Digital Labor, NYC, Nov 12-14

Belatedly, I want to mention a least a bit about the great conference that I participated in two weekends ago in New York: The Internet as Playground and Factory: A Conference on Digital Labor. The gathering was organized by Trebor Scholz and took place at the Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts at the New School.

At conferences on digital media, there are too few critical perspectives about large-scale hegemonic systems that are increasingly coming to define the computer and Internet experience. At some events, people exhibit general awareness of the complexities and problems that such systems pose, but they still turn and say oooh, shiny! when presented with Google Wave. At other events, people are glad to plow down open systems that would broadly enable communication and discourse, just for the sake of setting up the latest MyFace workalike. Many academics never even notice the irony of doing something like trying to remedy the digital divide within for-profit, rent-based Second Life. Generally, attitudes about the 2.0 range from blissful ignorance to a bit of skepticism – but not enough skepticism to temper the way we welcome our corporate shackles.

The Internet as Playground and Factory offered a beginning to the important conversation that we (in digital media) have been avoiding. Speakers addressed the lack of explicit political engagement among open source software developers, the different types of labor/work/action seen online, the complexities of labor (why are these Chinese gold farmers spending some of their free time playing the game that they toil at all day?), and other important and often-overlooked issues. While the conference was well-documented in video and the site features connections to Twitter and Flickr, the main online conversation behind the gathering has taken place on a mailing list, and social media technologies were generally used to extend communications rather than to exclude.

The award for best stunt goes to Hector Postigo, who began his talk on AOL volunteers by explaining that Facebook wasn’t paying him enough to keep updating his status and friending people: He then permanently deleted his Facebook account as happy photos of his friends and his children stared out at him and the crowd.

There were many good talks, but one standout that I’ll mention was McKenzie Wark‘s, in which he related the gamer and the hacker via a semiotic square to two other digital culture figures: the worker and the hustler. This allows various sites to be situated in relation to these four: eBay nearest the hustler, LinkedIn nearest the worker, and so on.

I was certainly an outlier in the main cluster of this conference; although I was there at the New School, the only reference to Marx in my talk was to Groucho Marx. But I was very pleased to read from various laborious productions, many of which dealt with issues of information technology work, in a session with poet, editor, and typewriter scholar Darren Wershler that was chaired by Kare Eichhorn. I read from Implementation (with Scott Rettberg, 2004),Mystery House Taken Over (with Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short, and the Mystery House Occupation Team, 2005), Book and Volume (2005) and ppg256 (2007-). Darren gave an actual paper, but also read some of the output of two systems developed with Bill Kennedy: The Apostrophe Engine and Status Update.

The conference concluded with a large group discussion. Scholz was asked why Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others weren’t represented as speakers at the conference. He said that they were invited and declined to give presentations – but that representatives from all of these companies did end up registering and picking up badges, so they attended.

There was no manifesto or major, striking conclusion that resulted from this final discussion. This is just the beginning, though: Scholz will run two more conferences on related topics. This conference on digital labor was a great start, advancing the discussion of how we work and play online and of how we can thoughtfully approach technologies that have been made to generate profits in a certain way, even if we want to use these technologies for political, aesthetic, or other purposes. I hope that this conference’s critical approach to digital systems and online communication will be carried over into other digital media contexts, which desperately need this perspective.

Marina Bers Speaks in Purple Blurb, Monday 11/30

On Monday (November 30) at 6pm in MIT’s room 14E-310,

The Purple Blurb series of readings and presentations on digital writing will present a talk by

Marina Bers.

Marina Bers

associate professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development and adjunct associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University.

Her research involves the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote positive youth development. At Tufts, Bers heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group. Bers received the 2005 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the U.S. government to outstanding investigators at the early stages of their careers. She also received a five year National Science Foundation (NSF) Young Investigator’s Career Award and the American Educational Research Associations (AERA) Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies. Over the past fourteen years, Bers has conceived and designed diverse technological tools ranging from robotics to virtual worlds, from tangible programming languages to storytelling environments. She conducted studies after school programs, museums and hospitals, as well as schools in the US, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Costa Rica and Thailand. She teaches seminars on learning technologies for educators and does consulting on ways to use technology to promote positive youth development. Her book “Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom” has been published by Teacher’s College Press in 2008. Bers is from Argentina and did her undergraduate studies in Social Communication at Buenos Aires University. In 1994 she came to the US where she received a Master’s degree in Educational Media and Technology from Boston University and a Master of Science and PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory, where she worked with Seymour Papert.

IF Author, Novelist Alan DeNiro

That’s an interview with Alan DeNiro now up at Grinding to Valhalla. DeNiro is author of the just-published Total Oblivion, More or Less, in which Minnesota, and then the rest of the US, is invaded by ancient European tribes. DeNiro also wrote and programmed one of the most unusual interactive fiction pieces of recent vintage, Deadline Enchanter. Or perhaps the word is “bizarre.” The game seems to not completely work, in a few different senses of “work,” but I was intrigued with it and found it to be oddly compelling, a refreshing experiment. Hopefully novel-readers will receive a similar wake-up slap from Total Oblivion, and, hopefully DeNiro won’t abandon interactive fiction now that he’s made it to print.

Nickm on His IF and E-Lit

Rachel Miller of Virginia Commonwealth University just interviewed me about my electronic literature work – my digital writing, focusing on my interactive fiction. She asked some very good questions. In return, I asked if she’d let me post the interview here, to which she kindly agreed.

1. Do you have a specific audience you are trying to appeal to with your work? (It may be different audiences depending on the genre.)

Yes, certainly. I even think of specific people who I would like to enjoy particular pieces of work, and that offers very good guidance. I also think of groups of people such as the interactive fiction community, digital poets, and electronic literature authors and scholars.

2. How do you feel about cellphones? Is it me or did I notice a reoccurring theme of cell phones? (Another Hole+Ten Mobile Texts.)

Cell phones are now completely ordinary and ubiquitous, but they’re pretty amazing in terms of being a very recent technology and one that changes the way we speak and experience space. I could say more, but the pieces you mention (along with Book and Volume, which has an anachronistic pager instead of a cell phone but is trying to deal with that technology obliquely) are my more extended attempts to marvel at this communications technology.

3. What advice do you have for people who are new to interactive fiction?

Play it with someone else, whether your IF partner is experienced or not. I don’t think I know anyone who learned the conventions of IF alone – I certainly didn’t. And, solving puzzles together and exploring a world together is great fun.

4. Why do you support IF? What are the benefits of further development and it being considered a genre in literature?

I see IF as a fascinating point of intersection between literary writing, computer gaming, and the power of the computer to simulate. I’ve always loved what language can do and what computing can do, and I see that this comes together in a powerful way in IF. Of course, it’s specific pieces of IF that give me this feeling. While I see great successes in the form, I also see untapped potential, which encourages me as I work on particular games and as I develop my IF system, Curveship.

5. What do you want your “interactors” to walk away with?

More to think about, so that solving puzzles and completing the game has opened up new questions and possibilities instead of wrapping everything up.

6. What potential problems (if any) do you see with IF?

It’s sometimes dismissed for the wrong reasons – I’m not sure that’s a problem with IF, really. I guess if people are expecting it to become mainstream again, they may be disappointed. I think IF is very interesting in its niche and on its margin, so this doesn’t bother me. Beyond that, IF has the same problems many literary and gaming forms do, such as: Most of it is not very good, and some of it in good in some ways but really problematic in others. But, as is the case with other types of literature and gaming, there are also some pieces of IF which are awesome.

7. Implementation is a fascinating idea. I have not read the entire sticker novel but enjoy the process of viewing pictures online or being a *web reader*. Are you simply exposing narratives/dialogues/scenarios in public areas all over the world so that it may inspire all walks of life? What is your goal or hope here? Is there is an overall theme to the sticker novel? If so, doesn’t this affect the interpretation of the place readers? Or,is it more of an experiment to see how publicized you can make the project?

One goal of the project is to extend the idea of sticker art – a really nice concept, I think – into literary practice. We wanted to offer these literary texts, ones that aren’t advertising anything, in public spaces for people to read and enjoy. That by itself, apart from the themes and plot of Implementation (and, yes, there is are themes and a plot), was meant to challenge what we see and read in public. Implementation isn’t mainly an attempt to publicize itself – most of the people on the street who read some of it won’t know that they’re reading a novel called Implementation and there’s nothing to advertise that Scott Rettberg and I wrote the text. Instead, it’s an attempt to introduce literary reading into a different set of spaces.

8. What started your passion/interest for the digital and literary world?

I can’t trace my interest in computing and the literary back to anything in particular, but as I was becoming an avid reader, I was also learning to program, and soon thereafter was playing and (clumsily) writing interactive fiction. So I see these two interests as very kindred with one another.

9. Just curious…how many hours a week do you spend on a computer? If a lot, does it have any negative effects physically or mentally?

I’m not sure I can estimate, but I spend a lot of time in different contexts (home, office, classrooms, coffeehouses, trains, planes) and can’t say that I do feel any strong negative effects. If I sat at the same desk for the same eight hours a day using a computer, I might, but I think I benefit from having a lot of choice in where, when, and how I work. I wish more people had this choice.

Lots Has Happened and Is Happening

Andrew Stern’s company Stumptown Game Machine released their Touch Pets Dogs, published by ngmoco for the iPhone. On this social network, everyone knows that you’re a virtual dog. Versions of it are in the top 10 free apps on the iPhone App Store now, and in the top 100 of pay apps.

Rover’s Day Out is the winner of the IF Comp. (Dogs everywhere!) The game is by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman. Broken Legs by Sarah Morayati took second, Snowquest by Eric Eve third. Congratulations to all authors! If you haven’t played the games yet, they’re still there waiting for you.

CYOA visualizations are the talk of the town: Mainly this extensive site that considers many books in the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series, but also this PDF mapping Journey under the Sea.

People on the Interweb donated $25,000 to Jason Scott, the, BBS Documentary, and Get Lamp guy. Man, it’s so easy to get money on the Web. Maybe you could do it too, if you first spend years, in your spare time and without pay, saving BBS files, saving Geocities, documenting computer history, and generally amassing a larger archive of digital media history than almost every university in the world put together.

Truly “indie” artgames made the New York Times Magazine. Jason Roherer leads the charge, but many of the usual suspects are quoted in this look at how non-industrial gaming is augmenting and challenging games of the commercial sphere.

A new issue of Game Studies is out, with these articles: “The Character of Difference: Procedurality, Rhetoric, and Roleplaying Games,” “Moral Decision Making in Fallout,” “Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers,” and “World of Warcraft: Service or Space?” Game Studies is free to everyone! No page fees for authors! Peer reviewed! The future of academic publishing, already here, and about games!

JayIsGames hosts an IF contest and calls for interactive fiction authors to create escape-the-room games. The deadline for this Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7 is January 31. Z-code only, unfortunately for those of us wedded to Curveship, but that lets you use Inform 6 or 7.

D. Fox Harrell Speaks in Purple Blurb, Monday 11/16 6pm

On Monday (November 16) at 6pm in MIT’s room 14E-310,

The Purple Blurb series of readings and presentations on digital writing will present a talk by

D. Fox Harrell.

D. Fox Harrell

creator of GRIOT, a system that generates poetry and interactive multimedia narrative using his Alloy algorithm. Alloy uses an algebraic semiotics formalization of the cognitive linguistics theory of conceptual integration, also called conceptual blending.

Harrell’s generative poetic systems change elements such as theme, metaphorical exposition, emotional tone, or imagery based upon user input – exploring issues such as contingent and dynamic identities that challenge trite conceptions of identity based in binary oppositions of race, power, gender, and other normative categories. In addition to his work in interactive narrative and poetry, Harrell has completed a number of technologies for social identity representation under the umbrella of his Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project. The AIR Project represents a new transdisciplinary approach to designing computational identity technologies. The AIR Project results in new technology (e.g., virtual characters, avatars, and social networking profiles) and theory to allow users to create highly imaginative self-representations and to reveal how stereotypes, prejudice, bias, and other ills are built into current technologies. Dr. Harrell is Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the department of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He directs the Imagination, Computation, and Expression [ICE] Lab ( in developing new forms of computational narrative and poetry, gaming, social networking, and related forms, all with bases in computer science, cognitive science, and digital media arts. He is recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty, which includes a generous, five-year grant to support his research. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego. He earned an M.P.S. in Interactive Telecommunications at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He also earned a B.F.A. in Art, a B.S. in Logic and Computation, and minor in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, each with highest honors. He has worked as an interactive television producer and as a game designer. He has completed a novel, “Milk Pudding Flavored with Rose Water, Blood Pudding Flavored by the Sea,” and is completing a book on an imaginative cognition- and computation-based approach to digital media, “Phantasmal Media.”

Bergen Apothegma, Part 2

Actually I haven’t had the energy to keep mining each of the presentations at The Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice, but they were rich in provocation and new ideas, and now I have to post something to follow “part 1.” The workshop went very well; particularly good were two long evenings of electronic literature, digital poetry, and readable digital art that were done by individuals but showcased collaboration. These two readings stood out because so much of the workshop time (which usually would have gone to very full days of panels) was dedicated to the presentation of creative work, and because the variety and quality of work was stellar.

You can check the twitsphere to see what was twot about the workshop.

A big thanks to Scott Rettberg for putting on this event and for inviting us Americans to join this international discussion.

Bergen Apothegma, Part 1

I’m at a fine gathering, The Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice. This is a workshop Scott Rettberg organized here in Bergen, Norway. Here’s a tiny glimpse of it.

First, Daniel Apollon has very deftly provided us with a video of last night’s electronic literature readings / presentations by nine readers: Jörg Piringer. Roderick Coover, J. R. Carpenter, John Cayley, Renée Turner, Serge Bouchardon, Chris Funkhouser, Talan Memmott, and Michelle Teran. It was remarkable for being an extremely long e-lit reading that was also very compelling throughout and offered a wide range of work, never lagging at any point during the three hours. The video is just over 11 minutes.

Regarding the panel presentations today so far, I have no summary – see the abstracts for that. Instead, a handful of analects, transcribed ineptly:

“If there were going to be a great novel or a great poem in new media by now, we’d have it. There are major works in digital media, but they aren’t continuations of the novel or the poem.” -Joseph Tabbi

“That’s the real promise of peer-to-peer review – you can follow the debates that make claims and that become knowledge.” -Eric Dean Rasmussen

“… calculation being a material process … authors, who work on the technical dimension and on the medium, may allow a new aesthetic to emerge.” -Serge Bouchardon

“For a long time I advocated that we have two classes of electronic literature – Class A which represents that work which is truly programmatic, and the other which is traditional writing. Increasingly, I don’t see this distinction as important.” -Raine Koskimaa

“I don’t actually mind cookie cutters – I make a lot of cookies, and I use proprietary cookie cutters.” -Jill Walker Rettberg [Jill’s slides and a preprint of her related paper are online.]

“Already the manifesto is the exquisite corpse.” -Renée Turner (regarding discussion on the NetBehavior list)

[Please let me know if I’ve seriously misquoted you, fellow workshop attendees.]

ELO_AI: Archive & Innovate

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s
Fourth International Conference
& Program of Digitally Mediated Literary Art

June 3-6, 2010
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Organized by the ELO and Writing Digital Media 
at the Brown University Literary Arts Program
dedicated to Robert Coover

The Electronic Literature Organization and Brown University’s Literary Arts Program invite submissions to the Electronic Literature Organization 2010 Conference to be held from June 3-6, 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

  • electronic literature
  • writing digital media
  • language-driven digital poesis
  • literal art

We welcome papers and presentations on a broad range of topics. The conference will focus on the theory, criticism, close-reading, practice and archiving of language-driven digital art and poetics. Our gathering will also embrace all the related cultural practices that continue to be addressed by scholars and artists in our growing field:

  • expressive processing
  • computational art
  • artificial cognition and intelligence
  • aesthetic gaming
  • information art
  • codework
  • digitally mediated performance
  • network & media art & activism

In addition we will give a special welcome to papers that engage with the contribution that Robert Coover has made to our field. A festschrift comprised of papers from the conference is proposed and Professor Coover will be our chief featured eWriter. (Other featured speakers to be announced shortly.)

In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Program of Language-Driven Digital Art, concentrating on but not confined to installation works. We plan to show the selected work in gallery spaces close to the conference venue in downtown Providence over a two week period. Subject to funding restrictions, selected artists will be awarded bursaries to assist with attending the conference. Submission guidelines will be posted on the conference website by mid November.

Deadline for Submissions: December 15, 2009
Notification of Acceptance: January 25, 2010

PLEASE NOTE: Deadline for full papers will be May 1, 2010 to allow for reflection and exchange on the papers prior to the conference and to get head-start in the publication process.

The basic cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100.

Conference registration covers access to all events, the reception, some meals, and shuttle transportation.

All conference attendees are also expected to join the ELO before the conference and this can be done at registration.

We are planning to implement online submission and registration. Before submitting, please consult the conference website at …

… where these facilities will be available and where you will find much more information about both the content and the form of the conference and arts program.

After consulting the website, for further queries and all email correspondence contact:

elo dot ai at eliterature dot org

The above address should be used for all conference business. It will checked by myself and also those colleagues and students who will be assisting me with the conference organization. But I appreciate that you may sometimes also want to get in touch with the conference organizer:

John Cayley, Literary Arts Program
Box 1923, Brown University
68 1/2 Brown Street
Providence, RI 02912, USA
office: +1 401 863 3966, John underscore Cayley at brown dot edu

The Conference is currently sponsored and supported by The Electronic Literature Organization, Brown University Literary Arts Program, Brown University Creative Arts Council, Brown University Library, and the RISD D+M Program.

Any organization or individual in receipt of this call who would like to sponsor and support this major international conference, please get in touch. External sponsors are being sought and will be appropriately acknowledged.

Eludamos Posts New Issue, Seeks Articles, Volunteers

Those of us who study computer and video games are very fortunate to have two free, online, peer-reviewed journals that do not assess page fees: Game Studies and Eludamos. And, there is at least one more free, online, peer-reviewed journal that does not assess page fees and includes articles about computer and video games: Digital Humanities Quarterly.

That’s the preface to my mentioning that a new issue (vol. 3, no. 2) of Eludamos is now out.

Also, that journal has issued a new call for papers:

The new call for papers for “Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture” is now open, and again, we cordially invite submissions dealing with everything that is relevant to the field of game studies.

All articles undergo a double blind peer review process except for
papers submitted to the game review section. We expect all
submissions to be in English and accept full papers only. For further
specifications about our submission guidelines please
consult the Eludamos site.

Eludamos also seeks volunteers to do editorial and proofreading work:

We are happy to announce that since its initiation three years ago, not just Eludamos’ readership but also its submission numbers have grown steadily. Thus we are looking to expand the ranks of our editors and proof-readers. Please note that all positions are honorary.

We are specifically looking for a book review editor. The editor’s responsibility would be to identify “hot topics” and to solicit reviews of new publications that deal with them.

We are also hoping to attract two volunteers for copy editing / proof reading.

Please send a short statement of interest via e-mail to the following address: ajahn2 at uni-goettingen dot de