The Times Has a Moment with IF

Sunday 6 July 2014, 11:12 pm   //////  

The New York Times has an article (online today, in print tomorrow) entitled “Text Games in a New Era of Stories,” about ye olde interactive fiction and new-fangled manifestations of it, including Ms. Porpentine’s Howling Dogs and Ms. Short’s Blood & Laurels.

(Okay, it must be admitted that even The New York Times didn’t refer to the author of Howling Dogs as “Ms. Porpentine.”)

The Firewall .. is Us!

Wednesday 11 December 2013, 7:06 pm   //////  

Slavoj Žižek did not write a twine game, but Alan DeNiro did. It’s called We Are the Firewall, and it has more rodents than Rat Chaos. It twists and communicates with the whole category of Twine games quite well, and the writing is quite compelling, and it’s well worth reading/solving.

DeNiro, by the way, is the author of (in addition to short stories and novels) the uncanny interactive fiction Deadline Enchanter, which I also recommend.

Doug Engelbart, 88, Inventor of …

Tuesday 9 July 2013, 1:55 pm   /////  

… the mouse; the chording keyboard for use with the mouse; the demo; videoconferencing; real-time online collaboration and collaborative editing; the first practical, working hypertext system, which was also a hypermedia system; word processing; dynamic file linking; version control; computer augmentation of human intelligence; and the bootstrapping of human intellectual processes.

Engelbart died on July 2. (Los Angeles Times obituary.)

Canonical Hypertext, IF, and Digital Narrative

Thursday 10 January 2013, 8:13 pm   /////  

What is it that those who have it hate it and oppose it, but those who lack it desperately want it and imagine it?

A canon.

Deb Chachra called my attention to Infovore’s new canonical list of “hypertext literature / interactive fiction / digital narrative.”

I certainly don’t object to the exercise of blog-based canon development. Back in 2004 I presented a canon-like list of Atari VCS games. Thinking up the list and discussing it online were very useful to me as I started formulating the book I’d later write with Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam. Some of the discussion was “what about this game, why not that game?,” as one commenter noted, but really not much of it – more often we ended up discussing why the focus on the Atari VCS, or what qualities make a game worth studying, or how gameplay and graphics/sound interact, etc.

So, instead of offering any substitute items for the list provided, I’ll just try to mention an aspect of “canon” that Infovore has already picked up on. The best idea in developing such lists seems to be not to pick the greatest hits or the first at doing something or the most widely cited, but rather to choose those productions that are interesting to compare to others.

A canon is a standard, as the OED offers: “c. A standard of judgement or authority; a test, criterion, means of discrimination.” So, it would make sense to me to select works that are, for example, the best at political discourse, or engagement with language, or formal innovation, or critique and transformation of existing work – or whatever aspects of interactive literature one values. What would you hold up as an example of avant-garde writing practices meeting interactivity, for instance, after 1961? What’s the standard for work that engages with contemporary political issues?

HuffPo’s Interview with NiMo

Illya Szilak interviews Nick Montfort in the article “The Death of the Novel: How E-Lit Revolutionizes Fiction,” the first of a series of posts on electronic literature.

The Purpling

Sunday 18 March 2012, 2:29 pm   //////  

I was recently notified that “The Purpling” was no longer online at its original published location, on a host named “research-intermedia.art.uiowa.edu” which held The Iowa Review Web site. In fact, it seems that The Iowa Review Web is missing entirely from that host.

My first reaction was put my 2008 hypertext poem online now on my site, nickm.com, at:

http://nickm.com/poems/the_purpling/

Fortunately, TIWR has not vanished from the Web. I found that things are still in place at:

http://iowareview.uiowa.edu/TIRW/

And “The Purpling” is also up there. Maybe I was using a non-canonical link to begin with? Or maybe things moved around?

Purple Blurb is Shaped Like Canada

We have an amazing Spring 2012 Purple Blurb lineup, thanks to this academic year’s organizer, Amaranth Borsuk, and featuring two special events and readings by two leading Canadian poets who work in sound, concrete, and conceptual poetry. The Purple Blurb series is supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund and MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. All events are at MIT and are free and open to the public.

Monday, March 19
5:30 PM
6-120

Steve McCaffery

Author of Carnival, The Black Debt, Seven Pages Missing
Professor and David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters, SUNY Buffalo

A central figure in Canadian avant-garde writing, Steve McCaffery’s work spans sound poetry, generative and iterative text, experimental prose, performance art, literary criticism, and visual poetics. A member of the Four Horsemen sound poetry ensemble and a professor of English at SUNY Buffalo, he is the author of over a dozen influential books of poetry, twenty chapbooks and four volumes of critical writing. His works include CARNIVAL panels 1 and 2, Panopticon, The Black Debt, North of Intention and Rational Geomancy: Kids of the Book-Machine (with bpNichol). With Jed Rasula, McCaffery edited Imagining Language, an anthology for MIT Press.

Monday, April 9
5:30 PM
6-120

Open Mouse / Open Mic

Featuring Alexandra Chasin, Ari Kalinowski, and YOU

Please join us for an open mic featuring  D1G1T4L WR1T1NG for a variety of platforms, from immersive projections by Ari Kalinowski to generative fiction for the iPad by Alexandra Chasin.

Bring video art, interactive fiction, SMS poems, hypertext fiction and poetry, text generators, and any form of electronic literature you’ve got up your sleeve! This event is co-sponsored by the Electronic Literature Organization.

Alexandra Chasin is the author of Kissed By (FC2), and Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (St. Martin’s). She teaches Writing at Lang College, The New School. Ari Kalinowski runs the Intermedia Poetry Project.

Thursday, May 3
6:00 PM
6-120

Christian Bök

Professor of English, University of Calgary
Co-sponsored by the Visiting Artist Series and WHS
Author of Crystallography, Eunoia and The Xenotext.

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award for Best Poetic Debut, and Eunoia, a lipogram that uses only one vowel in each chapter, which won the 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize and is the best-selling Canadian poetry book of all time. He is also author of Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (2001). His latest project, The Xenotext, encodes a poetic text into bacterial DNA that will produce proteins in response—yielding another poetic text. Bök has created artificial languages for Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon.

1:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Bartos Theater
Friday, May 4

Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book

Co-sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, SHASS, WHS, the Arts at MIT Visiting Artist Program, and the MIT Communications Forum

An afternoon of discussion with theorists and practitioners from MIT and beyond who are concerned with the shape of books to come.

Participants include:

Christian Bök (University of Calgary)
Katherine Hayles (Duke University)
Bonnie Mak (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Rita Raley (UC Santa Barbara)
James Reid-Cunningham (Boston Athenaeum)
Bob Stein (Institute for the Future of the Book)

HypeDyn Hypertext Authoring System Released

Monday 19 December 2011, 10:12 pm   //////  

Here’s an announcement about a new, free hypertext authoring system from my collaborator Alex Mitchell:

We are pleased to announce the first public release of the HypeDyn hypertext fiction authoring tool: http://www.partechgroup.org/hypedyn

HypeDyn is a procedural hypertext fiction authoring tool for non-programmers who want to create text-based interactive stories that adapt to reader choice. HypeDyn is free to download and open source, and runs on Linux, MacOS and Windows. You can download HypeDyn from http://www.partechgroup.org/hypedyn/download.html

HypeDyn was written in Kawa Scheme, http://www.gnu.org/software/kawa/

As part of our ongoing research, we are interested in how people use HypeDyn. Please let us know at hypedyn@partechgroup.org if you are using HypeDyn and would like to tell us about your experiences, in particular if you have made any changes to the code.

We are also interested in having authors take part in a more detailed study. If you are interested in helping with this study, please read the details at http://www.partechgroup.org/hypedyn/study.html

Note that downloading/using HypeDyn does not require participation in the study.

“Electrifying Literature” Deadline

Tuesday 22 November 2011, 3:43 pm   //////////  

An exhortation for those creating or researching electronic literature to please submit to Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints, the 2012 Electronic Literature Organization conference. The gathering will take place June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, West Virginia. A juried Media Arts Gallery Exhibit will be held from Wednesday, June 13 through Saturday, June 23, 2012 at The Monongalia Arts Center. Registration costs have been kept down to make it easier for writers and artists who don’t have institutional travel support to be part of the event.

The deadline for abstracts & proposals is November 30, by the way.

Choose Your Own Monster

Monday 16 May 2011, 7:36 pm   ////  

Since I mentioned some funny CYOA-like smut that has recently issued from the IF community, I’ll also suggest a less lewd piece of branching narrative, one which allows the reader to make choices early in the text and in the story’s past: Andrew Plotkin’s The Matter of the Monster. Perhaps it’s a case of the folktale wagging the dog – in any case, it’s brightly written, cleverly put together, and worth reading.

Take This Narrative Diction

Sunday 15 May 2011, 9:17 pm   ///////  

I believe that Curveship and the example game Lost One may have just recieved their first roasting, thanks to the firepower of the S.S. Turgidity and the intrepid, enterprising player character Stiffy Makane. The “erotic adventures” that unfold in The Cavity of Time, released as part of the Indigo New Language Speed IF, allow you to jump everything within reach. And, just to be clear, to fuck all of those things. If you were offended just now, let me suggest that you don’t fire up this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style garden of fucking paths. Otherwise, this offering, written in the slick Undum system, may please you. Not like that. I mean it may amuse you.

Here’s a snippet from the beginning of the “Hip Curves” section:

The professor notices something about the device-shaped object.
That was immediately before a glass was refreshed.
The professor will be making a comment about focus.
A dial is being turned.
“Sorry about that,” he says. “What I was trying to say is that the tense shifts you are experiencing are the results of a local fluctuation in the field exerted by Hip Curves, my most diabolical erotic creation. Can I interest you in a mojito, by the way? There you go.”

I feel that in addition to commenting upon this reference, I must also invite you – if you are one of the non-offended – to plunge into the work in the question, if it doesn’t offend your morals. Please, drill Sam Kabo Ashwell’s Cavity.

An Amazing Linked List

I strongly encourage those of you who haven’t seen it yet to check out Brian Kim Stefans’s Introduction to Electronic Literature: a freeware guide.

Right now it is “just” a list of links to online resources, from Futurism through 2010, that are relevant to understanding different important aspects of electronic literature – making it, reading it, sorting through different genres, and understanding its historical connects.

It’s extremely useful in this form, but Stefans is also hoping to put these selections together in a Lulu.com book that he’ll sell at cost. To that end, he’s selected only texts – work that will fit in a book – as opposed to pieces that need to be read on a networked computer. Stefans also intends to put together a website that collects and mirrors these writings, uniformly typeset in a legible way, as PDFs.

I’m of course pleased that Stefans was inspired by The New Media Reader, which Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I edited for the MIT Press, and that he included a few of my pieces.

As I have a strong preference for assigning publicly available texts instead of scanned articles that live being a university paywall, I find these texts very useful for teaching. Stefans is taking suggestions for how to revise his Introduction over on his netpoetic.com post.

La Muchacha y el Lobo

Friday 25 March 2011, 11:50 am   ////////  

In 2001, Beehive was the first Web publication to print a creative digital media piece of mine, “The Girl and the Wolf.” I had written this story back in 1997 in Janet Murray’s Interactive Narrative class at MIT. (These days, I teach this class here at MIT.) It was strongly inspired by the readings of folk tales we had done in Henry Jenkins’s Children’s Literature class. “The Girl and the Wolf” is a very early creative piece of mine, but I remain pleased with the systematic concept and with what I wrote. It’s a simple arrangement of nine versions of a story, allowing the levels of sex and violence to be increased independently. With some contemporary references and a few other turns of phrase, I introduced only a few deviations from well-known folkloric versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Ruber Eaglenest has now translated this “variable tale” into Spanish as “La Muchacha y el Lobo.”

Eaglenest describes himself as a “wannabe” game programmer, but has participated in the Spanish IF community in many ways using the name El Clérigo Urbatain. In addition to writing many reviews and articles and doing several interviews, he has written and collaborated on several pieces of interactive fiction: Por la necedad humana, Astral, Aventurero en el Sega Park, El extraño caso de Randolph Dwight, and an episode of El museo de consciencias. He has also adapted several interactive fiction games and translated several to Spanish – most recently, Graham Nelson’s Relics of Tolti-Aph.

Eaglenest has also provided a lengthy and very useful post about the Little Red Riding Hood story and “The Girl and the Wolf” on his blog (in Spanish).

Here’s the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2

Wednesday 9 February 2011, 4:30 pm   //////////  

Thanks to the hard work of the editorial collective, Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, and Brian Kim Stefans, and to contributions of more than 70 (often collaborating) authors, we now have an incredible new anthology: volume 2 of the Electronic Literature Collection, which offers 60 new reading experiences for the networked computer.

(Here’s the ELO’s announcement about the new volume.)

To make the first volume of the Collection possible, my fellow editors and I limited ourselves to the sort of e-lit projects we could easily publish on CD-ROM and on the Web. The formal range of the ELC has expanded in the new collection, which documents several projects that wouldn’t, themselves, fit on disc. The range of languages represented has also widened, and the collective has brought it own perspectives and concepts to offer a different sort of selection than is seen in the first volume.

I’m certainly pleased to have some of my work included: Book and Volume and the first program in the ppg256 series. And I’m glad that Laura, Talan, Rita, and Brian worked so carefully and at such length to gather and edit this diversity of material. They’ve made this project a success for the ELO and for e-lit readers. And finally, as a reader, I’m also really looking forward to diving into the pages and windows of this collection.

An Electronic Literature Directory Comparison

Tuesday 7 September 2010, 9:52 pm   /////  

Yesterday I posted an interview with Joe Tabbi about the Electronic Literature Directory. Those interested in the new Directory project should check out this post by John Vincler which compares the version 1 and version 2 Directory with reference to the entries for Patchwork Girl.

ELO_AI at Brown Wraps Up

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s conference at Brown University has new concluded – the workshops, performances, screenings, exhibits, and sessions all went very well, as did the coffee breaks and other times for informal conversation. Many thanks to the organizer of ELO_AI (Archive & Innovate), John Cayley!

The conference was a celebration of and for Robert Coover, co-founder of the Electronic Literature Organization and major American novelist, whose teaching and promotion of electronic literature has been essential to the field. Robert Coover was toasted and at least lightly roasted, heard papers presented on his work, and did a reading of the “recently renovated Hypertext Hotel” – a famous early project by students which did indeed turn out to have some recent renovations.

ELO_AI began on Thursday with an array of workshops by Damon Loren Baker, John Cayley, Jeremy Douglass, Daniel Howe, and Deena Larsen. Deena Larsen was later part of a great roundtable on archiving with Will Hansen, Marjorie Luesebrink, and Stephanie Strickland; the group discussed Duke University’s work with Stephanie Strickland’s papers (and digital works), the Deena Larsen Collection at the University of Maryland, and the efforts that the ELO made in the Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination project. On the first day of the conference, Mark Marino organized a great panel with four undergraduate presenters. And, there was an opening reception at the Westminster Street gallery where an excellent show of digital literary work has been put together. While there was an array of work (in the screenings, performances, gallery, and sessions) from people who were presenting at an ELO conference for the first time, I was also glad to see many of the people who were instrumental in creating and publishing literary work on the computer more than a decade ago.

Without trying to enumerate every session of the conference, I’ll mention the Sunday 10am plenary to try to get across how wide-ranging the presentations and presenters were. In this session, George Landow, author of the famous Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1992), told the tragicomical tale of hypertext’s use in education at Brown. Angela Chang and Peggy Chi described two interactive projects for very young readers, projects that used my Curveship system and the Open Mind Common Sense project from Henry Lieberman’s MIT Media Lab group. Lawrence Giffin used the not-very-democratic framework of the salon to consider the important avant-garde site Ubuweb. And finally, Paola Pizzichini and Mauro Carassai looked into the Italian edition of Michael Joyce’s Afternoon and its almost total absence from Italian libraries. Certainly, some sessions were more focused – very focused in the case of the one on William Poundstone’s digital writing work; at least with a theme of process intensity, in the case of the session were I presented my work on Adventure in Style. But we had a genuinely diverse group of presenters, and sessions like this one on Sunday revealed this, while also showing that we do have cross-cutting interests and that we can have valuable conversations.

A special area if interest for me, interactive fiction, was represented by Aaron Reed, who did a reading of his Blue Lacuna in which he deftly showed both interactive sessions and the underlying Inform 7 code while a volunteer interactor spoke commands. Aaron Reed also gave a paper on that large-scale piece, explaining his concept of interface and his work on developing a non-player character who ranged across different spaces without being a simple opponent or companion character. In the same performance session and paper session, I got to see and learn more about Fox Harrell’s Living Liberia Fabric, a piece produced in affiliation with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia, incorporating video testimony, and employing Fox Harrell’s GRIOT system for poetic conceptual blending.

We welcomed new ELO board members and officers. Joining the ELO board are Fox Harrell, Caroly Guertin, and Jason Nelson. Dene Grigar took office as vice president, and Joe Tabbi completed his term as president, handing that role over to me.

During the sessions, we heard critical perspectives on many particular electronic literature work and some on the ELO itself, which will help us think about the challenges the Organization faces and how we can better serve readers and writers beyond American universities. The ELO has had ten years of growth and learning by now, and while there will be more of each to do, our four main projects are now well enough established that all of them are past 1.0:

  • The Electronic Literature Collection, the second volume of which has been edited and produced by an independent editorial collective and will be published soon.
  • The Electronic Literature Directory, which in its new manifestation offers community-written descriptions as well as metadata.
  • Our conference – this most recent one at Brown was our fourth international gathering.
  • Our site and our online communications, which offer information about the ELO and an introduction to electronic literature.

I’m glad to be starting my service as president of the ELO at a time when the organization has just had a very successful conference and has these other effective projects rolling. Thanks to Joe Tabbi and other past presidents and directors of the Organization for bringing us to this point – and, again, to John Cayley for bringing us all together at Brown.

The Garden of Grand Forks: UND Writers Conference

I recently went from presenting at the prestigious and vibrant University of North Dakota Writers Conference to being on a panel at the massive Penny Arcade Expo in Boston.

First things first: The former was “Mind the Gap: Print, New Media, Art,” the 41st UND Writers Conference. Last year at UND the presenters included Charles Baxter and Chuck Klosterman; the year before, Russel Banks, my colleague Junot Díaz, Alice Fulton, and Salman Rushdie.

To provide some perspective, back in 1978 the lineup at this conference was John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, William Burroughs, Ring Lardner, Tillie Olsen, and Eudora Welty.

This year I heard Art Spiegelman in conversation about his comic and New Yorker cover art, Frank X. Walker on his poems giving voice to the journey of York (who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition as Clark’s slave), Cecelia Condit on her video art, and three of my fellow electronic literature writers, with their diverse approaches: Mark Amerika, Deena Larsen, and Stuart Moulthrop. I had to leave before I could hear slam poet Saul Williams, but I’m grateful for what I was able to experience of the conference. And I’m grateful that I was able to be on two panels, select a reel of music videos for the associated film festival, speak to a computer science class, and present several collaborative and individual projects to a sizable audience in the main room of UND’s student union:

  • Ad Verbum, my interactive fiction piece from 2000, inspired by the constrained writing of the Oulipo. Thanks again to the young interactor who volunteered to try collecting items in and escaping from the Sloppy Salon.
  • 2002: A Palindrome Story, by Nick Montfort and William Gillespie. I showed the Reifier interface and read from the very beginning and end.
  • Implementation by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. I explained the project and read eight texts (stickers, mailing labels) from it.
  • Currency, by Roderick Coover (video) and Nick Montfort (text). I showed “Filip a Guinea: The Elephant and Castle.”
  • Taroko Gorge, the poetry generator I wrote in Taiwan.
  • My ongoing series of tiny perl poetry generators, ppg256.

The people in Grand Forks, ND were polite (I was told I shouldn’t be surprised about this) but also surprisingly receptive. It was certainly a different sort of crowd than I met at Banff, with many people from the community and even driving in from surrounding areas. I think they saw some of the pleasure in writing under constraint, some of the benefits of writing collaboratively, and some of the potential of computation, which I tried to show could be turned to literary ends.

Although I got to converse with Stuart and Deena on and off our panels, I came in too late for one of their readings and had to leave before I could hear the other one. I did get to hear Mark Amerika take us from his early writing in The Kafka Chronicles up through his Web work and recent moving image project, all of which are fresh and impressive. His video work is certainly impelled ahead by the work of Chris Marker, whose Sans Soleil Mark selected for the film festival. I should note that I also loved getting to watch Timecode, Stuart Moulthrop’s selection.

Thanks again to Crystal Alberts for inviting me and for her work on this very successful conference.

When I can manage, I’ll write a bit about the very different but also incredible Penny Arcade Expo East…

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