5 Things I Learned Playing Text Games

A brief introduction for the proletariat. A MUD, or multi-user dungeon, is a text-based multiplayer game that’s been around since the dawn of the internet era. Way before AOL started littering the world with free connection discs. Back when your OS was DOS, and you connected through telnet. The artform of MUD gaming has evolved along with the rest of the technological world, but it still involves connecting to a completely text-based world and interacting with what you find there through text. It’s delightfully immersive. I first discovered MUD games at the tender age of roughly 7 or 8 when I was exploring local BBSs (online bulletin boards/chat rooms, again, pre-AOL). I was hooked, and I’ve played them off and on again ever since.

1) I learned how to be social on my terms. I know that sounds odd. Learning to be social while sitting alone on a computer in a dark room. Especially for the child born of the Queen of Social Butterflies. Everyone in the entire Puget Sound region knows my mom, and through her bombastic stage presence, quite a lot about me as well (my first menstrual cycle was announced on stage before a large collection of bikers. Strangers were coming up to me in public and congratulating me on becoming a woman). I grew up having intense philosophical, political, and other intellectually stimulating conversations with adults.

Despite all that, I never learned how to -connect- on a real level with another human. I can chat up anyone, on any subject, in any environment. I couldn’t make friends. I moved so much that I never learned the trick of it. I’m still pretty bad at it. Without MUDS and their ability to connect me to other people with at least one common interest in a relatively safe environment, I would be a very lonely person.

The friendships I forged in text-realms have emerged into the real world. When my partner died, friends I made in text games pulled together and sent me money to get my kids through a terribly broke Yule/Christmas season. I’ve had text-game roommates and gone across the nation on adventures to meet people I’ve known for a decade only in digital form.

All of this has helped me learn how to connect emotionally with people I meet first in the real world. I’ve learned things like how to stay in touch and how to shut up when someone just wants to vent (I’m not good at that, still, but at least I try).

An artist's rendition of one of my characters
An artist’s rendition of one of my characters.

2) I found incredible love and companionship. My current sweetie I met in a text game. We had a text flirtation, dated in text, even had several marriages across different characters in text games. I am incredibly content with our relationship. We don’t fight. He is deeply affectionate and supportive of me. He even washes dishes and cooks delicious meals! Plus he’s wicked smart, totally adorable, and funny. He keeps me on my toes, and I can spend most of my time in the same room with him without wanting to string him up by his toes in the closet.

He’s not the first.

My deceased partner also emerged from a text game. I don’t know that we would have ever had a romance if not for how we met. He was permanently disabled with a degenerative disease (Muscular Dystrophy). I probably would never have looked at him as a potential mate because he -looked- frail, like touching him would break him in two (he wasn’t). Without a text game, I would have missed out on seven of the best years of my life. I would have lost all the lessons he taught me patience and compassion, in endurance with grace, in what genuine love looks like. My kids wouldn’t have gained an -amazing- father.

My most successful dating has emerged from a text-based world.

3) I gained the confidence to pursue my passion. Text games are in large part responsible for my

Another artist's rendition!
Another chibi-alternative me!

current profession – freelance writing. A great deal of my time in MUDs is spent writing in-game books, histories, describing items to wear or to eat, or crafting storylines between my characters and other players’ characters.

After a decade of that, I branched out into building. That means I created the room descriptions, items, quests, mobiles (non-player characters), and actions in each area I took on within a game. I learned a lot from that process and discovered that I have a knack for putting words together. The encouragement of my partners and friends pushed me the rest of the way, and now I pay my bills and feed my kids with words.

4) I learned the value of community. MUD communities can make or break the enjoyment of a game. I’ve been privileged to be a part of really vibrant, close-knit gaming communities that support each other and help make the game world a living, breathing place full of wonder and excitement. I’ve also watched decent communities shatter because the administration of the game allowed negative elements to fester unchecked.

Fostering a positive, safe place is vital not just to gaming environments, but to -any- environment where you want more than two people to interact for an extended period. Especially if any element of that community has competition (and, hey, all human gatherings do).

5) I remained insulated against the vitriol often shot towards female gamers in a multiplayer environment. For whatever reason, girls playing MUD games don’t get the same stupidity as girls playing other multiplayer games. I think it’s because our communities are much smaller and tend to have a considerably longer lifespan. One of the primary games I play is over ten years old, and most of the core playerbase has stuck it out for the duration. You don’t want that kind of negativity coming back to haunt you for ten years.

Since MUDs took up most of my game time, the remaining play time was spent mostly exploring solo computer and console games. I find MMOs to be incredibly dull in comparison to the rich immersion I can get out of a text game. It astonishes me how nasty the larger gaming community has become to chicks. We’ve always been here. One of my favorite early game programmers -was- a woman. Roberta Williams. She made the King’s Quest games and the Laura Bow series, among many others. I am glad that I remained largely in a community free of gender shaming.

Have I piqued your interest?

I hope so. MUD games are tons of fun. If you have an interest, send me a message and I’ll help you get started in the game I’m currently playing: Imperian. I can also reccomend a number of other games that might be more suited to your interests.

Have you played before? Tell me about your experiences! What’s your favorite text-based game?