Computers: Nonverbal Communications


Rationale and Literature Review

Magnafix says, "Have you figured out the secret entrance to
Kahn Draxen\'s castle?"

Newtrik sighs deeply.

Newtrik says, "I think so, but I haven\'t found the stone key yet!"

Magnafix grins mischievously.

Magnafix gives a stone key to Newtrik.

Newtrik smiles happily.

Newtrik shakes hands with Magnafix.

Newtrik says, "Thanks!"

Magnafix grins broadly and says, "No problem..."

Newtrik leaves west.



The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the communicative phenomena to be
found in those environments known as Internet MUDs, or Multi-User Dimensions.
These text-based virtual realities are presently available to students and
faculty at most learning institutions, as well as anyone with a computer and a
modem. Though the term "virtual reality" has become connected for many with
visions of fancy headgear and million dollar gloves, MUDs require no such
hardware. They are, however, a form of virtual reality, "because they construct
enduring places, objects, and user identities. These objects have
characteristics that define and constrain how users can interact with them,"
(Holmes & Dishman, 1994, p. 6). Having been created in their most rudimentary
form nearly two decades ago, the technology that supports MUD interaction is
well developed and has spawned a new variety of communicative environment, one
that thousands if not millions of users have found fiercely compelling.

Since MUDs are generally restricted to text-based interaction (some support ANSI
codes, and the graphical MUDs are gaining popularity), one might expect that the
interactions therein are characterized by a lack of regulating feedback,
dramaturgical weakness, few status cues, and social anonymity, as Kiesler and
her colleagues have suggested (Kiesler, Siegal, & McGuire, 1984). While these
characteristics may be readily attributable to the majority of interactions
within experiments on computer conferencing and electronic mail, such is not the
case for MUDs, as each (there are hundreds) is a rich culture unto itself, as
will be shown. This thesis is meant to explore the modalities by which MUD users
avoid the drawbacks mentioned above, specifically, how nonverbal communication
takes place in a virtual world composed solely of words.


History of network computing

The first computer network was created in the late 1960s in an effort by the
Department of Defense to link multiple command sites to one another, thus
ensuring that central command could be carried on remotely, if one or several
were disabled or destroyed. Once the hardware was installed, the military
allowed educational institutions to take advantage of the research resources
inherent in multiple site networking. This interlaced network of computer
connections spread quickly, and in the early 1980\'s, the network was divided
into MILNET, for strictly military uses, and ARPANET, which, with the advent of
satellite communications and global networking, became the Internet (Reid, 1993).

On a smaller scale, throughout the 1970\'s, various corporations developed their
own computer networks for intra-organizational interaction. E-mail and computer
conferencing were created, useful for information exchange, but asynchronous
(i.e., messages are stored for later retrieval by other users, rather than the
synchronous co-authoring of messages) and thus less interpersonal than MUDs
would later become.

At the same time as this conferencing research was being done, another group of
programmers was involved in the creation of text-based adventure games in which
a user would wander through a textually-depicted maze, occasionally encountering
programmed foes with whom to do battle. These first single user adventure games,
developed in the early 1970\'s, expanded the world\'s notion of computers from
mere super-cooled punch-card-munching behemoths to a more user-friendly
conception of computers as toys and even friends.

Inevitably, the networking technology and the game technology crossed paths. In
1979, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw developed the first MUD (called "MUD", for
Multi-User Dungeon; now, the term MUD is commonly accepted as a generic term for
Multi-User Dimensions of many varieties) at Essex University. This original game
became enormously popular with the students at Essex, to whom its use was
restricted at first. As various technological barriers were toppled, access to
"MUD" was granted to a widening circle of users in the United Kingdom, which
eventually prompted two results. First, several of the "MUD" players wrote their
own variations of the game. Second, the computer games magazines took note and
produced a flurry of articles about "MUD" in the early 1980\'s (Reid, 1993,
Bartle, 1990).

These two results are related in that they brought about an exponential growth
in the Multi-User Dimension community. By 1989, there were quite a few families
of MUD programming technology, each designed with different goals in mind. Many
of these technologies sought to distinguish themselves from their brethren by
adopting new acronyms (as well as new programming approaches), such as MUSH