Background to Players Who Suit MUDs Hat

I wrote Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades for a number of reasons. As the paper itself states, it originated when I summarised a long discussion among the wizzes on the VAX incarnation of MUD2. I didn't do much with it initially, except to observe whether or not it was basically correct (and it does seem to be, at least for incarnations of MUD2), but having gone to the effort of writing it in the first place I figured I may as well get it published. I gathered together the earlier material and added in a few things I'd thought more deeply about since then; I wrote the whole lot up and sent it to the magazine Comms Plus!, where it was printed in issue 6 as Who Plays MUAs?. I also mentioned it in my ACL Member's Dossier column.

A year or so later, I was invited to give a presentation at a "speaker meeting" run by the Cambridge University Computer Society. As a former president of the Essex University Computer Society, I thought I'd help them out and agreed to do it (although I might not have done if I'd known the meeting ended at the same time as a Take That! concert at the nearby Corn Exchange, and I'd have to fight my way to the car park through hordes of over-excited teenage girls determined to roam the middle of the road in slow-moving clutches). In deciding a topic upon which to speak, and with a mixed audience, I thought I might do better talking about the human aspects of MUDding rather than the technical ones. Consequently, I chose the player graph as my subject matter.

The talk went reasonably well, and there were even some experts in the audience (one of the people from Avalon was there, for example). The discussion at the end allowed me to defend some of my points; this gave me a feel for how robust my categorisation was, but I doubt whether I actually convinced many people that it was valid...

I left it at that for some time, although I was aware that there was more work to be done on the subject. Although the empirical data was described and categorised reasonably coherently, there was no underlying theory as to why things might be this way, nor a formal explanation of the effects of changes to player balance on a MUD.

When I heard of the founding of the Journal of MUD Research, I decided that I ought to try and support it if I at all could, and that the best way to achieve this would be to submit a paper for the inaugural issue. Not only would this ensure that they had a paper for their inaugural issue, but the fact that a "big name" in the MUD world was prepared to go through the refereeing process to get published would, I hope, give the editors encouragement; it might also, perhaps, attract other people with serious ideas on the subject to put forward papers of their own.

With this in mind, I rewrote the paper from scratch. The comments from the referees were actually helpful, in particular the naming of the vertical axis in the player graph (which had always given me heartache). The result was accepted, and in it went.

The paper caused several people to write to me over the next few months, and I still get occasional correspondence about it - questions, suggestions and counter-arguments. That's good: the more that people discuss MUDs, the better MUDs can become. I also got flamed a couple of times in Usenet, but didn't find out until too late to make a difference (they weren't in groups I usually read).

I don't believe that this is the end of the research, but it may well be the end of my own direct particiption in it. To go further, someone with a greater knowledge of the social sciences than I have (or want to have!) would need to take it on. I'd like to think I may have made some starting contribution, though. I'd look forward to seeing the results of a proper, formal study of MUD player types, anyway.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: hcdsbg.htm