This is, I think, one of the more important blog posts I have written because it is a call to arms. Even if you’re not a regular reader, if you have the slightest interest in text-based games I’d like to ask you to please read through, or at least skip to the bit where it says ‘hi to those of you who skipped’. I can’t promise you I’m not selling something, but I can promise that what I am selling is an idea rather than, say, life insurance.

I think one of the things holding back text games from becoming a vibrant, relevant part of the modern gaming landscape is a lack of a community around which all the interested parties can coalesce. The numbers involved in text games are already quite small[1], but they remain small because the community does not speak with one voice. It speaks with a hundred or so tiny voices and you need to actually strain to hear what’s being said over the roar of the internet.

For MUDs, I can think of five significant community sites that I check on a daily basis – The MUD Connector[2] (http://www.mudconnect.com/), Top MUD Sites (http://www.topmudsites.com/), Mudbytes (http://www.mudbytes.net/), LpMuds (http://lpmuds.net/smf/index.php) and Planet MUD-Dev (http://planet-muddev.disinterest.org/). The latter is a blog aggregator which doesn’t really give a lot of options for community building but does give a fascinating perspective of what’s going on in various games[3]. As for the other four, they serve mainly to fracture a small community across multiple different focal points. To be sure, there is a degree of cross-pollination with participants often involving themselves in multiple sites, but that doesn’t entirely compensate for the fracturing. This is a problem, and I think it’s a big one. The solution isn’t to create a new site[4], and there are incredible difficulties in trying to merge existing sites. The solution is, I think, to come at it from a slightly different angle – to provide a community resource based around more than a forum or downloadable files.

Unfortunately, the nature of Mudders in particular[5] means that a single community focal point is an incredibly difficult needle to thread. Politics are rife, and certain segments of the community are little more than full-time agitators. MudBytes in particular is especially bad for that – as with The MUD Connector, it is not fit for purpose due to the fact it goes through phases where useful content is swamped by arguments over policy and procedure. It reminds me a lot of what happens when you look at a wikipedia discussion page and then lose all faith in the validity of the rest of the site. At least there the meta discussion is kept away from the real content, but still – after you’ve seen not just the sausages being made but the unbalanced people *making* the sausages, it’s not surprising that you’d maybe just go for the salad.

Within a single community site you’re invariably going to find that you can’t satisfy everyone’s preferences (although there are reasonably good ‘best practise’ guidelines available these days for maximising satisfaction). The problem however is larger than just MUDs – there are all kinds of interesting text games out there, but each community is fractured across multiple tiny sites. There’s a lot to connect those who develop interactive fiction with those who create MUDs. There’s a lot to connect those who make things like Echo Bazaar with those who make things like Mafia Wars. There are potential links here that could really spark off genuinely useful discussions. Good, productive conversation comes the discussions between people with mutual respect and different perspectives, provided that discussion occurs on common ground.

I think there is a lot of common ground between these different *types* of text based games, andthere are lessons that each group can learn from the others. I would love to see a thread where people from Echo Bazaar discussed the mechanics of story telling with Inform7 gurus, while mudders provided the alternate perspectives required of multiplayer, persistent games. I want to see commercial text-game developers[7] discussing with free to play developers. I want to see people who are passionate about their kind of text game discussing the issues with others who are passionate about *their* favourite kind. I want to see players of IF discoursing with developersof MUDs.

Unfortunately, I know of no place where those kind of conversations are actually occurring[6], and I think the text-based gaming community is missing a trick.

Larger communities offer significant benefits beyond the cross pollination of ideas and perspectives. They also help get the word out about other games that might be worth trying. If they’re on the site, they’re already roughly in your wheelhouse. It’s a small step from Echo Bazaar to Interactive Fiction, and a small step from IF to MUDs. Importantly, the path is reciprocal – I can’t imagine a mudder who wouldn’t enjoy well-crafted IF[8], and in turn anyone who enjoys IF is likely to find a lot to love in Echo Bazaar. An increased audience for one is an increased audience for all – it can be one of those rare game theory situations in which a win for your ‘competitor’ is also a win for you.

In addition to this, larger communities offer economies of scale – there are channels that exist out there that can help get the word out. Why do so few sites integrate cleanly with twitter, Facebook and G+? Why are there so few apps for these kind of communities? Partially it’s because there is a limited return when you are investing your development time in a small community – there is a criticality of mass required before these social options become more than just a little icon on a page.

I don’t like, in general, to point out a problem without also providing a solution. However, the nature of this problem is such that I’m not sure any of the obvious solutions are feasible. The politics and entrenched interests mean that those parties best suited to working together to bring about a common community have the least incentive to do it[9].

So I offer a different solution from a slightly different perspective – a solution I have raised a few times to luke-warm support, but one that I would nonetheless like to see pushed forward.

It’s time now for me to welcome those who skipped the preamble – hi to those of you who skipped! I’m glad you could join us. Don’t worry about what you missed, I was just killing time until you got here. Anyway, here is my pitch to you as someone interested in text-based gaming:

I want to resurrect Imaginary Realities.

Do you remember Imaginary Realities? If you don’t, it’s a huge shame – it was a community driven ezine about MUDs and MUD related issues. You can download it from http://www.disinterest.org/imaginary-realities-2011-05-14.zip if you want to check it out. It closed down many years ago as a result of being too much work for too few articles, but you’ll see some big names who contributed to it through the years.

I spoke to Pinkfish@Discworld (one of the old editors) about bringing it back to life, and he gave me his full blessing. I put out some feelers at the time, but while the feedback was largely positive it was mostly a case of ‘if you put it out, I’ll definitely read it’, but with very few indicating their willingness to write for it. While I certainly *could* fill an entire monthly or quarterly web magazine by myself (god, look at this blog – I *never* *shut* *up*), I’m not looking for a platform for me to mouth off – I’m looking for one from which the *community* to mouth off.

A couple of years have passed since then, and my ideas have matured (as well as my perspectives on text game development, and my views on its sustainability and relevance). I had previously thought of extending its scope from text-based MUDs to include graphical MMOs, seeing a natural linkage there. Now I see that was sub-optimal idea – the real common ground is between different kinds of text-based game, and importantly that is an area where we are entirely unserved at the moment. I have come to believe the future newbie audience for our games is not going to come from peeling people away from graphical games, but from peeling people away from books. I firmly believe that many of those playing MMOs would find a lot to love in a MUD, but those individuals are also going to be regular readers. The audience for text games is amongst the *literate*.

I would envisage Imaginary Realities as offering both opinionated essays and editorials on text games and storytelling as well as thoughtful, scholarly articles. I would envisage it including reviews of relevant books and software, as well as specific reviews on text based games. I would envisage it collating and aggregating interesting and useful discussions in all our fractured communities, as well as providing its own web forums for the more integrated discussions for which I currently hunger. But really, it’s not what I envisage that’s important – it could be the resource around which the entire text-based gaming community can coalesce. For that to happen, it also has to map up to what *you* as a community envisage. It has to be cross discipline, it has to be cross-architecture, and it has to be cross the development divide – it has to be players, and it has to be developers. It has to be a venue for productive dialogue within our community. If we make it as inclusive, as interesting, and as popular as we can we will get the opportunities for cross-pollination of best practise and ideas that we currently so desperately need. We get a platform from which we can advertise our games to a wider audience of people than any of the existing sites currently can.

I *can* do this alone, but I *won’t* do this alone – it has to be a community effort. I am prepared to drive it, I am more than prepared to contribute to it both in terms of editing and writing. Similarly, I am also prepared to let someone else drive it if they have a burning in their loins to do so. What I need is to know ‘who is with me’? I need to know if you’d be interested in reading a resurrected Imaginary Realities with the scope I’ve outlined above, but more importantly I need to know if you’d be prepared to contribute your writing to it. I need to know what kind and amount of writing you’d like to do, and on what topics. Let’s put aside what that actually means now in terms of word counts or specific subjects – pretend it’s your ideal publication. Assume too that this doesn’t involve a regular writing duty – that you can contribute whenever you feel you have something to say.

Finally, I need to know if you would be interested in taking on editorial, or sub-editorial, roles. I think there is scope for formal editor duties and also for peer review of the more scholarly content. I think for the latter too there is room for looking at publishing the best articles in some appropriate venue (for those of us who are also interested in enhancing their academic publication counts).

I want to resurrect imaginary realities, and I would like your help. Please get in touch with me at drakkos@imaginary-realities.com if you’re at all interested in discussing the idea with me.

Drakkos.

[1] Perhaps not as small as you might think though. For MUDs alone, the numbers are at least in the 10,000 range and likely in the 20,000 range, although this figure includes those parties who have their own MUDs but never have any players.

[2] Alas, the presence of obnoxious trolls like Jodah render TMC almost entirely unfit for purpose, and I would never dream of actively participating there as a result.

[3] If you’re an active developer, I’d really encourage you to keep a blog. A huge amount of my web traffic comes from the blog posts I do.

[4] https://www.xkcd.com/927/

[5] I have never encountered any other group quite as obstreperous as the wider community of those interested in multiuser dungeons.

[6] If they’re already occurring somewhere I don’t know about, please do let me know.

[7] And there are several.

[8] I know I certainly do.

[9] Look at the childish squabbles about integrating Cratylus’s intermud system with the MudBytes one. The admin of the latter would rather their channel decayed away to irrelevance than grow up and work past their differences to create a greater community resource.