The collaborative development of text-based Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) has afforded writers an electronic medium for the discussion, production, and publication of e-literature. A MUD is designed to provide an immersive and interactive experience, and is achieved by the creation of a code-based structure that supports a literary text. However, when multiple contributors are involved there is a tension between the inherently fixed nature of literature and the more fluid versioning of software. In many software development environments, ownership over a work is considered to be counter-productive, whereas authorship of literature is assumed more freely and, as a means of contextual explication, is actively encouraged. MUDs must therefore function under colliding principles of authorship and ownership. The production of a large MUD’s literary text is conceived similar to the cinematic production of a film, with the lead designer of a MUD assuming the role of a ‘director’. The production and proliferation of electronic literature presents new and unique challenges to both the longitudinal administration of a MUD and to the coherence of the literary text. Cohesion of both work and text is hindered by the potentially out-dated, though still functioning, software code of earlier versions of the MUD. Further complications arise during the integration of a new literary text with the already established text of the MUD: style, grammar, language, and thematics, for example, must be uniform. A creative writer, whose intent is to produce a new literary text for a MUD, may be confronted by an already-established literature, into which his or her literary text must be incorporated. The limitations of the code base itself may likewise limit the creative scope for expression. A contributor is limited to only those interactive elements that are supported by the underlying coding architecture. Old versions of code must remain compatible with newer versions, and the opportunities for coherent revision of the entirety of creative output are limited by available developer expertise and the scope of the exercise. A MUD is structurally and creatively dynamic, yet all elements must cohere. We discuss the collaborative development of creative works within the context of software communities, and how systems such as auteur theory have difficulty in providing a theoretical framework for multi-author software projects that have creative outputs, even in those hierarchical projects where they would seem most appropriate. We outline how players in these environments encounter a rich and varied literary experience that is an amalgamation of multiple authors and styles of writing. We discuss relevant models for analysing and understanding this type of e-literature, and provide guidelines for how they can be altered to allow for a more effective application.
Authorship and Auteurship in the Collaborative Development Process of Text-Based Games