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6:01pm on Saturday, 13th September, 2014:

50 Years


It's Essex University's 50th anniversary this year, which it is celebrating today and tomorrow with what it's calling a "homecoming weekend". All past students and members of staff were invited to attend and to bring their families along. I got to meet quite a few old faces, including my PhD supervisor, Jim Doran, whom I haven't seen for maybe two decades.

Not as many former students attended as I was hoping, though. My wife (who also went to Essex University) asked me to call her if there was anyone there from her year that she mights know, but I checked the list of registered attendees and there wasn't. There was no-one from my year (apart from me), either. Come to that, there were no former students of mine. I'd brought two photograph albums with me to share with my contemporaries, but took them home unopened.

There were plenty of other photos on display anyway, though, that former students and staff had sent in. I'd contributed about a dozen myself, including some featuring the computer operators (it took three shifts of three people each to keep a computer running 24 hours a day back then). These photos were scanned, collected in groups of about 30, and made into A1-sized wall posters. There were something like 15 such posters featuring several hundred images (all of people), so it was great fun looking through them and picking out the individuals I knew as I knew them, rather than the 30-years-older versions they are today. None of the photos were of me, though.

Officially, I was at the homecoming because I had been asked if I could run MUD for the day, so I begged the MUD2 arch-wizzes for some logins and spent a morning writing a 5-sheet how-to-log-in-and-play document. I printed off 50 copies and from 11:30 until 3:30 was in the lab ready to re-introduce people to one of the games of their youth. My readiness never translated into action, though: not one person logged in.

I did meet one former MUD player, Biddulph the wizard, who had worked on MIST (which used the MUD engine). Another person was aware of what "a MUD" was but didn't realise that they were all descended from MUD; he said he'd come back after lunch but he didn't. Some members of staff came to give me some support, but didn't play. There are several reasons that I didn't get a single player: it wasn't advertised in the welcome pack; it was indoors (because I needed lab machines to telnet to the MUD2 server) in a building with no other activities in it; most of the former students who attended graduated before MUD's time, so they didn't play it in the first place. Maybe if there was another event like this in 10 years' time, I might get someone to sit down and log in. All in all, though, I have to confeess that it was rather disappointing. Still, I'm glad I turned down the offer of having a graduate lab assistant to help me deal with the crowds; that would have been embarrassing...

Overall, then, it was a day of mixed emotions. I got to see some former lecturers and colleagues, some of whom are now getting on in years and I may never see them again. However, I didn't see any of my contemporaries or any of my own students, and most of the day was spent in frustration. MUD's so consigned to history that even history has forgotten it.

Oh well.

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).