Interactive fiction aficianados who aren’t at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) and who thus missed Jaroslav Svelch’s excellent presentation – please check out the corresponding paper which he’s helpfully placed online: “Indiana Jones Fights the Communist Police: Text Adventures as a Transitional Media Form in the 1980s Czechoslovakia.”
I’ve noted here at MiT7 (Media in Transition 7) that we’re now achieved some very reasoned discussion and understanding of the virtues of different approaches to preserving and accessing computer programs. Not that we’ve solved the underlying problem, of course, but I’ve been pleased to see how our overall approach has evolved.
Instead of simply dismissing emulation, migration, or the preservation of old hardware, we’ve had some good comments about the ways in which these different techniques have proven to work well and about what their limitations are. We saw this in the plenary discussion on archives and cultural memory late this morning – audio of that conversation will be coming online. Update: Here it is.
Clara Fernandez-Vara’s presentation “Emulation as a Tool to Study Videogame History” [Abstract] developed this discussion extremely well with regard to one important tool, the emulator. She presented the idea of a game in emulation as facsimile – not the original edition, but also not the Cliff Notes that we’d have to consult otherwise. She showed us a range of work with emulators that gives reserach, teaching, and casual access to older games, which would otherwise be neglected. Saving state, speeding games up, and even playing several of them at once with the same inputs are all facilitated by emulators.
Fernandez-Vara went on to note some limitations of emulation, such as that the physical controller, often significant to play, cannot be replicated in hardware; nor can particular hardware features such as those of the Dreamcast’s VMU or of a C64 floppy drive, which would whirr when something interesting was about to happen in a text adventure. Boxes and manuals are often very important and can’t always be effectively digitized; with online games and worlds, keeping the context is even harder. Finally, emulators have to be updated for new contemporary platforms every few years.
Much of the work of building emulators, Fernandez-Vara also noted, is done by fans who work as volunteers – institutional support can help them and can allow libraries to accumulate holdings. It would be nice if current platforms (the PS3!) were more backwards-compatible, too. “Abandonware” could be officially made available for use, to clear up legal questions.
The only thing I’d add to Fernandez-Vara’s excellent discussion is a slightly different framing perspective on the emulator. The emulated game may be usefully understood as a facsimile, but I see a different way to understand the emulator itself.
My suggestion is that an emulator can be conceptualized as an edition of a computer.
The first edition would be the original piece of hardware – for the Commodore 64, the August 1982 beige keyboard-with-CPU. Actually, in the case of the Commodore 64, even keeping to the United States there are at least three different “hardware” editions, since there are three ROM revisions, one used in very early machines, one in 1982 and 1983 computers, and one that was used in Commodore 64s and in the C64 mode of the Commodore 128. The three ROM revisions are not the only things that changed during the time the Commodore 64 was manufactured and sold, but they do change the behavior of the system. I suppose these better understood as being different “printings,” since the changes are limited to the ROM. That would be an interesting discussion to pursue. Either way, though, printing or edition, there are three different sets of hardware, three hardware Commodore 64s.
When the creators of VICE (the emulator I use) produce a program that operates like a Commodore 64, I understand this as being an edition of the Commodore 64. Yes, it’s a software edition. It isn’t an official or authorized edition – only being a product of Commodore would allow for that. (There are official, authorized emulators, but this is not one.) It’s not, of course, the original and canonical edition. But it’s nevertheless an attempt to produce a system that functions like a Commodore 64, one which took a great deal of effort and is effective in many ways. Thinking of this an edition of the system seems to be a useful way to frame emulation, as it allows me to compare editions and usefully understand differences and similarities.
At Media in Transition 7 here at MIT, after a good start in the opening plenary and first break-out session, we had a fascinating session yesterday on “Computer Histories.” The papers presented were:
- Sandra Braman presented “Designing for Instability: Internet Architecture and Constant Change.” [Abstract.]
- Kevin Driscoll spoke on “Revisiting Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists.” [Abstract.]
- Colleen Kaman’s talk was “‘Interop,’ Internet Commercialization, and the Early Politics of Global Computer Networks.” [Abstract.] [Full paper.]
The individual presentations were very interesting, and it was a fascinating set to hear together. Two were on the development of the Internet: Braman delved deeply into the more than 6000 Requests for Comments (RFCs) used to develop Internet protocols, doing a line-by-line discourse analysis. In these documents, which people might guess would be dry and purely technical, she found a great deal of embedded political and social thought. The complete manuscript on this topic should be done and available in a few weeks. Kaman looked a different forum for communication that was important to the dramatic expansion in Internet connectivity from 1991-1997: a trade show. Following on discussions in 1996, to deal with the Internet’s rapid growth and the competing European standard for networking, the Interop conference was formulated. It included a demo network, Shownet, where vendors could come to test products and academic and research work could connect to practical experience in a “negotiation space.”
And, there was one presentation on early microcomputing. Discoll began with the image of a book cover featuring a two-tier desk typical of HAM radio operation, declaring: “Hobby Computers Are Here!” He showed a response to Bill Gates’ famous “Open Letter to Hobbyists” and a clip from Revolution OS with an increasingly hysterical reading of the original letter – the dominant understanding of the letter today, as if it were the beginning of opposition to free software. Hobbyists learned to program on calculators and didn’t have contact with, for instance, the Internet protocol developers. In Interface, Art Childs (the editor) questions what software is and deals with many important issues in free software in replying to Gates’s letter. He concludes that a service model is best – just as GNU did later. This antecedent to free software has been overlooked, just as computer culture in much of the country (beyond Boston and Silicon Valley) have been overlooked.
I was fascinated at these two different perspectives on the formation of the Internet (finding surprising non-technical discussion in RFC and surprising technical implications of a trade show) and on the difference between the culture of hobbyist computer builders, programmers, and users and that of those involved with the development and growth of the Internet. Driscoll’s more sensitive reading of Bill Gates’s “open letter,” Braman’s deep analysis of RFCs, and Kaman’s exploration and discussion of Interop provide great models for the understanding of computer histories.
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.
This year’s MIT Mystery Hunt was won by my intrepid friends on team Codex Alimentarius early Sunday morning. I’m glad I had the drive (the 5.25″ drive, to be exact) to help them as they solved one of their puzzles.
MIT’s Building 14 has a great new display thanks to poet Amaranth Borsuk, who is a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Writing & Humanistic Studies program, where I also work. There are some wonderful pieces from many of my colleagues and their students, all of them displayed brilliantly. I’ll mention the digital tie-ins: The broadside “Love Letters,” done in one of my graduate CMS.950 Workshop classes, consists of computer-generated poems produced by a Manchester Mark I emulator. These were set on a letterpress by the class thanks to the Bow & Arrow Press’s John Pyper. And Peer Hofstra, who took my 21W.750 Experimental Writing class last semester, did an extraordinary untitled book for his final project. It’s made of punched cards, with the words are formed by alphabetically-arranged letters punched out from those pages. Each word is some are subsequence of the alphabet, so “APT” can occur, while “APE” cannot. Alex Corella’s Experimental Writing final project, which cuts up and rearranges the text on Cambridge historical plaques, is also on display. If you’re on campus, do stop by to see the case, which is by the elevator on the first floor of Building 14. It will be up for at least this month, December 2010.
The opera and “robot pageant” composed by Tod Machover, directed by Diane Paulis and with a libretto by Robert Pinsky has finally been staged in Monaco. I won’t see it until it comes to the Boston area in a few months, but I’m delighted to see the project reach the stage. Death and the Powers (discussed in this WBUR interview) has been in the works for about a decade. I wrote about it as we rang in the new year (2006) at Grand Text Auto, and I was very pleased to hear the workshop performance of the opera at A.R.T., here in Cambirdge. By now, we not only have the performances in Monaco: The libretto has been printed in Poetry and is available online at the Poetry Foundation. And those of us in the US can look forward to the March arrival of Death and the Powers in Boston.
Just posted at ebr (Electronic Book Review) is Whitney Anne Trettien’s article “Computers, Cut-ups, and Combinatory Volvelles.” (We already love computers and cut-ups, but be aware that volvelles are extremely cool.) Some illustrations are still to come, but the article’s text and references are now up … I believe in link early, link often.
The article is born of Trettien’s born-digital MIT Comparative Media Studies thesis “Computers, Cut-ups and Combinatory Volvelles: An Archaeology of Text-Generating Mechanisms,” a two-or-more-dimensional arrangement of reconfigurable texts. Like a conservative child reacting against his liberal parents, the ebr article is linear, but that should offer an helpful complement to the machinations of the thesis. The article reels back to long before the 20th century avant-garde to find recombinatory text machines and perspectives on reading that are relevant to the digital age. I highly recommend the ebr piece to those working with ergodic texts and operating today’s textual computer machines. It will hopefully serve as a nice gateway drug, too, interesting more readers in Trettien’s combinatory thesis.
Now that I’m out of my academic robe and back into my more comfortable usual attire, I wanted to send a blog-based shout-out to those in Comparative Media Studies who finished their work in the past year and were awarded masters degrees on Friday:
- Jason Begy
- Audubon Dougherty
- Madeline Clare Elish
- Colleen Kaman
- Flourish Klink
- Hillary Kolos
- Michelle Moon Lee
- Xiaochang Li
- Jason Rockwood
- Nick Seaver
- Sheila Murphy Seles
- Lauren Silberman
Hurrah for Technology, ‘ology ‘ology oh – and for these recent MIT graduates.
We concluded the Spring 2010 21W.750 (Experimental Writing) today by composing a definition of the class’s title phrase, based on what we learned during our studies this semester.
EXPERIMENTAL WRITING (vbl. n., c. 1872)
1. The elephant is tiring. X-raying with yttrium, the pact seems tame, empty. Of yore, a raisin says “nope” to an igloo.
2. The octopus, magnificent, eats a tiger and an elephant. (a) Turn no oblog torpor. Revel! (b) An acrobatic cat, loyal, limp, is politicized.
3. What Twitter rhetoric: lame, incredible, empty. Tomatoes, made sarcastic, ignite both earrings.
4. A notorious sarcophogus, glorious static.
(This is an analytic definition using content words beginning with particular letters, including the letters in “experimental writing,” that were provided by students in the class.)
Bill Gates spoke at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium today as the chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, advocating for the brightest minds to work on the most important problems of the world – such as reducing childhood deaths through health, sanitation, and development programs. The talk was part of a tour that also includes Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Harvard. There were only a few seats free in Kresge. Among other things, Gates suggested separating the accreditation function of higher education to allow for non-place-based learning. He softened the blow by praising MIT’s Open Courseware and listing several of the OCW courses that he himself had taken.
Since I didn’t see Richard Stallman in line, I didn’t stay for all of the Q&A.
There wasn’t a torrent of new information in Gates’s talk, but it was fascinating to hear in relation to Gates’s 1976 “An Open Letter to Hobbyists.” There are actually some similarities in tone: In both the letter and the talk, Gates expressed dismay at the current system not working very well. But in the letter, he declares that computer hobbyists should stop stealing software, says that people who have been re-selling his product without authorization should be kicked out of the club, and invites members to write him and pay up. This, he hopes, will advance him toward his dream, in which he can “hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.” Today, he’s the world’s wealthiest man, actively seeking more effective ways to benefit society by giving his money away.
On the one hand, one wonders if we might have done just as well if we had kept our money in the first place.
On the other hand, Gates becoming a full-time philanthropist and speaking to our technical institute here from that perspective makes for quite a development. It reminds me that his rival and fellow college drop-out, Steve Jobs, got his start selling blue boxes with Steve Wozniak to allow his customers in the Berkeley dorms to resist the man and make free long-distance calls. Now, Jobs, the man, has a worldwide telephony empire of his own via the iPhone and its thought-crushing App Store.
It’s too bad you can’t tell who the good guys are going to be – say, by looking for a “don’t be evil” button.
Today we heard final thesis presentations from the 2010 masters students in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program.
I’ve taught in CMS, which has an undergraduate and masters program, since I came to MIT three years ago. It’s a diverse program that has included digital media research and has brought contemporary computational work, among other types of media production and reception, into juxtaposition and under consideration. Here are the titles of this semester’s masters presentations:
- M. Flourish Klink: “Laugh Out Loud in Real Life: Twilight, Women’s Humor, and Fan Identity”
- Sheila Seles: “Audience Research for Fun and Profit: Rediscovering the value of television audiences”
- Florence Gallez: “Open Park Online News Production: A Proposal for a Code of Ethics for Collaborative Journalism in the Digital Age”
- Audubon Dougherty: “New Medium, New Practice: Civic production in live-streaming mobile video”
- Nick Seaver: “A Brief History of Re-performance”
- Madeleine Elish: “The Evolution of the Companion Species: Creating Realms of Possibility for the Personal Computer”
- Jason Begy “Interpreting Abstract Games: The Metaphorical Potential of Formal Game Elements”
- Elliot Pinkus: “The Physicality of Floating Numbers”
- Hillary Kolos: “Not in it just to win it: Inclusive gaming in an MIT dorm”
- Michelle Moon Lee: “Designing Game Ethics: A Pervasive Game Adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo”
I’m not advising any CMS masters students this year, but this program does allow for research into my area of interest (computational art and media) and should accommodate more research in these areas in the future. (The program has had some great thesis on computational media in the past, too: Brett Camper’s work on the Game Boy Advance homebrew programming community is an example.) In 2010-2011, because the program is in transition to new co-directors, we won’t have any graduate students around, but we will be running admissions for a class of masters students that will join us in 2011. If you’re interested in working with me or my colleagues here at MIT on a masters degree, let me know.
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.
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.
A last-minute reminder for you local Post Position readers: Emily Short and Jeremy Freese are reading from their interactive fiction work today in MIT’s room 14E-310 at 5:30pm. Hope to see you there!
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
- 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!
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:
I’m delighted to announce our Spring 2010 Purple Blurb events:
Roderick Coover & Nitin Sawhney
Monday, March 1
Monday, March 8
Jeremy Freese & Emily Short
Monday, March 29
John Cayley & Daniel C. Howe
Wednesday, April 28
All events are in MIT’s 14E-310.
Note that the first three events begin earlier (5:30pm) than in semesters past, while the final event this semester begins later (7:30pm).
Please also note (or recall) that 14E is the east wing of Building 14, the building which also houses the Hayden Library. This is *not* building E14, the new Media Lab building.
Canyonlands (www.unknownterritories.org) is a film and interactive documentary about the works of the novelist and essayist, Edward Abbey (1927-1989). Abbey worked as a seasonal ranger and forest lookout in Western parks and forest-lands, wrote in praise of wilderness, and called attention to the destruction of the desert landscape. His descriptions of eco-sabotage in his novel The Monkey Gang were an inspiration for the formation of the environmentalist organizations such as EarthFirst! Canyonlands takes users into a virtual representation of the Colorado River and Utah canyonlands. There, users will follow Abbey’s road and fascinating side routes as they weave their way through history.
Roderick Coover makes panoramic interactive environments, collaborative streaming visual poems, and multimedia documentary projects about histories, narratives, and the sense of place. Some titles include Unknown Territories (Unknownterritories.org), Cultures in Webs (Eastgate Systems), From Verite to Virtual (D.E.R), The Theory of Time Here (Video Data Bank), The Language of Wine (RLCP), and Something That Happened Only Once (RLCP) among others. An associate professor of film and media arts at Temple University, Roderick Coover has received awards from USIS-Fulbight, a LEF Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation, among others. URL: http://www.roderickcoover.com
Strawberries, Roosters and the Chocolate Seas is an upcoming feature-length documentary. It is a personal journey into the heart of Gaza using a satirical and poetic rendering of everyday life and the extraordinary events witnessed by the filmmaker, during his visit there one year after the devastating 22-day siege in January 2009. The film, shot during two intense weeks in January 2010, includes interviews with fishermen, farmers, physicians, teachers, and working professionals, interspersed with footage that captures dramatic events like the large convoys of aid arriving in Gaza despite the blockade, tunnels used to smuggle goods, hip hop bands striving for creative expression, and the floods that turned Gaza’s seashore from deep blue to chocolate.
Nitin Sawhney is a research fellow in the Program in Art, Culture and Technology in the Department of Architecture at MIT. He co-founded the Voices Beyond Walls initiative for digital storytelling in Palestinian refugee camps. The program was founded in 2006, when pilot digital media and storytelling workshops were first conducted in the Balata and Jenin refugee camps in the West Bank. Since then local and international volunteers have conducted nearly a dozen workshops in six different refugee camps. See: http://www.voicesbeyondwalls.org Sawhney was selected as a Visionary Fellow with the Jerusalem 2050 Program: http://envisioningpeace.org/visions/media-barrios He has recently returned from a trip to Gaza and is sharing footage from a documentary he is co-producing: http://www.GazaRoosterFilms.com
Strickland will read from four collaborative digital poems created over the past twelve years, each of which uses the screen differently: V: Vniverse, Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, Errand Upon Which We Came, and slippingglimpse.
Stephanie Strickland is a print and hypermedia poet who, in addition to having written the digital poems mentioned above, has published five books: Zone : Zero, V: WaveSon.nets / Losing L’una, True North, The Red Virgin: A Poem Of Simone Weil, and Give the Body Back.
Violet is an interactive short story about romance and procrastination in which the main character is struggling to complete his dissertation. The things that happen in the simulated graduate student office are narrated to the player by the (imaginary) voice of the main character’s Australian girlfriend. Violet won several XYZZY awards in 2008, including the award for Best Game, and was the winner of the 2008 Interactive Fiction Competition.
Jeremy Freese is a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Communication, and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.
Alabaster is a fractured fairy tale by John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante, Emily Short, Adam Thornton, and Ziv Wities, illustrated by Daniel Allington-Krzysztofiak. This interactive fiction is an experiment in open authorship. The introduction to the story was written and released by Short in 2008. The game is implemented in Inform 7 using a conversation system, developed by Short, that will be released for general use by Inform 7 developers. There are eighteen possible endings to Alabaster.
Emily Short is author of or collaborator on more than two dozen interactive fictions, including Galatea (winner of Best of Show in the 2000 IF Art Show) and Savoir Faire (XYZZY Award for Best Game and in other categories, 2002) and Floatpoint (winner of the 2006 IF Competition) along with other XYZZY award-winning games: Metamorphoses (2000), Pytho’s Mask (2001), City of Secrets (2003), and Mystery House Possessed (2005). Short, who is a classicist and a scholar of attic drama, has worked on the development of Inform 7, has reviewed dozens of games, and writes the column “Homer in Silicon” for GameSetWatch.
The Readers Project is a collection of distributed, performative, quasi-autonomous poetic ‘Readers’ — active, procedural entities with distinct reading behaviors and strategies. We release these Readers onto inscribed surfaces that may be explicitly or implicitly, visibly or invisibly, constituted by their texts. Over time, the Readers will address themselves to a wide range of material — from conventional found texts, through poetic reconfigurations of appropriated (fairly-used) sources, to original compositions by the project’s collaborators, and so on.
Designed to support the creation of novel works of digital literature, Howe’s RiTa library, in which The Readers Project is implemented, provides a unique set of tools for artists and writers working in programmable media. Combining features of natural language processing, computational stylistics, and generative systems, RiTa enables a range of tasks, from statistical methods, to grammar-based generation, to linguistic database access (e.g., WordNet), to text-mining, to text-to-speech, to image, audio, & animation, all in real-time. RiTa is free and open-source and integrates with the popular Processing environment for digital arts programming.
John Cayley writes digital media, particularly in the domain of poetry and poetics. Recent and ongoing projects include The Readers Project with Daniel Howe, imposition with Giles Perring, riverIsland, and what we will. Information on these and other works may be consulted at http://programmatology.shadoof.net. Cayley is a visiting professor at Brown University, Literary Arts Program.
DANIEL C. HOWE
Daniel C. Howe is a digital artist and researcher whose work explores the intersections of literature, computation, and procedural art practice. He recently received his PhD (on generative literary systems) from the Media Research Lab at NYU and was awarded a ‘Computing Innovations’ fellowship from the National Science Foundation for 2010. He currently resides in Providence, RI where he teaches at Brown and RISD, and is a resident artist at AS220. His site: http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/