is a MOO anyway?
A MOO can be thought of
as an electronic virtual environment. It is a collection of described
locations, objects, and characters, arranged in a discrete, virtual architecture
inside a computer's memory. As you traverse the MOO, you navigate
your persona through the rooms of this electronic space, typing things
like "go library" if, for example, you see a door into a library.
Each new room or environment will be described by text (and sometimes with
images) on your screen, and you can type "look" to examine things more
carefully. Objects that you see can be picked up and manipulated
(books can be read, food can be eaten, notes can be written and given to
other participants in the MOO). The commands to do these things are
basically intuitive and are not difficult to learn. For all you need
to get started, click the "getting
A MOO can be thought of
as a site of active, rather than passive, reading.
Participation in a MOO involves the same two basic activities as reading
and taking notes in a book--as you MOO, you will read,
and you will write in response to what you
have read. Participants read descriptions of locations, objects,
characters, and other participants, and they read what the other characters
and participants have to say. Their writing consists of simple commands,
and also of dialogue, as they interact with one another and with the objects
and characters in the MOO. To use Barthes's term, a MOO demonstrates
perhaps the most "writerly" text possible--reading text and interpretive
interaction with text are interlocked in ways that are intuitive and immediately
apparent to the student. Narrative within a MOO space is intrinsically
collaborative, arising from the MOO author's textual space and the user's
(reader's) response to that space. "Reading" in a MOO is a significantly
A MOO can be thought of as a playground. Like a playground, a MOO provides space for interaction, directed learning, and play. This space is not an empty tabula rasa; it is organized in ways that suggest or encourage certain types of activity. Much as a real playground's space is subdivided (into sandbox, swing set, jungle gym, etc) a MOO's rooms have unique attributes and qualities, and these spaces contain objects which encourage various types of interaction.
Also like a playground, there is no predetermined goal to accomplish in a MOO; there is no way to "win" or "lose. Just as a physical swing set may suggest the activity of swinging, a MOO's spaces and objects only imply certain uses and responses. You can swing on a swing set, or you can invent your own use for the swings that has nothing to do with swinging. The same is true of a MOO's spaces and objects. It provides a venue within which games may be invented and played--it is not itself a single game. Notice that this parallels the activity of literary interpretation in provocative ways. Students can enact and experiment with various responses to the text space of the MOO, and refine and modify their responses in reaction to and collaboration with the interpretive community formed by the other MOO participants. For, like playing on a playground, MOOing is not a solitary activity. Much of what you do inside a MOO is interact with other MOO participants, engage in dialog, discuss, explore, play, learn.
What is the Frankenstein MOO?
We have constructed a MOO space based closely on Mary Shelley's novel. Every space in the novel is represented by a room or space inside our MOO. There are also numerous objects with which the characters of the novel interact, and a number of "robots" fashioned after the minor characters of the novel which can interact with MOO participants. All descriptions (of rooms, objects, environments) are drawn (as much as possible) from Shelley's actual text. Where there is little or no description in the novel--like Victor's lab, or Victor and Elizabeth's wedding chapel--we have given little or no description. Interactive "robot" characters speak with Mary Shelley's own words. There are also a variety of "costumes" (of the novel's characters) that a MOO participant can wear. How do the Swiss Alps look different to you if you are the monster instead of Victor? How do you use a pen differently as Victor? As Elizabeth? As the monster?
We have designed this environment for use by college and high school students within the context of their classes; however, it can also be used by scholars or artists interested in working within an electronic performative space. The Frankenstein MOO can be used to stage virtual dramatic performances, using the entire geography of Mary Shelley's novel as a stage, and the objects of the novel as props.
Why use the Frankenstein MOO?
As a gothic novel,Frankenstein
particularly lends itself to being transformed into a MOO space because
of the way places have an important effect on the characters and on us
as readers. As the novel develops, new spaces open--the North Pole,
Mount Blanc, the De Lacey cottage, etc. Both the MOO and the novel
are inherently architectured spaces, the narrative of the novel established
through frames and the narrative space of the MOO established through hierarchical
branches and links--the paths that a MOO user/reader carves though the
MOO's space. Interacting with the architecture of the novel in the
Frankenstein MOO can bring the text to life for a student in ways
that are easy to grasp yet sophisticated. Moreover, although Frankenstein
itself is an architectured novel, reading
Frankenstein is a temporal
process as the frames unfold, new locations are discovered, new events
and perspectives are revealed. Likewise, traversing a MOO is a temporal
process, although a MOO user is free to choose her own temporal path through
the architecture of the novel. For a student, this freedom can naturally
raise questions about why Shelley chose to arrange the novel spatially
and temporally as she did.
Much like the traditional experience of reading, MOO space is real time interaction with a textual space. By putting the novel as textual experience together with the MOO as a textual experience, a studentís performative dialogues and actions in the MOO can become her commentary on the novelís space. Indeed, inside the performative space of the MOO, a studentís initial reading of the text is inseparable from her critical reading and commentary. As a reader-response critic would point out, the studentís reading is more overtly "transactional" in the MOO; he is perforce rewriting the text as he reads it in ways that he can readily grasp and reflect on. Teaching the novel Frankenstein along with the experience of the Frankenstein MOO can open the text for students in ways that illuminate both the original text, and the process of reading itself.
We are also interested in the different kinds of learning that can happen inside a MOO, a space that can be thought of as something between a classroom and a playground. As extremely wide-ranging and diverse criticism has demonstrated, Frankenstein is not a text that is easily exhausted by one single reading. There is a lot of free play in this flexible text, and the MOO provides a similarly flexible pedagogical architecture for approaching it.
Created May 2001 by Eric Sonstroem and Ron Broglio.