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LambdaMOO, MUDs, and 'When the Internet Was Young


LambdaMOO was different from the earliest MUDs, which were
Tolkienesque fantasies -- hack-and-slash games for Dungeons & Dragons
types with computer access, mostly college students. LambdaMOO was one
of the first social MUDs, where people convened largely to play-act
society, and what might have been "one of the first MUDs to be run by
an adult," [co-creator Pavel] Curtis believes... Everybody comes
through the Coat Closet the first time they visit LambdaMOO, entering
the Living Room through a curtain of clothes, like children into
Narnia. In between the textual rooms and objects they explore, there's
a faster-moving flow of words, the coursing real-time chatter of
LambdaMOO's other users. This is a Multi-User Domain: a chatroom and a
world at once, a place where telling takes the place of being...

[I]t's nearly impossible to describe to a modern computer user what
that means, because although MUDs once made up 10 percent of internet
traffic, their dominance was obliterated by the arrival of the visual,
hyperlinked, page-based Web. To anyone weaned on images and clicked
connections, every explanation sounds batty: A MUD is a text-based
virtual reality. A MUD is a chatroom built by talking. A MUD is
Dungeons & Dragons all around the world. A MUD is a map made of words.
The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once defined reality as
"that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away," and in
that sense a MUD is a real place. But a MUD is also nothing more than
a window of text, scrolling along as users describe and inhabit a
place from words.
Undark titled their piece "a mansion filled with hidden worlds: when
the internet was young," describing the mansion's halls as "really
just a string of code, where people once lived, and still do, in some
way or another, as someone must, until the server winks out." I logged
in a few times in 1997, so I'm probably in there too...

The article describes reading a Usenet newsgroup about MUDs back in
1990. "Approximately half of the contributors thought it was a game;
the other half vehemently and heatedly disagreed."