challenge, as usually they will be pushovers in combat; rather, socialisers feel a dreadful hurt
when attacked (especially if it results in the loss of their persona), and it is this which killers
enjoy about it. Besides, killers tend to like to have a bad reputation, and if there's one way to
get people to talk about you, it's to attack a prominent socialiser...
Increasing the number of socialisers will increase the number of killers, although of course
the number of socialisers wouldn't remain increased for very long if that happened.
KILLERS V. KILLERS
Killers try not to cross the paths of other killers, except in pre-organised challenge matches.
Part of the psychology of killers seems to be that they wish to be viewed as somehow
superior to other players; being killed by a killer in open play would undermine their
reputation, and therefore they avoid risking it (compare Killers v Explorers). This means that
nascent or wannabe killers are often put off their chosen particular career path because they
themselves are attacked by more experienced killers and soundly thrashed. For this reason, it
can take a very long time to increase the killer population in a MUD, even if all the
conditions are right for them to thrive; killer numbers rise grindingly slowly, unless
competent killers are imported from another MUD to swell the numbers artificially.
Killers will occasionally work in teams, but only as a short-term exercise; they will usually
revert to stalking their victims solo in the next session they play.
There are two cases where killers might be attacked by players who, superficially, look like
other killers. One of these is the "killer killer", usually run by wiz-level players, which has
been discussed earlier. The other is in the true hack-and-slash type of MUD, where the whole
aim of the game is to kill other personae, and no-one particularly minds being killed because
they weren't expecting to last very long anyway. This type of play does not appeal to "real"
killers, because it doesn't cause people emotional distress when their personae are deleted
(indeed, socialisers prefer it more than killers do). However, it's better than nothing.
The only effect that killers have on other killers is in reducing the number of potential victims
available. This, in theory, should keep the number of killers down, however in practice killers
will simply attack less attractive victims instead. It takes a very drastic reduction in the
number of players before established killers will decide to stop playing a MUD and move
elsewhere, by which time it is usually too late to save the MUD concerned.
DYNAMICS
From the discussion in the previous section, it is possible to summarise the interactions
between player types as follows:
To increase the number of achievers:
reduce the number of killers, but not by too much.
if killer numbers are high, increase the number of
explorers.
To decrease the number of achievers:
increase the number of killers.
if killer numbers are low, reduce the number of
explorers.
To increase the number of explorers:
increase the number of explorers.
To decrease the number of explorers:
massively increase the number of killers.
To increase the number of socialisers:
slightly decrease the number of killers.
increase the number of socialisers.
To decrease the number of socialisers:
slightly increase the number of killers.
massively increase the number of achievers.
massively decrease the number of achievers.
decrease the number of socialisers.
To increase the number of killers:
increase the number of achievers.
massively decrease the number of explorers.
increase the number of socialisers.
To decrease the number of killers
decrease the number of achievers.
massively increase the number of explorers.
decrease the number of socialisers.
What are the dynamics of this model? In other words, if players of each type were to trickle
into a system, how would it affect the overall make-up of the player population?
The following diagram illustrates the flow of influence. Each arrow shows a relationship,
from the blunt end to the pointed end. Ends are marked with a plus or minus to show an
increase or decrease respectively; the symbols are doubled up to indicate a massive increase
or decrease. Example: the line
killers + ------------> - achievers
means that increasing the number of killers will decrease the number of achievers.
+ <------------ +
- <------------ -
killers + ------------> - achievers
- + + - - ------------> +
^ ^ | | - + ++ ++ --
| | | | ^ ^ \ / /
| | | | | \ \ / /
| | | | \ \ X /
| | | | \ \/ X
| | | | \ / \/ \
| | | | / \ / \ \
| | | | / / \ \ \
| | | | / / \ \ \
| | | | | / \ \ |
| | v v v v \ | v
- + --++ - - ++ -- -
socialisers explorers
+ - - + + +
^ ^ | | ^ |
| | | | | |
\ \___/ / \___/
\___/
A graphical version of the figure appears at the end of the paper.
[2]
From this, it can be seen that the numbers of killers and achievers is basically an equilibrium:
increasing the number of achievers will increase the number of killers, which will in turn
dampen down the increase in the number of achievers and thereby reduce the number of
excess killers.
The explorer population is almost inert: only huge numbers of killers will reduce it. It should
be noted, however, that massively increasing the number of explorers is the only way to
reduce the number of killers without also reducing the player numbers in other groups.
Because increasing the number of explorers in a MUD generally encourages others to join
(and non-explorers to experiment with exploration), this gives a positive feedback which will
eventually reduce the killer population (although recall the earlier point concerning how few
people are, by nature, explorers).
The most volatile group of people is that of the socialisers. Not only is it highly sensitive to
the number of killers, but it has both positive and negative feedback on itself, which amplifies
any changes. An increase in the number of socialisers will lead to yet more socialisers, but it
will also increase the number of killers; this, in turn, will reduce the number of socialisers
drastically, which will feed back into a yet greater reduction. It is possible for new socialisers
to arrive in large enough quantities for a downward spiral in numbers not to be inevitable, but
it is unlikely that such a system could remain viable in over a long period of time.
This analysis of the dynamics of the relationships between players leads naturally to a
consideration of what configurations could be considered stable. There are four:
1) Killers and achievers in equilibrium. If the number of killers gets too high, then the
achievers will be driven off, which will cause the number of killers to fall also (through lack
of victims). If there aren't enough killers, then achievers feel the MUD isn't a sufficient
challenge (there being no way to "lose" in it), and they will gradually leave; new killers could
appear, attracted by the glut of potential prey, however this happens so slowly that its impact
is less than that of the disaffection among achievers. Socialisers who venture out of whatever
safe rooms are available eventually fall prey to killers, and leave the game. Those who stay
find that there aren't many interesting (to them) people around with whom to talk, and they
too drift off. Explorers potter around, but are not a sufficient presence to affect the number of
killers.
2) A MUD dominated by socialisers. Software changes to the MUD are made which prevent
(or at least seriously discourage) killers from practising their craft on socialisers; incoming
socialisers are encouraged by those already there, and a chain reaction starts. There are still
achievers and explorers, but they are swamped by the sheer volume of socialisers. The
number of socialisers is limited only by external factors, or the presence of killers
masquerading as socialisers. If the population of socialisers drops below a certain critical
level, then the chain reaction reverses and almost all the players will leave, however only
events outside the MUD would cause that to happen once the critical mass had been reached.
3) A MUD where all groups have a similar influence (although not necessarily similar
numbers). By nurturing explorers using software means (ie. giving the game great depth or
"mystique", or encouraging non-explorers to dabble for a while by regularly adding new
areas and features), the overall population of explorers will gradually rise, and the killer
population will be held in check by them. The killers who remain do exert an influence on the
number of socialisers, sufficient to stop them from going into fast-breeder mode, but
insufficient to initiate an exodus. Achievers are set upon by killers often enough to feel that
their achievements in the game have meaning. This is perhaps the most balanced form of
MUD, since players can change their position on the interest graph far more freely: achievers
can become explorers, explorers can become socialisers, socialisers can become achievers -
all without sacrificing stability. However, actually attaining that stability in the first place is
very difficult indeed; it requires not only a level of game design beyond what most MUDs
can draw on, but time and player management skills that aren't usually available to MUD
administrators. Furthermore, the administrators need to recognise that they are aiming for a
player mix of this kind in advance, because the chances of its occurring accidentally are slim.
4) A MUD with no players. The killers have killed/frightened off everyone else, and left to
find some other MUD in which to ply their trade. Alternatively, a MUD structured expressly
for socialisers never managed to acquire a critical mass of them.
Other types could conceivably exist, but they are very rare if they do. The dynamics model is,
however, imprecise: it takes no account of outside factors which may influence player types
or the relationships between then. It is thus possible that some of the more regimented MUDs
(eg. role-playing MUDs, educational MUDs, group therapy MUDs) have an external
dynamic (eg. fandom interest in a subject, instructions from a teacher/trainer, tolerance of
others as a means to advance the self) which adds to their cohesion, and that this could make
an otherwise flaky configuration hold together. So other stable MUD forms may, therefore,
still be out there.
It might be argued that "role-playing" MUDs form a separate category, on a par with
"gamelike" and "social" MUDs. However, I personally favour the view that role-playing is
merely a strong framework within which the four types of player still operate: some people
will role-play to increase their power over the game (achievers); others will do so to explore
the wonder of the game world (explorers); others will do so because they enjoy interacting
and co-operating within the context that the role-playing environment offers (socialisers);
others will do it because it gives them a legitimate excuse to hurt other players (killers). I
have not, however, undertaken a study of role-playing MUDs, and it could well be that there
is a configuration of player types peculiar to many of them which would be unstable were it
not for the order imposed by enforcing role-play. It certainly seems likely that robust role-
playing rules could make it easier for a MUD to achieve type 3) stability, whatever.
At this point, we return to the social/gamelike MUD debate.
Ignoring the fourth (null) case from the above, it is now much easier to see why there is a
schism. Left to market forces, a MUD will either gravitate towards type 1) ("gamelike") or
type 2) ("social"), depending on its administrators' line on player-killing (more precisely: how
much being "killed" annoys socialisers). However, the existence of type 3) MUDs, albeit in
smaller numbers because of the difficulty of reaching the steady state, does show that it is
possible to have both socialisers and achievers co-existing in significant numbers in the same
MUD.
It's very easy to label a MUD as either "hack-and-slash" or "slack-and-hash", depending on
whether or not player-killing is allowed. However, using player-killing as the only defining
factor in any distinction is an over-generalisation, as it groups together type 1) and type 3)
MUDs. These two types of MUD should not be considered as identical forms: the socialising
which occurs in a type 3) MUD simply isn't possible in a type 1), and as a result the sense of
community in type 3)s is very strong. It is no accident that type 3) MUDs are the ones
preferred commercially, because they can hold onto their players for far longer than the other
two forms. A type 1) MUD is only viable commercially if there is a sufficiently large well of
potential players to draw upon, because of the much greater churn rate these games have.
Type 2)s have a similarly high turnover; indeed, when TinyMUD first arrived on the scene it
was almost slash-and-burn, with games lasting around six months on university computers
before a combination of management breakdown (brought on by player boredom) and
resource hogging would force them to close down - with no other MUDs permitted on the
site for perhaps years afterwards.
This explains why some MUDs perceived by socialisers to be "gamelike" can actually be
warm, friendly places, while others are nasty and vicious: the former are type 3), and the
latter are type 1). Players who enter the type 3)s, expecting them to be type 1)s, may be
pleasantly surprised (Bruckman, 1993). However, it should be noted that this initial warm
behaviour is sometimes the approach used by administrators to ensure a new player's further
participation in their particular MUD, and that, once hooked, a player may find that attitudes
undergo a subtle change (Epperson, 1995).
As mentioned earlier, this paper is not intended to promote any one particular style of MUD.
Whether administrators aim for type 1), 2) or 3) is up to them - they're all MUDs, and they
address different needs. However, the fact that they are all MUDs, and not "MU*s" (or any
other abbreviation-of-the-day), really should be emphasised.
To summarise: "gamelike" MUDs are the ones in which the killer-achiever equilibrium has
been reached, ie. type 1); "social" MUDs are the ones in which the pure-social stability point
has been reached, ie. type 2), and this is the basis upon which they differ. There is a type 3)
"all round" (my term) MUD, which exhibits both social and gamelike traits, however such
MUDs are scarce because the conditions necessary to reach the stable point are difficult or
time-consuming to arrange.
OVERBALANCING A MUD
Earlier, the effect of taking each axis on the interest graph to its extremes was used to give an
indication of what would happen if a MUD was pushed so far that it lost its MUDness. It was
noted, though, that along the axes was not the only way a MUD could be tilted.
What would happen if, in an effort to appeal to certain types of player, a MUD was
overcompensated in their favour?
Tilting a MUD towards achievers would make it obsessed with gameplay. Players would
spend their time looking for tactics to improve their position, and the presence of other
players would become unnecessary. The result would be effectively a single-player adventure
game (SUD?).
Tilting towards explorers would add depth and interest, but remove much of the activity.
Spectacle would dominate over action, and again there would be no need for other players.
The result of this is basically an online book.
Tilting towards socialisers removes all gameplay, and centres on communication. Eventually,
all sense of the virtual world is lost, and a chatline or IRC-style CB program results.
Tilting towards killers is more difficult, because this type of player is parasitic on the other
three types. The emphasis on causing grief has to be sacrificed in favour of the thrill of the
chase, and bolstered by the use of quick-thinking and skill to overcome adversity in clever
(but violent) ways. In other words, this becomes an arcade ("shoot 'em up") type of game.
It's a question of balance: if something is added to a MUD to tilt the graph one way, other
mechanisms will need to be in place to counterbalance it (preferably automatically).
Otherwise, what results is a SUD, book, chatline or arcade game. It's the combination that
makes MUDs unique - and special. It is legitimate to say that anything which goes too far in
any direction is not a MUD; it is not legitimate to say that something which doesn't go far
enough in any direction is not a MUD. So long as a system is a (text-based) multi-user virtual
world, that's enough.
SUMMARY
To answer the questions posed in the preface:
Are MUDs
games? Like chess, tennis, D&D?
Yes - to achievers.
pastimes? Like reading, gardening, cooking?
Yes - to explorers.
sports? Like huntin', shooting', fishin'?
Yes - to killers.
entertainments? Like nightclubs, TV, concerts?
Yes - to socialisers.
ENDNOTES
[1]
This paper is an April 1996 extension of an earlier article, "Who Plays MUAs" (Bartle,
1990a). As a result of this, and of the fact that I am not a trained psychologist, do not expect a
conventionally rigorous approach to the subject matter.
Permission to redistribute freely for academic purposes is granted provided that no material
changes are made to the text.
[2]
In the figure below, green indicates increasing numbers and
red indicates decreasing numbers. A red line with a green arrowhead means that decreasing
numbers of the box pointed from lead to increasing numbers of the box pointed to; a red line
with a red arrowhead would mean that a decrease in one leads to a decrease in the other, and
so on. The thickness of the line shows the strength of the effect: thin lines mean there's only a
small effect; medium lines mean there's an effect involving roughly equal numbers of players
from both boxes; thick lines means there's a great effect, magnifying the influence of the
origin box.
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Marks the Spot. East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania
  • H G A Emert
Emert, H. G. (1993). "X" Marks the Spot. East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylvania. http://www-f.rrz.uni-koeln.de/themen/cmc/text/emert.n01.txt Eddy, A. (1994). Internet After Hours Prima, Rocklin, California.