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As an administrator of a mud, one of my biggest pet peeves is the "lighten up, it is only a game" line which is often thrown at mud administrators for daring to enforce the rules they have established on their mud. Generally someone gets caught at something that is a no-no, gets mad because they were actually expected to follow the rules, and in their anger they scream and yell about how the administration has forgotten that mudding is supposed to be fun, after all it is only a game. There are other scenarios that warrant this little phrase, like when someone is slinging insults on a public channel and someone gets hurt (some people find it hard to believe there are real live human beings behind those screens and they just might have feelings). For some reason the people hurling insults always justify themselves by saying, "…gosh, it was just a joke, you take things so seriously, it is only a game!"
Contemplating the future.
Yes, mudding is a game; I'd be lying to say otherwise. It has all the qualifications of a really great game with many challenges and goals. However, it is very unlike the typical games of our childhood. It is not like Monopoly or Sorry, and even with the new graphics Playstation and Nintendo just do not compare. With those games (or platforms for games) you are provided with a defined role. I'll use PlayStation games as an example. In those games you are provided a character(s) and set on your way. Once you begin, you have a defined role, you must perform tasks A and B to get to goal C. There may be little side journeys on the way to C, but they have no direct impact. There is no room for growth and there is no room to make the character your own.
In a mud environment, while there is a set of defined parameters, how one moves about in those parameters is choice. The player dictates how their character grows. While the world is defined by specific areas for the players to play in, in the same way there are specific areas in an RPG for PlayStation, the area changes. There is no one true way to move through the realm, and the defined world is (in a good mud anyway) constantly changing and growing. Still, it is just a game right?
Wrong. In creating characters who have definition, who have choices, mudding becomes more than just a game. The number of hours most mudders spend developing and creating their characters is staggering (don't think about it, trust me, you are better off not knowing). It would be virtually impossible to not form an attachment to the character one plays. Players spend their time gaining experience, getting equipment that fits just so, often times (if the mud environment allows for it) changing the name of pieces of equipment so that the equipment fits their characters' personality. I recall many many moons ago when I played on my first mud with my first character, I spent days working for gold so I could buy a wolf for a pet because my character would always travel with a wolfpack. That was the story I developed for her and I wanted so much to "be" that character, to make it as real as possible. Players of today's muds do the same; they work on building that "perfect" character they have created in their minds.
Also, muds are very much a social environment. People form friendships that extend beyond just being online. Some people have even gone so far as to find their significant others while adventuring the realms of a mud. To say that it is just a "game" is to mock those relationships and any that have been formed.
Even on the most stringent of Role-playing muds, there seems to be a large demand for OOC (out of character) channels. People bring much of themselves into a mud, not just in their character development, but to the realm they play in as well. I think that the need for OOC channels shows that muds are not just a place where you play a game, but a place where you not only develop a character, you develop parts of yourself. It is difficult to put parts of yourself in to a character and not take something back as well. That people feel a need to express themselves on a strictly role-playing mud shows that they do not think of it as "just a game". Also, for both immortals and players, a mud is something that they have poured a lot of their time, effort and energy into. As a player, one spends one's time developing one's character traits, forming friendships, joining clans, creating a social environment around themselves, and establishing themselves within the realm. Immortals not only spend as much of their time online as players do, but they also help shape and mold the mud environment. Immortals take the ideas of players and immortals and breathe life into them. They help make the mud come to life, giving both players and immortals a place to develop their characters and play the "game". Builders for the mud also have a personal investment in the game; they took an idea, worked on it and made it come to life. It is hard for such an investment of time to not become personal, to not become more than "just a game". Another example can be found in the "Gender Deception" article written by Glen Boyer in the September issue of Imaginary Realities. His article shows how easy it is to become emotionally involved and attached to a character one spends time creating, making it more than just a game, but making it a part of yourself.
What happens when people take the game too far? One of the ugliest scenarios of someone screaming "it is just a game" is someone who does take it too far. On our mud we choose not to allow multi-playing. After several warnings (months worth) we finally said enough was enough and told the player that if he could not follow the policies and rules established, he was no longer welcome to play. The result? A string of profanity sailors would blush at, followed by "no matter where you go, I'll find you and kill you, you may forget, but I won't, and you'll be dead". It wasn't one of my favorite moments. It was not the first death threat given by a player who found that his or her inability to play well with others had made them unwelcome in our world. But it illustrates a point. No one gets that angry over "just a game". But the player's initial point was that it was "okay" for them to cheat, why should it matter if it was "just a game". In the end, the player's anger shows that mudding is more than "just a game" to them, otherwise they would not have been so angry at losing the ability to play. Granted, this is the extreme side of people taking things too far. Usually it is not that drastic, but the fact that people get so angry, so upset, is indicative that it is more than just a game.
Is mudding just a game? No, it is so much more than that. It is a socially interactive environment where one can grow, help others grow, form friendships and be a part of a community. To those who see it as just a "game" I feel sorry for them, because they are missing out on so much of what the mudding experience can be, not getting all from the experience they could be, and that is such a loss.
October 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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