Multi User Dungeons (MUD’s) sparked what would eventually become the gathering place for billions. This idea of player created spaces that were open to the input of other players sparked a wave of communities that is to this day growing at an alarming rate. Pavel Curtis talks about his own discovery of this unknown world that he built without realizing just where it would lead. The way people could become a new avatar and then freely explore worlds created by other players that were nothing more than text on a screen was completely beyond the scope of what the thought he would find. Fast forward a few years, and MUD’s have either changed a lot or not changed at all depending on who you talk to. One thing that has changed is the representation of the world itself. These days, worlds are rendered in at least isometric view. One such world is called Habbo (previously known as Habbo Hotel). This environment allows players to buy spaces which they can setup however they see fit. And then other players can come and view these unique spaces at their leisure.
Habbo as a social environment is very similar to an older one called Habitat. Many of the lessons Farmer and Morningstar laid out can be seen in Habbo. The idea of a multi-user environment being essential is carried out to the fullest, as is the thought that communication between players must be fast and easy for these environments to flourish. But there is one major point in which Habbo goes against their writings. The authors state that any sort of central planning is doomed to failure. Habbo on the other hand, creates a central Hotel where all players can meet one another and talk in a shared, public space. Many other games and communities have likewise found that shared spaces are in fact required for success.
At its roots, Habbo is a glorified chat system. But it takes it all one step further by creating a unique environment for the players to talk in. Other players, however, would rather create more different areas that are specially suited to their own unique tastes to attract the sorts of people who share their values. This idea of creation rather than story driven destruction is at the core of Pearce’s paper on Productive Play. Habbo creates a shared space for everyone, but then puts the controls in the hands of the player to do with as he or she wishes. In essence, the players are the ones creating the game world, just as they did in the MUD’s these systems have evolved from.
But there are always risks when one dares the treacherous waters of the internet. Dibbell discusses a situation where a player’s character could be forced to take certain actions against another character in the world. He highlights, in a very odd and eccentric sort of way, the need for creators to protect those that enter their worlds. Habbo does this in an elegant manner. When players create a room they have the option of setting restrictions on who can enter their room and how by adding a doorbell. Other players that wish to enter the room must first ring the doorbell. Then the player who owns the room can decide whether or not to allow that player into their room. This process allows people to safely screen those whom they interact with.
In the paper Virtual(ly) Law: The Emergence of Law in LambdaMOO, Jennifer Mnookin lays out in detail how the game LambdaMOO created a system to give players a voice in how the game was ruled. Habbo tried something similar. Players who had played the game for a while and became familiar with it could be invited to become a Hobba. The job of Hobbas was to act as guides and more importantly as moderators. They were also given several more powers not available to normal players. However, this practice was canceled due to problems with some players abusing the system and the Hobbas were replaced with a more accountable group which is actually employed by the Sulake company on an hourly basis. It would seem that the ease of access to these online communities has brought the level of trustworthiness among players down, at least in this instance.
MUD’s have come a long way since the days of simply being words on a screen. They have also taken many forms that cater to an ever widening series of desires amongst the players who take up residency within these worlds. The question everyone used to ask was “will these worlds catch on and go mainstream?” Now the question seems to be “just how far can they go?”
- Michael Gorbsky