Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Change of Venue?

For many years, the winners of the XYZZY Awards have been announced on ifMUD. In a community that mostly exists online, there’s immense value in bringing people together into the same virtual space to celebrate the best work being done in the field. Festivals need a sense of event, and the ceremony is a big part of what makes the XYZZYs fun.

But ifMUD has its problems as a venue. First and foremost, as a piece of tech it was already outdated and eccentric back when I first joined the community fifteen years ago. That fit right in with the heart of the parser-IF ethos – that an artistic community centred around an outmoded, economically unviable form could remain vibrant, innovative and productive. But it also means that, by modern expectations, its UI can be kind of a pain in the ass for many people to learn.

Second, ifMUD is as much – or more – a social community than it is an interactive fiction enthusiasts’ forum. Many of the ifMUD regulars don’t maintain much of an active interest in interactive fiction any more – they’re there to chat with their friends. Because it was built by its users, ifMUD has been steadily customised so that it fits their needs very well indeed, both in terms of technical affordances and in terms of culture. But this inevitably means that there are a lot of people whom it doesn’t suit at all (which isn’t a slam on ifMUD’s culture: it’d be true of any established social circle). This has always been the case; there was never a time when the whole IF world consisted of MUD regulars. But it’s a lot more true now.

Back in the day, the interactive fiction community was rec.*.int-fiction, and ifMUD was its social wing; it was a natural choice. But the growth and speciation of interactive fiction over the past five years mean that there really is no central IF community any more; there’s no truly neutral space.

So on the whole, using the MUD for the XYZZYs feels sort of like holding the school play in the auditorium at the local Elks. That’s fine, if you live in a town small enough that the Elks is the only place with a suitable auditorium, but it’s still a tiny bit awkward to shuffle through the wood panels and past the bar-room and underneath the regrettable taxidermy, while the old boys who just wanted to have a quiet whiskey with their buddies semi-ignore you. If there are better places to hold the ceremony, we should take a really good look at them.

So the question is: is there a better venue? What would a better venue look like?

As a start, here are the features that are non-negotiable:

  • Text-based. We’re a text game community. Text is the water we swim in.
  • Easy to use. There’s no sense in moving away from the MUD for ease-of-access reasons if the new platform isn’t a substantial interface improvement. (That means no IRC, for instance.) That probably means something that’s natively browser-based, for a start.
  • Free access. The XYZZYs don’t have a budget, and we certainly don’t want anyone to have to pay to attend.
  • Unlimited attendees – and still allows for clear communication when there are lots of people in the room. (In practice, I suspect we’ll always have substantially less than 100 attendees, but in principle I don’t want anybody to be turned away.)
  • Moderation tools. If someone shows up and acts like a jerk, we need to be able to issue warnings or show them the door.
  • Channels, or something like them. A way to distinguish the main action of the ceremony – talk from the presenters and the people accepting awards – from applause and conversation among the audience. (It’s no fun showing up to a party unless you can chat with the folks you meet there – but if everybody’s at maximum volume, it’s chaos.)
  • Some of these need to be private, so that the organisers and presenters can coordinate.

Things that would be nice, but that we can allow some wiggle-room on:

  • A simulated, customisable environment. Part of the fun of the ceremony is the fiction of a shared physical space.
  • No advertising. Ideally, it’d be something that could be set up on a personal server (perhaps the one ifMUD currently runs on, even), so that we retain ownership over our own space rather than camping out on the sufferance of some corporation’s cloud.
  • Transcripting: the ability to record the ceremony. Honestly, I don’t know how necessary this is; the past couple of years I’ve kept transcripts of the ceremony in case anybody asks for them, and nobody has. The role of the XYZZYs as a form of public record is served by the actual award categories, their finalists and winners: recording the ceremony is a footnote.
  • A way to pin certain information – in particular, a list of the winners as they’re read out, because otherwise latecomers ask about it every five minutes. In the past couple of years, I’ve mostly shifted this role over to the Twitter account, but something built-in would be nice too.

Is there anything else that needs to be on that list? Are there any extant tools or spaces that would obviously fit the bill?