Imaginary Realities - A Call to Arms

Hi there. My name is Michael Heron and I am a developer of multiuser text games.

Back in the day, there was a multiuser dungeon ezine called ‘Imaginary Realities’[1]. It died around ten years ago, taking with it much of the heart of the community of MUDs. It’s my desire to resurrect Imaginary Realities as a modern web publication with an expanded scope - I want it to be the hub around which text-games in all their various forms can coalesce. I would like it to be a place where those of us who are passionate about text as a medium can share our thoughts, our opinions and the lessons we have learned when building games and telling stories.

I am passionate about text as a medium for games. I think there are few interaction metaphors that are so successful at distilling and conveying story and atmosphere. I also think it’s sad that text games have become so marginalised in modern society. Books didn’t disappear when movies came along, and yet text games have largely faded away as graphics have become the dominant medium. I don’t think that’s inevitable, but I think that at least in part it’s because those of us who love text as a medium are fractured across far too many communities. The numbers involved in text games are already quite small, but they remain small because the community does not speak with one voice. It speaks with a hundred or so tiny voices and you need to actually strain to hear what’s being said over the roar of the internet.

There’s a lot to connect those who develop interactive fiction with those who create MUDs. There’s a lot to connect those who make things like Echo Bazaar with those who make things like Mafia Wars. There are potential links here that could really spark off genuinely useful discussions. Good, productive conversation comes from the discussions between people with mutual respect and different perspectives, provided that discussion occurs on common ground.

I think there is a lot of common ground between these different types of text based games, and there are lessons that each group can learn from the others. I would love to see a dialogue where people from Echo Bazaar discussed the mechanics of story telling with IF gurus, while mudders provided the alternate perspectives required of multiplayer, persistent games. I want to see commercial text-game developers discussing with free to play developers. I want to see people who are passionate about their kind of text game discussing the issues with others who are passionate about their favourite kind. I want to see players of IF discoursing with developers of MUDs. Those dialogues either don’t exist or are occurring somewhere I don’t know about, but in either case I have a hunger to see better links between those of us who believe in the value of text.

Larger communities offer significant benefits beyond the cross pollination of ideas and perspectives. They also help get the word out about other games that might be worth trying. If they’re checking out your community, they’re already roughly in your wheelhouse. It’s a small step from Echo Bazaar to Interactive Fiction, and a small step from IF to MUDs. Importantly, the path is reciprocal - I can’t imagine a mudder who wouldn’t enjoy well-crafted IF, and in turn anyone who enjoys IF is likely to find a lot to love in Echo Bazaar. An increased audience for one is an increased audience for all - it can be one of those rare game theory situations in which a win for your ‘competitor’ is also a win for you.

I would envisage the resurrected Imaginary Realities as offering both opinionated essays and editorials on text games and storytelling as well as thoughtful, scholarly articles. I would envisage it including reviews of relevant books and software, as well as specific reviews on text based games. I would envisage it collating and aggregating interesting and useful discussions in all our fractured communities, as well as providing its own web forums for the more integrated discussions between frameworks and paradigms for which I currently hunger. But really, it’s not what I envisage that’s important - it could be the resource around which the entire text-based gaming community can coalesce. For that to happen, it also has to map up to what you as a community envisage. It has to be cross discipline, it has to be cross-architecture, and it has to be cross the development divide - it has to be players, and it has to be developers. It has to be a venue for productive dialogue across our various communities. If we make it as inclusive, as interesting, and as popular as we can we will get the opportunities for cross-pollination of best practise and ideas that we currently so desperately need. We get a platform from which we can advertise our games to a wider audience of people than any of the existing sites currently can.

I can do this alone, but I won’t do this alone - for it to have the value I envisage it has to be a community effort. I am prepared to drive it, I am more than prepared to contribute to it both in terms of editing and writing. Similarly, I am also prepared to let someone else drive it if they have a burning in their loins to do so. What I need is to know ‘who is with me’? I need to know if you’d be interested in reading a resurrected Imaginary Realities with the scope I’ve outlined above, but more importantly I need to know if you’d be prepared to contribute your writing to it. I need to know what kind and amount of writing you’d like to do, and on what topics. Let’s put aside what that actually means now in terms of word counts or specific subjects - pretend it’s your ideal publication. Assume too that this doesn’t involve a regular writing duty - that you can contribute whenever you feel you have something to say.

Finally, I need to know if you would be interested in taking on editorial, or sub-editorial, roles. I think there is scope for formal editor duties and also for peer review of the more scholarly content. I think for the latter too there is room for looking at publishing the best articles in some appropriate venue (for those of us who are also interested in enhancing their academic publication counts).

I want to resurrect imaginary realities, and I would like your help. Please get in touch with me at if you’re at all interested in discussing the idea with me. All I am doing now is assessing interest, and if there is enough interest from the various different text gaming communities, I would be looking to begin an active scoping and planning exercise within the next couple of weeks. Please feel free to cross and repost this to any communities you think might be interested. All signal boosting gratefully accepted.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you!


[1] … realities/ … y-seminar/ … ive-prose/

Well, amen. I’ve been thinking, and occasionally posting, that the IF and MUD communities should cross-contribute more. As a player and fan of both parser-text-based forms, I would love to see a community or platform overlap both fanbases. The idea of text-gaming community convergence seems to be catching on; CYOAs have pretty much been adopted into the same fold as parser-based text adventures. Why not MUDs, too?

Strangely, I was just thinking about the IF ezine SPAG – the Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games. I really liked that ezine, but there hasn’t been an issue for a whole year. I had actually been planning on starting a thread here to ask whether anyone else knew anything about SPAG.

So, here’s to lost ezines of text-gaming history! Your plan to resurrect Imaginary Realities in a more general context sounds like a worthy goal. I would certainly read it. I used to write occasional game reviews for SPAG and might do the same for Imaginary Realities, but I wouldn’t want to sign up for any formal responsibilities at this time.

I’ve never heard of Echo Bazaar. I’m assuming I’d like it since I like IF and MUDs, so I guess I’ll have to wait around for this multi-community ezine to launch so I can find out what Echo Bazaar is. :wink:

Now, I’ve not played any MUDs, but from what I’ve read about the recent update to TADS 3 (the addition of a web server) may actually be able to help with that. Now, from what I’ve read, you’d have your job cut out for you… but I believe the framework is there to actually create multi-user games. That means that with a bit of work, you can not only build a bit of cross-talk between IF and MUDs, but actually merge the two!

So perhaps, one day, these two different text-based game platform may not be different after all…

This sounds intriguing. I agree there’s a lot of missed potential for dialogue between different groups making text-based interactive experiences. A replacement for SPAG as a curated source of reflection and commentary would also be welcome. I sent you an e-mail, but I wanted to throw in my support here, as well. :slight_smile:

Hi all.

Interest in resurrecting Imaginary Realities has been strong. Those who contacted me have been putting their thoughts and such forward at our forums ( … =Main_Page).

We’re going to be scoping out the plans for the rebirth for another couple of weeks - if people are interested and want to get involved, there’s still time.


P.S. Thank you Tove for those links! They do highlight though that there’s a lot out there that we could be doing a better job of bringing to the attention of other interested parties.