Who Plays MUAs? Hat

Who plays MUAs?

Dr. Richard Bartle ponders the question.

First, what are 'MUAs'? They're Multi-User Adventures, such as Shades, Mirrorworld, and my own MUD. Yes, many people do indeed call them 'MUGs', but that term embraces all multi-user games, and this article is only concerned with the MUD-lookalike category. Besides, if I called this piece 'Who Plays MUGs?' there's an irresistable temptation to remark that the answer probably lies in the question..!


People play MUAs to have fun. The fun that mortals (ie. ordinary players) have is difflerent to that which wizzes (ie. extraordinary players) have, but as all players at some stage are or were mortals, I'll concentrate on them (which, unsurprisingly, is also what the wizzes tend to do!).

For mortals, pleasure comes from two main sources: the adventure game itself, and the people who play it. It is affected depending on whether the mortal prefers doing things to, or having things done to them by, their pleasure source. Being well-educated techie people, we can draw this as a graph [see panel].

        K        |        A
PLAYERS -- -- -- + -- -- -- GAME
        S        |        E

Now, we can pose the question: who plays MUAs? If you're an MUA-player, you might like to try and place yourself on the graph. If you're not, it may give you an insight into what such games are about (but then again, it might not!).

I've marked four extremes on the diagram, representing the main types of player you find in MUAs. I'll take each on in turn, describing how they tend to behave, and what they enjoy about playing. Social psychologists may take notes if they wish.

A) Achievers

Achievers are the players who set themselves game-related goals, and and rigorously set out to achieve them. This usually means finding and disposing of a lot of high-value treasure, or cutting a swathe through hordes of mobiles (for non-MUA readers, 'mobiles' are the game's built-in monsters, like football hooligans in real life). All is subserviant to this points-gathering activity, and the ultimate objective of making wiz. Although some exploration and socialising may be necessary on the way, plus the occasional elimination of other players who get in the way, the real fun comes from going up levels, and getting better and better at milking the world of all its goodies.

Typical phrases used by Achievers:
"I'm busy."
"Sorry, I need the small key so that when I'm passing the inn on my way to the evil wood I can nip into room 16, open the music box, and take out the note to read at the gazebo."
"Sure, I'll help you with the dwarfs. What do I get?"
"Hey, gimme back tht flower! I only need another 4,211 points to make necromancer!"

E) Explorers

Explorers don't like doing things to the game, they delight in having it do things to them. They try progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for bugs and figuring out how things work. Other players are seen merely as sources of information, or as the only objects upon which certain classes of commands can be tried. Scoring points may be necessary for the next phase of exploration, but it's tedious; killing is quicker, but causes too much hassle. The real fun only comes from discovery, and making the most complete maps in existence.

Typical phrases used by Explorers:
"Hey, why is it that if you cary the uranium you get radition sickness, and if you put it in a bag you still get it, but if you put it in a bag and drop it and wait twenty seconds and then pick it up again you don't?"
"You mean you DON'T KNOW the shortest distance from the Chinese house to the golden apple tree?"
"No, CRY WOLF isn't really funny. You should try PANIC, or GET LOG."

S) Socialisers

Socialisers are interested in people, and what they have to say. The game itself merely provides a context, a common ground where things happen to players. Inter-player relationships are important: empathising with people, sympathising, joking, entertaining, listening. Some exploration may be necessary so as to understand what everyone is talking about, and points-scoring might be required to give access to some commands (as well as a certain status). The interesting thing, though, is not how to go up levels or kill hapless drips, it's getting to know people and forming friendships.

Typical phrases used by Socialisers:
"Yeah, well I'm having trouble with my girlfriend, she doesn't understand me."
"What happened? I missed it, I was talking."
"Really? Oh no! Gee, tht' terrible! Are you sure? Awful, just awful."

K) Killers

Killers get their kicks from causing distress to other players. Although PLAYERS/ACTIVE mortals may just as easily get pleasure from helping others, rarely is this appreciated, and hence most of the mortals in the top left of the graph are ones who relish destructive interference in others' play. Normal points-scoring is usually required to get to a level suitable for wreaking havoc, and exploration is necessary to keep up with the latest fighting techniques. They're just means to an end, though. Only in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is very upset by what you've done and can do sod all about it, is there any real, adrenilin-shooting, juicy fun.

Typical phrases used by killers:
(Killers are people of few words).


Rarely will anybody be totally one of the above extremes; people tend to drift in different directions as their experience with the game increases. By knowing whereabouts on the graph players currently lie, however, wizzes can judge how best to entertain them. Mortals near the top edge, for example, will respond to escaping from (real) danger, so long as it isn't something they have to do all the time. Those near the bottom edge like puzzling or amusing things done or said to them. Near the right edge, they'll enjoy game-related quizzes and impromptu events. To the left, they will jump at any chance to role-play, to be someone or something different from their real-life selves. (NB: self-confessed 'role-players' are usually just killers at heart, who feign being terribly hurt when you're abusive to their flopsy-bunny persona after having just been offed by their big-bad-wolf persona, despite the fact that they enjoyed doing you in).


Each MUA game will tend to be self-balancing. As players come and go, the numbers in each quadrant of the graph will increase or decrease, but virtually all configurations eventually stabilise back towards the centre. The main conflict is usually between the Killers and the Achievers: when Killers dominate, Achievers will stop playing or revert to earlier incarnations as Explorers or (grumpy) Socialisers, leaving Killers with no victims but themselves (Explorers and Socialiers, of course, don't mind losing points in fights, and will therefore flee at the slightest provocation). After a while, the number of Killers will dwindle, and the Achievers will come back out of the woodwork.

If life gets especially easy, some Achievers may regard their peers with horror, considering them to be so unworthy that were they ever to reach wiz they would completely degrade tne rank. The worried Achiever may then resort to disposing of the wimps, so as to maintain the integrity of their own goal; they see it as their civic duty... Of course, wizzes have a strong influence on the way things go, since they can bring on Killers or build up Achievers (to be used as Killers later!) as required. In general, though, in a game not overly constrained, the period between hack-and-slay and sweetness-and-light is around six months.


And there's the important bit. Sometimes, MUA administrators get very fed up with those players in one category, and listen too much to those in another. If Killers are on top, it's very tempting to change the game, or legislate, to discourage their behaviour as much as possible. If there are "too many people just sitting around talking", there's often the urge to force them into taking a more active part in the game, and so on. Yet MUAs need players of all these types; without them, there is nothing to stop the other player types from gaining the upper hand and stifling the game irredeemably. Only by keeping controls relaxed and even can a game develop, and evolve into a well-balanced whole that has something for everyone. And yes, MUAs do have something for everyone!

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk)
21st January 1999: wpm.htm