Is the 30th anniversary of the first MUD important?

(because that was yesterday, you know)

Richard Bartle concludes that, in the great scheme of things (and much as it might nice to think otherwise), it’s not actually that important.

So standing back and looking at it, the answer as to why there is not a lot of fuss over this 30th anniversary is that in the great scheme of things, it isn’t actually important. The mainstream isn’t interested because virtual worlds haven’t had much impact; developers aren’t interested because the paradigm is obvious; players aren’t interested because knowing doesn’t add anything to their play experience; academics might be interested in the historical facts, but anniversaries don’t figure in their analyses.

I disagree :). And not just because it’s a chance to celebrate some UK-based breakthrough in computer games (what else do we have – GTA? When you google for “history of uk games industry” the first hit you get is “Japanese games industry | Technology | guardian.co.uk”. Sigh; thanks, Guardian). I think it doesn’t get much fuss simply because it doesn’t have a community that is enmeshed in modern culture in the ways that would get a fuss caused; its community isn’t highly sought-after by advertisers and journalists, for example. Its community isn’t a major user of the web-games-newssites. Etc.

On the flip side, I think it should have some fuss, certainly in the games press. It’s particularly important to understand how many years of history exists here, just as a number. Because that implies certain things about how much prior art probably exists, and the level of detail you should expect to have been researched and/or tried out and improved upon – all of which is very helpful when designing, building, or operating new games.

For the same reason, I think it’s particularly important for people to know the game design of MUD1 in detail, either to read a detailed review, or to have played it for themselves. Because that tells you what the starting point was for those 30 years of prior art. It gives you even more info on what you can expect. For instance, looking at MUD1 and looking at a typical modern MMORPG, you can see certain things haven’t changed that much, which suggests there is a lot of (old) documentation on side-effects of those aspects. Likewise, certain things have changed a heck of a lot, which suggests strongly that there’s a lot of (old and new) documentation on what else has been tried in those areas and why it didn’t work. In particular, it suggests that there’s possibly as much as THIRTY YEARS of “weird shit” that people tried in those areas – and your new wacky idea has probably been tried before. So you can go look up what happened; can use someone else’s (possibly “failed”) game as a prototype for your “new” ideas without even having to wait for your team to build the prototype.

If you don’t know that MUD1 is 30 years old, if you think perhaps that it’s 15 years old, or that it looked more like tunnels-n-trolls, then those things all lack the same implicit value to you – and you might not bother to go look them up. So, yes, IMHO it does matter how old it is.

Which reminds me; when was the last time someone did a major review of MUD2 (how modern was it?), seeing as so many people rely on reviews these days to understand games they don’t have time to play themselves…

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