CF9: Mucking around in another world…

Editor: This appeared in the Confurence 9 Conbook.

Mucking around in another world…

By Mark “Sy” Merlino

This article was originally written for the Furry APA, Rowerbrazle. It seemed appropriate as a tribute to the creators of the virtual universe that is home to so many of us, FurryMuck…

The D&D craze and computers got together some time ago. Some of the first computer games, when a computer still took up an entire room, were text-described mazes. You would move your “player character” by typing a direction, and the computer would describe what you saw, or what happened. In more advanced versions, you had to collect weapons and items to help you solve the maze, or even fight monsters. A real innovation happened when software was written that would allow more then one player to interact at the same time. In the UK, a software company and British Telecom created a game called a Multi-User Dungeon, which subscribers to the computer network could join and play. The object was to collect treasure, fight monsters, avoid traps, and compete with other players for points and just survive! If you got enough points, you could become a Wizard, and could actually help design the game, create new environments and devise new quests and pitfalls.
Of course, as with anything in the world of computers, the MUD software got “hacked” (a computerese term for “borrowed and modified”) and new MUD’s appeared on networked systems in the US, typically hidden on large computer systems at Universities and “Think-tank” businesses. With the spread of the Unix operating system (the closest thing to a universally accepted system that may ever be in the computer world), and the growth of world-wide accessible networks, it was now possible for players from all over the globe to meet and play on a MUD.
So, you may ask, what has this got to do with Furries?

Take my paw, I’m a stranger in paradise… Around August of 1991 Andrew Green called me, searching for stories and articles about my Skiltaire. He had managed to get my number from the editor of the “other Suns” FRP game which featured my electric-empathic weasel species. I was happy to hear from a “fan” and arranged to send him some stuff. He offered to return the favor by getting me an account on something he called FurryMuck. He proceeded to read a list of numbers to me, which I wrote down, and told me it was reachable via Telnet. After I hung up, I tried to ponder the strange secret code, but to no avail. Alas, I am not much of a computer type. I graduated from Cal Poly 5 years before the PC was born, so I missed out on all that.

My good friend, John Stanley (co-editor of Touch and co-conspirator of ConFurence) explained Telnet was a communication method of connecting to the Internet, the international computer network. He told me that many educational institutions and some businesses had access to it. This was before the start of the current on-line “craze” that has transformed personal communication. On a business trip to the San Francisco, I stayed with my friend Pete Glaskowsky. He sat me down in front of his computer, and showed me a few simple commands and I played around a bit. It was just like a text-based adventure game except the other characters I encountered were not programmed entities, but actually other people who were calling into the network from all over the world. They weren’t looking for treasure, or hacking each other up, but being inquisitive and friendly. The place (as described by the computer) was not a wild wilderness, dark castle, or a dank dungeon; but a nice little town, with a big park at the center. It felt surprisingly real…

When I returned, I decided I wanted to go back to that interesting place and look around some more. I didn’t have the time to re-enroll in college, so I called Andrew back and asked him if he could help me get back to Furry. He said I should call this house in Pittsburgh, where several Furry computer types lived. Furry computer types?… hmmmm. I knew of the Furry Computer Bulletin Boards with discussions and round-robin stories, like our own Tigers Den. I knew of the free networks like Furnet and Purrnet, which send electronic mail all over the country… but this was a new one on me… so I called.

A pleasant voice answered and I introduced myself as Sylys Sable. The excited response surprised me! He said his name was Steve, and he and his friends Paul and Paul would try and help me find a way to get to Furry. I was surprised…. they seemed to know me… As it turned out, the computer where FurryMuck “lived” was only 8 miles from my house! They let me use one of their accounts, and I finally got back to that interesting little piece of “virtual real-estate”. I was not prepared for the reception I received! People were “paging” me, asking if I was THE Sy Sable. Some of them had read my stories, seen my art, or heard about and attended Furry Parties and ConFurence. Some of them even had a picture of me on their computer background screens… (nude?!) Strolling around, I found Sable Street, and a statue of me! There were also streets and statues named for other well-known Furry characters and persons, like Ken Cougar! (Ken Sample)
A very friendly Keshant (a fox-taur, large enough to actually ride, based on designs by Michael Higgs) named Shaterri gave me a whirl-wind tour. I found out later that he was one of the Wizards of FurryMuck (the name Muck refers to the type of software used) . Unlike the original MUDs, Furry was a place to meet and develop relationships. Wizards on Furry don’t make it hard on the other players, but keep the system healthy and act as helpers and sometimes police, to make Furry a fun and interesting place to be. The quaint town and it’s surrounding wilderness areas are populated by all sorts of creatures; mythological beasts, toons, Anime’ characters, up-evolved and natural animals, recombinants, genetic constructs, aliens, “famous” characters and totally strange creations… even a few humans!

After a few days, Sy Sable decided to move in permanently. As I have said, I’m not much of a computer expert. I use computers as fancy (and expensive) typewriters, mostly. This was no problem… The Wizards and other characters helped me “build” a place of my own, a small apartment over a Hi Fi store and shop, where I make and sell my speakers, just like in Real Life. Since my first visit in Sept., I have made many new friends, and met a few in person (see the Con. Report section…). I have brought some other character to life, including Sydney Fisher and Westin P. Pepperelle (a griffin from another dimension, from a story in progress). My character relating to others has helped me to develop their personalities in a much more realistic way, since they are dealing with real “different” people. Many others have discovered FurryMuck, and Furry artists and writers have found the characters and the events very inspirational.

It seems that, like Obi Wan said in Empire Strikes Back “there is another…” Another active group of Anthropomorphic fans, Furries, which I had not encountered before. They have the same roots as we do… Disney and other animation, comics, interest in animals; but, instead of drawing, or writing stories, they developed a Virtual Universe on a computer, and created characters to live and interact there! The original creators and players on FurryMuck are just as obsessed as we are, but seemed to believe that because their talents for creation were hidden away from most of the rest of us in “electronic books” and on “virtual canvases”, that they were separate and alone. Wasn’t that the way most of us felt, some time back? There are other special interest MUs on the network. Many are based on particular “theme” universes, from Anne McCaffery’s Pern to Disney’s Lion King, Robin Hood, and even Star Trek; but FurryMuck has the largest membership of any MU, and has survived with it’s theme unchanged longer then any other text-based VR game. I think, like the rest of Furry Fandom; in spite of our problems, FurryMuck will survive. It’s an idea who’s time has come!

I am very grateful to the original Wizards of FurryMuck for inviting me to join their virtual community. This year, we made special effort to invite the creators of FurryMuck to be our special guests at ConFurence 9. If you are a player on Furry or another MU, you know how enjoyable living a “virtual life” can be. Take time to say hello to the FurryMuck creators, and don’t miss the related program events.

Once Sy Sable was a “Stranger in Paradise”, but now, like so many other Furries, he has found a home on FurryMuck!