The lost art of the IC mischan

ThresholdRPG screenshot.

I hate those times when you’re having a conversation with your friend about the complexities of life, but right in the middle of it you start reciting next week’s grocery list. If that sounds implausible to you, then you are simply highlighting my point of the dying golden art of the comedic mischan.

The mischan is reserved for the privileged few geeks who enter the worlds of text-based video games, where there are both in-character and out-of-character chat channels.

In these games, you can have any number of conversations going on at once and it is inevitable that you will accidentally message one group instead of another. In MUDs (Multi User Dungeons), hundreds to sometimes even thousands of players from around the world log in to an alternate universe, adorn a unique character, and participate in a grand storyline. Words whiz by the screen at an alarming pace. I learned to read remarkably fast and type at a feverish 95 wpm pace playing a MUD.

When we advance as a society sometimes there are things that do get left behind.

In 1995, after a few frustrating starts with a variety of MUDs, I discovered ThresholdRPG. It stood out because of its roleplay-enforced atmosphere (meaning all in-character lines of communication must remain in-character at all times). Here everything was text-based and the visuals were conjured in one’s own imagination.

In ThresholdRPG, your character can speak in common or your native racial language. In character, there are chat channels for your guild, religion, clan, job, bloodoath and telepathy. Out of character, there are channels like citizen, heritage, court, trivia, sports, and politics. All of these go on simultaneously in real-time. Due to that fairly overwhelming number of communication lines, a mischan—or two or three—is bound to happen.

Take, for example, this scenario: for weeks my guild and I had plotted the death of a highly powerful character, Vamir. This involved a lot of reconnaissance and preparation. (In ThresholdRPG, death hurts. A lot. Assassination is a risky but rewarding business.)

Finally, the day had come for Vamir to die. He was returning from a dragon hunting trip, his supplies were low, and we moved into action. Lower-level characters were placed as lookouts, giving detailed information about which direction he was headed.

Then one of my guildmates said this, but instead of just to us, he announced it on the only out-of-character channel that everyone is tuned in to:

Okay everyone is in place. When Vamir reaches the gate we strike immediately.

Thanks, bud. You blew our in character cover with the illustrious mischan. Sadly, this was an unfortunate habit of an otherwise brilliant player. It happened on at least two other occasions that I can recall.

Spoiling in-character (IC) information like this is only one form of mischan. The reverse can also happen when out-of-character (OOC) conversations spill over into the in character world. Though in both these cases we all just have a laugh, for the most part ignore it, and move on.

“When Vamir reaches the gate we strike immediately.”

But the creme de la creme was when someone mixed up their IC channels. And while there is likely some uproarious OOC laughter, that information is then engaged with and forced to be handled wholly IC.

This is what embarrassment looks like in ThresholdRPG:

In one channel, Adamar is kissing his love interest, Yelena. In another, he is discussing the upcoming marriage of another character, Narbeth. He smacks his lips and says “tasty!” after kissing Yelena, then accidentally says to her instead of to his other buddies, “Theodwin is too.”

Tsarra has a questioning look on her face.
Tsarra says, “Tasty?”
Adamar says, “Uh. Nevermind”

MUDs still exist but they are slowly dying off in favour of more graphically focused games and sadly they are taking the lost art of the mischan with them.

It does make one wonder though. When we advance as a society sometimes there are things that do get left behind. And sometimes those things left behind are gold.

Care to give a MUD a try? I would recommend ThresholdRPG as their kind attention to new players is legendary.

Character names in the above stories were changed to protect the guilty.

Kyle Rudge

Kyle Rudge

Admiral at Geekdom House
Kyle is an avid web developer and programmer with a strong tendency to be distracted by marathon watching various television shows. While he loved to write in several languages, most of them are based on 1's and 0's.
Kyle Rudge