Tom Armitage: So, I used to be on a MUD. It was called MUD2 and it was a direct port of Richard Bartle’s orig­i­nal Essex MUD. And it was on a ser­vice called Wireplay, which was not actu­al­ly the real Internet, it was a dial-up gam­ing ser­vice pro­vid­ed by BT, the British phone com­pa­ny. You did­n’t pay for it, it was just two and a half pence a minute on your phone bill. And I basi­cal­ly had a rationed amount of time on this, because I was like 14 and this was a 28.8k modem, and it chewed up the main phone line in the house. And yeah. 

And I played the MUD because the MUD was free. And it was text-based. It’s a text adven­ture. It was a very game-like MUD. If you know LambdaMOO and you’ve read My Tiny Life, it was noth­ing like that It was­n’t cool, you could­n’t make any­thing. But it was a love­ly game around hunt­ing for trea­sure and help­ing oth­er peo­ple do things, and doing it all with­in 110 min­utes before the world mag­i­cal­ly reset itself. 

And one day, I went on—and I played very dif­fer­ent­ly to a lot of peo­ple. A lot of peo­ple were very good at play­ing the game. And espe­cial­ly they did­n’t real­ly care when the char­ac­ters died because they’d just spin up a new one real­ly fast. I was basi­cal­ly ter­ri­fied of my char­ac­ter dying because I was real­ly slow. I was amaz­ing­ly slow at this game, and real­ly cau­tious. And so I did­n’t real­ly like doing risky things. 

And one day, and I think it was a Saturday after­noon, I went on after lunch, and there was a new per­son in the tea room. The aes­thet­ic of this game is Tolkien meets Lewis Carroll. And the room you begin is a mag­i­cal tea room, and every—it’s English. Everyone sits around in the tea room drink­ing tea, and when you walk out of the tea room you land some­where in the mid­dle of the world. And some­body was there and they were total­ly bewildered. 

And I said, Okay. Don’t wor­ry. It’s real­ly sim­ple. Let’s get you through some of the basics. Just type fol­low…’ ” my char­ac­ter name. I played a char­ac­ter called Cerberus. So, Type fol­low Cerberus’ and you’ll just go wher­ev­er I go and I’ll take you some places.”

And they went, Okay.” And we hung out for about half an hour and I showed them how you pick up trea­sure and drop it in the swamp. And I showed them a few things to avoid. And I showed them the basic route down to one of the real­ly low-level treasure-farming routes. And we chat­ted a bit. And got them over the first two or three-level hump. Levels were exponential. 

And this would’ve basi­cal­ly meant that they would— And then at they end they went, Hey that was real­ly cool. I’m gonna come back.” Cuz this was the bit where if you don’t know what you’re doing in this game you’ll prob­a­bly try and kill anoth­er play­er. They’ll destroy you. And you’ll…just nev­er played the game again. 

And I spent my week­ly ration of play­ing the game basi­cal­ly on being nice to some­body. And they went, Cool! See ya.” And they logged off and they dropped every­thing they were car­ry­ing, which I picked up and dumped in the swamp for trea­sure. And then, this line of text said some­thing like, You feel a benev­o­lent force on top of you.” And I got 200 points out of nowhere. Points being experience. 

And what had been hap­pen­ing is a wiz, one of the admins— (Wizards were play­er admins. So, when you basi­cal­ly fin­ish the game you become an admin—you don’t become an archwiz—they’re system-level admins, but you gain the abil­i­ty to manip­u­late real­i­ty.) —had been spy­ing on me. You gain the abil­i­ty to just watch what anoth­er play­er’s doing. And some­body had just been watch­ing me for twen­ty min­utes being nice. And at the end of it, they gave me an in-game reward. 

And this kind of blew me away. Because I had­n’t realized—and you nev­er know when some­one’s spy­ing on you. And I was just doing this for the hell of it. And all of a sud­den it turned into a real in-game reward. And they were basi­cal­ly going, Thank you for mak­ing anoth­er play­er not leave in the first ten min­utes. And thanks for being nice.” 

And there was this huge rush and this weird glow of some­body I did­n’t know being nice to me because I’d been nice to some­body else. And I did­n’t know how to explain it to any­body. And I could­n’t real­ly explain to my par­ents why when I logged off that out of all the things I’ve done on the MUD, that was the most sig­nif­i­cant day I’d played. Where a behav­ior oth­er than scor­ing points was being reward­ed, and what it was being reward­ed by was anoth­er human being. And I must’ve been about 14 or 15. That would’ve been 1997

And I went on after— I did­n’t play the MUD for much longer after that. I went on and played a lot of Quake com­pet­i­tive­ly. And I fell into blog­ging real­ly ear­ly in like 2001. And the thing I kind of miss is when it was small enough to know every­body. The thing about the MUD was actu­al­ly the num­ber of reg­u­lar play­ers I reck­on was prob­a­bly about fifty. And every­body knew every­body’s names. And every­body would wave when you saw some­body else was online. And when blog­ging began we did­n’t have com­ments. But it did­n’t real­ly mat­ter because we were all talk­ing to one anoth­er. And we actu­al­ly need­ed com­ments when peo­ple we did­n’t know would talk to us. And whilst I think by and large it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter that there are more peo­ple in a place than few­er, I real­ly miss the time when you walked into the bar and every­body knew your name.

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