“Electrifying Literature” Deadline

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

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.

Videos about MIT’s Montfort and Harrell

At MIT TechTV, there’s a new 5-minute video about me and my work, featuring Ad Verbum, Curveship, Taroko Gorge, the ppg256 series and (as examples of really cool things that have been done with computers and that are worth our attention) some productions by others from the demoscene.

Also see the excellent video covering the work of my colleague Fox Harrell and his Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab. Harrell describes his projects, reads from one of them, and discusses his concept of “phantasmal media.” That term provides the title for a book he’s completing for the MIT Press.

Winter in Brazil, Southern Edition

Like my collaborator Noah Wardrip-Fruin, I have come to Brazil for the winter. But not to a nice warm part of Brazil — I’m in Passo Fundo, in the far South, at the 14th Jornada Nacional de Literatura. Here, it has been cold outside, but there has been great excitement about writing and literary art.

Nick Montfort speaking in Passo Fundo

I have been correctly identified as a space man as I’ve shown and discussed interactive fiction, poetry generation, and other forms of electronic literature.

I gave a longer talk this morning about these topics, which was translated into Brazilian Portuguese as I spoke. Tomorrow, I will speak on a panel in the main tent to about 5000 people about certain types of “convergence” in writing and literature. The type I will address is a convergence between authors – collaboration.

Electrifying Literature: The ELO 2012 Conference at WVU

Call for Proposals…

ELO 2012

Electrifying Literature
Affordances and Constraints

June 20-23, 2012
Morgantown, WV

Conference Planning Committee

– Sandy Baldwin, West Virginia University (Chair)
– Philippe Bootz, University of Paris 8
– Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
– Margie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley College
– Mark Marino, University of Southern California
– Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
– Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago

We invite titles and proposals of no more than 500 words, including a brief description of the content and format of the presentation, and contact information for the presenter(s). Send proposals to elit2012 [at] gmail.com, using plain text format in the email, or attached as Word or PDF. All proposals will receive peer-to-peer review by the ELO and will be considered on their own terms. Non-traditional and traditional formats will be subject to the same peer-to-peer review process.

Submission deadline for proposals: November 30, 2011

Notification of acceptance: December 30, 2011

Electronic Literature: Where is It?*

The 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference will be held June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, WV, the site of West Virginia University. In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Media Arts Show open to the public at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown and running from June 18-30, 2012. An accompanying online exhibit will bring works from the ELO Conference to a wider audience.

Even if nobody could define print literature, everyone knew where to look for it – in libraries and bookshops, at readings, in class, or on the Masterpiece channel. We have not yet created, however, a consensus about where to find electronic literature, or (for that matter) the location of the literary in an emerging digital aesthetic.

Though we do have, in digital media, works that identify themselves as “locative,” we don’t really know where to look for e-lit, how it should be tagged and distributed, and whether or how it should be taught. Is born digital writing likely to reside, for example, in conventional literature programs? in Rhetoric? Comp? Creative Writing? Can new media literature be remediated? How should its conditions of creation be described? Do those descriptions become our primary texts when the works themselves become unavailable through technological obsolescence?

To forward our thinking about the institutional and technological location of current literary writing, The Electronic Literature Organization and West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing invite submissions to the ELO 2012 Conference to be held from June 20-23, 2012, in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Bearing in mind the changing locations of new media literature and literary cultures, the conference organizers welcome unconventional presentations, whether in print or digital media. The point is not to reject the conventional conference ‘paper’ or bullet point presentation but to encourage thoughtful exploration and justification of any format employed. All elements of literary description and presentation are up for reconsideration. The modest mechanisms of course descriptions, syllabus construction, genre identification, and the composition of author bios, could well offer maps toward the location of the literary in digital media. So can an annotated bibliography of works falling under a given genre or within a certain technological context. We welcome surveys of the use of tags and keywords, and how these can be recognized (or not) by readers, libraries, or other necessary nodes in an emerging literary network Also of interest is the current proliferation of directories of electronic literature in multiple media, languages, and geographical locations.

The cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100. The cost covers receptions, meals, and other conference events. All participants must be members of the Electronic Literature Organization. All events are within walking distance of the conference hotels. Morgantown is a classic college town, located in the scenic hills of north central West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Local hotel and travel information will be available on the conference website starting October 1, 2011.

Check http://el.eliterature.org and http://conference.eliterature.org for updates. For more information, email elit2012 [at] gmail.com.

*Note: this title derives from an essay by ELO Board Member Dene Grigar in electronic book review, where selected conference presentations will be published within a few months of the conference.

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

XO and GUI Found in Curveship’s Alphabet Soup

I went by to OLPC (One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit that has created and deployed worldwide the green laptop for kids) yesterday for some discussion of narrative interfaces. I explained the basics of Curveship and what was interesting about it from my perspective, mentioning that one could hook the narrating engine up to something other than an interactive fiction world. I also found out that others had some of their own, very interesting, ideas.

Chris Ball, for instance, showed a proof-of-concept where he hooked up the simulated world of Curveship’s Cloak of Darkness, the classic simulated example world, to a graphical display and a graphical system for inputting commands:

Screen from the Curveship GUI Cloak of Darkness

Source is available on github. While it doesn’t generalize to every Curveship game, what it presents on the screen here is done without any additional game data: Chris’s system determine that the south room is dark and obscures it, determines where the exits are, places objects in rooms, and generates rooms of random size since there is no way to determine how big or small a room is. The only thing the systems knows about the underlying simulated world is what’s in fiction/cloak.py, the file I put together to demonstrate Cloak of Darkness in the usual textual interface.

On the one hand, it more or less discards all of the work that fascinates me the most, the text generation and narrative variation part of the system (*). But on the other, it’s the most radical narrative variation yet – replacing the textual interface with a graphical one. A pretty neat twist on the system, and one which is very interesting from a research standpoint if one’s interested in comparing image and text in narratives.

I hope work on this will continue and that we’ll find other mutually beneficial ways to connect Curveship with the OLPC project.

(*) It doesn’t really discard these or truly “replace” the text channel. You also get to read the textual description of rooms and the textual representation of actions in windows as you play the game. But it makes the main interface a GUI rather than a textual exchange.

Take This Narrative Diction

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.

SPAG Covers the IF Demo Fair

SPAG 60 cover

SPAG (The Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games) #60 is out – the latest issue of the long-running interactive fiction newsletter. On the cover, a figure in a dark sport coat looms, his face a grim rictus as he hunches toward some computer or iPad. I don’t recall seeing this sinister individual at the festive and very enjoyable IF Demo Fair, which Emily Short organized at PAX East, but I do recall seeing happy interactions of the sort depicted in the rest of that scene.

The new issue includes writeups of the work exhibited at the Fair. This includes some comments on my IF system Curveship, which I showed off at the Fair and spoke about the following day. There’s some discussion by Emily Short and Jacqueline A. Lott. These, along with the discussions of Curveship at PAX East and the Second International Conference on Computational Creativity in Mexico City, will be helpful as I continue development of the system.

An Enigmatic Business Card

TEch WArp: MIT is out of joint. Find an entry point, a placard, and play Tech Warp on your phone or on the Web. Check: A bookstore in Kendall, A mid-infinite location, A former arcade site, MIT’s main entrance, A corner lot dorm, A student street. Align MIT in time & unlock space for imagining the future.

These cards have been seen at MIT. Some say they point the way to an interactive fiction that you can play, if you search the campus and find a way in.

ClubFloyd Plays Book and Volume

On April 2, “ClubFloyd,” a group of players of interactive fiction, took on my Book and Volume, which was released on the [auto mata] label in 2005. They played the game on ifMUD and conversed online about it. Reading the discussion was a treat for me. Not because every bit of it was positive – I found out about some bugs. For instance, since the current time is only reported in the status line, it can’t be easily determined when playing the game via a bot on a mud, the way this group was playing. But the feedback from these sessions was very useful, and would have been hard to come by otherwise.

I think some of the ClubFloyd players had fun, although I’m not exactly sure how to interpret statements such as “This game boggles the mind.” In any case, the transcript of ClubFloyd’s play is online.

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.

My Curveship Talk at PAX-East 2011

I gave a talk about Curveship in the “IF Suite” (actually an ordinary hotel room with a few upturned beds, not a suite) at PAX-East 2011 earlier this month. It was great to present to fellow IF author/programmers from around the world at this event, which was effectively the second annual Festival of Interactive Fiction. The IF Summit was organized by Andrew Plotkin, a.k.a. Zarf, once again this year. Thanks to Jason McIntosh, there’s pretty good-quality video (very good, considering the ramshackle setup) of the first 22.5 minutes of my talk:

The parts where I actually demo the system and discuss how games are written are missing, unfortunately, but my comments do introduce Curveship and its motivation.

Also check out the video documentation of the “Setting as Character” panel with Andrew Plotkin, Rob Wheeler, Stephen Granade, and Dean Tate. (This one took place in the more capacious Alcott Room, which we had on Saturday, March 12 thanks to Dave Cornelson.) Also, there’s video of the panel on “Non-Gamers Gaming,” with Caleb Garner, Tim Crosby, Heather Albano, Sarah Morayati, and Andrew Plotkin.