The Deena Larsen Collection Opens

Wednesday 2 December 2009, 5:34 pm   /////////  

The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) has just announced a site showcasing the Deena Larsen Collection, which Deena gave to MITH in 2007. Early on, Deena wrote two Eastgate-published pieces, Marble Springs and Samplers, but these are only two of dozens of pieces she has developed individually and in collaboration over the years. In addition to creating e-lit for decades, she has amassed published and unpublished material from a wide range of e-lit authors along with many computers and print materials. MITH has also announced that they are now

opening the collection to scholars on a limited basis. Researchers interested in visiting Maryland to work with the Larsen materials on site should write to us at mith@umd.edu.

Marina Bers Speaks in Purple Blurb, Monday 11/30

Tuesday 24 November 2009, 4:22 pm   //////  

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

Friday 20 November 2009, 11:14 pm   //////  

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

Thursday 19 November 2009, 4:40 pm   ////  

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.

Bergen Apothegma, Part 2

Tuesday 10 November 2009, 8:06 pm   ///////////  

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

Monday 9 November 2009, 9:14 am   //////////  

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

Sunday 1 November 2009, 12:55 pm   /////////  

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 …

http://ai.eliterature.org

… 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.

Mary Flanagan Speaks in Purple Blurb, Monday 11/2 6pm

Thursday 29 October 2009, 11:42 pm   ///////  

On Monday (November 2) at 6pm in MIT’s room 14E-310,

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

Mary Flanagan.

Mary Flanagan

author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009)

Mary Flanagan is the creator of [giantJoystick], and author of [theHouse] among other digital writing works. She is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth, where she directs Tiltfactor, a lab focused on the design of activists and socially-conscious software.

Flanagan investigates everyday technologies through critical writing, artwork, and activist design projects. Flanagan’s work has been exhibited internationally at museums, festivals, and galleries, including: the Guggenheim, The Whitney Museum of American Art, SIGGRAPH, and The Banff Centre. Her projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Flanagan writes about popular culture and digital media such as computer games, virtual agents, and online spaces in order to understand their affect on culture. Her co-edited collection reload: rethinking women + cyberculture with Austin Booth was published by MIT Press in 2002. She is also co-author with Matteo Bittanti of Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri ( SIMilarities, Symbols, Simulacra ) on The Sims game (in Italian, Unicopli 2003), and the co-editor of the collection re:skin (2007).

Flanagan is also the creator of The Adventures of Josie True, the first web-based adventure game for girls, and is implementing innovations in pedagogical and values-based game design.

Using the formal language of the computer program or game to create systems which interrogate seemingly mundane experiences such as writing email, using search engines, playing video games, or saving data to the hard drive, Flanagan reworks these activities to blur the line between the social uses of technology, and what these activities tell us about the technology user themselves.

A representative from the MIT Press bookstore will be at the talk offering copies of Flanagan’s books for sale.

&Now in Buffalo

Wednesday 21 October 2009, 1:40 pm   //////  

I’m not up to a writeup of the recent &Now: A Conference of Innovative Writing and the Literary Arts, a festival/conference (“festerence,” as someone noted) which just shuffled through Buffalo. But while you are waiting for the deadpan article in Harper’s about the event, these should be worth about 3000 words.

Morpheus Biblionaut

Thursday 15 October 2009, 10:51 am   /////  

Writer, publisher, and collaborator of mine William Gillespie just read (yesterday afternoon) an extraordinary piece here at the &Now festival in Buffalo. The multimedia piece is Morpheus Biblionaut, which he created with Travis Alber of Bookglutton.com. Gillespie pulls out the stops for this tale of an American astronaut and poet who returns to earth to find almost no radio activity, except, perhaps, for one signal. Plug in, isolate yourself for a space of time, and read this one!

I presented right after on ppg256, my series of poetry generators.

Curveship in AI Magazine

Tuesday 13 October 2009, 7:06 pm   /////  

Delightfully, the current issue of AI Magazine (Volume 30, number 3, Fall 2009) is on computational creativity. The number offers articles on the field overall; the history of workshops on the topic; computer models of creativity; and creative systems to generate music, stories and their tellings, moves of chess, and humor. The last article is computer-generated in high Hofstadter style.

Pablo Gervás’s contribution, “Computational Approaches to Storytelling and Creativity,” provides a clear introduction to the concept of creativity and the history of the term, analyzes the relevant features that storytelling systems can work upon, gives an outline of work in computational creativity so far, and continues with a capsule summary of several important storytelling systems. The last one of these is my system nn, which I renamed “Curveship” as I started focusing on a public release of the software.

In the nn system for interactive fiction (Montfort 2007) the user controls the main character of a story by introducing simple descriptions of what it should do, and the system responds with descriptions of the outcomes of the character’s actions. Within nn, the Narrator module [now called the Teller] provides storytelling functionality, so that the user can be “told” the story of the interaction so far. The Narrator module of nn addresses important issues in storytelling that had not been addressed by previous systems: order of presentation in narrative and focalization. Instead of telling events always in chronological order, the nn Narrator allows various alternative possibilities: flashbacks, flash-forwards, interleaving of events from two different time periods, telling events back to front. It also captures appropriate treatment of tense depending on the relative ordering of speech time, reference time, and event time. Focalization is handled by the use of different focalizer worlds [now called concepts] within the system. Aside from the actual world of the interactive fiction system, nn maintains additional separate worlds representing the individual perspectives and beliefs of different characters. These can be used to achieve correct treatment of focalization (telling the story from the point of view of specific characters). [pp. 57-58]

In discussing the systems, Gervás notes (and I agree) that the other systems he discussed, ranging from Klein’s Novel Writer and Meehan’s Talespin to The Virtual Storyteller and Riedl’s Fabulist, are system for inventing stories, while nn’s Narrator (Curveship’s Teller) is the only system for telling stories. He writes:

If the processes for inventing stories in the reviewed systems rate low in terms of creativity, the rating obtained by processes for telling stories is even sadder. The challenge of how to tell a story has received very little attention in general, and it is mostly tagged on as a final stage to systems that concentrate on inventing stories. The nn system is a notable exception in that it involves a significant effort to model computationally some of the basic elements contained in Genette’s work on narrative discourse (Genette 1980): relative order of presentation and focalization. However, all the systems that tell the stories they invent do in fact include default solutions to many of the technical challenges involved in telling a story. [p. 60]

Although Gervás has provided a good take on the system, I’ll just note one way in which Curveship (née nn) does a bit more than the article might suggest to reader and one way in which it does less.

Genette described five categories of narrative discourse: order, frequency, speed, mood (which includes focalization), and voice (which includes distance). Curveship can vary not only order and focalization; it also allows for significant variation in the other three categories. I hope this will be of practical interest to interactive fiction authors and to those seeking to teach narrative theory using Curveship. However, the main research advances that have been made so far are in the two areas that Gervás indicates: order and mood (specifically, focalization).

While Curveship can automatically creative narrative variation based on parameters, I have to note that I am not putting it forth as a creative system. This makes it unlike many of the programs discussed in Gervás’s article and in this issue of AI Magazine. Given a specification for telling (which is called a spin), the system can make the appropriate changes and generate suitable text. However, the system does not, by itself, determine how a story should be told. The code that individual IF authors and AI researchers write is needed to accomplish that task.

Of course, formalizing the elements of narrative variation is necessary for any principled system that is supposed to vary the telling of a story. I hope that Curveship’s Teller will be deeply relevant to work in the creative invention and telling of stories, and that it will be used not only to enable new sorts of learning systems and interactive fiction pieces but also, in modified or unmodified form, as a component of creative systems.

Interactive Fiction Suggestions, Fall 2009

Thursday 10 September 2009, 12:29 am   /////  

People who are interested in interactive fiction but who haven’t played much or any of it ask me for suggestions from time to time — not as often as I’d like, of course, but, luckily, once in a while. I’ve had a page of recommendations up on my site since 2005. The games on that list remain good ones, but I’m now updating those recommendations to take into account games from recent years. I’m posting the new recommendations here. Note that many of the people who ask me about IF are of a literary bent, as am I, and my suggestions reflect that.

A good introduction to interactive fiction does not have to be easy or simple. A game that you have to restart several times, and that you can only scratch the surface of after a few hours of effort, may show you, by being intricate and compelling, why it’s really worthwhile to try to meet the challenges of IF. It seems most important to me that a piece of IF quickly gives a sense of the powerful, interesting play of simulation and language. Such a game might happen to be hard or easy. On the other hand, some good games rely on a player knowing about IF conventions and even particular earlier games, characters, or puzzles. These often aren’t good places for someone just starting. There are many good commercial games from the 1980s and some from more recent times, but in my main list, I’ve limited myself to games that authors have made available for free download.

Although it’s possible to play some IF on the Web, it’s really best to use an interpreter to run all of this interactive fiction; the interpreter is to IF as the Flash player is to Flash and the Web browser is to the Web. There are good interpreters for Windows (Gargoyle) and Mac OS X (Spatterlight) that run IF in all of the major formats; you can also find interpreters for Linux and for smartphones. There are plenty of things you can read to help you play interactive fiction — one that I’d particularly suggest is Emily Short’s PDF introducing interactive fiction — but if you have the chance to play together with someone who knows the conventions of IF and has played a few games before, that will surely be the best way to get into IF.

These are my suggestions for eager first-time IF players, organized by year of release:

Anchorhead by Michael Gentry, 1998

A sprawling horror based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, with exquisite attention to detail and compelling characters and places.

Bad Machine by Dan Shiovitz, 1999

The surface of this game seems to be a confusion of code, error messages, and a small bit of English, but its strange science fiction world is deeply systematic.

For a Change by Dan Schmidt, 1999

Schmidt’s game programming is better known thanks to Guitar Hero but before he coded that up he was inspired by Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String and wrote this piece of interactive fiction, which features an odd lexicon and curious, magical assemblages.

Varicella by Adam Cadre, 1999

A sort of revenge-play, difficult, complex, and worth several attempts. A strange palace holds intrigues, surprises, an array of excellent characters who wander and plot against the player character, the palace minister.

Shade by Andrew Plotkin, 2000

The most famous “one room game in your apartment.” What seems to be a sleepless night undergoes a disturbing transformation as the character, undertaking ordinary actions, uncovers a different reality.

Slouching towards Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star C. Foster, 2003

An intricate steampunk piece with that deals with insanity and language and offer several different concluding threads.

Whom the Telling Changed by Aaron Reed, 2005

A reframing and reworking of Gilgamesh, the first known epic, which combines elements of hypertext-like word selection with the usual command-based IF interface.

Bronze by Emily Short, 2006

Reworks the beauty and the beast legend, embedding memories in an architectural space in compelling ways. It has a special “novice mode” and a status-line compass that will aid players in understanding and navigating IF locations.

Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) by Admiral Jota, 2007

A hilarious underground romp that brings every major type of puzzle together in miniature form. The really wonderful aspect is the orcish, semi-literate narration that is used throughout.

Violet by Jeremy Freese, 2008

A graduate student locks himself in his office to try to make progress on his dissertation. The puzzles, as the player seeks to overcome distraction, are amusing, but the atmosphere and the voice of the character’s absent, imagined girlfriend are extraordinary.

I still like all of the pieces I originally suggested, but, in the interests of bringing in some newer games while making only ten main suggestions, I’m moving these here: Aisle, by Sam Barlow, 1999; Dangerous Curves, by Irene Callaci. 2000; The Edifice, by Lucian Paul Smith, 1999. Savoir-Faire, by Emily Short, 2002. And, in case you feel comfortable obtaining (previously) commercial games from abandonware sites or want to quest for them on eBay, I’ll also mention A Mind Forever Voyaging, by Steven Meretzky, Infocom, 1985; Mindwheel, by Robert Pinsky, Brøderbund/Synapse, 1984; Suspended, by Michael Berlyn, Infocom, 1983; Trinity, by Brian Moriarty, Infocom, 1986; and Wishbringer, by Brian Moriarty, Infocom, 1985. Note that reading or at least looking over the documentation to these commercial games is often very useful, and sometimes essential, in getting started with them.

Does anyone else have other good IF starting points to suggest? Or, does anyone want to report experiences of delight or frustration with one of these ten games?

Purple Blurb – Digital Writing, Fall 2009

Tuesday 8 September 2009, 5:17 pm   ///////  

Once again, Purple Blurb offers readings and presentations on digital writing by practitioners of digital writing. All events are at MIT in room 14E-310, Mondays at 6pm. All events are free and open to the public. The Purple Blurb series is supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund and Writing and Humanistic Studies.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

September 14 — Noah Wardrip-Fruin is author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies (MIT Press, 2009), co-creator of Screen (among other works of digital writing), and assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Mary Flanagan.

November 2 — Mary Flanagan is author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009), creator of [giantJoystick], and author of [theHouse] (among other digital writing works). She is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth.

D. Fox Harrell.

November 16 — D. Fox Harrell is the creator of the GRIOT system for computational narrative and author of several works in this system, including Loss, Undersea and The Girl with Skin of Haints and Seraphs. He is assistant professor of digital media in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Marina Bers.

November 30 — Marina Bers is author of Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom (Teachers College Press, 2007) and creator of the system Zora. She is associate professor in the Department of Child Development and adjunct professor in the Department of Computer Sciences at Tufts University.

A Tiny Poetry Generator with Blinkenlights

Thursday 3 September 2009, 3:31 pm   /////////  

ppg256-4 on a shelf

[As I wrote on netpoetic.com:] My latest Perl Poetry Generator in 256 Characters, ppg256-4, is my first one created specifically for a gallery setting. Although shown here in my office, it’s now on display at the Axiom Gallery for New and Experimental Media in Boston in the show Pulling Back the Curtain, which runs through September 27.

Since 2007, I have been developing Perl poetry generators that are 256 characters long. These programs constitute the ppg256 series. They are simply 256 characters of Perl code; they use no external data sources, online or local, and they do not make use of any special libraries or invoke any other programs. Here’s the code for ppg256-4:

perl -e 'sub c{$_=pop;$_[rand split]}sub w{c("b br d f fl l m p s tr w").c"ad ag ap at ay ip on ot ow"}{$|=print"\0\0\0\0\0\1Z00\2AA\33 b".c("be de mis re pre ").w." ".c("a on the that")." ".w.w.", ".c("boss bro buddy dogg dude guy man pal vato")."\4";sleep 4;redo}' > /dev/alpha

Note that those 256 characters of Perl include all of the control codes that are needed to drive the sign; the output is just redirected to the sign, a serial device, instead of appearing in the terminal. If you want to run ppg256-4 yourself, you can use this modified version that doesn’t include the control codes — it’s ready for you to copy and paste it into a terminal window:

perl -le 'sub c{$_=pop;$_[rand split]}sub w{c("b br d f fl l m p s tr w").c"ad ag ap at ay ip on ot ow"}{$|=print "\n".c("be de mis re pre ").w." ".c("a on the that")." ".w.w.", ".c("boss bro buddy dogg dude guy man pal vato")."\4";sleep 4;redo} #No LED sign version'

I’ll try to post a longer discussion about ppg256-4 on netpoetic.com and/or on Post Position before too long.

ppg256-4_2

ppg256-4_3

ppg256-4_4

ppg256-4_5

This was posted here on Post Position for the convenience of those of you who subscribe to the feed or visit the site. If you want to leave a comment, please head over to this post on netpoetic.com.

Digital Writing and Readings

Thursday 20 August 2009, 12:27 am   //////  

[As I wrote on netpoetic.com:] Adam Parrish recently taught a class at NYU in the ITP program: Digital Writing with Python. I was very interested to learn about it and to see documentation of the final reading/performance, with some links to students’ blog entries about their projects. Here at MIT, I teach a class called The Word Made Digital in which students do poetry, fiction, and less classifiable writing projects using Python and other systems and languages. And, I know that Daniel Howe has taught the RISD and Brown class Advanced Programming for Digital Art and Literature.

I suspect, though, that these classes that are mainly focused on writing and programming are rather rare – much more rare, I’d bet, than design and art classes that are heavy on programming. It may have something to do with the number of galleries and curated Web sites exhibiting programmed visual art, which seems to me to be much greater than the number of similar edited venues for digital writing that’s driven by code. I’m not sure which way the causality flows. But several of the art-loving among us have some idea that, say, Processing programs can be aesthetic, even though they’re made of code. It’s not as common for literary folks to think of Python, Perl, or other programming languages (whether or not they start with P) as ways of creating literary art.

My sense is that having readings, of the sort that Parrish hosted at the end of his class and of the sort that the Electronic Literature Organization has sponsored and organized over the years, is a useful way to address this gap between literature and the visual arts. (Full-blown festivals, of course, don’t hurt either.) A reading allows writers to show off a program, which may be intricate, and explain how it works. It’s fun for those who are already into digital literature, and an accessible way for other literati to see what computational writing is about and how it bring certain literary qualities into the digital realm – even if it does radically subvert others. And since there aren’t as many official, edited, and well-promoted publication options for computational writers, going to do a reading can be a good way to appear in a context of other writers and reach a public.

I’m trying to do my part here by running a reading series for digital writing, but that’s grist for the next post [of mine on netpoetic.com].

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Presence in Interactive Fiction

Wednesday 19 August 2009, 2:33 pm   /////  

The first issue of the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, from earlier this year, sports a nice article by Alf Seegert, “Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’: performing presence in interactive fiction.” In it, Seegert sharpens the existing discussion of reader-response theory and IF to explain how IF may need to balance between boredom and overstrain and how the writerly role allows for new sorts of presence. He then conducts some good discussions of Jon Ingold’s All Roads (highlighting how the body of the player character is indicated) and Paul O’Brian’s Luminous Horizon (looking particularly at the subjective narration).

Looks like a single issue of the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds costs £18, unfortunately. (Institutional subscriptions are £150.) Too bad, particularly since there are least three peer-reviewed, open-access, no-page-fee journals in the field (Game Studies, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and eLudamos) that were up and running before this one was founded. Update: That is the advertised price, but the issue is currently available for free, as is the article.

Read and Jump in Silent Conversation

Thursday 13 August 2009, 4:27 pm   /////  
“I had with me many tools, and dug much within the walls of the obliterated edifices; but progress was slow, and nothing significant was revealed.” – H. P. Lovecraft, “The Nameless City”

Gregory Weir, who fashioned the very nice piece The Majesty of Colors, has a new game with levels built out of existing texts, including “The Nameless City.” The new platformer is called Silent Conversation, a title taken from poet Walter Savage Landor’s description of reading.

The Prufrock level in Silent Conversation

The second Nameless City level in Silent Conversation

My impression is that this one is not as short and compelling as The Majesty of Colors, but is more elaborate and is, if not a success, at least a very interesting failure. It’s not a particularly good or fun platformer qua platformer and doesn’t offer a very good model of the reading process, but it reveals more about about the potential of games as digital objects that can be both played and read. I don’t think that making levels out of pre-existing texts works nearly as well as would original writing, but the setting of those texts into interactive concrete was certainly done with care.

The model of reading is one in which you have to touch every word with your eye (your “I”, in this case) to seek a good score (represented as a letter grade, believe it or not). “Powerful” words fire slow-moving letters at you, which clear away your accomplishments on the screen if they hit you. In some places you can fall to your death and undo the reading on the screen, too.

If this were done as a parody of the reading process as conceived of in the educational system, it could work effectively. Playing the game does suggest to me things that I do when I read – looking back over the text for a word I missed or misread, trying to progress by looking at at least each phrase along the way. But the reading of these texts is numbed, rather than heightened, by having them as elements of play in this way. Just to stick to the mechanics, rather than looking to deeper aesthetic questions about reading: Words are either powerful or not, and I need to simply tag them in either case, carefully if they might undo some of my progress, quickly otherwise. Whether in a long fiction work or a short poem, I can, when reading on paper or e-book, skip back to re-reread without slogging back past each word, as I have to go in this game. And I can re-read sections when I’m done, too. While the phrases used as decorations add color and visual interest, this game, perhaps surprisingly, makes a less unilinear reading experience into a more linear experience in reading and playing. It also rewards a perfunctory glance and touch rather than requiring discernment, figuring out, and comprehension, as do some other video games made entirely out of words – works of interactive fiction.

Reading and playing are not two great tastes that taste great together in this case, but I appreciate Weir bumping them into each other in this piece and trying to figure out how they might enhance one other. And for those interested both in gaming and in digital writing/electronic literature, Silent Conversation is certainly required reading.

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