the social space of mudders

I don’t write much about muds anymore as I haven’t been playing muds. Nearly all of them are far less suited to casual play that I would like. Nevertheless I still read the various forums, and right now there’s a long thread over at Mudbytes about a new moderation system the admins there are considering implementing. Read on if you’re curious, but fair warning that this may be interesting only to a very few people.

If you don’t follow muds, there are three main sites with forums: The Mud Connector, Top Mud Sites, and Mudbytes. Mudbytes is a relative newcomer, in some sense taking the role that MudMagic used to fill (a site which is now closed), indeed, as is often the case with community sites, it got its start partly due to people leaving MudMagic. All things considered I’d say that Mudbytes is the most vibrant discussion forum currently going. Particularly in the last few months it seems to have gained some new members, and while in my opinion it used to be focused on DIKU-derived codebases, lately it’s seen a more interesting range of discussion from programming to design.

All of this is a long preamble of context to frame why I’m posting this. I would have posted in the thread linked above but I felt it wouldn’t have served much purpose really, and what I’m trying to do here is get some thoughts out there to figure something out. For the record my nick on Mudbytes is Idealiad.

So what the Mudbytes admin are proposing is a system of moderation with a dedicated forum to contain ‘moderation threads’ — basically reference threads created when any disciplinary action takes place. The basic idea is to create a transparent system so that threads aren’t derailed with moderation disputes, and make it easier to reference moderation actions without digging up threads all over the forum. Also new moderators would be put in place to do the actual work of modding. The idea for this is derived from another forum with a similar system.

This is all in response to some recent issues with people getting suspensions and threads getting locked over some troll threads and responses that apparently are against various Mudbytes rules. People were crying foul over what they saw as heavy-handed moderation and wanted more transparency and accountability in how the modding went down.

So the proposal thread has developed in an interesting way. First of all my response was against the idea of a moderation sub-forum, but for the idea of new mods. My main beef with the separate sub-forum is that I think it creates an atmosphere of antagonism rather than cooperation. I’ll try to explain my reasons for thinking that.

I think the ‘community energy’ of a site is relatively fixed. How the community chooses to spend that energy influences the tone and direction of the site, how its members will treat each other and how new members will integrate into the established community. So when the community spends its energy in creating an infrastructure to deal with infractions, it is taking away energy from other things.

I have to admit my main influence on this thinking is the time I spend on TIGSource. TIGS is not without moderation of course. People there have been banned and threads locked. In general though, I get the sense that the atmosphere of TIGS is much, much different than that of Mudbytes (to be fair it’s also a much larger site, and so personal disputes don’t tend to involve the whole community like they do at Mudbytes, so their impact is somewhat diluted in the grand scheme of things). In essence TIGS spends its community energy on, for lack of a better word, ‘positive infrastructure’. An effort is made to keep things moving in a positive direction. When people trend the other way there is an effort by others to steer the ship to its original course.

As a result of this comparison, I got frustrated with Mudbytes. What I’d like to see is a similar focus on positive infrastructure, and less on what is in effect an infrastructure for litigation.

What could be the reasons for this difference? My first thought was that it has to do with the nature of mudding itself. Muds are games that primarily are social spaces. Unlike the majority of games on TIGS, a mud is in itself a social space. You certainly can have a community based around a game on TIGS, but this idea of a social space is quite different. There is a long tradition of large hierarchies running muds, with all the rules, sometimes formal and sometimes informal, you would expect in any community. By their nature then, mudders are used to all sorts of frameworks for maintaining this social space, and these frameworks are going to mirror what we see in society at large — judicial and political systems — and when the time comes to moderate another social space which they are a member of, like Mudbytes, they’re going to turn to these same rules and frameworks as the tools they’re comfortable with.

It’s not surprising then that in that Mudbytes thread people are not really arguing about the need for such a system of moderation (with one or two exceptions), but instead debating what seems to me more and more elaborate systems of moderation and their finer points of implementation. In essence the die already is cast.

The thing here though is that I think people like this. Whether there is a sub-forum for moderation or not it doesn’t really matter — the community at Mudbytes already is oriented toward this way of being. They like going back and forth over who’s trolling who, what should be modded or shouldn’t, and all the finer political points in between, and will continue to do so no matter what kind of system is set up. It’s kind of like people who go for student government or model UN. In that case a system with more transparency is probably better than a system with less, don’t you think?

So in the end I guess I have to accept this community for what it is if I want to participate in it. I don’t know if it’s possible for it to be different, more like TIGS or something like it. In effect its social space already is dictated by the social habits of the mudders themselves, and I don’t see in the near future those habits changing very much at all.

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4 comments so far

  1. Matt on

    Interesting post George. Some people who play or administer MUDs could well be predisposed towards rules and regulation. Kinda like those staff ads you see for “enforcers” on DBZ MUDs.

    I also think that the small size of the Mudbytes community is an important factor. There may be a lot of members but the number of regular posters is relatively small. When you have the same people posting to each other day in day out (and often on the same subjects!) the forum can become something of a meta game between them. This is when you get posts on spelling and grammar, little digs between those with opposing political views and memes like Cratylus and his #100 posts etc. Whether you view this sort of thing as a fun part of the community or a distraction that could put off potential contributors I guess is a matter of opinion.

    Ultimately it’s up to the administration of a site to set the tone, and without that it will be left to the dominant posters to do so. The need for moderation comes when those two ideals don’t necessarily coincide.

  2. Matt on

    Hey

    Well so you are idealiad eh?

    Just wanted to say I quite enjoy your blog now and again and yes you make some interesting points in this post.

    I for one don’t really see the need for extra moderation on the site but think if that’s the way it is going then so be it and I’ll try to give some good ideas when I can.

    This need for a hierarchy could have been a reason why my community policing ideas got smacked down so harshly.. I am one really for open and free communities that self moderate, so even tho I am a mudder I guess I don’t really think like one,

    Samson is not going to lead us down the road to that freedom over at mudbytes and if anything it’s going to be somewhat less free but that’s what people seem to want. All I ever wanted was samson to stop being so flipping touchy but here we are.

    Keep up the good posts, loving the rogue like stuff,

    Matt aka Flumpy

  3. georgek on

    @Matt, that’s a very good point about setting the tone. There’s a distinct lack of that, really, and thinking about it there aren’t too many mud sites where the owners try to establish a tone in any sense at all.

    The size of the community matters a great deal as you said. I don’t mind the trolling threads or whatever in themselves, they’re often rather entertaining. I guess my views on this are somewhat conflicted; I don’t think strict modding is really that necessary — for example, the Mud Connector is a good example of very hands-off modding (or community self-modding you could say, as in rare cases members will call in the TMC owner Icculus). However some of the threads at TMC do get pretty dumb, and I’ve seen the discussion at TMC fall off a bit over the years. It used to have much more discussion on coding, design, roleplaying and the like. Now it seems mostly about drive-by advertising for staff and finer points of licenses.

    @Matt/Flumpy, thanks for letting me know you like the roguelike posts :). Yeah, I did get the sense in that thread that troops ‘were rallying behind the banner’ when critiquing your ideas. So be it, I guess. I enjoy your contributions in the coding/design forums on Mudbytes so I do hope you’ll stick around despite some of the roadblocks.

  4. Igabod on

    Flumpy isn’t going anywhere, he likes the conflict it seems.

    I just stumbled upon your blog by accident and think I’ll read some more of it, I always enjoy seeing my peers opinions.

    As to the trolling threads being humorous, I wholeheartedly agree with that, though they can become tiresome after a while if all a particular user does is post trolling threads. This is when moderators are needed.

    I am a supporter of having moderators, but I believe the moderators should practice restraint in using their powers. Don’t lock a thread at the first post just because it’s trollish, give the community members a chance to police the offender first, if nothing is done after a reasonable amount of responses, then the moderator should step in. Sometimes self-policing just doesn’t work, though that is the preferred method of dealing with problems.

    Igabod


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