“Driverless” or “Self-Driving” Cars

Thursday 28 August 2014, 11:04 am   /////  

So, I’m not saying they’re a bad idea, but why do these things get called “driverless” or “self-driving”? They are being driven by an immense corporation with the most massive store of data on Earth. They can’t function without this corporation or this store of data. They can’t drive themselves.

I dunno, maybe we should at least notice this sort of — hey! These cars are programmed to go up to 10 mph above the speed limit! Shiny!

(Prompted by Erik Stayton‘s great presentation of his thesis work on this topic yesterday. Erik works as my research assisstant in the Trope Tank.)

Forking Paths and Forest Platformer of Depression

Thursday 28 August 2014, 10:56 am   ////  

I’ve revisited two games about depression which seem interesting to compare. One has been discussed more recently, particularly thanks to its recent release on Steam: the Twine game Depression Quest. (It’s also available on the Web.) The other, which is in Flash and on the Web, is the platformer Elude. The latter was developed at MIT, in the GAMBIT Game Lab.

Both of these games have seen plenty of discussion, but I wanted to mention an aspect that make them interesting to compare. Of course, Elude is graphical and played in real time, while Depression Quest is text-based and allows the user to select CYOA-style options. But that’s quite obvious.

More interesting to me is that “Elude‘s metaphorical model for depression serves to bring awareness to the realities of depression by creating empathy with those who live with depression every day,” while “Depression Quest is a game that deals with living with depression in a very literal way.” Of course, being literal or metaphorical goes beyond having a single axis or slider, and it isn’t tied to whether one has a graphical or textual game. It’s interesting to see two games about the same subject matter that declare their intent to be different in this way. I wonder if there is a pair of games on similar topics where the text game is very metaphorical and the graphical game literal?

A New Dave Lebling Interview

Friday 22 August 2014, 12:47 am   ///  

USgamer features a new interview with Zork co-author and all-around Infocom implementor Dave Lebling. Very nice!

The opening flourish of the article, though, implies that in the days of Adventure, people used either green-on-black or amber-on-black video terminals to access computers, and players would see glowing letters and the “darkness of an empty command line.”

This is actually fantasy, not history. As I’ve written about in “Continuous Paper: Print interfaces and early computer writing,” as others have experienced and noted, and an amazing binder of print terminal output from an MIT student testified to me, a great deal of very early interactive fiction interaction was done on print terminals, including but not limited to the famous name-brand “Teletype.” A few people (including Lebling!) had access to top-notch video terminals, but lots of interaction was done on paper.

Will Crowther even wrote the original version of Adventure in Fortran on an ASR-33 Teletype.

So, when writing and first playing Adventure, perhaps the space that you would see on the paper is intentionally left blank – but you aren’t likely to be eaten by a grue.

Another Thought for the Day

Thursday 21 August 2014, 1:20 pm   ///  

If I used my Twitter account the way I’m supposed to, instead of as a conceptual writing project, I would have put that last post on Twitter.

Thought for the Day

Thursday 21 August 2014, 1:18 pm   ///  

If I had a Facebook account, it would be tagged as satire.

The Mutable Stanzas

Wednesday 20 August 2014, 11:20 pm   /////  

Yesterday first-person-shooter Borges, intimate, infinite, and based on prose; today cut-up Spenser, mutable and poetic.

The Mutable Stanzas

This dynamic digital poetry piece, by Stephen Pentecost, is quite compelling. The author writes:

The Mutable Stanzas is a digital poetry installation and deformance experiment inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, by the work by Jerome McGann et al on “Deformance and Interpretation,” and by the work of my collegues in the Humanities Digital Workshop.

The Mutable Stanzas disassembles Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene into its constituent lines, groups lines according to terminal rhyme, then randomly reassembles lines into new stanzas.

While the stanzas are structured by end rhyme, and each line is not independent of others, I wonder, as a reader, whether it’s best to avail myself of the pause button or whether I should simply continue reading down the page.

Senderos que se … Intimate, Infinite

Tuesday 19 August 2014, 10:33 pm   /////  

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Robert Yang’s latest is a first-person-shooter version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths.” With a lovingly off-kilter translation (befitting its “original”) and with visuals and (quite minimal) interaction that suits the experience, this is an extraordinary set of linked mini-games, well worth the short amount of time it takes to get through them, and worth offering at least a bit for this pay-what-you-will game.

Check out Intimate, Infinite.

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Intro to Game Analysis

Monday 11 August 2014, 9:29 pm   //////  

Intro to Game Analysis, Clara Fernández-VaraJust out: Introduction to Game Analysis, a book that covers many different approaches to understanding games, and particularly (although not exclusively) videogames. (Check the availability of the book online.) It’s by Clara Fernández-Vara, now on the faculty at the Game Center at NYU, who did one of the first digital media PhDs at Georgia Tech and was for many years my colleague here at MIT – I’m glad she was also part my of lab, The Trope Tank, for some of that time. Fernández-Vara is a scholar of games and an award-winning maker of games as well, and in both cases her emphasis has been on adventure games.

It’s been valuable to learn, over the years, how to view games as we would literature or film, and how to bring specific individual approaches to bear in understanding them. Now, Introduction to Game Analysis offers numerous methods of analysis that each treat games as games. These approaches are systematically organized and well thought out, too. Anyone in game studies or digital media should find this book compelling; A person who is coming to video games from another field, or who has been in the field and is looking to teach an introduction to video games, will find it essential.

#! Makes July’s SPD Bestseller List

Thursday 7 August 2014, 3:16 pm   /////  

#! ('Shebang')I was delighted to see that my latest book, #!, a book of programs & poems, made the July Poetry bestseller list for Small Press Distribution. SPD is the distributor for my press, Counterpath, along with many other fine presses that publish poetry. #! (which is pronounced “Shebang”) came in at lucky number 13 last month.

It’s particularly nice to see since the book was just becoming available online and in bookstores around the middle of the month, and given that if you search for the book by title on Amazon.com you get 47,921,926 results, presumably due to the title having no letters or numbers. (You can search for it using my name.) There’s also the issue that the book consists entirely of short computer programs and their outputs, which I think is very neat, but which some believe to be a bit esoteric. Actually, I hope the book is rather intelligible and fun, by connecting some of the popular programming of the 1970s and 1980s to contemporary conceptual writing and poetry.

By the way, if you are having trouble getting the book from a local store or online, you can order it directly from SPD.

While I read some from #! in Michigan recently at the Postscript symposium and exhibit, I’ll be beginning to do readings in earnest next month. The first one is planned for September 18, 7pm, at the Harvard Book Store. More on that soon…

Wikimedia: Monkey Selfie Copyright Would Be Monkey’s

Wednesday 6 August 2014, 2:51 pm   ////  

A self-portrait taken by a monkey is at issue in a copyright dispute. Wikimedia claims that it would belong to the monkey, if non-human animals could hold copyrights, and because they can’t, it’s in the public domain. The owner of the camera has another idea. Here’s The Telegraph on the subject. Also, the Wikipedia page where the photo appears, and the full-size photo with Wikimedia’s copyright position available via the media viewer.

Public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Listed by the hosting site as public domain (although this status is contested). Photo taken by the pictured monkey.

Now, I know this isn’t an urban selfie, but I would love to see it and many other non-human selfies incorporated into the Selficity project. We might find interesting correlations regarding the angle and variation in head tilt, for instance. And of course it would be provocative to just know which of the five cities shoots selfies in a way that is most similar to monkeys.

The Call is Out for Electronic Literature Collection 3

Tuesday 5 August 2014, 4:03 pm   /////  

The call for submission for the Electronic Literature Collection volume 3 has been posted. If you do digital work that has one or more literary aspects (even if it’s more often called art or a game), in any language, please check it out. The collective is an excellent group and the direction for this collection is an exciting one.

Rage of Poseidon

Saturday 2 August 2014, 6:44 pm   ////  

Anders Nilsen’s latest Drawn & Quarterly publication is a formidable follow-up to Big Questions. The accordion book holds the human stories of forgotten (and current) gods, told in text and striking silhouettes.

Rage of Poseidon

Half of My Two Cents on E-Lit

Friday 1 August 2014, 3:52 pm   ////  

Long ago (well, at the end of 2012) I was asked by .Cent magazine, a free-to-read, nicely designed online multimedia publication out of London, for a few comments about my work and my approach to electronic literature. Amazingly, having recently unearthed my responses, I find that they are still relevant! You can read my answers and the rest of the issue in its full splendor, but, very belatedly, I’ll offer my response here as well:

I see electronic literature as a something beyond a genre or a literary movement: It’s an argument that literary art and literary experience have a place in our digital environment alongside the many other ways that networked computing is used. Those of us working in electronic literature are demonstrating that we can have poetic, imaginative, narrative, conceptual, and other sorts of work and experiences online, in addition to commercial, communication, and gaming experiences. We don’t have to share an aesthetic or hold similar political ideas in order to make this argument together, because we’re arguing for something fundamental to future work: The chance to develop literature (of any sort) using the capabilities of the computer and the network.

My own focus is on projects that engage collaboration and computation to bring us into a new, disoriented, and potentially productive relationship to the computer and the world. A recent project that is both highly collaborative and highly computational is Sea and Spar Between, a poetry generator Stephanie Strickland and I developed. In it, we bring together words from the vocabulary of Melville and Dickinson, present a sea of textual data that is far beyond the human ability to read but which can be understood in some ways, and suggest a collaborative, computational, and literary-historical perspective on the natural world. In my “solo career” I have written very short programs such as those in the ppg256 series and those in the set Concrete Perl, to investigate, poetically, how computation and a particular programming language hook into the English language. Some of my other collaborative e-lit projects are Implementation with Scott Rettberg and Three Rails Live with Scott and Roderick Coover, both of these dealing with urban and global experiences buy cutting up narrative forms in new ways.

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