MUDing began as a computer form of the popular fantasy board game "Dungeons and Dragons" (D&D) in which wizards and warlocks used equations and dicey probabilities to fight each other or team up against imagined creatures. The source code for MUD1, an object- oriented computer program written in C for Unix that mixed the fantasy world of D&D with the text environments of popular computer word games such as Infocom's "Zork," was first written by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubishaw in 1979-80, and is considered the first Multiple User Dungeon (Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about MUDs, "What is a MUD?"). As MUDs developed, system operators gradually realized that the computer opened dimensions the board game never imagined. Instead of just fighting imaginary monsters, players could use the computer-networked environment to communicate with one another in a shared space. TinyMUD Original, developed in 1989, was the first MUD to drop the adventure gaming aspect altogether to concentrate solely on social interaction between characters (FAQ, "What Different kinds of MUDs are there?"). As of late 1992, there are 207 operable MUDs, many of which are social, rather than "combat oriented" (Cartwright, 24). Each MUD system can accommodate hundreds of active users at once, and may have thousands of characters stored in the database. If every registered user on LambdaMOO were to log on at once, for instance, there would be 7993 players wandering around in the MUDworld, though the average active population of Lambda is about 200 (From "help wizzes" file on LambdaMOO (accessible by typing 'help wizzes').
Though there are many books on the Internet and the hype-laden Information Superhighway, few authors take these games seriously. When MUDs are mentioned, they are often referred to as a deviant form of network use, where users 'eat up disk server space and tie up wires for hours on end goofing around.' As one MUDer notes in a help file, "Most schools (universities are where most MUDs originate) classify MUD as a game, and games as non-essentials. Therefore, if your school decides to shut off all games, or disallow you to telnet out to play MUDs, you're stuck" (FAQ, "I paid money for my account! MUDing is a right, isn't it?"). But a closer look at these "games" reveals that much more is going on here. More than any other service on Internet, MUDs draw people in, spurring an involvement that often becomes an addiction. It is not unusual for serious MUDers to spend "as many as 120 hours a week engaged in such on-line activities." (Cartwright, 24). Because so many people do get hooked into these worlds -- tying up data lines as they live in the cyberspace -- many schools are forced to outlaw MUDs altogether. As a professor at New Mexico State University e-mails, "Our computer center pretty much bans them except deep in the night, since they claim too much of our unix resources" (e-mail from Stephen Bernhardt, 4/26/94). However, there must be some attraction that keeps thousands of users logged-into MUDs, choosing on-line life over excursions in the real world.