Cyber Rape
  Great Renaming

Case Study

The History of LambdaMoo

LambdaMoo is perhaps the most popular MUD in existence. It attracts a wide range of users and has had a very interesting history. Before we begin to analyze the evolution we must take a quick look at the original MUD, created by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at Essex University. Trubshaw began the development of the MUD in Autumn 1979, and Bartle took over in the summer of 1980. Initially, only students at the university and guests using EPSS could join the MUD. After about a year, it became possible for players to connect via modems from outside the university.

The popularity of this MUD grew quickly and people found it difficult to get a spot in the MUD because there was a limited number of dial-up ports on the university machine. Adding to the problem was the fact that the MUD could only be run at night when there was spare processing time.

From that point on MUDs grew in both popularity and number. In 1990 what was to become one of the most popular MUDs, LambdaMoo, was created by Pavel Curtis. LambdaMOO was a MUD much like many others that allowed users to chat with one another and to program new features to add to the setting. The setting itself was based on Curtis' own home. From the onset LambdaMOO was governed by a set of wizards who had complete control over who was allowed in and what they were allowed to do. However, as participation in LambdaMOO grew, so did the amount of work that the wizards had to do. Users also disliked the idea that such a small group had absolute power without fear of reprisal.

First, Curtis created the Architecture Review Board to try to shift away some of the duties from the wizards onto a larger group of seasoned players. Then, LambdaMOO moved to a registration system whereby new users had to email the wizards to request that a new character be created. This added a certain level of accountability, but Curtis was afraid that it might stifle LambdaMOO's growth.

Growth did not slow, however. Instead, the wizards were forced to develop new policies. They added red-listing, black-listing, and grey-listing along with the @newt and @toad commands which basically suspended users temporarily. They tried blocking users with little success and eventually were forced to remove the limit on the number of connections. As many new things as they tried, the wizards could not keep up with all that had to be done to regulate LambdaMOO. Therefore, in December of 1992 the wizards announced that they would no longer intervene on "social" matters, but rather that they would exist solely to administer technical fixes and improvements. As Pavel Curtis stated "It's a brave new world outside the nest, and I am very much looking forward to exploring it with the rest of you. To those who have noted that I have the ability to shut down the MOO at any moment, that my finger is, after all, the one on the boot button: you have nothing to fear on that score for the foreseeable future; only an utter fool would put an end to such an exciting social experiment at so crucial a time in its evolution."

In the Spring of 1993 an event occurred that would greatly change the face of LambdaMOO. At that time a character named Mr. Bungle did something that would leave the community and the culture at large reeling. The Village Voice reported on this event labeling it the "Rape In Cyberspace." For more information on this event see our page on this issue.

Following this event LambdaMOO attempted to develop a dispute arbitration and petition process to settle the differences that had arisen. That process would remain with little incident until 1994, when charges were brought against the SamIAm character. Due to the "delicacy of charges", the dispute procedures were superseded and SamIAm was barred from LambdaMOO. The SamIAm incident caused a good deal of uproar within the LambdaMOO community. Users, especially a character named Sunny, questioned both the procedures used in the SamIAm case as well as the arbitration process in particular.

In the winter of 1995 Curtis and others rewrote help manners (the place where propper etiquite on LambdaMOO was described). Later that year they attempted to define a "Bill of Rights" and a Constitution, but those ballots failed, due to both a general lack of political interest and a lack of clarity in the ballots' implications for restrictions of freedom and expression.

By 1996, things were growing out of control. On May 16, referred to by some as black Thursday, the wizards reasserted control. They said that the line between technical and social was not as clear as they had once believed.