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Multi User Dungeon

Entry updated 29 September 2020. Tagged: Game, Theme.

Term used to describe a type of Videogame in which many players adopt the roles of characters they have created in the same persistent Online World. Many variants exist, but the most common forms are those which emphasize exploration and adventure in the manner of a combat-oriented Computer Role Playing Game and those which are focused on social interaction and enabling their users to create and share environments and objects of their own design. Such games can be text-based, with all descriptions presented as prose, or graphical, with plan view, Isometric, or fully three-dimensional displays. The textual variant is, however, the original and the most common form. Historically, Multi User Dungeons or MUDs evolved into Massively Multiplayer Online Games, which are distinguished from their forebears by their ability to support much larger numbers of players in the same Online World; while MUDs might contain hundreds or thousands of characters, MMORPGs may accommodate hundreds of thousands or millions. The term was coined by Roy Trubshaw, who named the first example of the form "Multi User Dungeon" – subsequently often shortened to the acronym "MUD" – as a reference to DUNGEN (or Dungeon), an early version of the Adventure game Zork (1977-1979) which served as one of the inspirations for his own work (see Online Worlds).

It is interesting to note how many features of later Massively Multiplayer Online Games appear in that first text-based MUD, developed from 1978 to 1980 by Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at the UK's University of Essex and set in a generic fantasy "Land". Duncan Howard's book An Introduction to MUD (1985), sold to players of the commercial versions of the Essex MUD run by British Telecom and CompuNet in the UK, offers a fascinating (if rather disorganized) glimpse of the culture of what was arguably the first true Online World. From the beginning, Multi User Dungeons were social communities as well as games. And from the beginning, many problems were present which later became endemic. Notably, experienced players were systematically ambushing new participants (who made for easy victims) and using computer controlled characters to automatically gather virtual valuables from very early on in the evolution of the form. Persistent Online Worlds have changed in many ways since they first appeared, however. Perhaps most significant is the way the original social games have split in two, into game worlds with social aspects (such as City of Heroes [2004] or EVE Online [2003]) and social worlds with gaming characteristics (of which the classic example is Second Life [2003]).

Related works: The fantasy text Adventure Knight Orc (1987) was much influenced by early commercial versions of MUD, and takes great pleasure in satirizing their various imperfections. [NT]

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