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Texts mirrors and fluid styluses (II)

bannermediie.GIF (1637 bytes)

bannermediie.GIF (1637 bytes)

Emanuela Grama


In these "social" MUDs, the characters did not have to fight with each other but they could create from the very beginning "objects" (symbols that may – technically and socially speaking – determine descriptive texts, able to create the illusion of those worlds fancied by the characters) and perimeters of action; at hand for the new-comers, a library of available commands and a help-file. For instance, in Lambda Moo, there is a tutorial containing technical information on commands and the basic rules (the etiquette) concerning the relations within the frame of this MUD.

The main premise while constructing the character is the complete freedom. The fantasy has no limits and that is why, the characters’ profiles are imprinting a dimension of fairy story to the MUD’s worlds, a multi-cultural, multi-spatial and multi-temporal fairy tale. The concept of "fairy-tale" is hereby used in its oneiric meaning and not in the idyllic one, as the tales may sometimes turn out bleak. The freedom may be experienced in its absolute sense, even exceeding the stage of "apres moi le deluge", and reaching the challenge of some macabre personalities, who were latent, until a certain moment, inside the socialized ego and have been revealed by the extremely non-castigating MUD environment.

Such a case is analyzed in the article A Rape in Cyberspace or How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society by Julian Dibbell, whereby is described a sexual aggression that took place into the virtual space of Lambda Moo (that is a type of MUD oriented on objects). Lambda Moo’s database is so constructed that it imprints a strong sensation of movement in a physical space, which actually exists only as a program on a hard disk; the construction of space itself is imagined as a succession of rooms whereby one can navigate with the help of a simple command: when activated, it is determining the response of the database by changing one description with another that corresponds to the direction chosen by the character. The characters’ autonomy of movement inside these spaces is in accordance with the commands also given by the other characters. There are also commands forbidding the access in a certain private space. By using certain subprograms – such as "voodoo doll" in Lambda Moo –, the characters may be imprinted with commands they did not give and may be forced to bear the consequences of those commands, which they actually never gave.


Based upon this technical support there was committed what Dibbell called "a rape in virtual space": a character, Mr. Bungle, already built-up in a bawdy description, by using a "voodoo doll", forced other two characters, one of feminine gender – Starsinger -, the other with no declared gender – Legba – to "sexually serve" him, that means to read, without any possibility of canceling those words – everything that he was posting and describing as sexual actions, whereby they were the victims. This verbal attack lasted for about an hour, until another character intervened and blocked Mr. Bungle’s powers by canceling the said subprogram with another one. Everything actually occurred in that space build up of words, the structure of which only exists in the minds of the users hidden behind the characters. Nobody has been physically molested nor has anyone been hit, everything took place through words, and no one from the real life could have been accused of anything wrong. Mr. Bugle was a character embodied by a student who logged on from a New Yorker university. But those words, describing actions, - which, if happened in real life, would have got that Mr. Bugle into a tight corner -, imposed by force to the others characters (behind whom there were two human beings who, somehow, had come to identify themselves with those characters, and were coming into this MUD space as in another home of their own), those words hurt. Their force penetrated the virtual and converted into real pain, into tears, as the female student behind the Legba character was telling to Dibbell, long after the incident.

How far should the game go? How much has taken the character out of his creator’s humanity? How much of this character represents the creator’s obsessions, his hidden pleasures, and his sleeping demons? How much does it show what he/she might have been in reality, without this ungrateful physical appearance and this tormented psychic that made him/her seek refuge behind the words, into virtual spaces?

P.S. Mr. Bugle was annihilated in Lambda Moo, after a trial whereby 30 characters participated. He received the right to defend himself and, when questioned: "why?", the answer was: " I engaged in a bit of psychological device (…) It was purely a sequence of events with no consequence on my RL existence". He was simply experimenting! Apres moi le deluge, isn’t it?

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