When the school year ended in May this year and I was to spend the entire summer in Blagoevgrad, my friend Alex's decision to join me here came as a relief. Alex is a dear, sympathetic soul, I thought, he would help me muddle through tough times (my country was being bombed at the time), be my reliable crying shoulder and a source of fun.
At the time, I had already known that Alex plays MUD (Multiple User Dungeon), a cyber role-playing game whose purpose I still fail to grasp. Everything in MUD is happening once upon a time in the mysterious, ancient city of Garathorm where warriors, knights, healers and other such picturesque characters co-exist peacefully and sometimes not so peacefully or otherwise there would be no game. The player chooses which class he/she wants to join and create their character accordingly. You can have as many characters as you want but you can only "act" them one at a time. Perhaps MUD is a camouflage abbreviation for multiple personality disorder?
I never realized the depth of Alex's obsession with MUD before we moved in together. In the beginning, when he still had some conscience and did not want to leave me alone and bored for too long, he restricted "mudding" (popular expression for “playing MUD”) to only 4 hours per day (sic!). I began worrying when he turned into part of the furniture in the big students' computer lab, at the last computer in the fifth row, and when his proverbial "you know where you can find me" became more reliable than Newton's gravity law. He moved from his bed to computer and back with an amazing regularity. I would sooner believe that the New Year will fail to come than that Alex would miss his ever increasing dose of MUD. If he could have banished sleep, he would have lived ever after in a happy symbiosis with the computer.
Alex displayed all the classic symptoms of addiction. When the servers would crush and thus deprive him of MUD, he was a sorry sight. He would try to read, watch TV, or listen to music, but all in vain. In the meantime he would drop by the university every 15 minutes just to check if the servers were up again. When MUD was unavailable for more than one day, Alex would curl on his couch, whining in genuine pain. He was ready to sell his soul for a few more hours of MUD. "It's the abstinence crisis, you know!" he would cry in a tear-strewn voice full of self-pity.
Living with a MUD addict had its good sides. He was never there, to begin with and he was all the time so immersed in the game that he never nagged about anything--a perfect roommate. On the other hand, he was lost to the world so much that I had to use force even to drag him to lunch. "Just five minutes, please, I am in the middle of a quest!" Alex would say in response to my desperate appeals to his lowest motives in Maslow's hierarchy, his voice trembling with zeal.
Other times he would not be so gentle. "Oh, not now for God's sake! Can't you see I am retrieving a friend's corpse?!" he would say, outraged by my lack of understanding.
After a while I had to pick up the basics of the game, although I never played it myself, to be able to understand semantically what Alex was talking about. He would storm into the apartment late at night, interrupting my chat with a friend with an exuberant exclamation, "I leveled 39 today!" Then he would submit his daily report of MUD achievements--how he was leading a quest and earned four quest-points because he managed to kill a dangerous mob; or he would brag about what a fine piece of equipment he acquired that day. "I bought a cool shield today at the auction," he once said. I congratulated him heartily and then proceeded to translate his double Dutch to our perplexed third roommate.
Living with Alex I learned that MUD addicts are harmless, lost souls who need attention and preferably a MUD-playing mate to be able to survive in this cruel world which does not understand them. As for myself, I learned to appreciate men who can talk for hours about whether Owen was in offside in the 36th minute of England vs. Argentina football game and in which minute France scored the golden goal against Paraguay on the latest championship. I can at least understand them.