What’s in a MUD?

Richard Bartle’s article, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs” has two main thematic strands, which are necessarily related.

At the outset, he poses the question of whether MUDs are games (like chess, tennis), pastimes (like reading, gardening), sports (like hunting, fishing), or entertainments (like clubs, concerts). Then, he wonders what types of people work in MUD environments, how these types act with and on one another, and what such interactions mean for the success of a MUD, given the purposes for which it was programmed.

Bartle lays out 4 types of MUD players:

  • Achievers
  • Explorers
  • Socializers
  • Killers

Given the characteristics of each player type, their goals and values (which he charts on a nice little x,y graph on p.761), the look and feel, features and capabilities of a MUD will differ based on the balance of player types who people the space.

Here, I see a connection to procedural rhetoric. Bartle places the onus of responsibility entirely on the programmers/admins to:
a) erect the environment (i.e. code it), and
b) maintain its homeostasis.

On pp. 780-81, he describes 4 types of MUDs, each with different purposes and different mixes of player types. It seems to follow that, assuming an admin has a specific agenda–a specific aura s/he wants to promote, a special series of interactions s/he wants to “teach” the players, for example–he/she will employ a system of rule-based representations and interactions (the very essence of procedural rhetoric, IOW) to establish that vision in the MUD. Or, in Bartle’s words, “MUD administrators shift the focus of their games in whatever particular direction they choose” (765).

As a consequence of the admin enabling certain features/functions in the code structure of the MUD the types of player attracted to the environment will differ. I did find it interesting that Bartle articulated (albeit with a very wide brush) the effects of each player type on all the others. That made me see that maintaining an inviting, provocative, and fun environment is quite hard, and that WoW, for example, seems to work precisely because it is able to maintain a balance between player types and what they each need in order to be engaged.

So, I suppose it makes sense that Bartle closes by answering his initial question regarding whether MUDs are games by aligning different instantiations of ‘game’ with different player types such that a MUD is a “pasttime” to explorers, a “sport” to killers, an “entertainment” to socializers, and a GAME (…so all the others weren’t?) to achievers. WoW is, perhaps, all of these things.

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