Sample chapter from MUDs: Exploring Virtual Worlds on the Internet (ISBN1-56686-246-9) by David Ciskowski and Claire Benedikt.

Don't be a TinyJerk!

by Claire Benedikt

A sample chapter, revised for 1998

Be Approachable | Be Intelligent | Communicate | Respect Others

On MUDs -- now sometimes referred to as 'MU*s' to capture the wide variety of platforms including MUSH, MUCK, MUX, etc -- your interactions with others take place completely in text. Being polite, then, is all about making your text approachable, intelligent, comprehensible, and respectful of those around you.

Remember that on a MU* there are none of the usual visual cues to indicate smiling or frowning, laughter or anger, so you must learn to indicate the mood of what you say by how you write it. You should be aware of mistakes that can make what you have to say sound, even if on accident, obnoxious or mean-spirited. Let's take a look at a few suggestions for MUD etiquette.

Coming Across Approachably

1) Don't Shout.

Typically you do not have the option of using bold, underline, or italics online and on MU*s. Therefore various other ways of emphasizing words have been devised. Marking a word with unusual puncutation, for example asterisks or underscores, gives it emphasis (to be read louder or more strongly).

For example: The dog ate my homework!

The *dog* ate my homework!
The dog ate _my_ homework!
The dog >ate< my homework!

Another obvious way to emphasize a word is to put it in all caps. You can easily imagine someone shouting,


Now imagine someone who always talked that way...


On a MU* this kind of writing is used almost exclusively to indicate high volume. Speaking like this regularly will make your companions want to hold their ears. To come across politely on MUDs, reserve writing in all caps for times when you really mean to be yelling or shouting.

2) Don't Sound Frantic.

Punctuation is plainly an important part of communicating in a text-based medium. How you weild a question mark or exclamation point has a great deal to do with how you come across, in both obvious and more subtle ways.

For example: So, what's going on?

This question sounds ordinary: pretty laid-back and calm. But if the person carelessly leaves their finger on the question mark key too long, they'll very likely produce this:

So, what's going on???????????????????????????????????????????

Now they sound like they're shouting, frantic, panicked. To come across politely on MU*s, don't overdo your punctuation. An occasional startled "What?!" is okay, but refrain from producing frantic text ("What?!?!?!?!!?!??!?!?!?!?!!") unless you really, really mean it. This amounts to being careful, essentially. Watch what you're typing, and correct mistakes and typos if you make them.

Coming Across Intelligently

1) Use Standard ("Correct") Written English.

Possibly the most important tip of all: write well! All another MU*er can see of you is your text. Spelling correctly, punctuating correctly, capitalizing, and using correct grammar are all essential to coming across as an educated, intelligent, approachable individual online and especially on MU*s. You don't have to be an English major or a public speaker to do this well. Just notice the difference between Joe and Jill, here:

Joe says, "hey whatz upguys.. r u kewl??? my names joe im happy to meet youthanks for invitng me its always plesint !!"

Jill says, "Hey! What's up, guys? My name's Jill. Happy to meet all of you! Thanks for inviting me; I thought I'd rot away in my room forever."

The winner here is clearly Jill, whose text is easier to read, depicts her as calmer, more rational, more intelligent, and whose text is simply more aesthetically pleasing.

To come across intelligently on a MU*, take care to use standard (that's the linguistic term; we usually say "correct") English.

2) Read Up!

If you're stuck with a question on a MU* where you are surrounded by dozens of people on all sides, it might feel natural to simply ask someone nearby for help. But, please, be careful. Asking questions that have obvious answers is not smiled upon.

Typically, MU*s have standardized help and information systems accessible with obvious commands such as help, news, info, +help, @help, etc. And for questions about the environment itself ('How do I get to South Corner of the Park?') make sure you read the room description thoroughly and explore the possibilities before caving in and asking those around you. If a MU* is well designed, the help files and room descriptions should provide you with everything you need to know about available commands and navigation. This isn't to say you should never approach another person with a question -- in most cases they'll be happy to help you, and most MU*s have a staff of volunteers especially for this purpose -- but refrain from depending on the people as your first resource: they should be thought of as your last.

Communicating Without Misunderstanding

1) Take Advantage of the Pose or Atmosphere Commands

Typically on MU*s there is a "pose" command (abbreviated to a colon) that allows you to author lines of descriptive text to tell those around you what you're doing. This can be as simple as Khime smiles or Syd flicks open the straight-razor with a quick movement of his wrist, the bright metal catching the light.

Poses can even be, and often are, far longer and more complex than just a single sentence. It is not unusual for poses to be as long as a standard paragraph, between 3 and 7 sentences.

On Combat MUDs, (LP, Diku, Cold, etc) until you're an upper-level character you probably won't have access to a 'pose' command at all. In that case you'll be using "atmosphere commands," or words you type to produce a generic pose (smile, grin, frown, etc) with your name plugged in. For example, if someone on a Combat MUD types "laugh" the MUD will produce "Name laughs hysterically." (Now, Name is replaced by the person's character name, of course. And while he or she might not be laughing hysterically per se, on a Combat MUD they don't get to choose such subtleties.)

In either case, using these commands to indicate the tone and mood of your text goes a long way toward communicating clearly. By describing your facial expressions, body language, gestures, and so forth, you make your flat text come alive and you lose some of the ambiguity that comes with a text-based medium. Poses and atmosphere commands help create a rich, well-described virtual environment.

Here are some examples:

Anna says, "You're an idiot."

can become

Anna smirks, one hand on her hip, shaking her head slowly. "You," she says teasingly, "are an idiot."

Xibo says, "I could use a crayon. Anyone have one?"

can become

Xibo starts patting his pockets, looking grim. "I could use a crayon," he says at last. "Anyone have one?"

2) Use Smileys (or "Emoticons")

Plainly you have no faces or voices on a MU* to contribute to your understanding of how something is said. There just aren't any tones or facial expressions to give you your cues. So how do you tell when your friend is angry or laughing when she says something? Well, aside from using the say and pose commands (outlined above) to produce sentences such as "Claire laughs and says, "You're such a dope!"" there are also a series of symbols called "Smileys" -- specialized punctuation marks appended to the end of sentences to indicate tone and mood. Here are some smileys. (Turn the book sideways if you need help seeing them.)


The first one, and the most common, uses colons to represent eyes and a parenthesis for a smiling mouth. If you see it tacked onto the end of a sentence it means the sentence was spoken in a light, friendly tone. When you're online or MU*ing, it's sometimes a good to put this classic smiley face after text you think might be taken the wrong way. It lets others know you intend what you say to be taken in a friendly, positive fashion.

Warning: Over-use of emoticons is considered lazy and tacky. Use them with care. Remember, just like smiles in real life they may also be misunderstood as sarcastic, etc.

The second smiley in the table above adds a nose, just for fun. The third is frowning, indicating the text should be read in an unhappy tone. The fourth has angry eyebrows as well as a frown, to show the person speaking is upset or angry. The last one, possibly one of the most subtle of the commonly used smileys, is half-frowning, and can mean the text should be read apologetically, or that it was said half-heartedly or with some sadness. The last smiley, another common one, is winking. It's typically appended to text that you intend to be taken as a joke, josh, or tease. Let's look at the difference these tone-indicators can make.

For example: I hate you.

By itself, this sentence could sound flat and angry. But experiment with smileys and you can alter the tone in subtle ways...

I hate you. ;)
Now it teases.

On a MUD you'll find yourself surrounded by these little symbols in all their character and variety. :)

3) Use Infix Actions

While the phrase "infix actions" is by far not the official name for this communication aide, it does describe them well. An English teacher would tell you an 'infix' is a word (more rarely an entire phrase) inserted in the middle of another word to modify it. A good example would be the exclamation "un-f*ckin'-believable!"

Infix actions are verbs or short verb phrases set apart by unusual punctuation (usually asterisks) used to modify the tone or mood of a sentence. They're sometimes found in the middle of a line, and are often tacked onto the end, sort of like a written-out smiley face. The best way to understand this is through some examples:

Claire says, "Hey! *waves wildly* Look over here!"
Elanor says, "Claire? Is that you? *blink*"

When asterisks are being used for emphasis (as described in the first part of this chapter), the person might switch the punctuation they use for their infix action to differentiate.

For example: Steam says, "Better yet, what am *I* doing here? >confused look<"

Infix actions are used almost as commonly as smileys by the online community. You'll find them in email, in newsgroup posts, and all over. On Combat MUDs they become especially important when the emote or pose commands are limited to upper-level players.

4) Understand Mavs

A "mav" (can be capitalized, too) is when someone misdirects their text. There are a thousand ways to do this. They might accidentally say a whisper aloud to a crowded room. They might page the wrong person because of a typo. They might type in one window when they intended to type in another. The results can be painful, sure, but they're usually harmless and humorous.

To better communicate without misunderstanding, be aware that mavs exist. You might receive one, or worse you might commit one yourself.

This kind of mistake, by the way, is named after Mav, a character from the original MU*, TinyMUD, back in 1989, who would commit this blunder endlessly.

4) Understand the Lingo

While it might seem something of a high order to a newbie, familiarizing yourself with the slang and acronyms used by MU*ers (and usually by the net at large) is important. Here's a short (very short!) list of acronyms and lingo to keep in mind. Also check out the glossary!


LOL Laughs out Loud
ROTFL Rolls on the Floor Laughing
BRB Be Right Back
BBL Be Back Later
AFK Away from Keyboard
IC In Character
OOC Out of Character
VR Virtual Reality
RL Real Life
IMHO In My Humble Opinion
WTF What the Flip
RTFM Read the Flippin' Manual
WYSIWYG What You See Is What You Get
RSN Real Soon Now


Idle To be idle is to be inactive, unresponsive, or not looking at the screen.
Mav To mav is to accidentally misdirect your text.
Furry A furry is an anthropomorphic animal, like Bugs Bunny but typically more adult, often in the XXX sense.
MU*er (or MUDder) One who MU*s.
MU*ing (or MUDding) The act of using a MU*.
TinySomething When the prefix "Tiny" is put in front of a word, it puts the word in the context of happening on a MU* (after the first MU*, TinyMUD). For example: TinyJerk, TinyPlot, TinySex.
Cyborg A user whose computer automatically performs many of the functions he would ordinarily need to do himself.
Bot A robot, or program that runs a character in the place of a person.
Botspot The last place on the WHO list, the person who has been logged in for the longest amount of time. So named because robots never have to log out, and usually hold this place.
Lag When you're lagging it means it's taking a long time for your commands to register with the MU*.

Respecting Others

1) Obey the Wizards and the MU*'s Policies

The "wizards" on a MU* are the administrators. Usually a group of 4 to sometimes 10 or 12 (for very large MU*s), the wizards handle the various mundane aspects of keeping the MU* running smoothly. Divvied up between them are the jobs of keeping backups of the MU*, creating and maintaining any special features of the MU*, keeping the database small and the building quality high, arbitrating occasional interpersonal conflicts, monitoring complaints and harrassment issues, and the like. Most wizards remain behind the scenes, lurking mostly in the background to remain as hands-off as possible. A good wizard on a MU* never wants to take advantage of his special wizard powers or his authority. Most wizards prefer to play around on their MU* just like the rest of us. On a Combat MUD, the administrators (are something that consultant Michael Gunderson wrote for this particular chapter, sorry! *grin*).

Obviously, you will be expected to obey the specific rules and policies of the MU* you visit. These are listed in the news files (just type 'news') in most cases, and sometimes in the info files (just type 'info'). Most MU* policies include the basic directives not to harrass other users, not to pursue their RL information if they prefer anonymity, not to use foul language in public, not to do anything X-rated in public, and not to create programs that will invade somone's privacy or become harmful to the database. It is when these rules are broken that the wizards have a hand. Depending on the crime, you might just get a warning, you might have your password scrambled for a week so you can't log in (this is called banning a player, a temporary thing), you might be suddenly booted (forcefully logged out, usually accompanied by banning), or you might be toaded (@toaded) -- the worst and most permanent punishment of them all. Wizards have access to a "@toad" command that completely removes a character from the system by transforming it from a player-object (something that can be logged into) into a regular object called, for example, "A slimey toad named Watchman."

2) Don't Spam

One of the most common forms of harrassment is called "spamming." When you're spammed, it means that your screen is being scrolled too quickly by the MU*s activity level for you to successfully keep track of what's happening on it. If you don't have any way to scroll back and read what you may have missed, you can lose minutes of action. Even if you can go back to read it, you'll potentially be stuck catching up for several minutes.

Spam itself, as a noun, generally either refers to activity that is not at all pertinent to the main action or conversation in the room, or refers to any overwhelming amount of text scrolling the screen (pertinence aside).

For example, somone might sit in a Truth or Dare game and start singing Pink Floyd songs, quoting pages of lyrics to the MU* until your screen scrolls so quickly you can't find the game between the lines any more. Or someone might get mad and page "You suck!" 150 times, rendering you incapable of doing anything but watching your screen scroll. (Your own commands may only be registered by the MU* after this flood is over.)

No one is expected to tolerate this latter kind of harrassing spam. Any wizard will gladly lend you a hand and punish the offender for his or her behavior.

But, please note, all spam isn't bad. Sometimes it's simply created when a large group of people crowd into one location. In this case the spam might be positive: it will feel friendly, busy, or social.

In either case, spam is going to be anywhere you find people. Avoid it by moving rooms if you like, and try not to create spam yourself.

3) Respect Roleplaying

On many (dare I say most?) MU*s you will find users adopting personas different from their own. Along with a huge variety of original characters, you might encounter any number of characters from popular science fiction and fantasy, comic books, movies, or television. You may choose to become one of these roleplayers yourself. These roleplayed personalities are in many cases mixed with real (or 'RL') personalities, creating plenty of potential for interpersonal conflict.

1) If you are not roleplaying and encounter someone who is, do your best to respect their activities. If you don't want to play along, just let them know by marking your text with the acronym OOC (Out of Character) to show that you mean to address the player instead of the character.

For example, "OOC: Since I don't roleplay, can you find another person? Thanks."

A good roleplayer will accept this readily and find another person to interact with. In fact, they might drop OOC to join you in a real life (RL) interaction.

Playing along with a roleplayer, even if you're not roleplaying yourself, can still be fun. Many roleplayers have developed extensive backgrounds for their characters that are fun to explore. If you just can't tell whether or not someone is roleplaying the best thing to do is ask outright. Most players are happy to let you know. You might decide, in the end, that it doesn't matter whether your friends are roleplayed or actual. After all, this is virtual reality... Why not have robots and fairies as friends?

2) If you are roleplaying and encounter someone who isn't, do your best not to be too imposing. If they don't want to play along it's usually best not to push them. Either drop OOC yourself, or find another person to play with.

Tip: consistently use the IC (In Character) and OOC acronyms to keep your position unambiguous.

4) Don't Powergame

One of the most terrible faux pas in MU*dom, and thankfully one of the easiest to avoid, is called powergaming.

Powergaming is when someone's text thinks, feels, or takes action for some other person non-consentually.

For example, Her eyes bore into your soul, making you look away as your heart beats more quickly.
Traxxe uses his elemental magic to paralyze you! You can't move!

You can see the person who produced the text is essentially describing the reader's actions for them. The problem with powergaming is that it eliminates the need for the other person!

If you see "Carmine points his laser gun at you! He shoots! It kills you!" you have no chance to react, respond, avoid, accept, nor anything else. You might as well be logged off and eating lunch.

Fortunately, powergaming is easy to avoid: just make sure you only author text that talks about yourself.

For example Carmine might choose to say "Carmine points his laser gun at you, preparing to fire!" instead. Now he has given you a chance to duck, at the very least.

Tip: When you want to make something dramatic enough to be heart-quickening, take the time to describe something that will make the reader's heart quicken. Don't just say "And you are very afraid." Instead, describe something that will make the person feel fear. Your English teacher would probably tell you, "Show. Don't tell."

Powergaming is essentially an issue of consent, of forcing people around. Be aware of this faux pas, and avoid it at all costs.

5) Be Aware of Sexual Harrassment

Even though MU*s have the subtle sensation of fiction, they are very real: they involve real people, even if they are sometimes behind roleplayed characters. These real people might mean real problems, because, frankly, these real people might be real jerks.

If you are female or if you are roleplaying a female character, you might welcome some positive flirting or sexual attention when you're online. But, of course, you might also encounter some tinyjerk who pushes you for RL information despite your protests, wonders what you're wearing, whether you're married, wants to know where you live, or if you'd like to have phone sex, etc. While you're considerably better protected than in real life (they can't reach you physically), this behavior is still potentially disconcerting and certainly illegal if the tinyjerk persists over your requests for him or her to stop. If you at any time feel threatened on a realworld level by anyone, sexual or not, contact a wizard immediately. This is where they are expert, and swift retribution and potential banning or toading is in store for the perpetrator.

Cases of sexual harassment are incredibly rare on MU*s. Even if you do encounter something that makes you uncomfortable escaping is as easy as moving rooms, using a client to prevent that person's text from showing up on your screen, or of course just logging out. Keep in mind that most of the flirting and sexual innuendo you'll come across will be positive, fun, warm, and most assuredly well-intended.

6) Act Appropriately in Public Areas

Until recently it was very rare that MU*s would do anything to keep minors from their midst (hey, many MU*s are games, perfect for kids), so a common MU* policy has evolved, even today, requesting that everyone maintain something of a PG level in public areas. This means no nudity or sex, extreme violence, or foul language in places where underage people might be lurking.

What is a public area? Well, sometimes it's hard to tell. But the best bet is to make a direct parallel between the virtual space and the same space in real life. For example, a city park would be considered public in real life, therefore it's a public space virtually too. A treehouse, on the other hand, is a private place in real life. So it's private on a MU*, too, no matter how many people might be there.

Acting appropriately in public areas isn't only for the sake of the minors. Adults might also want a break from the sex or violence of more private areas, and come to the public areas to relax in a G-rated atmosphere.

7) Use Realworld Courtesy

And, finally, just because you're on a MU* doesn't mean you should forget everything mom taught you. Even on a MU* you should use real life courtesy--just as you would in real life. Say please, thank you, and you're welcome. Don't put your feet up on the furniture, don't run with the scissors, and wear a sweater if it's cold. Not that anyone expects a goody-two-shoes, but this kind of common politeness is expected and appreciated.

With these tips and hints for courteous behavior, you should have a working idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior on MU*s in general. Read the policies, take advantage of the wizards if you need to, and have a great time. :)