Lelandra was once a Wizard (#88) on RiverMOO, and fairly active player on
ElderMOO and EdenMOO.|
I first began MOOing on the Steve Jackson Games Metaverse back in the early-mid nineties. Add half-a-decade and I had largely faded away, just as social MOOing itself largely did. What a lark to see Second Life picking up where that all left off. I no longer have the time or interest to submerge myself in virtuality as I once did, and leave this very dated tribute up as my own small rebellion to the ephemerality of the web.
Thus concludes the update. The rest of this, dead links and all, was written around 1998 and 1999.
ElderMOO has the most lively social interaction that I've seen on MOOs lately. The players generally share an interest in science fiction, and many have met in real life, often at conventions. The geography is well planned and vividly described. It is quite common to find several people gathered in one virtual room on ElderMOO, chatting and using silly verbs on each other. This was something common in the early days of MOO, but is pretty hard to find today on other MOOs.
While social MOOs have declined in popularity since the early and mid nineties, there is still life in their use for education. At the MOO I wiz at, RiverMOO, most people come online to play games (such as card guppies or scrabble), but players (who are often high school students and college undergraduates) also learn to improve their writing skills by working on describing themselves and their virtual environments. They learn HTML and participate in online contests for best web pages (with real world prizes). They even learn object-oriented programming in a "play" setting, creating objects that react to their environment and can be commanded to behave in certain ways. These players can even become wizards themselves when they get good enough. There are also MOOs which are entirely dedicated to being online learning environments. Diversity University and LinguaMOO are some of the best examples of this. There is also a textbook that came out this year, MOOniversity which focuses on MOO as a platform for "synchronous Internet writing and learning environments".
I personally came to MOO in a roundabout way. Back in the eighties, I was a computer BBS hobbyist. While I never personally dedicated a phone line and an extra computer to hosting a BBS, I had a number of friends who did, and I spent quite a bit of time dialing up boards, chatting, and downloading files. (Since I had access to USENET, I never really got into the SIGs.) One of the boards I dialed up from time to time was the Illuminati BBS, run by Steve Jackson Games. The same Steve Jackson Games that was raided by the Secret Service for publishing a booklet for a role-playing game that the government mistook for a "handbook for computer crime". One of the outcomes of that raid was the formation of the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) by Mitch Kapor, John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore. Bruce Sterling's book The Hacker Crackdown, which he published to the Net discusses this case among others.
As technology changed, Steve Jackson Games changed the BBS to an ISP, and to keep access to file areas, I bought a membership for a while. They put up a MOO called Metaverse (probably inspired by Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash). I visited it fairly soon after it opened, and I didn't get it. I didn't run into anyone while I was exploring, and left the world within probably 15 minutes of logging in. It was nearly a year later that I decided I should probably check it out again, as I wasn't really using my membership, and I was nearly decided that I should drop it. This time when I logged on, I found a virtual christmas party occurring around a virtual campfire... and it was entertaining enough to come back later, and keep coming.
Between then and now, I've been there to watch two worlds succumb to database bloat (Metaverse being one of them), and been part of others being born or remade.
I have spent the whole of my virtual life alienated from, at the same time as, a part of the online meta-community. It's a strange paradox. Sometimes I could be immersed in the euphoria of being without a body in a non-place, but it never could quite retain its reality long enough to disperse my innate disquiet. It's the same sort of phenomena that has me swinging between the poles of immersion and gafiation in the local living history community.
The technologists of western society have always had a blind enthusiasm for their creations. Consider Oppenheimer and the Bomb. Even if they later come to have some doubts. Consider Oppenheimer and the Bomb.
The first inhabitants of our frontiers have always been able to get our society to overcommit to their vision. Consider the poor fate of the Lakota (not to mention Cherokee and every other tribe) and the buffalo in the previous century. The first inhabitants of our frontiers have always had a regrettable inability to keep the secret from the profit-mongering scum, who have come in and wrecked the frontier, making it neat and clean and civilised (and utterly dead of creativity) and pushing whoever was there before them somewhere else.
I'm at the same time captivated and horrified at how this settlement of cyberspace is going. There were such high-minded motives involved in it, and it's quickly becoming so sterile and corporate.
I have made some true friends online, the meeting of whom in real life has not dispelled the apparent connection. I have been part of, and occasionally led, projects which had the germination, coordination, work on and completion all occur online, without every seeing the physical persons behind the online personas. Barlow's words have inspired me. Through the early and mid-nineties I was completely sold on the idea of online community and cyberspace.
There's absolutely nothing so heady as the feeling that you are part of a revolution.
Americans have a tendency to assume that throwing technology at a problem will fix it, and this is just as problematic for computer technology as for other types. There are a lot of human systems issues that we need to address in our culture that technology can't do anything about. The community created in cyberspace can't be viewed in binary good/bad terms. It's much more ambiguous than that. Things are never as simple as they seem.
One site that balances the euphoria is NETFUTURE from Stephen L. Talbott.
As he states in one of his Daily Meditations for the Computer-entranced:
Imagine the arrival of the first few cars in turn-of-the-century American cities. John Doe, proud of his sleek new machine, can now decide on the spur of the moment to visit flu-stricken Aunt Jane, who lives on the other side of town. Wasn't it reasonable for John to think that such good deeds would now be easier, and that the automobile, by shrinking distances, would help bind cities together in true community?
The ensuing century, however, told a different story -- a story of freeways and urban sprawl; devastated city centers; malls; neon-lit commercial strips; and the disappearance of an underclass beneath the freeway ramps. Society reorganized its business and pleasure around weekday commuting and weekend escape.
Not much of this looks like a strengthening of community.
I must admit, my own euphoria has been tempered in the last few years. Not that I don't spend time online... but I do make a stronger effort these days to stay in touch with offline people and activities than I used to.
As Julian Dibbell points out in his Dinner with Catherine MacKinnon article, the ambiguity between whether something that happens online should be considered real in the "real world" or not is one of the hallmarks of virtual life. The boundaries between our real and virtual lives are messy affairs. Julian Dibbell's recent book my tiny life, chronicling the LambdaMOO world of 1994, has aroused some controversy. Those still mooing who were mooing back then (more than a generation ago) cry out that he was never really part of the community, he was a journalist, he was media. While his journalistic status is undoubtably relevant, given the rapidity with which the culture changes, the ancient history he relates is of some interest to the undergraduate and high school denizens of MOO today. It's important for people to realize that for the most part Julian stopped mooing before 1995, and that things have changed in the intervening time.