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?

Purple Blurb Spring 2013: McIntosh, Di Blasi, Henderson

Friday 21 December 2012, 4:47 pm   //////  

Thanks to the good work of guest organizer Gretchen Henderson, the Purple Blurb schedule for Spring 2013 is already set! I hope to see you locals at some or all of them.

All Spring 2013 events are Mondays at 5:30pm in MIT’s room 14E-310. This is in the East wing of Building 14, across the building’s courtyard from the Hayden Library. Building 14 is not part of the Media Lab Complex. The Spring 2013 schedule is thanks to guest organizer Gretchen Henderson.

February 11, 5:30pm in 14E-310

Jason McIntosh

Presents the Interactive Fiction “The Warbler’s Nest”

The Warbler's Nest title image

Jason McIntosh is an independent games critic, designer, and scholar. During the previous decade, he produced “The Gameshelf”, a public-access TV series examining both tabletop and digital games, and “Jmac’s Arcade,” a set of video monologues on growing up within the arcade culture of the 1980s. More recently, he’s taught a game-studies lab at Northeastern University, published the XYZZY Award-winning work of interactive fiction “The Warbler’s Nest”, crafted the iPad edition of the tabletop game “Sixis” by Chris Cieslik, and worked as a game-design consultant for other clients. He continues to write game-criticism essays on The Gameshelf’s blog, and produces the occasional episode of the podcast series “Play of the Light”, which he co-hosts with Matthew Weise. His website collecting all this stuff may be found at jmac.org

March 11, 5:30pm in 14E-310

Debra Di Blasi

Skin of the Sun: Five Iterations Toward Human As Novel”

Followed by a discussion of the literary publisher’s role in the 21st Century

From Skin of the Sun

Debra Di Blasi is a multi-genre, multimedia author of six books, including The Jirí Chronicles & Other Fictions, Drought & Say What You Like, and Skin of the Sun. Awards include a James C. McCormick Fellowship in Fiction from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, Thorpe Menn Book Award, Cinovation Screenwriting Award, and Diagram Innovative Fiction Award. Her fiction is included in a many leading anthologies of innovative writing and has been adapted to film, radio, theatre, and audio CD in the U.S. and abroad. Her essays, art reviews and articles can be found in a variety of international, national and regional publications. She frequently lectures on the intersection of literature and technology and is working on a nonfiction book on related topics.

April 8, 5:30pm in 14E-310

Gretchen E. Henderson

Galerie de Difformité:The Book as Body, The Body as Book”

Followed by an OPEN MIC!

From Galerie de Difformité

Gretchen E. Henderson is a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at MIT and a metaLAB fellow at Harvard, who writes across genres, the arts, and music to invigorate her critical and creative practices. She is the author of two novels, The House Enters the Street and Galerie de Difformité (winner of the Madeleine Plonsker Prize), a collection of nonfiction, On Marvellous Things Heard, and a poetry chapbook, Wreckage: By Land & By Sea. Among other projects at MIT, she is working on Ugliness: A Cultural History (for Reaktion Books), while continuing the collaborative deformation of Galerie de Difformité: a print book that is interfacing with the history and future of the book, networked online, inviting readers to participate in its (de)formation across media.

The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction … Today

Tuesday 27 November 2012, 10:27 am   ////  

Boston-Area IF group The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction (PR-IF) is set to meet at 6:30pm today in my lab, The Trope Tank (MIT’s room 14N-233). We’ll check out some of the winners of the 2012 Interactive Fiction Competition, the 18th annual Comp, which recently concluded. Congratulations to Marco Innocenti for his 1st-place Andromeda Apocalypse, to the anonymous author of Eurydice (which took 2nd), and to Jim Munroe, for Guilded Youth, which was 3rd – and to all of the other winners!

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.

A Study of the IF Community

Saturday 3 November 2012, 8:02 am   ///  

Here at the ELMCIP “Remediating the Social” conference, literature professor Yra van Dijk was added to the program and presented, today, on a topic of special interest to me – the interactive fiction community.

She has been examining the 2001-2004 exchanges on the IF newsgroups (rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction) with a focus on the online exchanges and the community’s archiving of them. Self-reflexivity and longevity makes this community particularly interesting to her. She sees a blending of roles: Practicioners, reviewers, and consumers are different roles but not different people. Her study uses literary sociology and literary theory, mainly Latour. She mentioned the “Interesting discussions” available on the Wiki; one does not have to join a mailing list to read them.

Technical issues, theory and self-reflection are discussed – many things that would be taken up by institutions in other contexts. She noted that actors on the newsgroups do not behave as if anonymous, but behave as they might in person. She noted as well that some in-person meetups now happen, that people often reflect on how to raise the profile of IF, and that awards and prizes imitate hierarchies of print literature, play a part in canonizing and archiving. She studied the consideration of IF as art – and found that most of the discussion is about craftsmanship, not poetics. Exchanges of code happen, and people discussed questions about how to write, not what we write.

She found that a well-defined genre is being redefined through discussion. Taste is being developed and discussed; intelligent readership is supported. An archive of knowledge about these works has been produced, along with an institutional network. So, the seemingly peripheral IF community has many interesting things happening. It resembles (to her surprise, she said) the 19th century literary communities with their emphasis on craftsmanship and criticism.

I regret that I didn’t get to speak with van Dijk, but it was great to hear her discussion of the IF community … and I have now something to report on at the next People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction meeting.

S=A=U=S=A=G=E

Friday 3 August 2012, 4:42 pm   /////  

Alternate (actually, rejected) titles for the famous journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, recently revealed in Jacket2.

I don’t know about you, but Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews’s cutting room floor is often better than what ends up stuffed into my projector.

For instance, I see that Rhizome, which wound up being used, is on the list.

Maybe the next interactive fiction journal could be called Inventory.

And, I think Salad is still a great title – maybe even a better one today. It’s a dish best served cold.

An Insight Gained from Re-Watching Tron

Friday 27 July 2012, 1:47 pm   /////  

Enron (logo)

+

Infocom (logo)

=

Encom (logo from Tron still)

Islands of (Text) Adventure

Friday 13 July 2012, 1:00 pm   ///////  

In the “Michelangelo” room of the Portofino Bay hotel, at Ascendio (the latest and last in a long series of Harry Potter fan conferences), just down the lagoon from The Islands of Adventure and the Harry Potter area of that theme park, Flourish Klink presented her interactive fiction, “Muggle Studies.”

(In Michelangelo the women come and go, talking of rooms…)

We had a reading/playing of the game, to start, in the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction public reading style. It worked well; another option would have been to “demo” the game using the successful format we tried out at the New School, Penn, and some Purple Blurb IF readings. The audience was game to try commands, though, and a volunteer read the game’s text aloud.

Then, Flourish provided some context, describing a bit about IF and Inform 7.

Given the vigorousness of fandom and the way interactive fiction production continues apace, it’s particularly good to see a demonstration of and call for more crossover work.

Language and Code at the Gate

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

A technical report is to arrive today.

No need to worry about what will become of you without a technical report! The report, the fourth “Trope Report” in the Trope Tank series that started this year, is here:

In “Carrying across Language and Code,” Natalia and I discuss issues of translation and computational writing. With reference to electronic literature translation projects in which we have been involved as translators or as authors of the source work, we argue that the process of translation can expose how language and computation interrelate in electronic literature. Various small poetry generators, a cybertext poem, and two works of interactive fiction are discussed in this report.

Share and enjoy…

Adventuresome Clara Fernandez

Wednesday 30 May 2012, 6:49 pm   //////  

There’s a nice new interview with game scholar and game maker Clara Fernandez, who is an affiliate of The Trope Tank. Check it out.

Interactive Fiction Hits the Fan

Saturday 31 March 2012, 5:03 pm   //////  

Although a recent IF tribute to a They Might Be Giants album might help to delude some people about this, interactive fiction these days is not about fandom and is unusually not made in reference to and transformation of previous popular works.

An intriguing exception, however, can be found in the just-released Muggle Studies, a game by Flourish Klink that takes place in the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter. The player character is of the non-magical persuasion, but gets to wander, wand-free, at Hogwarts, solve puzzles, and discover things that bear on her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. You can play and download the game at the Muggle Studies site.

Apollo 18+20, a Tribute to an Album in Interactive Fiction

Monday 26 March 2012, 1:15 pm   //////  

The organizer of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, Kevin Jackson-Mead, has organized and co-written a tribute to the 1992 They Might Be Giants Album, Apollo 18. At the PR-IF site, you can play and download 38 short games corresponding to every song (including the “Fingertips” songs) on the album. With its retro cachet, it may be today’s version of Dial-a-Song:

Apollo 18+20.

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)

Brian Moriarty to Speak at MIT

Sunday 27 November 2011, 11:07 pm   ////////  

In the Boston area? Please join us for a talk by

 

Brian Moriarty

Creator of Wishbringer, Trinity, Loom, and other interactive fiction and graphic adventure titles

and professor of practice, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“Beyond Zork: Games & Interactive Fiction”

Monday, November 28, 5:30 pm

MIT’s room 6-120

 

Brian Moriarty built his first computer in the fifth grade. He began publishing games in the early 1980s and in 1984 joined legendary text adventure company Infocom, where he authored three award-winning interactive fiction titles, Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987). His first graphic adventure game, Loom, was published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games to wide critical acclaim.

Sponsored by the Angus N. MacDonald Fund

As always, this Purple Blurb event is free and open to the public.

“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.

Unconference/Hackday on Digital Writing

Thursday 6 October 2011, 11:32 pm   //////  

Normally I only mention events that I’m attending or organizing, but I want to announce this Boston-area event even though I’ll be in Chicago and won’t be able to attend.

It’s called Dangerous Readings, and is sponsored by Eastgate Systems. Check out the page to see how you can participate.

IF Comp Games Are Out

Sunday 2 October 2011, 11:52 am   /////  

The 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition games! They’re out. Go get ‘em.

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