Metathesis - June 1996
Little wooden horses and little winged trees - astra
(page 3/9)

Little wooden horses and little winged trees

or Fantasy worlds on the internet

The Internet is full of resources for the avid fantasy and science fiction fan. You'll find no end of web pages with information about your favourite books, films and tv series. However, not so well known, are the places where you can go to talk about your likes and dislikes with people in real time, or where you can go to create your own virtual world.

Internet relay chat, or irc, is a way of talking to people about specific subjects. After logging onto an irc server, you choose a topic from the list of topics under discussion, then everything you say gets passed on to the other people discussing that topic. It's quite restrictive though really - it's hard to actually get to know the people you are talking to - and if you want something with less factual info, requiring more imagination, try a talker.

Talkers are chat programs where you can talk to anyone at all on the program, about anything. There are different rooms on the program, and you can move about between them, and create your own. You can talk either generally to everyone in the same room as you, or tell things to specific people who might be anywhere on the program. It is easy to get to know people very well, because each character gets saved, along with information that you can set to describe yourself. Talker programs often have a theme, based around the system rooms, for example vampires, people lost in a forest, or surfers on a beach. However, they are all quite similar, and which talker program you use most often is simply a case of where you find people that you get on with. Muds however, vary considerably.

Muds are primarily games, and a way of talking to people secondly. They involve a lot more imagination than talkers do. You play a character in a fantasy world, and the "you" on the game might look and act very differently from how you are in real life. The world of the game will also be very different from real life: the time period the game is set in, the climate of the world, and the cultures of the people that you encounter. Some muds are futuristic or even cyberpunk, but the majority resemble the fantasy worlds such as those set up by Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson or Stephen Lawhead [ How dare you put those names all in the same sentence! - Ed ]. They are worlds set in an unknown age, when everything was simpler than in our modern-day world; where there is a basic level of technology, yet people still live mainly off the land, and lords gather armies to press their claims to the throne of the high king. Good and evil join battle in a struggle that will never be completed.

Some muds are based almost entirely around fighting and there the role-playing aspect is kept very low. On more complicated (and therefore more fun to play) muds, you can customise your character's race and guild. Each guild has its own set of commands and a different emphasis on how you play the game, for example clerics have a special responsibility for healing the injured and burying the dead. Guilds include bards, clerics and wizards. The different guilds have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to you to find a guild which suits the way you want to play the game. Do you want to be a good character, striving to rid the world of evil monsters, and healing people, or do you want to play out your evil tendencies, going round maiming babies and killing small fluffy animals?

Being able to customise your character is a lot of fun and adds to the enjoyment of the game. Sometimes though, you do have to remember not to take everything seriously. For example, on my favourite mud I play an ent character (ents being pretty similar to trees), and my husband is a pegasus. Well, taking everything to its logical conclusion, what will our children look like?! hence the title of this article.

The main purpose of muds is supposed to be to complete the quests, which are puzzles set in various locations around the mud, and with varying levels of ingenuity required. However, I think it's far more important to make friends. When you talk to people for a couple of hours a day, even if it is over a computer, you can get to know them pretty well - in fact, there are a lot of things which are easier to say over a computer. I've actually met most of my friends in real life, and I've had a lot of fun playing the games I do - just be warned - it is all very addictive!

If you need help, ideas or addresses for where to get started, send me a mail: astra@paintbox.dircon.co.uk - and I will get back to you...

astra