Chapter 5 - Part B

Interactive Internet

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.

IRC -- #superguy

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.

Bill: Eric's comment touched off a massive dose of silliness that has been edited out for brevity. However, you can find much more of its kind in Internet Explorer Kit for Macintosh, where this very conversation is reproduced in all of its glory.

Adam: Well, most of its glory, anyway. We next tried to get back onto an interview question....

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?

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.

MUCKing with the Furries

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.

Adam: Phew!

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,'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.

Adam: As it happens, we visited FurryMUCK very shortly after a rather unflattering description of the place appeared in Wired magazine. Our hosts took the opportunity, while talking to us, to rebut the article, fairly convincingly. A little bit of that conversation: Bill: And lastly, in one of my favorite moments, we got to see that old-timers like to berate the newcomers on MUDs, just like in real life:

Bill: And on that note, I think it's time to move on.