What I Learned Playing MUDs

Multi user dungeons (MUDs) are online games that use text as the primary means of interaction. I created a MUD called DeimosMUD back in the year 2000, and it is still running today. Over this time, I have spent countless hours working on it. The hours were spent coding new features for the game, building new worlds, and mainly dealing with people. The time I spent dealing with people's complaints, training people, arbitrating disputes, and punishing offenders far outweighed the time I spent doing anything else. Some people would say that the reason I spent more time on these issues was because I was an inept administrator of MUDs, and they would be right. I started this game just after 8th grade! Handling these issues taught me a lot.

Solving these human caused problems was great for learning how to deal with people in general. My work helped me became a much better moderator and arbitrator. It also helped develop my leadership skills. The hardest people to lead are those that are working for you for free, and everyone on my MUD was volunteering.

I learned that people can have entirely different motivations from you and they can end up doing things that you do not like. For example, the people who made areas on my MUD, builders, would often make the equipment in their areas have better abilities than all of the available equipment. This would ensure that players would want to visit the builders' new zones. The zones did not have to be fun to play, well laid out, or balanced to get players; they just needed to have the best equipment. The builders wanted their new zones to be popular, but I wanted the abilities of players to not get inflated. Player ability inflation deprecates older areas, and makes the game easier to play which is usually a bad thing. I never actually solved this problem of motivations, but I think even just recognizing it was a step in the right direction from my state total ignorance. If I were to try to solve this now, I would try to think of a system that set up larger incentives for the elements I would like to see in an area.

Discipline was something I learned a lot about as well. When I first started the game, I was very lax on discipline. I thought it would be okay to just sit by while people were bad mouthing me and the other MUD administration. This was because I personally believe in free speech and do not really care when other people insult me. I learned that this was not the right approach at all. People who insulted the administration would take the lack of punishment from the insults as license to all sorts of other bad activities: harassing players, exploiting bugs, and conspiring against players and administrators. I learned that the discipline for petty crimes was necessary if I wanted to head of the bigger problem; a lot like fixing broken windows.

Making a MUD also developed my own personal game design aesthetics. At first, I favored the absurd over the realistic. Areas that did not make sense with the theme of the game (Medieval Fantasy) or game mechanics that were just silly, were frequently made. Eventually I rejected this absurdity and started to focus more on simplicity. Instead of making more complex game mechanics, I was trying to think about what I could take out. I now believe the idea that something is done not when you have added everything but when there is nothing left to take out. I feel that simple game mechanics that lead to complex player behavior are greatly superior to complex mechanics.

I had a lot of fun with my MUD and I learned a lot from it. It was my principle hobby for at least 6 years. The end product is still around, but all the memories of the experiences and fun are hard to share. You can still, play DeimosMUD to get a taste of what it must have been like.

published 2008-12-17

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