Geeks have been using the Internet to meet other geeks, well, since it came around. I remember logging onto the Internet the first time, and I didn’t find information: I found a person. I believe I even corresponded with someone in Australia (this would have been in ’92, I believe) via short emails on a very antiquated computer. And after a time dabbling in AOL chat rooms (hey, there weren’t a whole lot of options) I discovered Elendor, a Tolkien-based MUSH, or Multi-User Simultaneous Hallucination.
What is a MUSH, you might wonder (well, other than that long acronym)? Long before the advent of MMORPGs, MUSHes (and MOOs and MUDs) allowed you to play around in a virtual, text-based world with other people. Essentially, that gave people like me license to pretend to be in their favorite books… which made it painfully addicting. But while the primary role of Elendor was to roleplay in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, it served a very important second purpose for many of us: social interaction.
Though I’m not in contact with everyone from Elendor, there are plenty of people who I still talk with regularly, including my husband. (Yes, the geekiest of geeky love stories happened on that game… but that’s another post altogether—in fact, the reason we started talking had nothing to do with hobbits, and everything to do with They Might Be Giants). Many of my friends from the MUSH are consummate geeks, literary nuts, and generally wonderful eccentrics.
I haven’t signed on to Elendor in years. The last time I tried to log in, I discovered that my characters had been purged (every last hobbit). Honestly, Twitter has replaced MUSHing (and chat in general) for me in a variety of ways, and taking this trip down memory lane made me realize how similar both social networks are. Consider the following:
- Twitter is notorious for its downtime. Well, in the day, so was Elendor (and many other games). Since Elendor was (and continues to be) free, and hosted at a university, sometimes things just went, well, fail. The game would be down for hours and days, and we’d all be screeching at each other on ICQ until it came up again.
- Twitter can be organized by hashtags. Elendor had a way to facilitate completely non-RP conversation with a variety of chat channels. Most were public; there were places to sing lyrics, to quote movies, to just fool around and be a total idiot.
- Twitter is full of geeks. Elendor was no exception.
- Twitter has a sort of learning curve. Sure, there’s plenty of people who use Twitter that are total idiots. But on the whole, those who work to get something out of Twitter really do. The same went for Elendor. It’s a revolving door of people; someone you get on with extremely well may be gone in a month. There’s no telling.
- Twitter is really basic. It’s text, with little pictures. Most MUSHes are also extremely basic, just text on a background.
- Twitter is real-time. People laud Twitter for its immediate news capabilities, but the MUSH was the same way. I’d often find things out on Elendor as it happened. And with players from all around the world, it definitely lent an international spin to things, too.
- People on Twitter tend to exude a persona. I used to call it a MUSHPersona, back in the day. It’s a way to make a character of yourself, even while OOC. Sometimes more irascible, sometimes more flirtatious–social media of all sorts allows you to create a version of yourself, even if you are being, well, yourself. Having met people both online and IRL with Twitter and Elendor, I can safely say there’s often quite a remarkable distinction.
At any rate, my rather meandering conclusion is that really, even with the Internet, nothing is new. Twitter taps in to a way that people communicate, and have been communicating for a long time. That geeks have been doing it for decades is no surprise!
Have any pre-Twitter social media stories to share? Let us know!