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3. Mudding History and Subcultures


Muds began as multiplayer text-based adventure games, usually based on Tolkienesque scenarios in which players, represented by fantasy characters, could search for treasure, solve puzzles, and kill monsters (and sometimes other players' characters).[1] Single-player versions of such games have existed since the early 1970s, when they were available mainly to computer hobbyists and people associated with academic computer departments. As computer networking emerged, various people began writing networked, multiplayer versions of such games.

The first such game, called MUD for Multi-User Dungeon, was written in 1979 by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle, both students at Essex University (Bartle 1990). After a year of availability only to students at the university, the game allowed access to others by means of modems. Very few people in the United States found out about the game at that time. More learned of the program in the mid-1980s when “a flurry of articles in computer hobby magazines” appeared (Bartle 1990: 9). Some of these people then began writing their own versions of multiplayer networked games.

Alan Cox, who played the original MUD, wrote AberMUD in 1987 and, as became typical for mud programs, distributed it freely to anyone interested. Corwin, who currently runs BlueSky, was a computer science student at the University of Montana in 1988 with several years' experience on local computer bulletin board systems. He picked up a copy of AberMUD and began running a game played mostly by local students.

Meanwhile, Jim Aspnes at Carnegie-Mellon University wrote a mud program that he called TinyMUD. TinyMUD had two significant differences from previous muds. First, Aspnes restored to all players the capability

of building their own objects. Bartle had removed this capability from the original MUD, feeling that “the hodge-podge of items created by players detracted from rather than enhanced the game” (Reid 1994). Second, Aspnes removed the scoring command, which in previous multiuser games gave points for monsters or players killed and for treasure gathered. Aspnes described the reasons for his decision:

Most adventure-style games and earlier MUDs had some sort of scoring system which translated into rank and often special privileges; I didn't want such a system not because of any strong egalitarian ideals (although I think that there are good egalitarian arguments against it) but because I wanted the game to be open-ended, and any scoring system would have the problems that eventually each player would hit the maximum rank or level of advancement and have to either abandon the game as finished or come up with new reasons to play it. This approach attracted people who liked everybody being equal and drove away people who didn't like a game where you didn't score points and beat out other players. (Rheingold 1993: 162–63)

Aspnes's changes also opened up muds to uses other than playing games. The ability for all players to build objects has allowed people to use muds for academic and professional purposes, incorporating teaching tools and texts as objects within the programs. As Aspnes points out, the focus on activities other than hack-and-slash gaming and the lack of scoring encourage a broader range of participants, including people with no interest in Dungeons & Dragons–type games.

Since the early 1990s, people have written many different mud servers. While the type of mud server does not determine its use or purpose, AberMUDs and similar muds (with scoring systems and limitations on user extensibility, that is, the ability of all users to build objects) have tended to continue in the tradition of hack-and-slash gaming spaces. TinyMUDs and their descendants are mainly used for social, role-playing, professional, and educational purposes.

Most mudders who began mudding on Aspnes's original TinyMUD now refer to it as Classic, to differentiate it from later muds built using the same TinyMUD server program. Classic was available over the Internet and accumulated people by word of mouth and “word of net” (i.e., through e-mail lists and Usenet newsgroup posts). Many BlueSky participants first mudded on Classic. The players who populated Classic with thousands of characters and objects did not share Bartle's disdain for user extensibility. For those who discovered mudding in its early days (mainly college students), much of the appeal came from the excitement of being able to create

virtual worlds through text as well as from the novelty of communicating in “real time” with large numbers of geographically remote people.

Because Aspnes made the TinyMUD program freely available, people began using it to create other muds; some developed other mud programs. Among the many other muds that opened in early 1990 was TinyFarm, the first “Surly Gang” mud. This began a series of muds run by Corwin and his wife, Alisa. The interest in exploring different facets of mud technology as well as the inherent instability of many of the earlier mud programs led Corwin to run a mud for (usually) several months to a year and then abandon it, beginning a new one using a different mud program. But these muds tended to attract many of the same players. This roughly bounded group became known over the years as the Surly Gang by others in the mud subculture. BlueSky, the longest-lived of the Surly Gang muds, had been up for three years at the end of my research. By that time, some of BlueSky's participants had been mudding together for eight years. Membership in the group has fluctuated over the years, changing with various personal and political arguments. The group acquires new members as more discover mudding and loses people for various reasons.

Some of those who have left BlueSky continue to mud elsewhere; some who leave mudding simply tire of it. Others find that as their circumstances change, they can no longer easily integrate mudding into their lives. BlueSky participants also tell stories of people, particularly in the early days, who “mudded too much” and dropped out of school, losing their Internet access. Thus, over time the BlueSky group has been shaped by factors such as the availability of computer network access; a continuing interest in muds (or at least in the group of people the participants have met through muds); the ability to integrate muds into other aspects of their lives; and an affinity for or tolerance of the particular interactional style of BlueSky.

Some BlueSky participants speak nostalgically of the early days of mudding, when everyone built new rooms and objects and explored each other's creations. Many of my dino interviewees told stories of building elaborate textual worlds on muds that, for various reasons, “went down” (that is, ceased to be available online), often with little or no warning. Many early muds were created and run by students on university machines, which they may not have had permission to use in this way. The demands of student life, coupled with occasional discoveries and shutdowns of illicit muds as well as the notorious instability of many early mud server programs, resulted in frequent disappearances of favorite mud hangouts. Many mudders decided that the medium was too unreliable and ephemeral

to justify investing large amounts of creative energy. On some other muds where dinos hang out, people do still build, and a few such muds have run continuously for as long as seven years. But almost no one builds anymore on BlueSky, and nearly everyone hangs out in the same room (although the choice of room shifts from day to day). For this group, socializing emerged as more appealing than the creation of virtual worlds.


Researchers writing about muds have tended to overgeneralize in their characterization of the social interaction that occurs on muds, relying on superficial characterizations or ignoring significant variation to support a particular view of online interaction. For instance, even while acknowledging the use of muds for different purposes, including education, professional meetings, game playing, and so forth, several researchers characterize all muds as forums for “role playing” (Porter 1997; Poster 1995; Turkle 1995). Many mudders would object to this characterization as trivializing their experience. In addition, like the quote from Barlow's manifesto in chapter 1, it relegates mud interaction to a sphere of meaning separate from everyday norms and assumptions regarding sociability and identity continuity.

While many muds encourage role playing, others do not, and the types of role playing also vary. Some role-playing muds derive their scenarios from popular science fiction or fantasy works. Participants on these muds engage in elaborate character and scene development and liken their participation to interactive theater. On other muds, participants play roles in accordance with a loosely defined theme, such as anthropomorphic animal characters. In this type of setting, a participant may invent a character (a talking, tool-using cat, for instance) and play aspects of that character, but then converse with friends about offline life, rather than enact elaborate online dramas. Participants may understand the meanings of their online actions as “keyed” differently from everyday life (Goffman 1974) and thus differentiate their role playing from their “true” selves.

Several BlueSky people also participate on role-playing muds where everyone is “in character” except on specifically designated communications channels. Such muds are usually based on fictional universes inspired by popular media representations such as Star Trek and Anne McCaffrey's Pern books.[2] Most role-playing muds have fairly strict rules concerning the creation of characters, plot development, interactions among characters, and designation of specific limited spaces where out-of-character communication

may occur. Such rules facilitate the difficult process of enacting what Peg, a BlueSky mudder who also participates on role-playing muds, described to me as “improvisational drama.” Such explicit rules may also reflect the perceived dangers of online masquerade. On role-playing muds, rules keep such masquerade within well-known and clearly specified boundaries.

On BlueSky, people do not play roles, and they expect that others will represent themselves much as they appear offline. Participants share information about their offline lives, and some sneer at role-playing muds where people act as if the mud were a reality separate from other aspects of life. Those who do play roles elsewhere rarely discuss these activities on BlueSky, since other participants disdain role playing or condemn conversations about it as boring. BlueSky participants view the mud as a means of communication that enables them to “hang out” with a group of friends and acquaintances. Although they compare BlueSky to a bar or pub, they do so to explain a style of interaction that preexists the analogy rather than to set up a theme to which their online behavior should conform.

This stance toward online interaction, emphasizing identity continuity and interpersonal responsibility, contrasts with representations by participants and researchers that emphasize the flexibility of identity in online interaction. For instance, Turkle quotes a participant as saying, “You can be whoever you want to be. You can completely redefine yourself if you want” (1995: 84). Turkle goes on to characterize most muds as anonymous, indicating that “you are known only by the name you give your characters” (85). On BlueSky, by contrast, people generally have only one character and are identified not just by their character name but also by their own personality characteristics, their shared history with others in the group, and usually by considerable knowledge of their offline lives.

Some mudders may indeed use muds as anonymous forums and may find the capability to change their identity freeing. The example of BlueSky suggests, however, that the ability to remain anonymous varies from mud to mud and, by extension, among other online forums as well. Further, few people can remain known for long only by the name they give their character. Online participants seek additional information with which to identify others, and on most muds participants make use of program features such as character descriptions to project an identity of some sort, even if that identity bears little resemblance to the identity they present offline.

The example of BlueSky suggests that while anonymity may work for

people who use their online activities as an escape or as fantasy play, integrating online participation into one's offline life requires more continuity between online and offline identities. BlueSky participants share considerable information regarding their offline lives, often soliciting advice or assistance with work or personal problems. Such personal exposure requires a level of trust that would be difficult to achieve in an environment full of shifting, ambiguous personae.

Because of the length of their association, the Surly Gang members provide a rich example of an online subculture. BlueSky participants have developed various means of conveying identity, and they incorporate many of these means into their cultural norms. They have also developed strategies for compelling others to conform to these norms. Examining their norms and strategies illuminates aspects of offline identities and understandings that underlie online performances. Even on muds where fluid and shifting identities are encouraged, participants cannot easily invent new types of identities that have no relationship to the other participants' offline experiences.


A split even more profound than that between BlueSky participants and role players exists between the Surly Gang and mudders who participate on muds with anthropomorphic animal themes, known as furries. The furry subculture exists offline as well as online. Numerous comic books and other media are based on furry characters, and fans of such media sometimes attend conventions, much as other media fans do (Bernardi 1998; Jenkins 1992; Penley 1991). Some furry fans began mudding on TinyMUD Classic; on some of the earlier Surly Gang muds, furries participated alongside the people who later became loosely designated as the Surly Gang. That moniker arose when a rift began forming between furries and antifurries. Objections to furries among BlueSky participants include disapproval of the “overly cutesiness” of cuddly animal characters and the explicitly sexual descriptions and behaviors of some furries. Flames directed at furries on muds and in the mud-related newsgroups frequently suggest that most furries are male and that their portrayal of fuzzy, sexy, anthropomorphic female characters is considered disgusting or immature.

While a very few BlueSky participants also participate on furry muds, others have mounted vigorous campaigns against such muds, logging on and harassing other furries by creating vile characters and behaving obnoxiously

or by posting antifurry diatribes to the mud-related newsgroups. This has intensified enmity between furries and BlueSky, cementing a particular reputation for the BlueSky participants as intolerant, “crusty old dinos.”

BlueSky thus differentiates itself from other muds on the basis of the activity or purpose of the mud as well as the themes of various muds and the relationship of participants to those themes. Some BlueSky participants also participate on muds with other activities, such as role playing or hack-and-slash gaming. Others profess to visit despised muds purely for the enjoyment of sneering at or harassing the participants on those muds. A few continue to participate quietly on various different muds, including some muds that are theoretically antagonistic to each other.

BlueSky participants recognize a fewother muds as acceptable and share some participant overlap with those muds, which therefore periodically appear in my descriptions. For instance, as mentioned in chapter 2, a handful of BlueSky participants frequent EarlyMUD, one of the longest continuously running muds online. EarlyMUD has a social atmosphere similar to that of BlueSky, although more women participate, and (perhaps as a result) the overall feel is less contentious. EarlyMUD participants also put a greater emphasis on puzzle-solving activities.

BlueSky also overlaps in membership with ElseMOO. ElseMOO, another social mud, is a forum for discussing and exploring mud programming and other related programming. (See Cherny 1999.) Because several very active BlueSky participants also participate on ElseMOO, there has been significant overlap between the two subcultures. A variety of cultural references on BlueSky originated on ElseMOO and vice versa.


Because most people on BlueSky have known each other for years, the group has developed a rich culture of relationships, standards of behavior, injokes, and norms. They use particular features of the mud program to express these traditions. BlueSky norms reflect the social history and technological development of muds: participants compensate for the limitations of text-only communication through repetition, manipulation of mud technology, and traditions of information exchange.

Mud servers are in part databases of the various rooms, characters, and other objects that form the environment. As Jennifer Smith (1998) explains: “A server is a program which accepts connections, receives data, mulls it over, and sends out some output. In the MUD world, the server

keeps track of the database, the current players, the rules, and sometimes the time (or the heartbeat). Servers are usually very large C programs which maintain a small-to-enormous database of the objects, rooms, players and miscellany of the MUD.”

Characters are one type of object within the mud program; rooms are another. Objects that participants create within the mud can be used to imitate objects that might be found in analogous spaces in real life, to enhance the experience of the mud as a virtual space and to communicate information to each other. Once an object has been created, it generally responds to text that participants type by outputting text of its own. In this way, objects add to the experience of the mud as a “virtual space” through their quasi-autonomous reactions to stimuli.

Many of the objects on BlueSky function as information exchanges. For instance, a job-listing object allows people to type in jobs that might be of interest to others or to read the list for job information. A login object records weekly active time of all characters, allowing people to find out how often someone else has been on recently. Some commands are also built into the mud program itself, allowing participants to display additional information about themselves if they wish, including e-mail addresses, “snail-mail” addresses, birth dates, and so forth.

Other objects function more as toys, which participants play with when conversation flags, when they are bored, or just for fun. For instance, one of the bars on BlueSky contains a “diving platform” (written by elflord). The command up, when typed in the bar, causes the character to climb “bravely up the ladder to the platform.” Once at the top, a special help command informs the participant of actions possible from the platform:

Help for diving platform commands:

dive—execute controlled dive

jump—leap wildly from platform

yell <msg>—yell message down to bar

push <person>—attempt to throw person from platform You can also set visible “myjump” and “mydive” attributes on yourself. To test them, “give jumper = 100” and “give diver = 100” respectively.

In the example below, several BlueSky participants show off by executing silly preprogrammed “dives” (using the “mydive” attribute). Episodes of play like this are common on BlueSky, but in this case the tomfoolery was probably sparked by a discussion of my research project and was essentially a demonstration of an element of BlueSky culture for my

benefit. To illustrate the ways in which objects and other elements of the mud program work, I have highlighted in bold type the text that was specifically typed by participants using the say or pose commands. I have italicized text that was previously typed in by a participant, then displayed to the other participants through use of a short command. (In this case, people have set “mydives,” which they then trigger by typing the command dive.) All other text was generated by objects or the mud program in response to short typed commands by the participant (such as u for up). During episodes of playful behavior such as the following, participants may generate very little text “on the spot,” relying instead on preprogrammed objects or their own preprogrammed responses.


Jet climbs bravely up the ladder to the platform.

Jet has left.

Jet executes a perfect swan dive into the tub of water.

Jet has arrived.

Locutus has no mydive

Locutus weeps

Gravity climbs bravely up the ladder to the platform.

Gravity has left.

Gravity shouts, “I HAVE NO MYDIVE!” and does a bellyflop into the tub. Water SPRAYS throughout the bar.

Gravity has arrived.

Roger Pollack gets soaked

Roger Pollack says “hey, watch it with the no mydive there


henri climbs bravely up the ladder to the platform.

henri has left.

henri shouts “AIEEE A SPIDER” and HURLS himself from the platform, SMACKING into a table. He sits up groggily and mutters, “or was that a piece of lint”

henri has arrived.

Roger Pollack giggles at henri

henri grins

Roger Pollack laughs

Locutus climbs bravely up the ladder to the platform.

Locutus has left.

Locutus shouts “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE! YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED! and falls off the platform.

Locutus has arrived.


After watching the fun, I attempt to join in as well. henri joins me and unsuccessfully attempts to push me off, after which I use the dive command. The text below starting with “Copperhead attempts” was generated as a default dive by the diving platform in response to my typing the command dive. (I was unable to figure out quickly how to set a “mydive” attribute.)

You boldly climb the spindly ladder, up, up, up …

Atop the platform

This small platform teeters high above the Falcon. You may attempt to “dive” into the bucket of water far below, or simply “jump” and hope for the best. It's a long way to the bottom—better not look down!

henri climbs bravely up the ladder to the platform.

henri has arrived.

Ichi yells up from below, “Jump Jump Jump

”henri tries to push Copperhead over the edge, but Copperhead manages to shove henri over instead!

henri has left.

henri yells up from below, “AUUUGH”

Copperhead attempts the Double Boontit with a Half Twist, from the handstand position. The crowd grows quiet, then exclaims “AWWW” as Copperhead WHAPS into the rim of the tub.

Play with objects on the mud can generate large amounts of text in a short period of time, as this example shows. This quickly moving text also has a relatively low level of intrinsically useful content, so it is referred to, on BlueSky and elsewhere on the net, as spam. (The term derives from the canned meat of the same name, particularly as referred to in a Monty Python skit in which the listed menu items in a breakfast cafe include increasing amounts of Spam.) Spamming with objects is considered objectionable during busy times, when it disrupts ongoing conversations.[3]

Objects used in play can serve as repositories of culture and history, particularly of stories told by participants or jokes about them. For instance, in one of the BlueSky bars, a “bartender” object (written by henri) reacts to “spoken” names of drinks or food. Several of these names derive from media references, such as “Spam,” “tranya” (Star Trek), and “pangalactic gargle-blaster” (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Others refer to specific participants. For instance, “shub” refers to the character Shub's interest in guns and his tendency to use the kill command frequently:

Copperhead says “shub”

The bartender suddenly produces a .45 and shoots Copperhead. *BLAM*


Whenever a participant says “shub,” the bartender interprets this as a drink order and “kills” the character who requested the drink. The kill command can be used by objects such as the bartender or by one character against others. On some gaming muds, kills occur in the course of battles with other characters, usually governed by intricate rules of the game. In some cases, these sorts of kills actually delete the character from the database. However, on most social muds (some of which have eliminated the kill command entirely), kill merely sends a character back to its “home base” (usually either the entrance room to the mud or a location built by the participant). Several of the bartender's drinks kill the person ordering the drink.

Other menu items have much more benign effects and serve mainly to transmit various in-jokes. For instance, one drink order, “Mountain Dew,” refers to Corwin's reputed fondness for the soft drink of that name:

Copperhead says “mountain dew”

The bartender shakes its metallic head, “Corwin drank it all.”

The restroom in the bar (also created by henri) pokes fun at the virtual reality aspects of muds by playing off the character gender designation. henri and Bob, noticing that I have failed to set my character's gender, encourage me to try it out.

henri says “ch has no gender”

Copperhead says “New Gender-Free Copperhead”

Bob says “Try the restroom, Ch.”

henri says “ch you must go into the restroom and type ‘pee’”


You're in a green-tiled room with fluorescent lights in the ceiling. There seems to be some sort of complex plumbing apparatus over in the corner.

When I type the command pee in this room, the room takes note of the gender setting of my character and displays a message accordingly.

With character setting of female:

You lower the seat, but before you can do anything else, a couple of robotic arms grab you by the shoulders, lift you into the air, and squeeze you completely dry. A light comes on over the plumbing apparatus which reads, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE”

With character setting of male:

You unzip, but before you can get any farther, a hose descends from the ceiling, making an ominous sucking sound. To your horror, it attaches itself

to your crotch and drains your bladder dry. A metallic voice announces:


With character setting of neuter (or plural):

The plumbing apparatus seems to go crazy, and a red light starts flashing and you hear a mechanical voice say “GENDER UNKNOWN GENDER UNKNOWN.” You just pee on the whole thing.

In addition to its in-joke wink about character attributes, this object's responses also play with ideas about gender. Much of the humor in the final response to a neuter gender derives from ideas about the connection between gender and genitals and the difficulty people have in imagining their way out of the gender binary.

Familiarity with objects and the stories to which they allude marks one as an insider to the culture (Fine 1987b). The ability to program objects that people enjoy also gives a measure of status within the group. henri enjoys a high level of respect on BlueSky in part because of the humorous and interesting objects he creates. Similarly, Beryl has written both useful objects, such as the login object that records people's online time, and several fun objects, most of which allow people to add customized messages, a particularly popular form of toy.

The use and creation of mud objects, similar to that of artifacts in offline cultures, become part of the production of culture, and the objects themselves embody and perpetuate that culture. As seen above, people's practices with mud objects become part of the culture. These objects also transmit and repeat aspects of the group's culture, such as people's likes (e.g., Mountain Dew) and hobbies (e.g., gun collecting). Although mud objects are merely programmed textual descriptions, their similarity to physical objects lies in their ability to embody cultural meanings that can be perpetuated or changed through manipulation of the object. Objects also serve as avenues of information exchange between participants.

Two of BlueSky's objects also provide important ways of managing online interactions. The first, a “lom lever,” exists in some form in each of the BlueSky bars. This object allows certain participants (who must be approved by the owner of the object) to expel others from the room using the command lom, which is sometimes done to express annoyance and is particularly used to harass newbies, who cannot similarly retaliate.

Lom differs from the kill command in a couple of important ways. First, all participants (except guest characters) have access to the kill command, but the lom command works with an object associated with a particular

room on the mud. Since rooms are owned by their creators, meaning that changes cannot be made to them by other participants, a participant can acquire lomming capability only through the room owner.

Also, the lom command does not cost the character anything, whereas using the kill command costs participants a certain number of “credits,” some of which must be paid to the killed character. Credits are a form of mud money. Each character receives a certain number upon creation and gradually receives more from the mud program as the participant spends more time on the mud. Credits are “spent” through the use of cpuintensive commands, that is, mud commands that place a heavy burden on the computer on which the mud is operating. Charging the character credit for these commands discourages profligate use and helps protect the mud program from crashing. All building commands are so taxed, meaning that anyone who wants to build his or her own room or objects needs to acquire a certain number of credits and is presumably discouraged from “wasting” it killing characters. Because lom does not cost credits, its capability is desirable to whatever extent that a participant also values building.

On BlueSky, not many people build, and many people amass far more credits than they use. But people still use lom more often than they kill. Both commands can be used to indicate displeasure with someone or to tease or harass them. BlueSky participants view kill as somewhat more extreme than lom, rather analogous to using a harsher swear word.

The following example demonstrates the use of a couple of different objects, including lom and the jack-in-the-box. First, Mender activates the jack-in-the-box (built by Beryl), which serves as a repository for joke objects that various other participants program and add to it. (Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty was inspired by a display of the popular Japanese cartoon character Hello Kitty in a San Francisco Sanrio store.) After I imitate the Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty, RaveMage suggests I'm participating too fully and loms me.[4] Since I am not yet on the lom list, I am unable to lom him back, and I receive the command failure message, “a humongous buzzer goes off.” Mender chivalrously steps in to lom RaveMage for me. Roger Pollack also attempts to do so and finds he is not on the lom list. Meanwhile, Bob loms George just for being a newbie.

Mender cranks the jack-in-the-box.

Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty comes ROCKETING out of the jack in the box!

Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty shouts “I WILL EAT YOU LIKE A SAUSAGE!”

Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty is shooped back into the box!


Copperhead says “yay! Six-Foot Tall Hello Kitty!”

Copperhead makes big eyes and runs around the room, “I WILL EAT YOU LIKE A SAUSAGE!”

George says “THAT's NOT A SAUSAGE”

Rostopovich says “hey, George, I haven't seen you before, are you just a infrequent visitor?”

George is a NEWBIE SWINE.

RaveMage says “whoa, CH, you're getting too much into the spirit of things … TIME TO COOL DOWN”

RaveMage pulls a large lever, and a trapdoor opens right underneath Copperhead!

Copperhead SHOOTS out into the sky!

The Eyrie [my new location after being lommed]

There is nothing around you save clouds. [description of the Eyrie]

@tel #288 [my command to return to the Falcon]

The Falcon

This spacious chamber is furnished with myriad tables and chairs of every conceivable material, height, and design, as though a used furniture store had exploded. Booths tucked against the walls offer a modicum of privacy. Panels in the curving walls provide diffuse lighting for the patrons who sit about drinking and talking. At the far end of the chamber, a vertical extension provides room for a very tall high-diving platform.


lom RaveMage [here I use the command to attempt to lom RaveMage]

Copperhead pulls a large lever, and a humongous buzzer goes off!

Copperhead hmphs

Mender says “ALLOW ME”

RaveMage says “hee hee:)”

Bob pulls a large lever, and a trapdoor opens right underneath George!

George has left. Mender pulls a large lever, and a trapdoor opens right underneath RaveMage!

RaveMage has left.

Copperhead bows and says thanks

Roger Pollack says “no, please, i insist”

Roger Pollack pulls a large lever, and a humongous buzzer goes off!

Roger Pollack pulls a large lever, and a humongous buzzer goes off!

Roger Pollack says “well fine”

henri originated both the object and the term “lom.” He told me that in previous versions of this object, everyone theoretically could use the object, but the command was changed periodically to different nonsense

words, enabling only those with an up-to-date password to use the object. Participants using an old password were subjected to an embarrassing command failure message. Eventually, a list of approved people was developed instead, which was more effective at keeping the expel capability out of the hands of people who abused it. At the time of the creation of this list, “lom” was the current nonsense password and stuck as the object name. “Lom” is also used as a verb to describe the act of expelling someone from the room and has become an important part of BlueSky culture.[5] Some participants lom guests and newbies almost on principle, or as a hazing ritual, or for the amusement of regulars. To some extent, lomming a new participant serves as instruction in the local culture as well.

A second important object, the “magic recording device,” or “mrd,” stores up to a hundred lines of public text (i.e., excluding whispers and pages) for rereading. The mrd serves several useful social functions. It provides conversational context for people who have just entered the room. It also guards against “spoofing,” since it precedes each line of text with the name of the originating character.

Spoofing is a way of transmitting text to others on the mud without that text being attributed to your character. Most commands that generate text, such as say and pose, precede each line of text with the character name. Spoofing uses a command to generate text that does not include one's character's name. On BlueSky this command is usually used for joke effect, particularly since all participants are aware that others present will immediately make use of the mrd to check the identity of the spoofer. Some muds have made spoofing more difficult by restricting the use of such commands. Others have altered the commands to include the name after the line of text, enabling such commands to be used for joke or other effect without giving up character accountability.

Like many of the objects on BlueSky, the mrd demonstrates the importance of identity and continuity for BlueSky participants. In its protection against spoofing (which occurs very rarely on BlueSky), it guards against misrepresentation of identity. Its function as a context provider also supports a social environment in which people are expected not to disrupt conversations already in progress. The ability of others to read the last hundred lines also tends to discourage negative speech about participants not present, lest that participant suddenly appear and read the comments just uttered. (On the other hand, anyone who wants to “clear” the mrd of such speech can easily create enough spam with other objects to do so.)



In addition to creating objects, BlueSky participants also use features of the mud program, and of online text-based communication in general, to share information regarding each other's identity. Three of these are doing polls, roll calls, and quote fests. Doing polls appear almost every day as a semiformal part of BlueSky's social practice. Roll calls and quote fests emerge more spontaneously from ongoing interactions. All three form a part of BlueSky's history and culture, enacted much like elements of an oral tradition, which is continually re-created through repetition.

Doing polls resemble play with participant-created objects in that they rely on a mud programming feature that functions much like an object on the mud. The command WHO on BlueSky (and, in some form, on most muds) enables a participant to view a listing of everyone connected to the mud at that time. This listing on BlueSky consists of four columns: the first contains names of characters, the next shows how long the character has been connected, the third shows how many minutes it has been since that character last typed something into the mud program, and the fourth is a column labeled “Doing,” where participants can provide information about their current activities (either online or off). Following is an example.

Player Name On For Idle Doing
Eeyore 00:39 38m  
Crotch 00:41 1m  
Rostopovich 01:29 35m  
devnull 01:40 10m  
BJ 02:25 3m  
Amanda 02:58 5m  
doc 03:57 13m  
Ichi 05:28 13m  
Conductor 09:59 11m  
Xena 10:02 18s  
Xavier 10:02 3s Robotic stuff
11 Players logged in.      

As this who listing illustrates, BlueSky participants rarely use the “Doing” feature as intended. (Xavier, a robot, has a preprogrammed default “doing.” For more about robots, see chapter 5.)

The above who listing was obtained on a weekend, when the mud tends to be slow. On w eekdays, henri generally changes the “Doing” column to

something that invites joking responses from other participants. (henri is the only participant other than the three wizards who can change the “Doing” heading.) These responses are referred to as doing polls and provide opportunities for display of wit as well as for the repetition of running gags tied to aspects of people's character or personality. If participants do not “set a doing” immediately on logging on, others (especially henri) will frequently remind them to do so. (The chalkboard I described at the beginning of chapter 1 is my description of an offline analog to this practice.)

In the following, Xavier's “doing” is in the form of a wizard command that can be used to force a character to teleport to the room the wizard is in, thus making a joke about the differences between mud character life and real life. Media references, such as the reference to Barney in Lestat's doing, are also common in doing polls.

Player Name On For Idle How to Get CowOrkers[6] to Come to Meetings
Guest1 00:02 0s  
elflord 00:09 6m mind control
Mike Adams 00:20 3m advertise it as retro night
BJ 00:20 2m  
Phillipe 00:24 8m  
Captin 00:33 29m have meeting in their office
devnull 01:20 20m schedule over top of even worse meetings
Bang 01:33 3m  
doc 01:45 12m  
Jet 01:57 8m By force majeure
Lestat 02:03 2s have Barney sing over their desk phones
henri 02:13 4m donuts
Tempest 02:18 6m fondle the barrel of your .45
Corwin 02:20 16m  
Obtuse 02:28 45m Announce a simultaneous network outage
fnord 02:29 9m pay raises for good attendance
Mender 03:05 39m free nookie
Ichi 03:32 2m  
cycle 05:22 2m  
Rostopovich 05:42 18m remote controlled motor-chairs


Conductor 08:08 13m  
Xena 08:10 53s promise to do dance of seven veils
Xavier 08:11 13s @force CowOrker = @tel here
24 Players logged in.      

Sometimes doing polls are based on media events, such as the capture of the Unabomber suspect or coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial. Polls may also be based on random topics that come up in conversation or on events in participants' lives, such as a poll about marriage when one person announced his engagement and another poll about “features in rat heaven” after a participant's pet rat died.

Roll calls are similar to doing polls in that a topic is announced and various participants respond. Roll calls were invented by henri at a time when it was technically difficult to tell which logged-on characters were actually active, and all created characters were visible (that is, listed in the room contents description) in the rooms they were last active in. In popular hangouts, this could become confusing, since the room might contain many characters whose participants were not actually present and participating. A roll call offered a way to see who was actually present and participating in the conversation.

After some changes in the ways mud programs treat characters not currently logged on and the development of a more sophisticated WHO command, roll calls became a way to poll participants in a room for information or opinions. Some, like doing polls, include joking responses. However, many function as an exchange of personal information. Roll calls usually emerge from the ongoing conversation, as in the following example. Conversation also continues while the roll call is being answered, particularly when the answer takes some thought. In the following excerpt, I've edited out nonresponsive comments after the roll call to make the example clearer.

Copperhead says “PAL when were you in high school anyway?”

PAL says “I graduated in '69.”

Barbie says “you GRADUATED in 69??”

henri says “Pal is old, BB”

PAL nods.


Corwin born

Sparkle not even a glimmer in my mom's eye

Barbie says “9th birthday”

Farron was born in late '69, by comparison.


henri first grade

Locutus glint in father's eye

Perry parents were attending college together

PAL came within one jump of beating Olympian Reynaldo Brown at the state track meet.

fnord had surgery when he was a few months old

Copperhead entered jr. high (I think)

As in real-life roll calls (in school or the military, for example), roll call replies tend to be given agrammatically and in incomplete sentences. Among the topics I've seen for roll calls are personal statistics (including roll calls on age, income, hair length, number of hours worked so far this month, etc.); miscellaneous opinions on current events, movies, or the like; jokes (such as “expert witness on at O. J. trial roll call” inviting a fill-in-the-blank response); and roll calls that require performing an action on the mud first, such as “page Nightcrawler roll call.” In the last case, a participant first does the action (paging Nightcrawler) and then performs a “null emote” (the emote, or pose, command with no text afterward, resulting in a line with just the participant's name and no other text) to respond to the roll call. In the following example, a similar roll call requires people to perform a physical action offline: “RL” refers to “real life.” (Previously, a discussion of a “Dr. Smith” called up associations with the old Lost in Space television show, resulting in people imitating the robot from that show.)

Half Life waves her arms around shouting “DANGER DANGER”

henri waves his arms around shouting “DANGER DANGER”

Half Life waves her arms around RL and bursts out laughing



Half Life

Ulysses no


Half Life says “doit doit”

Corwin no, too tired

Copperhead can't bring herself to do that one.

This roll call took on a “dare you” quality, because many participants were at work at the time, and completing the roll call would have required them to perform a potentially embarrassing action offline. Although other participants

had no way of verifying the actual performance of this action, people took it as a point of honor to respond honestly about their compliance with the roll call, as evidenced by several participants' verbal refusal on the mud. This again demonstrates the insistence of BlueSky participants on continuity between online and offline activity and identity.

Less formulaic than doing polls and roll calls, quote fests don't usually start by a call for participation. Instead, they emerge spontaneously from conversation. Some reference in conversation will remind a participant of a previous quote, which he or she will then call up and display for other participants. Sometimes this sparks a long series of quotes from past conversations called up in such a way that the new context renders them humorous. In the following example, all lines where a character name is followed by the | symbol and another character name are quotes, and other lines are original text being “spoken” in between quotes.

henri I Alisa says “BJ, tell me when it's back up again.”

henri I DelSol says “well, mine's slightly thicker than other people's”

Faust I Stem4 opens up a desk drawer to reveal: a 15-inch long “Slim Jim”.

henri I DelSol gotcher little professor right here

devnull I BJ got about an inch and a half down here

Faust I Susanah says “oh and the thousand little grippers so it doesn't slip”

Jet says “why are quotes about sex from women funnier? Or is it just me”

Faust I henri pops up on the screen

Jet I You say “i hate coming to work early”

Jet I symmetry whispers “I hate working to come early.”

henri says “quoting whispers is Right Out”

henri BONKS Jet

Jet says “OIF”

devnull says “not if it's a fake whisper, henri”

henri says “true”

As indicated by henri's reproach of Jet, quote fests follow particular social rules. Anything said “out loud” is fair game, but whispers and pages are not.

Jet's response of “oif” to henri's bonking him is a formulaic performance with years of history on muds. This convention has extended to other computer subcultures. The Hacker's Dictionary describes this convention: “bonk/oif interj. In the MUD community, it has become traditional to express pique or censure by bonking the offending person. There is a convention that one should acknowledge a bonk by saying ‘oif!’ and

a myth to the effect that failing to do so upsets the cosmic bonk/oif balance, causing much trouble in the universe. Some MUDs have implemented special commands for bonking and oifing” (Raymond 1991: 74).

In addition to having rules against quoting private communications, BlueSky participants also frown on the quoting of partial lines (usually done to enhance the humor).

Ulysses holds the peanut butter with his thighs as he shifts books and beer bottles on the computer table to make room for the bagels

Ulysses <—deft

Perry <—daft

Copperhead I Ulysses holds the peanut butter with his thighs

Perry snorts

Ulysses says “partial quoting is no fair”

Copperhead hangs her head.

Copperhead couldn't resist

Jet says “Disks the world over would fill should we start partial quoting”

As Jet's admonition indicates, participants engage in quote fests by saving quotes in files on their local machines for later use. Most participants use some type of windowing system that allows them to open a quote file in one window while the mud is running in another window and paste or retype text from their quote file into the current mud conversation.

Quote fests are sometimes sparked by particular words. Everyone might call up all the quotes they have with the word “penis,” for instance. Quote fests can also be directed at a particular person, when everybody calls up the quotes they have of that person. These sometimes take the form of duels, in which two people hurl each other's quotes back and forth.

Corwin I henri squirts water out of his blowhole at Corwin

henri I Corwin is over 200 pounds, and not to be taken to bad opera

Corwin I henri has never fizzed over the top

henri I Corwin says “Good guess, except totally wrong”

Corwin I henri says “I feel so. … plastic”

henri I Corwin chants: shut the fuck up

Corwin I henri says “tie a finger around your string”

Copperhead howls outloud at Corwin/henri quote war

henri I Corwin says “not quotes of me, you nitwit”

Corwin I henri?

henrihenri I Corwin says “henri will quote that”

Corwin concedes, having run out of henriquotes


henri has a ton more

fnord I Corwin can just stop talking now, and let henri quote him periodically instead

Corwin has 13 henriquotes

henri has 59 Corwin quotes

henri I Bilerific-Sid says “A few more quotes, and I'll never have to log on again.”

These examples illustrate that quotes most likely to be saved are sexually suggestive when taken out of context or in some way embarrass the quoted participant. This limits the content and tone of quote fests, causing some participants to complain that they are silly, tedious, or spammy. However, regardless of their content, they exhibit interconnections among participants. A character who is quoted has a demonstrable history on the mud. Being quoted is also deemed a recognition of wit, which can lead to discussions of quote file sizes and comparisons of different participants' wittiness.


devnull 22

Perry 0

henri says “23”

Faust 5


Copperhead no quote file yet

henri 80

Jet ose, barbie is coalghost

Perry didn't know that

devnull 3

Jet rethinks coalghost quotes in this context

Faust 8? dunno

This example also demonstrates the confusion generated by participants changing their mud names. The participant “Barbie” used several different names over the years. Because they began their participation on BlueSky later than some others, Jet and Perry knew Barbie's other mud names through quote fests but had not connected those names to Barbie's current mud name.

Doing polls, roll calls, and quote fests all display wit or personal information in ways that explicitly compare the contributions of individual participants. Sometimes this can be competitive, but more often on

BlueSky it is a friendly exchange and a search for commonalities and differences among participants. Like other groups of friends, BlueSky participants compare ages, histories, wittiness, and so forth, creating, reenacting, and strengthening bonds of friendship and knowledge about each other. These cultural practices can also help compensate for the limitations of communication in a text-only environment. Through these traditions, BlueSky participants manage to exchange information that might be more readily available in a face-to-face setting, such as age and other personal statistics.


BlueSky participants consider their mud more entertaining and interesting than most muds, and they often mentioned to me in interviews that they valued the wit and intelligence of other participants. They also pride themselves on the egalitarian quality of the social group. My interviewees acknowledged some differences in status, attributing them primarily to the different abilities to contribute to the group culture either through wittiness or through building and programming skills. However, most felt that these status differences were minimal.

Yet all muds have a separate class of participants—wizards—who have more control over the mud's operation than other characters. Even on BlueSky, where participants' extensive mud experience and their familiarity with each other demystify the wizard role, the role of wizard still confers some status difference.

Although anybody connected to the Internet can access hundreds of muds, including BlueSky, muds do not constitute truly public space. Each mud program requires a host computer on which to run and uses some of the resources of that computer. Someone must provide the computer, which must have enough spare memory and processing capacity to run the mud, and someone must also take responsibility for keeping the mud program running. The people who undertake these tasks have a different status from that of the average participant.

The person with control of the host computer essentially controls the existence of the mud. Similarly, the person or persons who control the mud program have the power to decide whether the mud continues to operate. Wizards, and possibly others to whom wizards give access, can view any part of the mud database, including communications such as whispers, which would otherwise be inaccessible to any except the two parties involved. This can have a significant impact on the social environment.

For instance, BlueSky participants discuss rumors that the wizard of HappyHour routinely eavesdrops on unwitting participants, and they wonder why anyone would participate on that mud under those circumstances.

How a wizard administers a mud affects the social norms of the group. Wizards' relationships to the other participants and their decisions controlling access and participation, also give them a degree of social power. Their actions affect the social norms of the group in much the same way as club rules affect the types of interactions that can occur in private social clubs.

Ulysses joined the BlueSky group several years ago. Although technically not a dino, he was already acquainted with several long-term BlueSky participants through common newsgroup participation. More important to his continued popularity have been his facility with language and a quirky, acerbic wit. He describes the operation of BlueSky as more or less a benevolent dictatorship.

The way things are administered is basically very autocratic. You've got two or three wizards, and what they say goes. It's not a democracy. It's basically a private club. That's the way it's administered. People would come in and expect that it would be a democracy. There's lots of sort of democratic experiments on the net. Like LambdaMOO and its millions of petitions and votes and everything else.[7] This is really the opposite.

Under such circumstances, the philosophy of the wizards clearly can significantly affect norms of behavior. But although wizards with control over access to the mud itself can ultimately control membership in the group, many have learned that social groups pruned too heavily die out quickly. Stories abound on the mud newsgroups of wizards whose style of governance, perceived as too heavy-handed, resulted in a steadily decreasing membership. Such cautionary tales, combined with the Internet's historical bias toward libertarianism as well as Corwin's and Alisa's own views on free speech, have led these two to a very laissez-faire style of mud governance. Corwin stated his philosophy as follows:

I have some very serious ideas about what's appropriate and what's not. And I'm not relativist about them at all. On the other hand, I feel that if I regulated what kind of communication was going on on my mud, someone else might do it on another mud. Let me give you an example. If I said that I found something, some topic—I'm not even going to pick out one—to be personally obnoxious (and there are some, there are some that we discuss on BlueSky in the event of which

I'll either idle or leave) … if I said that was not appropriate for BlueSky, what if religion were no longer appropriate on another mud to talk about?

As a person whose fundamentalist Christian views are unpopular among the other members of BlueSky, Corwin understands the benefits of allowing for different opinions among the group and not attempting to select group membership according to particular political affinities or others.

The “ruling” style of the BlueSky wizards also results from the long association of the group members. Alisa indicated that on previous Surly Gang muds, wizards had to intervene more often in conflicts, but that by now the remaining group understands which types of behavior are tolerated. She described BlueSky's current culture and attitudes:

It's gotten through their thick heads how to behave—what they can do and what they can't get away with. There are no holds barred and no one hesitates to make fun of anyone else. Killing is a pastime, just to make people shut up or whatever. You just don't see that on other muds very often. Other muds are more attuned to newer users. If a very new-to-muds user walks on our mud, they've got to have a thick skin. And a lot of them may be put off by it, and a lot of them will leave and that's it. I've never had any complaints. I've gotten people who are completely confused by it, or they can't find the Falcon and are baffled and wonder why this is so different from other muds. … If they're curious they'll stick around, and if they're curious they'll usually hang in the back. If they're not, then they'll go somewhere else.

As these descriptions from Corwin and Alisa indicate, they rarely intervene in social affairs on BlueSky (although elflord, given wizard status specifically to handle the social side of mud administration, intervenes more often). Even more rarely do they use the formal sanctions against characters available to them. However, general knowledge of the existence of these sanctions, based on BlueSky participants' years of mudding experience, nevertheless affects people's behavior.

Several formal sanctions are available to wizards against other characters on muds. The ultimate sanction is character destruction. Every character consists ultimately of bits in the database. Wizards with complete access to the mud database can destroy any object at will, including characters. Participants sometimes refer to this as toading. (Originally “toading” referred to a command that merely turned a character into a toad that could only croak, robbing the participant of the ability to communicate through the character. On some muds, this type of toading is still practiced

and is differentiated from sanctions involving actual destruction of the character.)

I know of no one on BlueSky who has had his or her character toaded. However, on several occasions, elflord has resorted to the next most severe level of discipline, known as newpasswording, which consists of the wizard changing a character's password so that the participant can no longer log on and use his or her character. Usually this serves as a strong warning that if the participant's behavior does not change, the character will be toaded. It also imposes a temporary exile on the participant (although he or she can use the guest character in the interim).

elflord is a quiet, scholarly young man who works as a system administrator and lives in a medium-sized western town with his wife, Carla. He expressed a degree of pride in being “the first non-Corwin or -Alisa wizard on a Corwin and Alisa mud” and takes his wizardly responsibilities very seriously. During my interview with him, we discussed a recent incident that led to his newpasswording the character shorthop. He also explained his views on the effect of his wizarding on the social environment on BlueSky.

I think people pay more attention to my pronouncements nowbecause I am a wizard, and I've shown that I will boot you [or] I will newpassword you if you cross the line. Just having [my] presence there probably contributes somewhat to stability. The only people who really push it have been Florin and shorthop. And I view them as the lunatic fringe. Florin just gets his jollies out of poking people, and I can understand that to a certain extent. He tends to push it a little too far in my opinion. shorthop's just nuts. The less said about him the better. … Florin got his password back eventually. shorthop [was] gone for a while and got his password back eventually as well, but I don't think he's going to get it back this time, because I don't think he can stop his stream of invective at me long enough to apologize, let alone ask for something back.

As elflord indicates, participants can plead their case and request the restoration of their password. In the incident elflord alludes to involving Florin's newpasswording, Florin refused for weeks to apologize or ask for his character back, using the guest character in the meantime. (Guest characters cannot build rooms or create objects. Nor can they “teleport,” making it more cumbersome for them to move from room to room. These and other limitations on the guest character make it an undesirable character to use for very long.)

shorthop has a long history of annoying other BlueSky participants.

For some, his worst offense was writing a description of BlueSky for an Internet guide. That description included details about the lives and personalities of several BlueSky participants. Despite having been asked not to do so, shorthop included these participants' character names. Some felt this violated their privacy and exposed them to potential harassment from outsiders. I was warned on several occasions not to repeat shorthop's mistake.

But while shorthop's breach of social norms may have contributed to reduced tolerance of his behavior generally, it did not lead directly to his newpasswording. Given the raucous, raunchy, no-holds-barred discourse tolerated on BlueSky, the only behaviors deemed worthy of incurring newpasswording have been those that threaten the actual running of the mud. Both shorthop and Florin were newpassworded for this reason. shorthop incurred official wizardly sanction when he went on a rampage of indiscriminate building, using an automatic feature to duplicate rooms that, if left unchecked, would likely have crashed the mud. Florin actually did crash the mud through extremely fast-paced automatic spamming. Florin finally apologized and requested use of his character back. shorthop has not returned.

Florin's and shorthop's behaviors demonstrate the ambiguity on muds between speech and action.[8] Since all communication on muds occurs through text, it all resembles speech of a sort, and BlueSky participants generally regard it as such. BlueSky regulars repudiate the suppression of speech, no matter how vile or vulgar. However, Florin used “speech” to create a tangible effect, crashing the mud program. This suppressed the speech of other BlueSky participants through the temporary destruction of the social space itself. Thus, forms of speech that cross the line to effects on the program also exceed the limits on behavior. Conversation on BlueSky, however annoying or emotionally disturbing, does not usually cross this line, although extreme personal attacks usually arouse the ire of other participants.

The problem of database maintenance suggests one of the ways in which online relationships are vulnerable to offline interference. The existence of a coherent social group such as the group BlueSky depends on the continuous and consistent existence of a forum in which the group can interact. Somebody, somewhere, must agree to the use of his or her computer for this purpose, and that computer must run more or less reliably.[9]

Although behaviors that do not threaten the BlueSky database itself rarely invoke official sanction, on rare occasions wizards do “boot” characters. This command constitutes a third level of sanctioning, less severe

than either toading or newpasswording. It kicks a character off the mud but does nothing to the character or password; thus the participant can log back on immediately. Booting functions as a warning to the participant that stronger sanctions may apply should the current behavior continue.

BlueSky participants de-emphasize the importance of these commands and the exclusive power of wizards to wield them. However, BlueSky participants do accord wizards some extra measure of respect, in deed if not in spirit. Taunting a wizard, tantamount to spitting in the face of a police officer, rarely happens on BlueSky. This stems in part from the fact that until recently Corwin and Alisa were the only wizards on their muds, and the BlueSky group treats Corwin and Alisa with additional respect as the founding “parents” of the mud group. Alisa, who currently rarely logs on, receives enthusiastic greetings when she appears. Corwin, a much more frequent participant, is considered to be rather prickly online. Participants argue with him regularly over political issues but very rarely criticize him personally. When any participants feel the need to express displeasure with Corwin's behavior (or religious views), they generally do so using a command called mutter, which allows them to transmit text to everyone in a mud room except a chosen character.

A recent incident demonstrated the norm against harassing wizards in the breach. During a minor altercation in which Corwin killed several characters for generating annoying amounts of spam, Rostopovich, one of the characters killed, returned to the room angry at the perceived injustice. Several others reacted with surprise, partly because others saw Corwin's kills as justified and partly because Rostopovich rarely directly criticizes anyone. Part of the surprise also stemmed from the rarity of this direct challenge to a wizard. henri's reference below to an alien in Rosty's chest (derived from the famous scene in the movie Alien, where a parasitic alien emerges from a human crewmember's chest) demonstrates the degree of strangeness he attributes to the scene.[10]

Rostopovich has arrived.

Rostopovich says “Twist in the wind, Corwin”

Rostopovich says “or go somewhere else”

RaveMage says “heh”

henri says “as the little alien living in rosty's chest pokes its head out”

Copperhead buhCorwin says “GO SOMEWHERE ELSE?”

Corwin killed Rostopovich!

Rostopovich has left.


Itchy says “spooky”

Rostopovich has arrived.

Corwin says “no I did NOT hear you tell me go somewhere else on my mud”

Corwin's proprietary reaction to Rostopovich's suggestion that he go somewhere else demonstrates his opinion (and also group knowledge) that, in the last instance, BlueSky belongs not to the group but to Corwin.

In the next portion of log from this incident, Itchy chants the command for toading a character, demonstrating his view of the road Rostopovich is on. Later Itchy also suggests booting Rostopovich. henri indicates Itchy himself may be out of line by lomming him. After Mender borrows a commentary that media reports often use (concerning people who perpetrate random violence but were previously known as “quiet sorts”), Rostopovich accounts for his behavior (although he does not directly apologize to Corwin).

Itchy chants “@toad, @toad”[11]

Rostopovich says “yes you did hear me tell you to go somewhere else on your mud”

Itchy jeers, “BOOT HIM!!”

henri runs over and SHOVES Itchy onto the green circle, then DIVES for the lever! Ka-CHOING![12]

Itchy has left.

Rostopovich says “and it felt good.”

Itchy has arrived.

Mender presses the HAIL button on the intercom and says “I remember Rosty, he was always quiet and kept to himself.” into it.

Itchy loves being Corwin's toady.[13]

Rostopovich says “I'm just bored crosseyed, and being gratuitously rude to Corwin keeps me from keeling over insensate.”

That Rosty's behavior elicited such surprise demonstrates both the departure it represented from his normal behavior and the perceived gravity of his breach of conduct. Both Rosty and Corwin also signal their understanding that the mud belongs to Corwin:

Corwin says “no I did NOT hear you tell me go somewhere else on my mud

Rostopovich says “yes you did hear me tell you to go somewhere else on your mud


Similarly, Itchy's suggestion that Rostopovich is about to be toaded or booted demonstrates the expectation that wizards will use the power they have available. Corwin does not do so, however, given his general noninterventionist wizarding strategy. Perhaps the rarity of this confrontational behavior from Rostopovich also leads Corwin to be lenient.

BlueSky participants mostly de-emphasize the degree of respect that wizards gain simply by being wizards. However, as the above incident demonstrates, that status nevertheless exists. Both the understanding that BlueSky “belongs” to Corwin and the expectation that he will therefore be accorded greater respect than other characters fit with comparisons of BlueSky to a private club or bar. Private clubs and bars are owned by somebody and therefore do not constitute truly public spaces. All online spaces are similarly owned in that all must be run on and accessed through computers owned by various entities. Although the Internet was begun as a government project, the government no longer runs it and does not (nor did it ever) provide within it a guarantee of a sort of “town square” public space.[14] This situation has some effect, however small in particular instances, on the interrelationships among people in online spaces.

The examples in this chapter only begin to depict the character and complexity of BlueSky's culture and humor. Much of that culture stems from social solutions to the technical limitations of mud communication. Whereas in face-to-face conversation, annoyance with another participant might be conveyed through tone or expression, on muds, the lack of these cues can be compensated for somewhat through the use of kill and lom commands. More positive expressions such as approval and solidarity tend to be communicated on BlueSky through group in-references rather than through automated commands.

As in other small groups that interact on a regular basis, BlueSky culture reflects elements of other subcultures to which its members belong (Fine 1987b), from science fiction fandom, to the larger mudding subculture, to the subculture of computer engineers. Cultural practices within muds such as BlueSky also sometimes migrate to these larger groups, as in the example of bonk and oif. BlueSky participant acceptance of sexual humor, the authority of wizards, and other aspects of their online interpersonal relations draw on, reflect, and re-create cultural understandings formed offline.

Although most of what occurs on BlueSky resembles interactions that

occur in other small groups, the limitations and potentialities of online textual communication do exert some influence on the style of BlueSky culture. For instance, that style includes a slightly greater emphasis on repetition, which helps compensate for the lack of daily face-to-face contact. Repetition and ritualized text help substitute for repeated visual contact with familiar faces.

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