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town, enhancing their memories and potentially enabling them to find out more than
they did during the visit itself.
The board members prepare a budget, research a number of existing MUDs, and
begin to examine methods of achieving their goal.They negotiate the funding for the
project, and seek a local IT company to outsource the programming contract to.With
the assistance of volunteers, the board members begin to prepare the learning functional-
ity of the MUD: mapping the town into squares, writing textual descriptions of all build-
ings and areas, deciding which objects are most important as learning tools and produc-
ing textual descriptions of them. From the existing tour offered in the town, they prepare
a virtual tour taken by a bot (a computer program which is presented as a human being)
who conducts the tour with much of the same information as his human counterpart.
With the help of the programming team, they also produce a tutorial which introduces
users both to the virtual town and to the commands that are used to explore it.
During this period, it becomes apparent that the historical learning potential can not
only be replicated, it can also be greatly enhanced by such a community.The board
members soon come up with several more ideas to maximise engagement with the
information, including:
- Allowing MUD users to enter areas which are forbidden in real life due to safety or
preservation reasons, such as the mines themselves. Each area is described true to life,
complete with safety hazards;
- Incorporating a `treasure hunt' feature aimed at students aged from eleven to sixteen
years of age.The game follows a real historical figure through his life in the town,
and clues lead the players to discover the man's house and various objects which
belonged to him, from the pickaxe he left in the mines, to the old-style bottles he
might have drank from in the inn, to the register book which recorded his death.
Each object, once examined, reveals a URI which points to an image of that object
in context, hidden somewhere on the town's Web site;
- A time machine which takes the user back to the town in the 1700s. Users are
`dressed' in clothing appropriate to the time, and each area is bustling with activity.
The town is populated by bots (all based on actual historical people, ranging from
the mine's founder to ordinary miners) who provide emotive information by inter-
acting with visitors.The MUD building team ensures that the experience is as his-
torically accurate as possible, with a barman asking users for their age and then
throwing them out of the bar if they are underage.Through bot characters in this
setting, users are encouraged to continue their visits to the MUD and to interact
with each other;
- The time machine feature may also offer users a glimpse into the geological infor-
mation available. For example, the long-term formation of copper deposits in the
hills can be described as if it was happening at high speed in front of the user's eyes.
Once the MUD's basic functionality is complete, the tourism board publicise it in
schools and educational facilities, in MUD listings, and on the Internet.The extra func-
tionality is added piece by piece, and although use of the virtual community is initially low
outside school hours, users tend to log on in groups of ten or more, hence there is
almost always someone online to interact with.The tourism board cooperates with
educational establishments to produce worksheets for a number of different age groups,
thereby integrating the information contained within the MUD into the curriculum.
Collaborative Mechanisms
and Technologies
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