Once More into the Gorge

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 9:19 pm   /////  

J.R. Carpenter has taken apart and reassembled my poetry generator Taroko Gorge. (The first to appropriate and rework that piece, as far as I know, was Scott Rettberg, who created Tokyo Garage.) J.R.’s piece – one might call it a tract of sorts – is simply called Gorge. (Update: J.R. has a post discussing Gorge, too.) See if you can stomach it, and for how long.

Also, check out J.R.’s project Story Generation(s), which involved reworking two of my 1k Python programs and which launched May 8 at PW10 Performance Writing Weekend. The project includes a JavaScript port of “Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR.” This is generally not a bad idea; I wrote Taroko Gorge originally in Python (a programming language I prefer for when I’m thinking) and converted it to JavaScript for easy web viewing.

Critical Code Studies Conference at USC

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 8:12 pm   /////  

My collaborator Mark Marino is putting on a conference at USC which looks to be a great event. (I don’t pimp conferences on the blog here unless I’m involved in organizing them or planning to attend; I’m certainly submitting to this one.) Note that abstracts are due very soon – June 1.

Announcing a 1-Day conference on Critical Code Studies at the University of Southern California

Critical Code Studies @ USC

July 23, 2010 Hosted by The Center for Transformative Scholarship & The Institute for Multimedia Literacy Keynote: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University As digital humanitarians continue to turn their attention to the software and hardware that shape culture, the interpretation of source code offers a rich set of symbols and processes for exploration. Critical Code Studies names the practice of explicating the extra-functional significance of source code. Rather than one specific approach or theories, CCS names a growing set of methodologies that help unpack the symbols that make up software. While still in its initial state, this nascent area of study has been growing rapidly over the course of 2010. Following the massively successful Critical Code Study Working Group, we will be gathering at USC for a one-day conference to present readings of code. We are currently exploring the innovative publication of conference proceedings through Vectors and others partnerships. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, will present a keynote address. During the Working Group, she presented a powerful chapter from her monograph, Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race (forthcoming MIT, 2010). Please submit a 250-word abstract to markcmarino at gmail dot com by June 1, 2010 (Subject: “CCS @ USC 2010”). Presenters will be notified by June 15.

IF Contests Everywhere

Monday 3 May 2010, 7:51 pm   ///////  

Hello from the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction.

The TWIF Comp, a contest for interactive fiction with code of 140 characters or less, recently wrapped up. (We’re playing some of the games at the PR-IF meeting today.) Although it certainly had its in-joke aspects, the competition did bear amusing fruit, and it’s only one example of several recent competitions beyond the traditional big annual IF Comp. Given my interest in tiny literary systems, I certainly gave some thought to entering this one. However, I’ve pledged to spend all of my IF-writing time working on or in Curveship, and 140-character programs in the system weren’t at the top of my to-do list.

Before the TWIF Comp, there was the Jay Is Games interactive fiction competition, and after it there is the Second Annual MetaFilter Interactive Fiction Contest, which just started on Saturday. Those who read German will be delighted to know, if they don’t already, that the Grand Prix 2010 has just concluded. There’s also going to be an interactive fiction competition (for 30-minute-playtime games) at the Massachusetts demoparty @party. (Information will be posted on the site soon.) And Introcomp is gearing up: Interested parties should indicate their intention to enter by the end of the month. In case you’re new to online competitions, comps, or “compos” as they are sometimes called, these are not furious masculinist agons; they are mainly excuses for people to complete games and have them played by a bunch of people.

At the very least, you IF-interested parties should take a look at the games being proffered in recent contests – or, see if you want your IF to be part of one of these occasions.

Two Profs on Boing Boing

Tuesday 20 April 2010, 10:09 pm   /////  

Two of my friends and fellow investigators of digital media have recently been featured on Boing Boing:

The article on Fox Harrell was reblogged on Kotaku, too: “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Hard.” While the title is catchy, I have to point out that Fox’s work is about richer and more multidimensional ways of representing oneself digitally, beyond the one idea of skin color or race. So, we should anticipate that this work is likely to benefit “whitey” as well – and anyone who wants more than a Monopoly token as an in-game or online representation.

Video of the Get Lamp PAX Panel

Sunday 4 April 2010, 7:18 pm   //////  

Jason Scott, the filmmaker behind the soon-to-be-released interactive fiction documentary, has posted video of the Get Lamp panel at PAX-East. He’s also put up an MP3 with just the audio. The panelists are Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, your very own Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, and Jason Scott.

H. Edward Roberts, Inventor of the Personal Computer

Saturday 3 April 2010, 7:53 pm   ////  
The inventor of the MITS Altair 8800, the inexpensive kit computer that is widely considered to be the first personal computer, has died at age 68.

Two to Read on ebr

Friday 2 April 2010, 8:18 am   /////  

That’s electronic book review, which does indeed host electronic reviews of good old books, but also offers up scholarly articles on digital literature, as it has been doing for a while. Two recent articles, in particular, are not to be missed by those interested e-lit.

First, Daniel Punday’s piece on how computer games could break the homogeneity of e-books, in which he describes the uniformity implicit in the e-book concept, in the idea of a modular library, and the disappointing implications of such restricted formats for digital, bookish innovation. Punday is more optimistic than I am about the possibility that gaming might lead us out of e-book thralldom, but whether or not he’s right about this potential solution, he points out an important and overlooked aspect of the e-book situation that we need to attend to – at least, for instance, by being willing to build e-books as individual iPhone apps when we want to do more than the standard formats can accomodate.

And, Maire-Laure Ryan’s discussion of how digital art engages with dysfunctionality extends the conversation beyond the playful forms of programming that Michael Mateas and I have discussed to broadly consider political, ludic, programmatic, and even inadvertent types of digital malfunctioning, or breakdown – or should we call it “dysfunctionality”? (Thank goodness that my creative work wasn’t cited in the section about that last category of brokenness, although I’ll admit that it could have been…) Ryan argues that the digital medium has proven better at producing anti-books than books (or, I suppose, e-books) and that creative dysfunction helps to make us “aware of the codes and processes (technological, linguistic, cultural and cognitive) that regulate our social and mental life.”

PAX Blurb

Thursday 1 April 2010, 9:55 pm   ////////  

This weekend was a great time, both at the official PAX-East, where we saw the premiere of Get Lamp, and in the alternate but connected universe of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction Hospitality Suite, where Andrew Plotkin’s organizational acumen and contributions allowed us to hear panels, write and play Speed IF games, and snack and converse. The 2010 IF Summit at PAX-East was a great success. There and at the main expo, I got to speak with people from the contemporary IF community and many old-school IF luminaries from Infocom and before – and even got to be on a panel with several of them.

Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, Jason Scott (standing, in absurd outfit). It is April Fool’s Day. Am I Photoshopped into this panel? Photo CC by Eric Havir.

And, I got to play on the proto-Ms. Pac Man board – the one Crazy Otto board that is known to still exist.

After PAX, I hosted a great reading of interactive fiction by Emily Short (who read from Alabaster) and Jeremy Freese (Violet), with interacting done by Kevin Jackson-Mead and Jenni Poladni. The event was at MIT (as with all Purple Blurb presentations), had standing room only, and prompted a great deal of good conversation afterwards.

There is much more that could be said, and many more PAX-East IF people that I could mention – a few of those, beyond the PR-IF regulars, are: Sam Kabo Ashwell, Liza Daly, Brendan Desilets, Stephen Granade, Juhana Leinonen, Jacqueline Lott, Jesse McGrew, Carl Muckenhoupt, Aaron Reed, Dan Schmidt, Robb Sherwin, Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short, and Rob Wheeler. (My apologies to those whose names I’m overlooking or don’t have on hand.) Some of these are locals I rarely see; others are people I have known for years, had numerous extensive discussions with, and in one case, collaborated with, and yet PAX-East was my first chance to meet them in person.

Based on last weekend and last Monday, the outlook for IF is extremely bright: We can share games and discuss important questions about IF in person as well as online, we have plenty of ideas that we’re making progress on but can certainly discuss further, and we have a documentary film coming on DVD that will please IF diehards and help to introduce students and other sympathetic viewers to the pleasures of the text adventure.

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…

Free / Writing / Game Gatherings

This weekend, I’m attending LibrePlanet, the Free Software Foundation’s conference and hackfest here in Cambridge. I don’t have anything to present or hack upon at this one, but I’ll be listening and learning more about free software and software freedom.

On Tuesday, I head to Grand Forks, ND for the University of North Dakota Writers Conference: Mind the Gap – Print, New Media, Art. The featured authors and artists this year are:

  • Art Spiegelman
  • Frank X. Walker
  • Nick Montfort
  • Cecelia Condit
  • Saul Williams
  • Mark Amerika
  • Stuart Moulthrop
  • Deena Larsen
  • Zeitgeist
  • Kanser with More Than Lights

I’ll return on Friday and head straight to the Penny Arcade Expo East (PAX East) in Boston, where the confluence of about 60,000 gamers is expected. At 9:30pm on Friday is the world premiere of Jason Scott’s interactive fiction documentary Get Lamp. Afterwards is a panel with:

  • Dave Lebling (Zork, Starcross, The Lurking Horror)
  • Steve Meretzky (Planetfall, Hitchhiker’s, A Mind Forever Voyaging)
  • Nick Montfort (included in this august group for writing a book about this stuff)
  • Brian Moriarty (Wishbringer, Trinity, Beyond Zork)
  • Andrew Plotkin (Spider and Web, Shade, Dual Transform)
  • Don Woods (co-author with Will Crowther of the canonical first IF, Adventure)

And then, on Monday, March 29, at 5:30pm in MIT’s room 14E-310, I’ll host a reading in the Purple Blurb series. Emily Short (author of many award-winning interactive fiction pieces, including the recent Alabaster) and Jeremy Freese (winner of last year’s IF Comp for his Violet) will present and read from their work.

I hope to see some of you here in the Boston/Cambridge area or, perhaps, in Grand Forks!

Gotta Get Outta this 8-Bit Town

Friday 19 March 2010, 10:41 am   //////  

Brett Camper, who recently presented a great paper on the “fake bit” game La Mulana at Digital Arts and Culture 2009 and whose Comparative Media Studies masters thesis here at MIT was “Homebrew and the Social Construction of Gaming: Community, Creativity and Legal Context of Amateur Game Boy Advance Development,” has an excellent new interactive map of New York City.

It’s called 8-bit NYC,and it looks like this:

Poetry, Games, and Excavating the Creator

Tuesday 16 March 2010, 4:59 pm   ///////  

Who would have guessed that an incredible (and very brief, and very well-illustrated) talk on poetry, videogames, and the relation of the reader/player to the poet/designer’s making would be delivered at GDC by my collaborator Ian Bogost?

Playing the Race Avatar

Tuesday 16 March 2010, 4:13 pm   ///  

Race in videogames is not an entirely overlooked topic, but mainstreams games, at their best, tend to play, strech, and poke up against stereotypes rather than offering affirming visions of our identities and communities and how they interrelate. So, I was glad read that discussion of this topic “found its way to GDC ’10,” as noted in the post “What Color is Your Avatar?” in Brainy Gamer. The writeup covers a industry/academic panel at GDC with Manveer Heir, Leigh Alexander, and my colleague here at MIT, Mia Consalvo. Although I wasn’t there, it seems to relate their important points well, and it certainly offers some food for thought.

As Michael Jackson sang, if you want to be my baby, it don’t matter if you’re black or while, but it might matter if video games’ representation of minority races and women is absent, extremely scant, stiff, stereotypical, or obligatory. Why not add diversity of this sort to the list of things we’re willing to devote effort to – those things we want positively imagined and powerfully simulated in our games?

Art as Process, BASIC Considered Helpful

Monday 15 March 2010, 5:22 pm   ////////  

Two quick interruptions to our unscheduled blog hiatus:

Francisco J. Ricardo of RISD’s Digital+Media Department has written a deep and detailed blog post, “From Objecthood to Processhood.” In it, he defends artists, their work, and their discourse about the digital, responding to Henry Jenkins’s 2000 article “Games, the New Lively Art,” which celebrates video games but isn’t as keen on the work of artists. He also describes the transition from a focus on the artwork, an object, to consideration of art as process, concluding with reference to my ppg256 series.

Also, a rather innovative defense of BASIC is advanced in “Where Dijkstra went wrong: the value of BASIC as a first programming language,” a post by Mike Taylor, who, by the way, has a totally sweet banner at the top of his blog. Edsger W. Dijkstra, who was my teacher at the University of Texas, is known for his work on structured programming and just about as well known for his quick denunciations of COBOL and BASIC. The post argues that BASIC is useful to programmers and allows them to discipline their thinking about programs. I would defend BASIC for a different, although not inconsistent, reason: The huge outpouring of innovative, diverse, creative programs – often very short ones – that were written in the 1970s and 1980s, making programming a widespread activity and showing people the potential of the computer for (among other things) amusement, simulation, play with language, and production of visual art. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I wrote a bit more on this back in 2003 in our introduction to two BASIC programs on The New Media Reader CD-ROM.

Passage in 10 Seconds

Saturday 27 February 2010, 8:27 pm   ////  

If you never found the five minutes to play Jason Rohrer’s Passage, previously discussed, you can now play Passage in 10 Seconds as interpreted by Marcus Richert. Thanks to Jason Scott for the link.

“Geração sobre a fala” / “My Generation about Talking”

Saturday 13 February 2010, 2:52 pm   //////  
“Geração sobre a fala” (“My Generation about Talking,” Nick Montfort) Tradução para o português, Cicero Inacio da Silva.

“My Generation about Talking,” a text generator which I first presented at the Software Studies Workshop on May 21, 2008, is now available in Portuguese translation, thanks to Cicero Inacio da Silva. It was made for use in a presentation, but the program is set up to allow a user to play the entire presentation or to access any of the fifteen individual voices, each of which affirms repeatedly in some way.

The program is in Python and will run from the command line in OS X and on many Linux systems. It will run on Windows after Python for Windows has been installed.

For instance, to run the English version of this program on OS X:

  1. Download yes_voices.py to the desktop; if you download it to another location, move the file to the desktop.
  2. Start the Terminal application and open a terminal window. An easy way to do this: Click on the Spotlight magnifying glass in the upper left, type “terminal”, and select the Terminal application. A window will open.
  3. In the terminal window, type “cd Desktop” and press return to change directories to the desktop.
  4. Type “python yes_voices.py” and press return.

DAC09 Proceedings Now Online

Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 2009 are now online. The conference was a great success; DAC continued to lead the way in the culturally engaged study of digital art and media. Many thanks go to Simon Penny, who was director of the conference, and others at UIC: Ward Smith, Liz Losh, and Sean Voisen. The theme leaders for this conference put together very strong series of papers that were both focused and relevant. I hope those of you who didn’t make it to Irvine will visit the proceedings and see a bit of what happened at the latest instance of this extraordinarily rich series of gatherings, where the study of video games, digital art, digital literature, performance, and the cultural aspects of online and computing experience have been explored so well over the years.

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