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The digital revolution rolls on and with it comes bigger bandwidth, cable-hungry applications and all of the audio-streamed, multimedia enriched, Java enhanced, graphics intensive web sites you can eat. To achieve enlightenment, it seems, we must strive to grab as many bits from the end of the line as we can. Sure, it's great that we can now receive larger amounts of data and it's being put, in many cases, to good use but bigger doesn't always mean better and there's lots of things out there that use relatively little bandwidth to great effect.

The world wide web is a major new resource; A new media. However there is more to the Internet than the web; For those willing to scratch below the much-hyped surface there are amazing things to be found. This article is about one of these; The world of the MUD game. A world which has survived, and thrived since the late 70's. It has no graphics, no multi megabyte multimedia and absolutely no Java. And yet it provides hours of free entertainment for the online communities who choose to play. Welcome to the wonderful world of the online Multi User Dungeon.

A brief history lesson; Since time began there have been text adventure games. I remember, almost ten years ago I was typing commands into a Sinclair Spectrum to try and beat the machine.

NORTH, EAST, KILL DRAGON WITH SWORD, GET HEART OF DRAGON.

Games like The Hobbit and The Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy provided challenging fun for millions of people the world over. Modern games like Quake and Duke Nukem 3D are designed to run over networks, and particularly the Internet; This is the new trend in gaming (and long may it continue). No longer need computer games be an isolating experience. MUD games have been net-based for around twenty years. At Essex university in the late 70's two students; Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle invented the first MUD; A text based adventure game that ran over the university network. Although crude it proved hugely popular and thus was a whole new area of electronic gaming realised.

There are now literally thousands of MUDs around the world. And all you need to join in is a telnet program and a connection to the Internet. I can often be found on 'Sleepless Nights' but there are more games than you could ever have time to play.

So what's all the fuss about? And why have MUD's survived the graphics intensive, fully immersive era of the Quake-a-like?

Firstly, they're fun! It's easy to while away hours solving the intricate puzzles, discovering new areas and the adrenaline rush when your character is put in danger has to be witnessed. Unlike 'normal' computer gaming, if you die; You're dead and you have to start again. You can't just hit reload. It's all about escapism. At the end of a long day at the grindstone it's great to be able to take on the persona of an assassin, a wizard, a warrior or a thief and enter a fictional world of swords and sorcery. Somehow the worries of the day drift away when you're confronted with a club wielding troll in the middle of a labyrinthine ice cave.

The interconnectivity of a MUD game is also an important factor. After a while you notice the sense of same-boatedness in a game, and each game has it's own atmosphere. You get to know who the regulars are, who to trust and who to avoid. When I log onto a MUD I may sit chatting to my new-found friends in an in-game pub, I may go off exploring; Looking for treasure, slaying monsters, solving puzzles, or I may cause trouble and pick a fight with someone. I can choose to go it alone or go ogre-hunting with a team of other players logged on at the same time. There is much talk in the digital press of the 'online community'. This is difficult to perceive just surfing the web but when you're talking to people from around the world, teaming up to achieve a common goal with people from the furthest reaches of the globe and discussing current events on the way (all in real time, of course) that is when you really start to realize what an online community is.

MUD games are free to play, often run from university or personal servers and they are operated by enthusiasts. The kind of people who administrate a game are the kind of people who play it and this enthusiasm isn't hard to spot. The majority of MUDs are constantly evolving; There is always some new area to explore, some new challenge. Being text-only it is easier to add new areas to a game, to build whole new domains filled with mystical characters. Normal computer games are boxed and sold, but a MUD with an active administration team never sleeps. This isn't a case of buying a game, finishing it in a couple of days and buying another one, I've been playing the same MUD game for over a year and there's still much I don't know about it. It's still as fresh as ever because the work never stops.

The above are the most common answers I hear when I ask people why they play MUD and as an ardent MUD'er myself they're the answers I always give when asked the question myself. And because of the above reasons people look set to continue MUD'ing into the new millennium. History suggests the continuation of the MUD.

Radio didn't kill books and TV didn't kill radio. Each new method of interaction comes with it's own pros and cons. MUDs have nothing to fear from these newfangled graphical games. A MUD will always offer something that the graphics intensive games cannot.

It's a twisted logic but a common argument for radio over TV is that the pictures are better. I would apply this same logic to MUD games; Despite being text based the graphics are better than in conventional gaming. There is something very special about being able to picture the locations, the situations and the people in your head without somebody else pushing their ideas onto you.

They're free, they're fun, they're challenging, they're sociable and they're going to be around as long as there's people who want to play. And there are plenty of people who want to play. So if you are bored browsing the web, or just fancy a change, a challenge, something new; Let me heartily recommend MUD games to you. Happy surfing, and I look forward to seeing you in the Seadog Inn sometime, the drinks, as always, are on me.
 
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