Adam: Okay, here comes a fun section.
Bill: Yes, this one should really irritate our production folks. That's great fun. "Wow," I'll say, "how can we ever make something like this look good?" "Don't worry about it," Adam will respond. "That's why Hayden has production people!" Then we attempt to laugh in a sinister manner, like the late Mr. Vincent Price would.
Adam: Most people communicate on the Internet through email or Usenet postings. These are roughly analogous to letters and telegrams -- the sender sends when she's ready, and the recipient collects the mail when he's ready. Eventually, the process reverses and then repeats itself, and thus is a conversation born.
Bill: If you're better about writing your mail than I am, anyway. But there are other ways to communicate and interact on the Internet that involve live, real-time conversations. This is analogous to the telephone or, to be more specific, the party line. You actual carry on your conversations with people as you sit at your terminal, typing what you want to send as you read what other people are saying to you. If it sounds confusing, just wait a few paragraphs and all should become clear.
Adam: First, we plan to visit an area -- called a channel -- on IRC, which stands for Internet Relay Chat. We're not going to settle for attempting to tell you about IRC; we'll let the people who hang out there tell you themselves.
Bill: And then we'll pay a quick visit to FurryMUCK, an example of a multiuser roleplaying environment where everyone pretends to be anthropomorphized animals. Except me, of course. I'm a six-foot-tall anthropomorphic pickle.
Adam: Sigh, leave it to me to find the one guy who can't even act weird in synch with everyone else.
Bill: Damn straight.
Adam: Bear in mind that we've edited very heavily. There was far too much material to include here; we've only taken excerpts, and even those were edited for content and appearance.
Bill: But in some sense, our editing better retains the proper flavor of the discussions than the original transcripts do. After you've spent some time on IRC or on a MUD, your brain filters out much of the extraneous garbage that we've filtered for you here, and starts putting together fragments of conversation into a coherent whole.
Adam: Let's get started with our first stop on IRC, the #superguy channel.
Bill: I suppose that in this section, since I actually know everyone who participates, I should provide a cheat sheet, so our readers know which person matches which nickname.
Adam: Yeah, I could have used that to begin with.
Bill: Okay, Rubicon is Eric Burns, Superuser is Bill Paul (commonly known as the Man with Two First Names), and the_Swede is Gary Olson. You'll see us refer to each other by all these names and by others in this conversation.
Adam: Keep in mind, folks, that Bill knows these people pretty well. As a result, a lot of the silliness is the product of years of practice.
Bill: And beer.
Adam: I guess. First, let's take a picture so you can see what's happening.
*** Server: AdamEngst has joined channel #superguy
*** Server: BillDcksn has joined channel #superguy
[BillDcksn] All right, everybody, Adam's going to switch into greyscale and take a snapshot.
[AdamEngst] Smile for the snapshot...
[Superuser] Won't that hurt?
[the_Swede] my, i feel so... grey...
[Rubicon] Cheese!!!!!!!!!! [Bill's, that is]
[AdamEngst] OK, after a brief trip to Kansas, we're back in Oz again.
[Superuser] Wait, my hair...!
*** Action: the_Swede loans Superuser his hair...
[Superuser] And just what were you doing with my hair in the first place? Wait... I don't want to know...
[Rubicon] Well, you know -- Prozac can be your friend.
[Superuser] I thought that was cholesterol.
[BillDcksn] So didn't we have some interview questions or something?
[AdamEngst] OK, first question - perhaps stupid. Do you get anything "productive" done on IRC? Or is email more useful? Obviously it depends on your definition of productive.
[the_Swede] what... this isn't productive?
[Superuser] Well, we collaborate a lot on Superguy writing, and it's easier to discuss things live than via mail.
[Rubicon] Productive... well, as a cowriter of Superguy, I'd have to say yes. It's a place where I can contact other of my Superguy authors and discuss upcoming events and the like
[the_Swede] the only time i recall ever doing something productive here is while the bills and i were working on a storyline back in december...
[Superuser] In case you haven't guessed, we don't use IRC for work purposes.
[the_Swede] i don't have net access at work, as they expect me to do actual work or something...
[Superuser] The fiends.
[BillDcksn] Well, unless we can turn Superguy into a meal ticket...
[Superuser] I just had a meal, thank you...
[Rubicon] Well -- I can list some 'practical' applications.
[Superuser] Go ahead: I dare you.
[Rubicon] In my guise as a mild-mannered English Lit type person, I have had actual scholarly discourse on here -- and therefore I have found productive use of IRC. Nah nah nah
Adam: Well, most of its glory, anyway. We next tried to get back onto an interview question....
[BillDcksn] Okay, guys, this is for Adam's benefit. And don't try to lie, because I know the answer.
[the_Swede] awww... telling the truth's no fun...
[Superuser] No, you can't borrow any money.
[Rubicon] So what's the next question, o Writer-types? :)
[BillDcksn] Would you say your electronic persona, in an environment like IRC, is different from your real-life persona?
[Superuser] What real-life persona...
[BillDcksn] Oooooo, good answer :)
[Superuser] Hell[tm], I barely have a real life, let alone a persona...
Adam: Is Hell trademarked?
Bill: In the Superguy universe, Hell[tm] is actually a corporation, and yes, the name is trademarked. The main offices are in Fong's Enchilada Emporium, a Mexican restaurant staffed by the souls of the damned.
Adam: Why is it that every time I ask you a question about Superguy, I wish I hadn't?
[the_Swede] in IRC? not really... i'm not on often enough for that... on the muck, yes...
[Rubicon] Ooo... tough question...
[the_Swede] okey dokey...:)
[Rubicon] I would say my electronic persona is very like my real persona -- my friends who I have met online and then met in life say I'm a lot like who I say I am on the net :)
[Superuser] Except that in real-life, Eric looks like a hot dog vendor. :)
[BillDcksn] Two points!
[the_Swede] or, without his beard, like one of the super mario brothers...
[Rubicon] Hey, Bill -- they know what I look like. I'm on their screen, remember?
[BillDcksn] Adopts an interviewer persona. "So then, would you say that people sign onto IRC to insult each other?"
[AdamEngst] Seems the answer is yes.
[the_Swede] umm... well, actually, not really...
[Superuser] Hmm... you are going to edit all this before putting it into the book, yes?
[AdamEngst] Maybe. They're going to like the insulting parts of the book, Bill.
[Superuser] I thought we were the insulting parts of the book.
[the_Swede] hey, readers! your mothers dress you funny!
Adam: Now that we've had a taste of IRC, let's take a look at another form of live interpersonal interaction on the Internet.
Bill: Adam and I are now going to enter a different sort of interactive setting, known as a MU*.
Adam: A what?
Bill: A MU*. The asterisk is a wildcard, allowing the term to stand for MUD, MUCK, MUSH, or whatever the latest variety is. MUDs were the first of this set of programs, and the term stands for Multi-User Dungeon or Multi-User Dimension, depending on who you're talking to and perhaps on the MUD in question.
Adam: This sounds like a different type of IRC. Similar idea, correct?
Bill: Well, on a basic level, yes. It's a program that enables numerous people on the Internet to interact with each other in real time. But MUDs and their ilk open up a whole new realm of possibilities.
Adam: I've heard that MUDs are an environment of sorts, in which you can move about and role-play, much like a game.
Bill: Yes, but in many of them the roleplaying is much more like theater than like a game of Acuras & Attorneys.
Adam: Is that a real game?
Bill: Good lord, no.
Bill: A MUD has another important feature -- it is user-modifiable. If you join a MUD and create a character, and the owners of the MUD permit it, you can build your own home and describe it. Other characters (and, by proxy, their players) can then visit and explore your home, experiencing it as you have defined it. There is a very real sense of space on a MUD.
Adam: That's difficult to wrap the mind around. What do you mean by the character's home? The character is just an artificial construct, right?
Bill: Not if you're a good enough actor. But I realize this can be confusing to talk about, so I'm not going to try to explain it further. It would be far better simply to show you.
We'll visit a MUCK known as FurryMUCK. The concept is a bit interesting: the characters are all anthropomorphized animals, creatures known as "furries."
Adam: Oh, great...you're going to introduce me to something I don't understand, using as an example something else I don't understand.
Bill: Yup! Brace yourself...we're going to jump right into an interesting bit of the conversation we had while we were visiting, in which our hosts discussed the differences they see between MUDs and IRC.
AdamEngst says, "We've just spent some time on IRC - how do you think the socializing here is different? Do you use IRC at all?"
Mer'rark walks in from Sable Street.
Mer'rark says, "Slice was telling me there's some guys writing a book about this place?"
FoxTrot yaps, "Here it is a little different then IRC because people have characters they use to express themselves."
Triggur whickers, "This environment is much richer than IRC. Less artificial."
ErmaFelna says, "There's more of a sense of *place* here... you can move around, have a distinct concept of rooms and objects... this is much more of a game as well."
Dekhyr says, "Never been on IRC. Or any 'social MUD' for that matter, except this one. And this one only two weeks ago. Used to play hack-n-slash MUDs. Got bored of it. Socializing this way for some reason seems to be better than the potluck I tend to get in RL."
FoxTrot yaps, "Also, IRC is highly topic oriented; here, you can go somewhere and the topic will change a lot."
Kimiko nods at FoxTrot.
ErmaFelna says, "This place is much more flexible than IRC; it's a lot easier for the players to modify the general environment. Anyone can add new commands for people to use, or reprogram portions of the setup. I've written programs to do anything from making a lock that only lets the people inside choose who can come in, to creating an object that can be used as a container."
Dekhyr says, "Probably the thing I like about Furry most of all is that you *need* a kind of extroverted imagination to even play a furry in the first place."
AdamEngst says, "What do furries generally think about the outside view of MUDs and this MUCK in specific? Is that view unrealistic or off-base?"
Triggur whickers, "Uhhhh... 'too kyoot' is a common reaction :) lots of outsiders think this place is too sticky sweet, especially from a MUD standpoint."
FoxTrot yaps, "They are quite often biased towards one activity, as WIRED illustrates."
Dekhyr says, "I think everyone latches on to the erotic sector of MUCK. Too emotionally charged."
Dekhyr says, "Some people couldn't imagine playing a MUD. They feel it's a waste of time."
Lynx purrs, "Dunno, you tell me, what's the outside view of MUDs and MUCKs?"
AdamEngst says, "Well, the addictive nature of MUDs is certainly mentioned a lot."
Kimiko nods, they ARE addictive... worlds can be created here...
Lynx nods. This is true. Stay away, AdamEngst, you'll find your free time slipping away...
ErmaFelna says, "This particular MUCK has a very general theme, which means that things tend to be extremely free-form. What big events do happen tend to be very fast versions of cooperative story-telling, with a lot of the same difficulties: one person can Deus Ex Machina the plotline and ruin it for everyone else."
Pickle declares, "Erma, is there a set of rules to guide things like that?"
ErmaFelna says, "Rules? Not really... just politesse and some general guidelines."
Triggur whickers, "thank GOD there's no rules :)"
Kratsminsch says, "I've also used the MUCK to contact experts in certain fields, when I got lost trying to fix something RL."
Kimiko does that too! (have a computer Q? @shout for an answer!)
Pickle declares, "How long has Furry been around?"
ErmaFelna says, "It's been around a little over three years, now. Of course, some of us have been MUDding since before Furry existed." She nods over to Lynx.
Lynx mumbles something about how when HE was a kit, we had to telnet 12 miles uphill through thick snow and line noise to get to a MUD, and then we telnetted 12 miles back the other way, also uphill, to get a response back, and we LYKED yt.
Bill: And on that note, I think it's time to move on.