A multi-user dungeon or MUD is a gaming and social concept developed in the late 1970s, when connectivity to a common server was possible for a number of people at the same time. The initial goal of the multi-user dungeon was to create places where people could explore Dungeons & Dragons themed adventures together, and also interact socially in designated chat rooms or areas. Groups of players each connecting from personal computers usually via telephone line, played together in text based language, exploring various dungeons or areas, leveling up characters, or using simple commands to perform actions within the program.
The earliest multi-user dungeon types were developed at universities. In particular, the University of Illinois and the University of Essex both could connect people from their universities (and outside of them) for social interaction. The first real game on these early systems was called Oubliette, and was created at the University of Illinois for their system. It was so hard people had to work together in order to solve clues and survive.
The name MUD or multi-user dungeon arrived a year later with another game created for the University of Essex System. Its inventors, Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle are credited with inventing the multi-user dungeon, though really Oubliette existed a year prior. Many other games followed, and became more complex. Some emphasize the social more than gaming.
An offset of the multi-user dungeon was called MOOs or mud object oriented. Many of these were created to be more academic in nature, and classrooms could meet on MOOs. It should be noted that many were also social in nature, and lacked the gaming environment, though you could play scrabble and other word games on them if these were available.
Over the next ten years, multi-user dungeons became more advanced, allowing players to not only interact with the basic “objects” present in them but also to have a share in creating new areas to explore. Yet as the Internet burst into being, many text based styles were discarded, though there are a few still in existence. Instead, people moved onto graphical MUDs. This was primarily started by computer gaming companies, which allowed you to distance connect with other players to play games. Now there are a variety of online graphical MUDs, considered the next generation of the multi-user dungeon.
Logging on to multi-user dungeons or to MOOs could be very addictive. MUD also stood for multiple undergraduate destroyer, since there were many students who spent far more time playing on MUDs than they did studying. The same holds true for the graphical multi-user dungeon of today, in its many forms.
However a crucial difference exists in many of the current MUDs. First, many of them can only be accessed if you pay for them, with either a yearly or monthly service fee. Second, there are now graphical MUDs designed for and specifically marketed to kids like Disney’s Toontown, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Club Penguin. Though these can be accessed without a fee, to perform certain actions, access advanced parts of the game, or get certain rewards, you have to pay for membership.