furry \ˈfər-ē\ noun
1. A fan of anthropomorphic animal characters
2. The anthropomorphic animal character itself
Let’s face it. Furries get a bad rap. When I told one of my friends that I was thinking of writing about furries, his said, “Goddamn furries. Goddamn them. I mean, its [sic] weird as fuck.” Of course, I only told him afterward that I was one of those goddamned furries. Thanks to mainstream media like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, MTV, American Dad, and Something Awful, everyone seems to think that all furries are depraved, sex-starved weirdos who like to do the dirty in fursuits.
Of course, these furries constitute a small minority. This post aims to move away from the furry stereotype to see the furry subculture for what it really is, and I’ll be doing that by looking at FurryMUCK, the biggest and longest-running non-combat MUD (multi-user domain). Many furries were introduced to the fandom through online MUDs like FurryMUCK, myself included.
(FurryMUCK, launched through Trebuchet Tk client)
FurryMUCK started in 1990 when Drew Maxwell wanted to find a way to unite the “original” furry fandom (who communicated through emails, snailmail, and fanzines) with the high-speed role-playing MUD crowd. Now, it houses several thousands of fursonas (furry personas), with around 400 players logging in every night. On FurryMUCK, people create different fursonas, build virtual houses, interact with other furries—all in text. Think of it as Second Life, but text-based and with anthropomorphic animals.
(My kitchen in my home on FurryMUCK.)
There are multiple forces at work in FurryMUCK. I will discuss three: the user, the virtual community, and groups with various interests. I will discuss the first two separately while the third will be interwoven with the two.
Because FurryMUCK is entirely text-based, the fursona (or fursonas) you create is determined only by the limits of your language. Fursona descriptions can be as rich or as subtle as the player wants. Because of its instantaneous role-play element, it becomes a unique tool for creating new identities that are otherwise impossible to explore in the real “meat-based” world. I’ve encountered fursonas of every size, color, species, age, sexual orientation, and gender affiliation on FurryMUCK. I’ve even encountered some unconventional animal mixes, like winged wolves, dragon-foxes, and chakats.
Meet my own fursona, Nimueh:
With Nimueh, I restate certain parts about my meat-based identity (20 years old, 5 feet tall, hourglass) while completely rewriting other parts (gray wolf, gray eyes, steampunk).
Players devote themselves to their fursonas in varying degrees. Some, like myself, are content with text descriptions and casual dialogue. Others are so devoted that they commission reference sheets (which specify body shape, fur patterns, tail length, etc.) based on their fursona’s textual description. These can go for as low as $10 for the really crude ones to $300 for the really detailed ones. Players will then give their reference sheets to artists who will use them as a basis to paint or draw elaborate pictures of their fursonas. Most artists will refuse commissions without reference sheets. Players often link to images of their fursona in their character descriptions or by using the @image command. Players can recommend furry artists to other players, ask for recommendations, and share links to their art in public spaces on FurryMUCK. These artists also frequent real-life furry conventions and release art/comic books on their personal sites. Furry artists certainly have an economic interest in FurryMUCK.
The Virtual Community
What goes on within a virtual community is determined by real-life cultural and political contexts because the people who are participating in the virtual community belong to those contexts.
FurryMUCK is a virtual community in which different people interact with each other through their fursonas. However, these fursonas are still controlled by real, meat-based people. Most furries and FurryMUCK players are concentrated in North America, so their conversations are laden with references to North American popular culture and politics. In my three years on FurryMUCK, I’ve yet to see more than two other Asians, let alone players from other ethnicities.
In addition to this, most non-North American players cannot participate in the virtual community because of time zones. Everything that happens on FurryMUCK happens in real time. My boyfriend in Calgary logs on at his 12 PM while I log on at my 2 AM; on FurryMUCK, we’re logged on at the same time. Because most players are concentrated in specific time zone, people who live in other time zones (say, in Asia) will find themselves with no one to talk to when they log on, unless they drastically alter their sleeping patterns. I can’t log on as much as I’d like because I’ll have to log in at an ungodly hour if I want people to talk to.
Language is another limit. Because FurryMUCK was conceived in North America and is populated by mostly North Americans, the dominant language is English. Unlike other virtual communities where the interface languages can be switched, there is no such option for FurryMUCK. This limits the capacity of a non-English speaker to participate in the virtual community.
Players immerse themselves in the furry virtual community role-play to varying degrees. Some players are comfortable with slipping in and out of character, often discussing real-life happenings with each other through their furry characters, such as being called away from their computer by their boss or the weather or current movies. Other players are very strict with remaining in character, and will insist on appending OOC (out-of-character) to all of their out-of-character statements, and that other players do the same.
Adherence to IC/OOC is often determined not just by the player, but by his location within FurryMUCK. For instance, role-play in the West Corner of the Park is more lenient and casual, while my boyfriend’s role-play on his spaceship The Wingfoot is very serious and technical.
Let’s end with another nice picture so it’s not all white text on black.