Thoughts on Text-Based Gaming

We’ve talked a little bit about text-based games before, but that focused on single-player text games.  Today we’re going to talk about something a little—or a lot—different.  We’re going to talk about the world simplistically known as MU*ing.

MU*ing is short-hand for playing on MUSHes, MUCKs, MUDs, MUXes, and other such things.  Each are text-based multiple-user games, the differences being mainly in the code bases.  Each is also an acronym, though one applied after the fact.  MUD, for example, was said to stand for Multi-User Dungeon, sometimes Dream, sometimes Domain, and others.

MU*ing’s history is long, but suffice it to say that one of the earliest to really become popular was TinyMUD, and over the years since many have cropped up in the road it paved.  Some are very focused, some are more general, but over all there are as many types of games as there are people to play them.

MU*ing is an interesting subset of the gaming hobby.  In general, the only limits are your imagination and whatever parameters the specific game sets.  It’s not like most console games, where, say, Solid Snake is always going to be that grizzled, older, sneaky gentleman, or Cloud Strife being the bad-boy improbably-large sword-user.

If you want to be the rider of a large, majestic dragon, you can.  Or if you want to wander hills far and wide, rife with animals and non-human sentient life, you can do that, too.  You can, literally, do and be nearly anything.

The drawback to this, if it can really be called such, is that it is text-based.  Everything is described, and it’s up to the player to use his or her imagination to draw the picture.  That’s not a very large “drawback”, really, though it might at first seem like one to someone used to console games with incredibly impressive and complex graphics.

The boon to text-based multi-user gaming is community.  It’s of a different sort than, say, the GameFAQs/GameSpot forums or when you use a headset to talk with other players playing a console game.  It’s actually closer to the community in an M.M.O., where you can talk with other players at the same time you’re playing the game, and it’s not dependent on everyone joining the same “room” or having started at the same time.

There’s another issue, which isn’t really found outside of the MU*ing world—character death.  The closest is also an M.M.O., but since most allow numerous “alts”—which are usually played with semi-equal frequency and known to most of the player’s acquaintances—and many MU*s don’t, it’s an issue with more “weight” for the MU* player.

Many MU*s, you’re allowed either only one character at a time, or only a few under certain circumstances.  Some players prefer to focus only on one at a time no matter what the rules on “alt limits” are.  As such, when a character died (on a game without the ability to “resurrect” them), that was more “personal” to the player.

All of the contacts and acquaintances the player made will have to be re-made.  Players used to seeing “Alfred the Barbarian” usually wouldn’t immediately realize that “Alicia the Bard” was necessarily played by the same person.  With MU*ing you can again, play anything you want, including different sexes.  While that can provide for an interesting exploration of a story, it may also take other players a moment to get used to referring to their acquaintance with different pronouns.

Contrast that with, say, M.M.O.s.  You can play different sexes there, too, but for the players that don’t stick to their own, they usually have more than one of the opposite sex, so it’s not as difficult for their acquaintances to get used to.  Besides, they’re already used to seeing their friend on as “Heinrich the Archivist” one day and “Jeremiah the Jurist” the next, followed by “Mark the Mathemagician” the next.  It’s standard operating procedure in the world of M.M.O.s, but not so in the world of MU*ing.

Even that isn’t a huge drawback, not compared to the nearly-infinite variety of worlds and settings.  If it interests you, it is almost a guarantee that it’s out there, somewhere, waiting for you to log in.

It might surprise some to know that MU*ing is still around, just as its single-player Interactive Fiction cousin.  New games pop up here and there, and many players have been on their games for a decade or more.  If you like a particular novel series, odds are good that there’s a game devoted to it.  Same with video games, comic books, other fiction—and then there are the original worlds, built to not really be devoted to any established concept (though some do homage established concepts), instead being their own thing.

Some aren’t even necessarily centered around being “games” as much as being more social, or about “building”.  (Building is when you use code to create things—vehicles, items, rooms, whatever you like.) There are as many different types of MU*s as there are possible tastes and preferences.  The casual sort who just wants to pop on and chat can find a home alongside the one who wants to deal with character sheets and such.

In the early days, you would connect to MU*s via a Telnet-like program.  Telnet itself was a very simple program.  You couldn’t alter very much about it, and unless you knew what menu commands did what, you might have been annoyed rather quickly by some aspects, such as “echo”, in which your input was, well, echoed.  For the purposes of text-gaming, it could be rather annoying.

More recent versions have made this more easy to deal with, and, more importantly, there are numerous programs available for any operating system specifically designed for text-gaming.  Most have numerous options on how to customize the “experience”.

A good place to start looking at MU*s is The Mud Connector, which, contrary to the name, offers information about MUSHes, MUXes, and the rest along with MUDs.  You can search by type of code-base, geographical region, language, and other options.  Many MU*s are in English, but there are plenty in other languages.

For programs, you have numerous options.  There are quite a few lists of such programs across all platforms.  For Windows-based systems I recommend SimpleMU.  It’s one of the oldest, and in my opinion most accessible.  Then there’s MUSHclient, another popular one.  

In this day and age, younger gamers may not know about the existence of MU*s in the first place, or they may not realize just how “deep” they can be.  Console and computer gaming is edging toward being more open-ended, generally speaking.  Expansive worlds, incredible creatures of every possible configuration—we’re seeing such interesting and incredible things in that field.  Those things have also been present in text-based gaming.  The only thing you need to bring to the table is your own imagination.

They’re free, too.  There’s no cost to joining up.  While many clients may ask for payment to “register”, you can use most for free and their basic functions will be more than adequate.

If you want to see where your imagination can take you, if you want to explore worlds either based on some setting you like or based on nothing but their creators’ ideas, I couldn’t recommend MU*s strongly enough.  There are entire worlds out there just waiting to be explored, and people who share interests of any sort.  All you have to do is bring your imagination.


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