The Game That Created a Legion of Authors

MUDs and MUSHes, remember those? These were the first multiplayer online role-playing games, popular in the 1990s, largely text-based. In the case of a MUSH, playing involved writing thousands of words, a skill that's proven useful later in life for some enthusiasts.

One of them is Jim Butcher, mentioned (among other authors) today in The New York Times' books section. Butcher was a prolific contributor to Ambermush, a MUSH begun in 1992 that was based on The Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny. Today, Butcher is the best-selling author of "The Dresden Files," whose latest entry, "Ghost Story," debuted atop The New York Times' list of hardcover fiction best sellers. It's his third novel to do so.

Butcher credits the intense effort he put into Ambermush with developing his talent for writing. "I was writing 5,000 words a day, mushing," he told the New York Times. "We were all practicing storytelling every day."

Some of it was pretty bad, at the beginning, Butcher says, but it was a necessary process of writing a lot of stuff, figuring out what does not work, and focusing your attention on what does. Butcher isn't the only one from the community to find success as a writer. The Times also talked to Cam Banks, who is the creative director for the RPG-maker Margaret Weis Productions. Banks also is an author, publishing his first novel in 2007.

"If you don't write a good scene, if you don't paint the right picture, people don't come into your room," he said. "People would just mock you openly."

All of this made Ambermush, in the words of the Times, "like attending a writers' colony, but without the brie and posturing."

Banks somewhat laments what role-playing games have become as they've evolved from text into full 3D-graphics and real-time interactions. "You couldn't just jump into the avatar and be the magical flying fairy - you had to describe it," he said. "We've lost a lot of that visual meaning in our heads, because you just see it. There's no point in imagining it if it's already on the screen."

There's a much longer discussion at the link; it's a nice look back at one of the forerunners of MMOs, and the strong communities that built them.

A Game That Honed the Skills of Writers [The New York Times]