March 24, 2022

The Lost World Of Text-Based VR

There are more ways to define virtual reality than you think.

The Lost World Of Text-Based VR

There are bodies piled around the main hallways of LambdaMOO when I visit. I step over them in moving north, east, northwest. Room by room, there is always another player sleeping that I pass by. When they last log out, they are left slumped over where they are. Staying off the grid means they'll rest there forever.

Not all text-based virtual spaces have this feature. For most, you disappear when you close your client, but you can also lose your inventory on the next server wipe. For others, you might get deleted if you don't log back in within thirty days. There are also worlds which have rented apartments where you or your items are parked; let the timer run out on your next in-game payment, and everything you have either ends up in the trash or on the street for active players to take.

My home in the social platform ChatMUD is free. Ever-there, ever-faithful. I leave the main area open for visitors to explore its pop-art-styled confines, while I lock myself away in a separate space to sleep. And when I wake up again, there is always something in the space that's changed. The streets just outside grow in detail, the builders staying busy for the love of creation.

When I last logged in, ChatMUD was just a cozy, simple house with a few connected rooms. Now, it has become a sparsely populated city. I can explore forever without bumping into anyone--and that's actually what I like about it.

"Reality" does not necessitate being 3D; it doesn't even need to be visual to exist.

A MUD, Mush, MOO, Muck, etc (all referred to as MU* for short) is a text-based virtual world. They are connected to with telnet clients or programs, such as MUSHClient or Mudlet, in order to view them. MU*s are useful for those who cannot access 3D VR worlds, or those just like a place that's more writer-friendly. Many players who connect to MU*s nowadays are retro enthusiasts, diehard users, or are sight-impaired.

BatMUD is one of the most commonly known text worlds out there due to its listing on Steam. But there are plenty more hanging around; reports around 8700 players currently connected to its list of monitored text-based worlds. Those are only the ones registered with its system--many more are hidden with stats unavailable, so a true count is never known to anyone.

MU*s can be social, combat based, or both. Care to place yourself in a persistent crawler where you can fight and die over and over? Lensmoor has plenty of missions and monsters to slay. Want a place where creating your own MU* is easy, and sort of like using Twine? Written Realms is browser-based and even works on your phone.

Does not a world with permanence and immersion with multiple users get to be considered a metaversal world? Is it only that when it contains graphics?

ChatMUD has a lot of sight-impaired users who hang around on the server while they play other games. They employ screenreaders to learn about the rooms they're in, what those areas look like, and where the exits are. To them, a virtual world like ChatMUD is no different than VRChat, although they do get curious about 3D VR. They often ask what it's like when I mention it. I talk to them about how 3D VR can accommodate blind users by implementing sounds for walking, preventing footsteps when a user hits a wall to let the player know when they've reached a point where they can't walk any further.

Notes On Blindness, the VR app that educates sighted users on what it's like to be blind, also hints that sound can help sight-impaired players to map out the world around them and navigate it more easily.

I describe to those curious that VRChat is a lot of sound and music. They won't see the lights and colors, but the people there are still other users they can hear and talk to. With the right plugin, a sight-impaired desktop user can access these spaces just like a sighted user can. It just takes a bit more work to make it accessible.

The sight-impaired playerbase are an important part of text-based worlds, because they help to remind sighted users that virtual reality is a more uncanny thing than one might first think. We often consider VR to be something you can see, 3D and fleshed out. "Reality" does not necessitate being 3D; it doesn't even need to be visual to exist. Does not a world with permanence and immersion with multiple users get to be considered a metaversal world? Is it only that when it contains graphics?

Body permanence when a user sleeps in LambdaMOO and ChatMUD can make the user think about their "self" in that space, and care for that body when they're away. Moreso, in a combat-enabled world where the feature is still present. There's some care about that; written text about other concerns of body permanence exist about LambdaMOO, although it won't be linked here for the sake of its upsetting title.

But the permanence and care for those bodies speak of caring for your "self" in that world, and thus makes it more real to you. Even without that feature, there are others--missing the other players, your items, your custom spaces. The place in that world you like to visit the most. Even just the care of logging in enough so you won't get deleted there.

It's a world, and it shouldn't be discounted for its archaic format.

A ruined obsidian gate awaits me as soon as I head east from ChatMUD's recently-constructed town square. There's a ladder; I head up. The system's delay in messaging tells me a multi-limbed creature called an alhoon studies me carefully. Because I don't know who the builder of this room is, I get ready to type "d" for down again in case this thing tries to kill me.

It does nothing after a few seconds, and so I kick it. It turns out, it's just an NPC--no combat installed on it, so it can't hurt me. There's nothing else in the room and I wonder why the NPC was built at all.

Actually, it's like any other world out there. Wander Second Life's mainland and you'll find some strange curiosity sitting on a parcel, the rent paid up until oblivion. VRChat's endless maps contain experiences often meant to be enjoyed solo. Beyond the main city of ChatMUD lies a wasteland, where the last details of the grid wither away into nothing.

It's all the same, whether flat for fleshed-out. No matter what platform you're on, you can always find loneliness ready to accompany you.