COMPELLING SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT

One explanation for the addictive quality of MUDs is that the people using them are somehow socially inept, and find a community of kindred spirits in cyberspace. This notion coincides with a stigma that has long been attributed to computer hackers or hobbyist in general, as evidenced by the existence of books like The Invasion of the Computer which gives a profile of computer users as maladjusted, shy, quiet, and generally lacking the social skills necessary to succeed in 'real world' human interaction. This narrow view of computer usage is easily disputed, however. For the most part, it is true that MUDers are generally computer hobbyists, but this is because these are the only people with the technological resources to use these text environments. MUDs require a fair amount of computer hardware, in addition to network capability and Internet access, which at present the average home computer owner may not have. This by no means indicates that only self-proclaimed computer nerds would find MUDs compelling, however. In research and other general applications (such as pilot programs for classroom settings) that have used MUD environments, subjects found that, as they learned the basics, they often chose to log into the system even after the 'regular hours' of the experiment (Britton, 12). "Sociologist Barry Wellman made a similar kind of observation after noticing how 'shocked' some of the non-participants in the 'on-line party' were at the amount of joking and personal exchanges among those who did take part" (Hiltz, 114).

"It's not the shock of recognition," a Wired magazine reporter wrote after experiencing MUD, "it's the shock of communication. The organic sensation that you're connected to people evaporates from the printed page" (Quittner, 93) but is alive on MUD. This novel form of communication appeals to a basic desire to connect directly with others. There is no other medium that allows so many people to interact remotely in a common 'space.' But if merely interaction was the goal, why would people choose this mode of personal gathering over face-to-face encounters? The answer lies in looking at how this new interaction is structured -- its MEDIUM (the computer), FORM OF LANGUAGE, and CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK -- to see why networking on MUDs forms a new type of community: one which allows people to negotiate a strong sense of self and individuality while participating in public space.