How thousands of players explored a shared virtual world a quarter of a million rooms big, using nothing but pencils, paper, and postage stamps

The latest issue of Aaron A. Reed's excellent 50 Years of Text Games newsletter looks at Monster Island, a play-by-mail game from 1989.

The mailbox squeaks open, and the teenager's eyes light up: amid the junk mail for parents is a bulky envelope from a company called Adventures By Mail. The teenager has waited all week for it to get here.

Inside is a trifold newsletter and a long stiff postcard, a New York return address on one side and a blank grid of rows with esoteric abbreviations on the other. But the bulk of the content is a stack of stapled laser-printed pages. While everyone getting letters from Adventures By Mail this week got the same card and newsletter, these pages are special. They were printed for one person alone, and describe the fate of the character whose adventures the teenager has dictated for the past few months: a monster named Doggar, who is not a villain in this story but the hero.