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Multi-User Dungeons

This lengthy article on avatars in Multi-User Dungeons (MUD) was informative and useful, though hard for the novice gamer to digest in one sitting. Literature attests to the gaming community using computers as tools to communicate and to link together friendships and partnerships. However, the article points out there is a danger of the gamer becoming overly involved in the community, and to remember that words on a forum/discussion board screen etc does not equate to an entity that reflects a physical community.

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I agree that there are differences and these need to be borne in mind during the gaming experience, however I find Rhiengold ignores the inherent similarities of virtual and physical communities with regard to their psychological processes (Agress, Edberg, & Igbaria, 1998). The article reviews MUD as a dynamic and “wild side” to the Internet. Rheingold contends that real magic exists here and that a person’s identity is characterized by its fluidity. The imaginary worlds created with huge computer databases of programming languages deliver melodramas and satires, puzzles, education, leisure time and competition.

With respect to the article’s description of MUD communities Rheingold is somewhat over-exuberant in listing virtues of MUDs. There is an emphasis on fantasy, power, dominance, sexual prowess and violent injury or death. The goals as presented by Rheingold are economic dominance, fame and social power. Another criticism of the article is that it is not structured soundly. The history of MUD communities begins a page or so into the article. The piece then abruptly jumps to describing potential empirical functions of MUDs; such as observing them as “living laboratories for studying the first-level impacts of virtual communities”.

Rheingold does not attempt to outline how such research could be undertaken, what would be measured or how participants would be ensured of informed consent. Numerous ethical dilemmas are obvious when considering the use of MUD communities as settings for collecting social and/or psychological data. Unlike the physical environment, MUDs are not “natural” and field research designs would need to be modified to maintain ethical standards and empirical rigor.

Rheingold also suggests that the MUD environments could be used a research environment for evaluation of second-level effect of virtual communities on physical world relationships, such as with family, personal relationships, friendships etc. Interestingly, Rheingold points out that fundamental issue for the western culture are called into question with MUDs, social norms, values and expectations are adapting to the virtual (pun intended) anonymity the Internet can provide. He makes a good point that this in an important issue for a community where many relationships are mediated by technology.

Unfortunately, the article has several disjointed jumps, with Rheingold distributing MUD history throughout the piece. He explores the idea of gaming being an addiction, due to several MUDders admitting to spending most of their waking hours immersed in virtual worlds. The concept of MUD community addiction is presented in the article as a “communication addiction” that needs to be experienced to be understood according to MIT’s Media Lab Associate Professor Amy Bruckman; How do we feel about tens of thousands of college students spending

their time and government-sponsored resources to chase virtual dragons? To answer this question, you have to dive in and explore assumptions about what is a meaningful way to spend one’s time. What are the value judgments implicit in various answers to that question? ” Rheingold suggests that the first step is to investigate the fascination some gamers have with MUDding, to determine how obsession develops. Identifying unique features of the medium that engage a gamer psychologically and that meets a person’s needs and expectations would inform about fascination.

He further states changing conceptualization about what is identity is the underlying cause as to how fascination develops into a dysfunctional obsession. Hence, to Rheingold, MUD communities are an extension of ongoing cognitive changes brought about by innovation, technological advancements and adaption of symbols to suit a communication-saturated society. MUD environments have allowed dissolving of social boundaries associated with time and space, as well as boundaries of identity. A gamer can pretend to be another; they can pretend to be many other people simultaneously.

It appears to Rheingold that depersonalized modes of communication allow some people to be much more personal with each other as compared to a relationship in the physical world. However, he questions the authenticity of the human relationship within the cyber context, given the masking of the person and the distancing that the medium can provide. In this way he states that MUDding is not real life. However, he does not explore the potential for MUD to become a person’s life, which from a constructivist point of view, would make the virtual a “real world” given that a person is seen as constructing their own reality (Riddings & Gefen, 2004).

Overall, Rheingold focuses on issues of identity for the MUDder. One of the first activities that a person does when entering a MUD environment is to create an identity. They describe their character for others who inhabit or visit the MUD. It is through the creation of their identity, states Rheingold that the MUD community develops, grows, changes and maintains coherence for its members. It is the roles each gamer plays, points out Rheingold, that guides the socio-cultural value system of the community; …the roles give people new stages on which to exercise new identities,

and their new identities affirm the reality of the scenario. The fluidity of identity is enabled by the participants being able to communicate using a number of public and private channel options; ? private e-mail ? person-to-person chat ? person-to-person chat ? “say,” “whisper,” and “pose” to anybody else in the same room ? form of group chat that uses the boundaries of metaphorical rooms as social boundaries ? turn on or off special-interest CB channels for other semipublic conversations across different parts of the MUD

Poses and words are used to communicate meaning in the MUD environment. Rheingold describes the use of pose as useful though disembodied non-verbal language. Another word for posing is “emoting” and provides an added dimension to communication not possible in the physical world. For example, “[Instead] of leaving the room, you can disappear in a cloud of iridescent, bubble-gum-flavored bubbles”. Rheingold comments that first feelings of artificiality when posing soon disperse when one becomes aware of the added control they have over the ambience of the conversation.

Posing can provide contextual cues to that are not available through words on a screen alone. The added advantage of having creative powers within the MUD environment takes the experience beyond that of conferencing and or chat sites, “such as magic carpets that transport their owners to secret parts of the kingdom”. Other characters are able to steal or gain power of objects and avatars of others. As such, the social construction of valuing items and characters is similar in process to that which occurs in the creation of value systems in physical communities.

Similarly, the social goal of power, over others and the material world, is a social concept that continues to be maintained in the virual world. Rheingold ignores this salient feature of consistency in what makes a community. In this way, MUD environment’s can be considered “real” as they are experienced by individuals, and they do lead to the construction of social institutions, rules and common goals mediated by a culturally-dependant language.

The MUD culture is framed by the technology through which it is made visible and allows interaction, and also, by the physical world from which its computer hardware and software, and persons social rules came from. Much like Russian dolls, worlds within worlds. Navigation of the MUD community provides a learning experience for each character and they learn their roles to play. Gender roles are a dominant determinant of social placement and social expectations within the physical world. So too in the world of MUD.

For example, tiny. sex and net. sleazing are techniques used predominantly by male characters to seduce female newbies into cybersex that is recorded and distributed across the globe via the Internet. As such, gender stereotypes remain within the virtual world, and women tend to be viewed as inferior, gullible and unworthy of treatment as equals. Despite social thought advances in the 21st century, the physical world continues to exist within a patriarchial system that creates power struggles between dichotomies.

The MUD communities do little to challenge the status quo of inequality with regard to gender, and in many ways (due to its anonymity) increase opportunities for people to act out anti-social behaviors. It must be kept in mind that these behavioral choices are grounded in physical world cultures, so that Rheingold’s claim that MUD communities are unlike the “real world” in terms of social interactions is poorly supported. In conclusion, Rheingold delivers an indepth subjective critique of MUD communities. The critical review before you has evaluated Rheingold’s interpretation and communication of the relevance and function of MUDs.

Evidently, MUDding is an important psychological and social activity or “way-of-being” for many people, both female and male. This has sparked much debate in terms of addiction theories, gender issues and perhaps most importantly, ones sense of identity. This paper has demonstrated that MUD communities have the potential to be research environments if ethical criteria can be met, and that in terms of social processes virtual communities have many similarities to those of the physical world from which they emerged.

References Agres, C. , Edberg, D. & Igbaria, M. (1998) Transformation to Virtual Societies: Forces and Issues. The Information Society 14(2), 71-82. Rhiengold, H. (n. d. ) The Virtual Community. Retrieved January 12, 2007 from http://www. rheingold. com/vc/book/5. html Riddings, C. M. & Gefen, D. (2004) Virtual Community Attraction: Why People Hang Out Online. Retrieved January 12, 2007 from http://jcmc. indiana. edu/vol10/issue1/ridings_gefen. html

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