What 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 you see a door into a library for example. Each new room or environment will be described in text (and sometimes in 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 started" link.
A MOO it 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 dialog, as they interact with one another and with the objects and characters in the MOO. To use Barthes' 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 experiential activity.
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 (Eric Sonstroem and Ron Broglio) 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 which the characters of the novel interact with, 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 Elisabeth'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 DeLacey 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 both easy to grasp and also sophisticated. Moreover, although Frankenstein itself is an architectured novel, reading Frankenstein is a temporal process as the frames unfold, as 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 student’s performative dialogues and actions in the MOO can become her commentary on the novel’s space. Indeed, inside the performative space of the MOO, a student’s initial reading of the text is inseparable from her critical reading and commentary. As a reader-response critic would point out, the student’s 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 decades of extremely wide-ranging and diverse criticism have 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.
This web site is copyright 2001-2009 by Eric Sonstroem and Ron Broglio.