Why Study Muds?
Finding that MUD interactions differ from real life interactions could be interesting frequently, however, studies of differences between MUDs and real life suffer from methodological difficulties, some of which are discussed below.
A MUD also offers unprecedented opportunities for research without informed consent, confidentiality, debriefing, or other procedures that are essential to the protection of human subjects. Researchers who study MUD players must carefully consider how to proceed ethically.
Not the least of the impediments to MUD research are methodological. Experiments are idea for testing theory and establishing causal connections between variables, but the requirements of random assignment of subjects to experimental conditions and control of irrelevant variables are very difficult to meet when studying MUD players.
Survey research has been popular, perhaps because it is perceived as easy to do. In fact, conducting a scientifically valid survey using MUD players is quite difficult. There is no unbiased procedure for sampling MUD players. The common approach of posting surveys to Usenet newsgroups introduces enormous bias: there's no estimate of the number of players who read the newsgroups or how they might differ from MUD players, responders are self-selected, and there is no way to insure that readers don't send in multiple responses. Sampling players within a MUD may be more promising, though time and care will be required to prevent active players from being sampled more heavily than inactive players. Sampling MUDs from the population of MUDs is possible with the help of the many fine mud lists that are available, though again the sample will be biased in favor of publicly-accessible MUDs which choose to advertise.
Finally, much research has been done using participant-observation, ethnographic, or interview methods. Qualitative methods can capture the full complexity of interactions of MUDs and suggest areas of theoretical interest, but are the weakest of the methods in reliability they depend greatly on the observer's perceptions and they almost never provide strong tests of theory.
* Psychological theories of group behavior, altruism, aggression, spatial representation, and attention. Attention may seen surprising, but consider that splitting attention between multiple streams of conversation and game-play is extremely common among MUD players.
* Sociological theories of organizational structure, social norms, and exchanges. For example, it's common for experienced adventure-style MUD players to retrieve the items from a more novice player's corpse and return them to the novice. The same was likely done for the experienced player when s/he was a novice, and creates a system of exchange between players.
* Organizational behavior work on training, management, leadership, satisfaction, turnover, job characteristics, and organizational citizenship. Under what conditions do MUD administrators "burn out"? What is player satisfaction -- and does it relate to the degree to which players have input on the MUD?
* Political science. Aspects of many MUDs can be understood in terms of political structures, coalitions, and mechanisms of governance.
* Sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics, and pragmatics. The language MUD players use has already received some attention (see, for example, Carlstrom, 1994 Cherny, 1994, Serpentelli, 1992)
* Anthropological theories of culture, ritual, and folklore. If the players of a MUD constitutes a subculture, with shared beliefs, understandings, rituals, etc., anthropology has much to offer. Clodius (1994) discusses the use of MUDs in ethnographic fieldwork.
* Computer science work on distributed databases, graphical interfaces, virtual reality models, and client-server computing.
Many other approaches are also possible: MUDs as educational institutions, tools for game design, communication and control systems, etc. Reputable scientific research is waiting to be done (as is an extensive review of the current literature.)
The function of this journal is to encourage high-quality research which offers interesting and replicable phenomena, testable theories to explain the phenomena, and empirical tests of the theories. The Journal of MUD Research hopes to provide an arena for dissemination of research on MUDs and the education of future MUD researchers.
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Carlstrom, Eva-Lise. (1994). Better Living Through Language: The Communicative Implications of a Text-Only Virtual Environment, or, Welcome to LambdaMOO! Available: ftp://parcftp.xerox.com/pub/MOO/papers/communicative.txt (6 June 1996).
Cherny, Lynn. (1994). Gender Differences in Text-Based Virtual Reality. Available: ftp://parcftp.xerox.com/pub/MOO/papers/GenderMOO.ps (6 June 1996).
Clodius, Jen. (1994). Ethnographic Fieldwork on the Internet. Anthropology Newsletter, 35(9). Available: http://tinylondon.ucsd.edu/~jen/afa.html (19 May 1996).
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Schiano, Diane. (1996). People are People, even when they MOO. Presentation at Cognitive Colloquium, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.
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