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 First and foremost, as a piece of tech it was already outdated and eccentric back when I first joined the community fifteen years ago.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?

7 thoughts on “A Change of Venue?

  1. Chris

    I’m in complete agreement that the ifMUD isn’t the ideal place to host the ceremony for the reasons you’ve outlined. My first thought as I read was IRC, but if you’re looking for something more beginner-friendly, then I feel that Slack is worth looking at. It’s not exactly designed for this use case, though, as there isn’t a built-in way to allow the general public to join a “team” — basically a group of channels — but there are third-party things out there. It also doesn’t have a self-hosted version.

    Reply
    1. Cida

      I’m curious about these comments regarding IRC’s difficulty level. I wasn’t online during the eighties and nineties and only recently was introduced to IRC, but it seemed pretty easy, considering that there are web clients where all you have to do is click a link and put in a name. Sure, there’s fancy advanced stuff, but you don’t actually *need* the fancy advanced stuff just to hang out and chat, right?

      (Granted some of the functionalities on this wish/requirement list may fall into “advanced stuff” category, and I have no idea whether any of it is actually doable in IRC. But speaking from a purely usability-for-newbies perspective, I mean.)

      Reply
      1. Sam Kabo Ashwell Post author

        Yeah, clearly my experience of IRC is pretty out of date; it stands to reason that it has come along a fair way since I last used it. (But if so, the question is: what specifically is needed to get IRC to fit these requirements?)

        Reply
  2. Alexander Yakovlev

    Newbie-friendly nowadays means that you can join the fun using your browser or mobile. IRC and XMPP(Jabber) conversation rooms are the best tools for that. Jabber is slightly better because it has more cool features (long sentences, unified encoding, prints out room message history when you join it) but both are good solutions. You can use bots to record the conversation or whatever you want.

    Seriously, you can setup the server, the room and then just give the link. You’ll need only a link to join the conversation. See the Candy demo here, it’s a modern XMPP webchat.

    Reply
  3. Vehka

    Re the “simulated environment” part, Slack and IRC and all that are great, but they are not game-like. I’m curious what’s the state-of-the-art descendant of MOOs/MUSHes/MUDs and what have you. There’s got to be something that’s easy to use and comes with a browser interface?

    Reply
  4. XndrK

    I know I’m a bazillion years late and you probably picked something, but what’s wrong with IRC?

    I can think of a lot of things that are actually good selling points for modern IRC.

    1) It’s an established piece of software, but it doesn’t feel old. If you’ve ever used Pidgin on Freenode, for example, you know that while IRC is old, it doesn’t feel it; in fact, it’s one of the most vibrant pieces of the Internet I’ve ever seen.
    2) It’s accessible. You can get on your browser and chat using qwebirc (assuming it’s installed), or you can use your already-installed chat client (Pidgin, XChat, Adium, etc.).
    3) It’s customizable. Stickies can be implemented through startup notifications, so whenever someone logs in, they get a list of already-issued awards up front (assuming that either someone’s on hand to update it every time an award is given or a bot has been written to do it automatically).
    4) Moderation tools. While I’m not an IRC sysadmin or anything of the type, I do use it a bit, and I do know that there are tools preinstalled.
    5) Zero cost. Freenode hosts IRC channels for free, so long as they stay public and aren’t out to sell something (which this appears to qualify for). If you’re more into hosting with your own stuff, there’s a bazillion free programs that will help you with that (I Googled “free irc server software” and a bunch of promising stuff came up).

    There’s plenty more reasons to use IRC, so I’m on board with it.

    Reply
  5. flathead

    I can’t think of a better venue than IfMUD. It’s the only venue that fits the bill perfectly. Don’t forget, there’s always the IfMUD web client, which I’d recommend to those who don’t want to use telnet (or another MUD client).

    Reply

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