The MediaMOO Project was conceived in part as preparation for a MUD for kids, "MOOSE Crossing," which is currently under development. We believe that this technology can provide an authentic context in which children can learn reading, writing, and programming. In these virtual worlds, writing and programming become means of self-expression to a community of peers. MUDs are a constructionist playground.
Developing good MUD objects reflects as much creative writing as programming. One hypothesis of this research is that divisions between the humanities and the sciences are often too sharply drawn and counterproductive, and a more integrative approach has advantages for many children. A second hypothesis is that the social and contextual nature of these worlds may help young girls to be more comfortable with computers and programming.
If kids are really to make good use of MUDS, however, it will be necessary to improve the programming language and the interface. We are currently developing a new programming language called MOOSE designed to make it easier for children to program new objects. (MOOSE stands for "MOO Scripting Environment." The MOOSE language is built on top of Pavel Curtis's MOO software.) We are also developing a multiple-window client program called MacMOOSE, which we hope will make the system more usable. We hope to apply lessons learned in the development and use of the Logo language to make a MUD language more accessible to kids.
At the conclusion of Mindstorms, Seymour Papert ( 1980) described his vision of a technological samba school. In samba schools in Brazil, members of a community gather to prepare a performance for Carnival. Everyone is learning and teaching--even the leads need to learn their parts. People of all ages learn and play together as a community. Papert believes that computers can create a kind of technological samba school, and we believe MUDs may begin to realize that vision.
Many current virtual reality projects, particularly those intended for entertainment, are like Disneyland: Artists and programmers design wondrous creations for users to experience. If this technology is "interactive," it is in the limited sense that most hypertext systems are interactive: There are multiple paths through the material, and the system has a limited ability to react to the user. However, the ways in which the system reacts are designed by the artists and engineers who constructed it and not by the users.