PUBLIC LITERATURE: NARRATIVES AND NARRATIVE STRUCTURES IN
The complete paper "Public Literature: Narratives and Narrative Structures in Lambda MOO"
was Published in Craig Harris. ed.,
Art and Innovation -
The Xerox PARC Artist-in-Residence Program
Cambridge, MA MIT Press, 1999.
This online version focuses on two projects of
current interest to the writer, Brown House Kitchen and Deep Creek School.
Beginning in 1993, as part of my residency at Xerox PARC, I worked
with words in LambdaMoo, a text based social virtual reality
site, created at Xerox PARC by Pavel Curtis, that runs LambdaMoo
code and is publicly accessible on the Internet. Investigating
the narrative variety inherent in Moos (MUD's object oriented), I
created three different narratives: The Ocatillo Files,
Brown House Kitchen, and Deep Creek School.
The Ocatillo Files was an ephemeral performative narrative
that examined role playing and story telling in the heart of this
virtual community - the LambdaMOO living room. Brown House
Kitchen is a exploratory collaboratively experienced narrative in
which text is disclosed by programed objects. Deep Creek
School is a collaboratively created model of an alternative art
MUDs (Multi-user Dungeons) are extraordinary virtual communities. They
are cohesive text-based universes existing parallel to life where
stories occur daily usually observed only by the participants -- just as
they do in real life. In these people-centered places a wide variety of
public literature can be created.
It is no accident that the many world wide web books that currently line
the shelves on the book stores are of the "how to" category: how to
design, how to program, how to find; whereas the books and articles that
are appearing on MOOs are more human-oriented: Life on the Screen,
 "...Adventures of a feminist MUDder."  Despite elements of
interaction, the web [in the 1990's when this was written] is at its core, an information delivery system --
suited for solitary information access. MUDs, on the other hand, are
recreational gathering spaces that connect many users to the same place
at the same time. Users are "visible" to each other and share a database
of "rooms", "exits", and other objects. 
Spawned by a multi-user "adventuring" program written in 1979 by
students at the University of Essex in England , MUD's have remained
for the most part recreational. However, The Social Virtual Reality
project at Xerox PARC, headed by Pavel Curtis, whose theatrical and
computer science background merge fortuitously in these environments, is
exploring non-recreation uses of MUD technology  and in particular the
notion of social virtual realities.
Beginning in 1993, as part of my residency (as a writer and designer of
experimental computer mediated narratives) at Xerox PARC, I worked in
LambdaMOO, a MUD that uses an object oriented programming language (a
cross between C++ and LISP) developed by Curtis.  The term
"LambdaMOO" refers both to this software and to the server Curtis runs at
Xerox PARC that uses this software and is open to the Internet public.
LambdaMOO (and similar sites based on LambdaCode) are malleable code-
based structures where, as if participants lived in an intellectual
equivalent of Home Depot, building materials are always within reach.
Although general MUD usage has centered on creative social interaction,
the flexible programming system that Curtis created also has the
potential for complex information delivery and for an infinite variety of
Literary forms that are possible here include narrative environments
that groups of readers can virtually enter and explore such as Brown
House Kitchen;  performative narratives such as The Ocatillo
Files; and collaboratively created narrative environments such as
Deep Creek School. 
There is a difference between making a work in a preexisting virtual
community like LambdaMOO and making a work in a MOO created to serve a
specific community. (such as PostModern MOO , Hypertext Hotel 
Astro_VR  and WaxWeb ) LambdaMoo is already a well defined
richly embroidered virtual environment. A user who opens the door to the
closet (the standard entry way to this environment) enters a well
defined room that is based on Pavel Curtis' real-life living room. "It
is very bright, open, and airy here, with large plate-glass windows
looking southward over the pool to the gardens beyond. On the north
wall, there is a rough stonework fireplace. The east and west walls are
almost completely covered with large, well-stocked bookcases." 
Although it is challenging to create in this already shaped space,
I believe that the feeling of actually being somewhere fosters
visualization of three dimensional, community oriented narratives.
BROWN HOUSE KITCHEN
I physically entered PARC in November 1993. I had an office in the
legendary Computer Science Lab (CSL) across from the office of Rich Gold,
the Director of PARC Artists in Residence (PAIR), and a SPARC
workstation. In this cubicle (that I decorated with horse chestnut from
the neighboring fields), I labored over the programming
of the wind up duck in an informal LambdaMOO tutorial. Soon I was
spending my days glued to the terminal on familiar territory - the
On November on the CSL veranda at PARC, Pavel Curtis and I discussed what
I would do in LambdaMOO. Also present was ethnographer Cynthia Duval
who recorded and transcribed the conversation. I had envisioned the
narrative as a kind of hypertext but Pavel pointed out the three
dimensional qualities of the medium and spoke about "creating a space
that was itself literature in that by walking through the space and
manipulating the objects that I might see there or taking different paths
through the space encounter this work of literature." 
Pavel also suggested that objects in this space could disclose text.
Additionally we discussed the public art possibilities inherent in
LambdaMOO. Both Pavel and I felt that the story should be one that would
appeal to the citizens of this community.
In the course of a walk across the horse strewn fields that border the
PARC building, down Page Mill Road, past the Wall Street Journal, past
Hewlett Packard, down to the Coronet Motel on El Camino Real (where I
was staying with not much but a 286, a modem, a black cat, a few items
of clothing, and some powdered soup), I conceived of Brown House
Influenced by the ubiquitous computing research (the creation of an
environment where many invisible to the user computers are available)
being undertaken in CSL,  the kitchen was conceived of a future
communal eating space where interrelated devices integral to its
functioning would record events in various ways. In Rashoman fashion,
these devices are capable of relating the details of things that
occurred in a previous November in separate but related ways.
The participant who enters this environment now reads:
"An Early Ubicomp Era kitchen
The sun, coming through white lace curtains that frame
a small irregularly watered yard, falls invitingly on a
round oak table, surrounded by chairs. In the Northeast
corner, an old man sits in a bluegreen rocking chair,
reading a newspaper. He looks like your grandfather.
To your left, you see what appears to be a sculpture of
a kitchen drawer mounted on a pedestal. Near the
Northwest wall, there is a kitchen sink, decorated with
blue tiles. An orange cat stands on the edge of the
sink, drinking water from a slow faucet drip."
Players who enter Brown House Kitchen can unfold the story in
(unpredictable) ways by examining the things they find there. Some of the
devices (simulated video, simulated audio) disclose information that is
seen (when activated) by everyone in the room. Other devices
(electronic book, diary) disclose text visible only to the player who
activates them. Players can sit at the table, order meals, and as is
usual in LambdaMOO, talk with their "companions".
The environment contains five integral text disclosing devices as well as
a large amount of hypertextual "tiny scenery". (descriptions activated by
the word "look".  The devices are a mobile, audio equipped
robot (Ralph Will Clean Up After You). a database food
dispensing table (GoodFood) a pre-narrative video device
(Barbie-Q ), and two electronic books. (the Diary and the
Two of the devices, Ralph Will Clean Up After You and GoodFood, are
time-based. The information they disclose varies according to the day of
the month and the time of the day in which you enter the story.
Barbie Q discloses text sequentially. The Diary and the narranoter
produce hypertextual lexias at random.  In addition there is a garden
outside the kitchen where text is disclosed in a fugal way using
"fork". (a feature of LambdaMOO code that allows time delays in the
production of text)
Brown House Kitchen is structured with parellel intersecting data
streams that are contained in and disclosed by this collection of
objects. The idea of parallel data streams was one that I had worked
with in Wasting Time -- a narrative data structure where the words
and thoughts of three characters are treated as parallel intertwining
data streams. 
Brown House Kitchen,, a work that exists in a time warp in virtual
space, is a more complex narrative. It and not only challenges readers to
discover less obvious streams of text but also locates them within the
Because what Ralph says, what Barbie-Q recorded, etc. needed to be
consistent, A chart where these details were plotted, hung on my wall for
months. To structure the work, I used food as an integrating device and
started by writing the menus for the 93 meals that were to be served by
GoodFood over the course of a month. The chart integrated what was
eaten at the meals with what the video device has recorded, the gossip
Ralph discloses, the words that Sandy writes in the narranoter.
Although they are not to be blamed for any weird elements in my
programing of Brown House Kitchen, what I did would not have been
possible without the presence of Pavel Curtis and other knowledgeable,
helpful CSL researchers including Rich Gold, Ron Frederick, Berry
Kercheval and David Nichols. Brown House Kitchen, because of the
large amount of detail that it required, would have evolved more smoothly
with a team of writers and programers actually working on the project.
Certainly, a more experienced programmer than I am would not have banged
his or her head against the virtual walls of LambdaMOO as much as I did
in the creation of this work.
Nevertheless, in ways that teams of writers, artists, computer
scientists and musicians may eventually do on a future shared-space,
multimedia Internet, Brown House Kitchen integrates narrative
disclosing devices that both relate to each other and respond
interactively to investigation. As in this envisioned future Internet
environment, Brown House Kitchenis communal in that it works best
when several people are in the room.
In November 1994, I invited Tim Collin's and Reiko Goto's Carnegie
Mellon "Art Systems" class into the work. Sitting at separate terminals
in the computer room, the students jointly explored Brown House
Kitchen. Although the narrative is difficult to comprehend if only
one person is exploring it in a solitary manner, as I had envisioned, the
environment worked very well in this group situation. Its rich detail was
apparent, there was no need for a didactic help file, and the students
DEEP CREEK SCHOOL
A model of Deep Creek School was created in LambdaMOO in June 1994 while
I was artist in residence at Deep Creek -- an art school, associated with
Arizona State University. 
Deep Creek roared by the "ice house" where the school's computers
were located. Art students worked outside, in the shadow of snow capped
mountains, building site specific installations or preparing performance
works related to or inspired by the environment. For the most part, the
students were not computer literate.
I conceived this model as a non-threatening way to introduce art
students to computer environments and as a way for students to begin to
write about their work. In addition, it was a way to create a
collaboratively written "document" about the experience.
I avoided the creation of programmed "objects" (things with responsive
behavior)- focusing instead on words and hypertextual linking. This "tiny
scenery" approach didn't take advantage of the full range of the medium,
but I wanted each student to be able to work in this virtual environment
easily. And, like most writers, I believe that words alone are capable of
creating rich virtual environments.
This was the second year I had worked with Deep Creek Students. The year
before (working with email and conferencing systems) I found that
because of the amount of learning required and the competition with
mountain, forest, creek environment, few students actually sat down at
the computer. Those who did were unlikely to return. (As an artist in
residence, I was a resource as opposed to a teacher of a scheduled
In contrast, this year many students immediately immersed themselves in
LambdaMOO and were interested in locating themselves and their work
within the model Deep Creek School. Working with "details",
students represented themselves and/or their work in any way that they
wanted and linked themselves within the virtual model.
Although it could benefit by more depth writing and better spatial
organization, Deep Creek School on LambdaMOO provided an effective way to
introduce art students to online environments, coax students to start
writing about their work and provide a record of the summer of 1994 at
Deep Creek School. Ideally, it will be reshaped and repopulated by
future Deep Creek students.
The narratives that I created in LambdaMoo are useful models for future Internet literature.
Brown House Kitchen, in particular, is representative of the kind of narrative that will be possible
in a future shared Internet space that incorporates audio, video, graphics.
As the Jupiter Project Team expresses it: "In the real world, people who do things together do so in the
same place; the very act of sharing location enables joint activity.... We would like to see the richness
of "place" conceptually embedded in the network." 
Notes and References
1. Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the
Internet (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1995)
2. Lori Kendall, "MUDder? I hardy Know 'Er! Adventures of a Feminist
MUDder," in Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired Women:
Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. (Seattle, WA: Seal Press,
1996) pp. 207-223
3. Pavel Curtis, "Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual
Realities," Xerox PARC CSL-92-4, April 1992
4. Richard Bartle, "Interactive Multi-User Computer Games," MUSE Ltd
Research Report, Dec. 1990. file://parcftp.xerox.com/pub/MOO/papers/
5. Pavel Curtis and David A. Nichols, "MUDs Grow Up: Social Virtual
Reality in the Real World," Xerox PARC, May 5, 1993.
6. Pavel Curtis,
LambdaMOO Programmer's Manual
For LambdaMOO Version 1.8.1, May 2004
7. to get to Brown House Kitchen telnet://lambda.parc.xerox.com 8888
connect guest (or your character if you have one on LambdaMOO) type
@go #24969. (note that this no longer works, and Brown House Kitchen is no longer available)
However, the notes and programs for this work are available in the
Judy Malloy Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
8. According to the wishes of students at Deep Creek School, the URL for
Deep Creek on LambdaMoo is not publicly available.
9. PMC MOO provides access to texts generated by Postmodern Culture as
well as an opportunity for realtime discussion,
10. Hypertext Hotel uses a filter that Tom Meyer created that takes
Storyspace based hypertext documents and converts them to LambdaMOO,
11. Astro-VR is a social virtual reality intended for use by the
international astronomy community, created by Xerox PARC in collaboration
with Dave Van Buren, an astronomer at the NASA/JPL Infrared Processing
and Analysis Center.
12. David Blair's WaxWeb site integrates collaboratively created
hypertext writing, moving image, and sound,
13. To reach the LambdaMOO living room,
telnet://lambda.moo.mud.org:8888 connect guest, open door
(note that this may not be avaiable anymore)
14. Yduj Anderson,
yduJ's Programming Tutorial
15. Cynthia Duval, "The Use of Artifacts as Tools for Thinking: a
Sociocultural Study of Creative Work," unpublished manuscript, 1996.
16. Mark Weisner, "Some Computer Science Issues in Ubiquitous Computing,"
Communications of the ACM July 1993 36:7 75-84
17. Someone in CSL suggested that it might be beneficial to change
these commands into more natural English. At the time I agreed, but as I
got deeper into LambdaMoo I realized that this would be akin to visiting
Paris and altering the French language to suit me.
18. Rich Gold told me that there was some research at PARC on selective
videotaping that they called pre-narrative. The video recorder that is
housed in Barbie-Q is programed to begin recording when human heart beats
accelerate and to stop when they revert to normal.
19. The lexias are actually pseudo-randomly generated using the UNIX date
function in much the same way that Terminals, the Third File of
20. Judy Malloy, "Wasting Time, A Narrative Data Structure" In: After
The Book (Perforations 3) summer, 1992.
21. Daniel L. Collins, School of Art Arizona State University
and Charles R. Garoian, Associate Professor of Art Education
School of Visual Arts, Penn State University
"The Deep Creek School: Technology, Ecology, and the Body
as Pedagogical Alternatives in Art Education," 1994
22. The Jupiter Project Team, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, "Not a
Highway, but a Place: Joint Activity on the Net," CPSR Newsletter, the
quarterly publication of Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility, Fall 1994. The Jupiter Project is extending the MUD form
to include audio and video.
The work I did to create Brown House Kitchen would not have been possible without
the presence of Pavel Curtis and other knowledgeable, helpful CSL researchers including Rich Gold,
Ron Frederick, Berry Kercheval, David Nichols, and Mark Weiser.