I Did Not Like LambdaMoo

LambdaMoo's opening screen defines its antique character.

LambdaMoo’s opening screen defines its antique character.

The way you access the interactive online community of LambdaMoo instantly defines its antique character. Mac users must enter LambdaMoo through Terminal, which is an application that provides text-based access to the operating system. PC users must download extra software to access LambdaMoo. Until LambdaMoo, my only previous interaction with the “prehistoric” ages of the Internet was through the Internet Archives. Therefore, as I accessed the community, I had few expectations.

All users are greeted by the same message when they enter LambdaMoo’s 4×6 virtual space:

“LambdaMOO is a new kind of society, where thousands of people voluntarily come together from all over the world.  What these people say or do may not always be to your liking; as when visiting any international city, it is wise to be careful who you associate with and what you say.”

I began my – what turned out to be 45 minutes long – journey like most users in the Coat Closet, where I attempted to find the right combination of words to exit the closet (open door – by the way). In fact, this was definitive of my whole experience with LambdaMoo. My interactions were overwhelmed with, “I don’t understand that.” It became frustratingly difficult to identify the purpose of the space, which I walked through by identifying directions. The entire concept relied on text and responses, a very limited experience compared to today’s online virtual communities. In fact, due to single spacing and small font, in addition to large amounts of character and room descriptions, the experience became dull. Most importantly, I could not identify how LambdaMoo can be described as a community. I perused Lynn Cherny’s, “The Modal Complexity of Speech Events in a Social Mud,” to learn more about the various types of actions and emotions I can portray in the digital space. Despite my greater understanding of interactivity within LambdaMoo, my experience was still limited to entering rooms and reading descriptions, rather than interacting with other users. My attempts to page other users were all futile. How have your community interactions been different?

Perhaps my experience with LambdaMoo was limited in time. Perhaps I would have garnered a greater picture of text-based interactivity if I had spent more time attempting to find actions that would do more, and allow me to contact more people. But I did not want to. The text-based descriptions and requests for responses, as well as failed attempts to leave certain rooms and the frustrations that ensued made me grateful for the media ecology that I am accustomed to today. What types of frustrations did you develop, if any, when playing with LambdaMoo? Despite the difficulties and frustrations I experienced, I take into consideration the context of LambdaMoo’s history. The internet and its applications were extremely limited in look, feel, content, and community compared to the graphic powerhouses we access on the web on today. But LambdaMoo’s unattractiveness is deceiving I realized, as its underlying power lies in its ability to tell a diverse, ever-changing story among connected users. This is the community it developed and attempted to push. There may be a niche group interested in interacting this way today, but I am not in it.

The following articles present an interesting look at the MUD universe:

Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities by Pavel Curtis comments on MUD’s – like LambdaMoo – effects on social phenomena, leading to new mechanisms and modes of behavior not usually seen in real life.

Virtual Reality: Reflections of Life, Dreams, and Technology. An Ethnography of a Computer Society by Michael S. Rosenberg is a reflection on the culture that has developed within the “virtual world” of a MUD, the people behind the culture, and its relationship to real life. It is a 22 year old article, and is interesting as it presents a perspective from the early ages of the internet.


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