While I don’t know if this is going to become a series, Why I Can’t Quit Playing: MUDs is the second entry into this style of post, so who knows!
The first time I wrote about one of my favorite graphical MMO’s: EVE Online. This time, I’m writing about the granddaddy of all MMOs, and my personal launching point into the wider world of gaming. Follow past the break to see what it is about text-based gaming that I can’t get out of my blood.
I won’t go into too much detail about the history of gaming and how MUDs play into that, nor will I delve too deeply into how the first MUD came about. There are better resources for the first topic here, and the second here. Whenever I mention MUDs to someone I usually have to give a quick overview though, so I will do that. MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon, and are essentially MMOs, the first MMOs ever created, in fact. Except that there are little to no graphics. Everything in the game is displayed via text, with some ASCII thrown in every now and again for rudimentary maps, mainly. I’ll be the first to say that MUDs aren’t for everyone, but I’d also be the loudest voice in the argument that MUDs offer gamers unrivaled immersion, experience, and gameplay. Being an opinion piece focused around why I personally can’t put MUDs down, allow me to discuss a few of the strongest points I find the genre has for retaining my attention years at a time.
I had never played an MMO before I discovered MUDs, so they were, essentially, my introduction into an online roleplaying game. Furthermore, it was the first time I had ever seen a game where choices that mattered, choices like I had seen in games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, could be made where hundreds of players were affected. That’s a big deal! In the games I first started with, players could run cities, make policy, write laws, declare wars, negotiate truces, and so much more. This was really an eye-opening experience for me, and I had never imagined something so in-depth being possible in a game. Things like this can now essentially be done in MMOs such as, again, EVE Online, where players can alter the flow of the game world by their own actions, but MUDs had been doing it for over 30 years before the graphical gaming world could even hope to catch up.
I’m a sucker for PvP. In every MMO and MUD I’ve ever played, the first thing I want to know about is how the PvP works. For whatever reason (probably because of my World of Warcraft experiences, in all honesty) I can’t stand PvE. I want the challenge and diversity of fighting players who actually think rather than react to scripted events. In fact, I have never, never found PvP as complex and engaging as I have in MUDs. Not even close. Comparing PvP in any graphical MMO would be like comparing your next door neighbor’s five year old soccer team to the 1970 Brazilian national team. You know, the one with Pelé. Seriously. This isn’t true across the board in all MUDs, certainly, but notable mention certainly goes to Lithmeria, which opens today, October 12, and has the best combat system I’ve ever seen in a MUD.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we normally pick up a new MMO, play it a few months, maybe even a year. If we’re dedicated enough, we’ll go on playing for a few years before putting it down for another one. In any case, most MMOs don’t last longer than a few years; Even if you’ve played World of Warcraft since its first day, you’ve only been playing for about eight years. That’s right, I said only. See, with the low cost required to run a MUD, the game can stay on the market for much, much longer than is financially feasible for the big mega-companies that tend to produce most of the MMOs on the market these days. I know that when I log into my favorite MUD, the choices and actions I make with my character are going to resonate 10 or more years down the road. That’s something that very few MMOs can claim, and something that makes me want to invest my time into MUDs. Why pay good, hard money and spend countless hours on something that, in the end, is just going to disappear into a cloud of digital smoke when the servers somewhere in California are taken down? It’s much easier for me to be interested in developing my character over a long period of time knowing that what I do won’t be erased in a relatively short time.
I can say that I’ll be playing MUDs for a long, long time. I’m even in the process of developing my own sci-fi MUD (yes, the genre is expanding!). I’ve yet to find any game that can be considered the peer of some of the more well-made MUDs. With the low cost, easy access, and huge variety, there is an endless source of entertainment and value that can be found in MUDing. It’s a genre of games that I think cater to a bit more mature, perhaps literary crowd, but are accepting of everyone who gives it a try. I’ve yet to find a community in any MUD that I’ve played that hasn’t been overly welcoming of new players, and usually jumping into a new game is relatively painless. Will I ever quit playing MUDs?
Seth got his first real start in games by the way of the venerable MUD. He's also worked in the MUD industry as a writer and community manager for two years. A lover of the outdoors and backpacking, he still spends more time than his girlfriend thinks he should in front of a computer playing games.