Have you ever wanted to cast magic spells? Summon familiars? Manifest fireballs to light up a hallway? Spin your body like a ragdoll flung through the air, gracelessly pirouetting into the void? Me neither, but now you can at least do that last one, in the exciting world of WizMud (@wiz_mud on Twitter).

With development currently on hold, WizMud could do with a little love. It’s a very strange vaporwave-esque callback to the days of dungeon crawlers and proto-MMORPGs commonly known as MUDs or MUSHes. WizMud serves as a love letter to the bygone era of academic-driven Web 1.0 social networking. Not long ago, the best games available were a simple telnet session away from a university mainframe, ready to open our eyes to the world of possibilities for electronic entertainment, and to serve as the genesis for modern multiplayer games.

“Dare you enter my magical realm?”

WizMud, however, isn’t so much about slaying monsters or going on straightforward fetch quests. Rather, it’s an exploration of the era’s unique online culture, full of self-referential jokes and obscure easter eggs that imbue it with the same earnest charisma of the titles it imitates. More often than not, the game encourages you to use the intentionally glitchy emote system to perform crude acrobatic feats, mastering the absurd emergent mechanics of animation canceling to find every secret embedded in the surreal floating environment. It’s a touch of Worlds Chat or ToonTown, with a hint of Second Life, all refracted through a lens of tabletop humor.

It’s a game that celebrates the gleefully abstract architecture of early 3D graphics, somehow staying self-aware without ridiculing it. WizMud shows us that hauntological reminiscence can be had joyfully and earnestly, without such deeply-ingrained cynicism, revisiting the past with humane reverence. It is an experience that asks you to confront the absurdities of early game design, and laugh with the forebears of modern MMORPGs rather than at them.

Our contemporary multiplayer spaces would be nothing without those who dared to dream past the apparent limitations of the time’s technologies, and to discover fertile new soil for our imagination. WizMud is a masterclass on the primordial soup of online socialization and what we’ve lost from then, and I hope it inspires future designers to restore humanity to these strange wonderful shared hallucinations we call virtual worlds.

Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice