Comment: Character, Race and Multi-User DomainsMatthew M. Seidman, M.A.
In present-day society, racial issues are of considerable importance in political, economic, and cultural discourse. As MUDs require the use of character races as a basis for participation, it is reasonable to consider how these on-line races are related to race in the real world, and to question what implications their use might have for the behavior of MUD participants both individually and interpersonally. Since MUDs exist that are derived from different source codes, this work focuses only on those using the Diku and LP codes as described by Keegan (1997).
It is apparent at first glance that MUD character races are fundamentally different from real-world human races. The most basic differences are that MUD participants actively choose which character race they prefer to play, and that they retain the option of playing a character of a different race at will. Furthermore, MUD races are usually composed of imaginary beings that do not correspond in any meaningful manner with the accepted divisions between real world races. Finally, although players are almost invariably given the option of playing a "human," this "race" is usually presented as inclusive of all known human variation. No attempt is made to translate real world racial distinctions into the MUD environment. In sum, MUD races are not the same as real world races, and thus must be considered separately from them.
However, one may question how character race affects the participation of players within MUDs. Where individuals are concerned, the program itself usually requires that character races do affect the nature of a player's participation in the MUD. Different races may be subject to bonuses or penalties that affect basic game activities such as fighting mobiles or casting spells. Some races may be subject to a restricted range of possible character classes, or require more experience points, and thus more player participation and effort, to advance in character level. However, these modifiers only affect individual characters, and are freely assumed by players. They do not dictate how players behave towards one another, and in this sense MUD races are interpersonally "neutral."
It is possible that character races may used by players as a basis for discriminatory behavior, or negative behavior motivated solely by another player's character race. However, since MUD races are by their nature very different from real world races, would it be valid to term this behavior "racially discriminatory?" It seems more likely that if such behavior does take place, it would result from individuals acting out personal dislikes, although this remains to be demonstrated. In essence, while character races do affect how an individual may participate in the game, they do not dictate the interpersonal behavior of MUD participants.