THE ARGUMENT

MUDS offer new and HIGHLY COMPELLING LANGUAGE EXPERIENCES. In both LANGUAGE STRUCTURE and SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS, MUD allows people to express themselves and explore identity in a simple (text only), user-controlled environment.

The medium's primary mode of dialog -- two-way typing in real time -- takes advantage of the newest means of communication: computer networks. WRITING 'CONVERSATIONS' is thus a new concept, one which hovers between resembling speech and resembling writing, but which in its mixing of forms gains entirely new resonances and characteristics. Since writing is expected to take longer than speech to produce and can be drafted and honed in isolation before being sent out over the MUD, input is usually better structured and more topically focused than spoken exchanges. However, like speech, the sense of 'breath,' or distinct presence in time, and the freedom to move freely in the text base forces words into smaller spaces (TEXT BITS) than in traditional written works on paper. The device that transmits the communication of MUDs, the COMPUTER SCREEN, further blurs distinctions between writing and speech. On the screen, written words are both concrete and fleeting, making words more malleable than in bound books, but more solid than speech. NEW VISUAL CUES mix with language characters to compensate for seeing the objects described in these on-line discussions, furthering a sense of presence and engagement.

In the virtual text world of MUD, the reader is in control. They control WHAT THEY SEE OF THE VIRTUAL WORLD and WHAT THE VIRTUAL WORLD SEES OF THEM through the use of MUD's OBJECT ORIENTED PROGRAMMING ENVIRONMENT. The framework that allows PERFORMATIVE LANGUAGE control constantly reminds readers of their authoritative stance and critical distance from their own speech and experience. As a result the text gains a unique BLEND OF TRANSPARENCY AND OPACITY, as players constantly shift stance from immersion in the imaginative space to evaluation and control over the textual objects.

So what KINDS OF EXCHANGES happen in this new medium? Because of the both distanced and direct nature of MUD interaction, players are more socially confident than in face-to-face situations: MORE INPUT IS OFFERED, input IS MORE FREELY OPINIONATED, and there is LESS PRESSURE FOR PARTICIPANTS TO CONFORM TO NORMS.

The surprising trend that people are more friendly, emotional, and expressive in this decentered medium highlights deep inadequacies and disintegration in present real-world societies. The promise of Computer Socializing is that, should MUD become more widespread, it could become an important SUPPLEMENT TO REAL LIFE. If this new communication medium, one that merges literary and oral strengths, is in fact closer to human thought, and represents a MORE GENUINE FORM OF EXPRESSION, perhaps cyberspace will be the choice location to meet and develop relationships with real-world others. And perhaps our real world will gradually be shaped by tendencies of the Net, just as telephone and television technologies have influenced our view of ourselves and our surroundings.