MUD Definition and History

Parts of this document, written originally by Colin Moock, appears as Chapter 6 of Teach Yourself the Internet: Around the World in 21 Days, Neil Randall, ed. It includes a general introduction to the world of MUDs, as well as a tutorial on the very basics of getting started wit h VUW MOO. There are also some references at the end. For a more complete list of references, try Colin's 51 Sites of Note in the MUD World. Much of the material in this text is background information. If you simply want to g et s tarted using VUW, link to the Connecting to VUW tutorial. A large amount of online help is available on VUW as well.


Twice in my years of using the Internet I have been made supremely aware of exactly what it is I am doing when I sit using my computer in my comfortable room in my little Canadian city. Both times I have been using MUDs. The first time I was pla ying a game with “Blackthorn”, a user from Seattle, Washington, USA. We were teaming up on killing some evil goblins, when my mother walked in my room and told me to ask my fellow marauder what he thought of Jean Chretien, who at that time had only rec ently been elected as the Canadian Prime Minister. Blackthorn replied quite innocently, “Who’s she?” He thought I meant another player on the game.

The second time, I was preparing to write this chapter, and sent a general request out for information and documentation. Within an hour, I had received a long piece of mail with the subject “MUD Frequently Asked Questions”. I opened it eagerly only to find that the entire text was in Italian.

All of the services available through the Internet cross borders to one degree or another. Most, however, seem eventually to lose their feel of distance both in geographical and in cultural terms. Very little of the character of an Australian g ets expressed by the domain suffix “.au” in an email address. Likewise, a WWW site somehow always feels to me removed from its HTML author. The one place on the Internet where I get consistently reminded of the people behind the computers, is on MUD’s.


MUDs have been described as text-based virtual reality. Essentially, a MUD is a text setting (like a description from a novel) which allows users to interact both with their environment and with other users. Structurally, MUD’s are made up primarily of descriptions of real and imagined areas such as forests, dungeons, offices, universities, cities, rooms, or any other spatially oriented environment. Users can navigate through and examine these settings, and can communicate with other users within the context and confines of the particular setting of the MUD. Socially, then, MUDs provide users with a grounded situation in which to interact with others at near real time speed. Communication commands are modeled on real life, with “say,” “tell,” “whi sper,” and “shout,” among the most common commands. Non-verbal communication is also incorporated into the virtual world. A user can, for instance, shake hands with, or smile at, another user. Like the description says, MUDs are text-based virtual rea lity. Something to note, however: obviously, the authors and programmers of MUDs are rarely famous authors. In fact, very few MUDs exist as commercial entities. For the most part, their creators and administrators work entirely on a volunteer basis. The quality of the virtual experience depends in many ways on the imagination and thoroughness of each individual MUDs creators; the difference in quality has as many variations as there are MUDs.


New users of MUDs often encounter a great deal of confusion simply because of the imprecision of the name and its acronym, and because of the sheer number of MUD spin-offs. In general, you should know that all MUDs, no matter what their name, have the s ame foundational premises: on all of them you can walk around a virtual world, and on all of them you can interact with other users. You are safe to call them all MUDs, though some will complain about your lack of accuracy. The confusion over the name stems from the origin of MUDs.

Between 1979 and 1980, Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle developed a program called Multi-User Dungeon at Essex University in England. They called it MUD1. Originally, the project was a commercial venture, but students became involved in both playing and programming the game. Some of these students actually created their own versions of MUD1. The first was called AberMUD (programmed at Aberstwyth), and was distributed over JANet (Joint Academic Network) and the Internet. Both MUD1 and Aber MUD were entirely game oriented. Remember, the 1980’s was the zenith of interest in TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons. As in D & D, players of MUD1 were there to explore dungeons, fight monsters, buy swords, and become powerful wizards. However, once MUD1 en tered a broader academic forum via AberMUD, it grew once again. From AberMUD came TinyMUD and LPMUD. This growth marks a crucial change in the world of MUD’s: LPMUD continued the gaming tradition of its predecessors, but TinyMUD was developed as more o f a social environment than a game. No dragons here, just a place to interact and create interesting things. Hence, a confusing renaming took place. The “D” in TinyMUD came to mean “Dimension,” or “Domain,” or “Dialogue,” or anything that didn’t sound like a game. The “D” in LPMUD continued to mean “Dungeon,” but eventually also meant “Dimension” when different LPMUDs started to provide gaming settings not based on dungeons and medieval scenarios. To this day, the distinction, and the ensuing confu sion, still exists, and there’s no sign of things getting any better: one descendent of TinyMUD now bears the name “MUSH” for “Multiple User Shared Hallucination”.

TIP: As a general rule, MUD’s are divided into two categories: 1) games, and 2) purely social environments. Both LPMUD and MUD nearly always refer to a game with some form of combat, while TinyMUD and its descendants, TinyM UCK, TinyMUSH, and TinyMOO, all refer to more socially oriented MUD’s.

MUCK, MUSH, and MOO are all variations of TinyMUD. Each is a step away from the game atmosphere towards MOO, which is the main type of non-game-oriented MUD. If you want to know the whole fifteen year saga, check out Lauren Burka’s WWW site at “”. MOO is a type of mud that uses an Object-Oriented programming language. Its name derives from that language: "M(UD) O(bject) O(riented)". MOO was dev eloped by Stephen White, here at the University of Waterloo in 1990. Since then, it has been adopted as the primary non-gaming academic MUD, with sites around the academic world: from U of Texas, Penn State, to a biology labratory in Israel. The major MOO software still being updated and developed at Xerox Corp. Xerox is the host to one of the largest and oldest MOOs around, LambdaMOO. LambdaMOO acts as the centre of MOO interaction and development.