August 29, 2003

Game studies in the Monitor

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:47 pm

The Christian Science Monitor ran an article about game studies today. Besides quotes from some usual defenders of game studies, including Janet Murray, Celia Pearce and James Gee (who was featured in the recent Chronical of Higher Education chat on games), the article includes representatives of the academy who think game studies is bunk:

“It’s just another concession to the customer. Kids have grown up playing Nintendo. They don’t read because they don’t know how to read – they don’t cultivate the imagination…. They need to be put through the intellectual rigors of a traditional format for education. Video games are just an easy way to avoid it.” – Edward Smith, director of American Studies at American University

August 28, 2003

Have fun while learning to protect your privacy

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:47 am

While commuting in today there was radio news story about Carabella Goes to College, an edugame designed to teach new college students (presumably straying from the safety of the nest for the first time) to protect themselves from the dangers of a prying world:

Players of Carabella Goes to College experience a college-bound girl’s first week of school, when she has to make routine choices that determine whether she will be beset by identity thieves, aggressive marketers and hungry profiling software.

Players earn points by making decisions balancing privacy and convenience.

Full story available at Wired News.

August 27, 2003

Game studies hits the academic mainstream

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:49 pm

The Chronicle of Higher Education is hosting an online chat on video games in the classroom today at 2:00pm EST. They are asking the questions:

Are video games a valid academic field of research? Will video games one day become a teaching tool in the classroom, alongside textbooks and other traditional media? Or are video games yet another distraction leading students and instructors away from quiet, concentrated study and time-honored teaching methods?

The Chronicle’s latest issue has articles on games studies.

August 26, 2003

Fifth Wheel Man

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:01 pm

After spending a good deal of time buttering Scott Rettberg up by praising his creative and critical writing, I’m pleased to announce that he has joined our band of automatic hooligans. Having already mentioned some of Scott’s many creative contributions, I’ll just note that Scott also founded the Electronic Literature Organization and is now an assistant professor at Stockton College, where he’s starting up a new media track in the Literature Program.

August 25, 2003

Putting my money where my mouth is

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:05 am

Early in the Summer we had a discussion about the craft of programming in new media art (Artist Programmers: an ongoing discussion, Meaning Machines, Collaborations) in which I took the position that new media artists should program (or understand computational thinking) because it enables a deeper engagement with computers as meaning machines (Meaning Machines). But what would an introduction to programming for art and design students look like if it was fundamentally organized around programming as a medium? Last week I began teaching Computation as an Expressive Medium (original syllabus, current syllabus), a new core course in Georgia Tech’s masters program in Information Design and Technology. This class is an alternative introduction to programming, juxtaposing readings from the New Media Reader with programming projects designed to exercise specific programming competencies while simultaneously exploring conceptual and theoretical issues raised in the readings. Rather than using a special purpose programming language that has been designed specifically for artists, I’m teaching Java. I’m hoping that using a full-featured, general-purpose language will give students a broad understanding of programming as well as give them skills in a widely disseminated language that will be useful in future projects. I’ve included links to both the original syllabus and the current syllabus – I’m sure the syllabus will change as I adjust to the realities of teaching this course. As the semester progresses, I’ll post updates on how the course is going.

August 24, 2003

Defrosted, still tastes good

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:43 pm

They’re almost 5 years old at this point, but a collection of interviews with digital storytelling practitioners, some touching upon issues of interactivity and agency, continue to satisfy. Brought to you by the Digital Diner in Berkeley. Brenda Laurel talks about being a bit disillusioned with AI, and the practical need for using a “low tech” approach in her Purple Moon projects. Mark Bernstein offers useful examples of when and why hypertext fiction “works”. Justin Hall on blogging, back when it was called “web diaries”. Abbe Don reflects on cracking (or not) the interactive narrative problem. Alex Mayhew on our “negative obsession” with non-linear paths. Jon Sanborn suggests people want interactive worlds, not stories. Mark Petrakis envisions conversational computer characters.

August 22, 2003

The Rettberg Files

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:21 am

Scott Rettberg’s dissertation, which was mentioned earlier, deserves some further comment. His dissertation has a first part in which he writes about the network context of The Unknown, discussing some similar efforts by other authors. The rest of it contains mainly Rettberg-authored Unknown texts – a.k.a. shovelware. Although funny, it’s hard to imagine why one would want to read this section instead of the hypertext or the Unknown Anthology book in which contributions from the three other Unknown authors are also included, but perhaps some Italians will consult the section as they work thoroughly on their own dissertations about The Unknown. They and others may be more interested in the preface to part two, which describes the project of The Unknown and even (gasp!) specifically attributes the authorship of some sections.

The 127 double-spaced pages that make up “Part One: Experiments in the Network Novel” are not dense with new advances in literary theory, but they are certainly worth reading. They share the following affinity with the more typological and semiotic Cybertext: Rettberg’s writing also is trying to describe a new, interesting category of texts, and to explain what makes this category interesting. In this case, the chief promoter of the term “electronic literature” discusses a more specific form or genre: the “network novel.” The term was much in his mind as he worked on Kind of Blue, which I wrote about recently, at some length.

August 21, 2003

Let’s do it again

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:52 pm

I came across an amusing new play called Games for Married Couples, by D. Bruno Starrs, published in last February’s issue of Ygdrasil: A Journal of the Poetic Arts. It was a very fun read for me, both for its witty dialog and for its structure, which bears a lot of resemblance to our interactive drama project, Facade. Both plays are short one-acts, have just three characters — a married couple and a friend, all action takes place in a single room, and shows variation when the scene is repeated over and over. It even has a reference to Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a key inspiration for Facade.

August 17, 2003

E-lit All the Rage in Alumni Mags

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:52 pm

The Brown alumni magazine just did a great writeup of Bob Coover and Talan Memmott, describing some of the ways their unusual, different backgrounds ended in their working together now at Brown on CAVE projects and other electronic writing. It’s a great story which, contrasting with the usual unbridled alumni-mag ebullience, describes Talan as shift-eyed and suggests that Bob may have bought his clothes at Costco, giving the profile some nice color. (It’s quite a positive profile overall, of course, as these two deserve.) Thanks to Scott for the link.

August 16, 2003

Memorious Marker

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:49 pm

Immemory, a CD-ROM by Chris Marker
English edition translated by Brian Holmes, Exact Change, 2002. $19.95
Originally published in French, Èditions du Centre Pompidou, 1998

Arrest images as photographs; play about the photo with the movie camera’s voyueristic, predatory gaze; add a narrated commentary that is both surprising and yet inevitable: such is the modus operandi of Chris Marker, who most famously employed these methods in the 1962 La Jette (The Jetty) and who has used them to great effect since then, for instance in the 2001 Souvenir d’un avenir (Remembrance of Things to Come), a film he made with Yannick Bellon. In the former film, which Twelve Monkeys is based upon, a man in an apocalyptic future travels back in time to recapture his society’s past, able to do so because of the single memory he retains from his youth. In the latter, Denise Bellon’s photographs are revealed as portentous records of the time between the wars.

These two films demonstrate Marker’s artistic obsession with memory and the way in which his unusual use of still photographs and a commenting voice can play upon the topic beautifully. Given this sort of work, it should not be surprising that Marker’s CD-ROM Immemory contains wonders.

August 15, 2003

The saga continues

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:02 pm

sagasnet, a network of European professionals interested in creating interactive narrative content, is holding their yearly seminar next week in Leipzig, Germany. Between TIDSE, ICVS, sagasnet and all the other shindigs going on, Europe seems like a very busy place these days for interactive narrative. (More than the US, that’s for sure.)

August 14, 2003

“What did I expect from the man who brought civilization to a screeching halt?”

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:18 pm

Here’s a new interview with Mark Laidlaw, a head writer and designer at Valve of Half-Life (1999) and the much-anticipated Half-Life 2. These are among the best commercial projects out there that integrate game and story.

August 13, 2003

Blue My Mind

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:50 am

I just whacked down a bit of the trAce Web site to my iBook’s hard disk in violation of the DMCA. Then Sid and I went down to the White Dog and read Scott Rettberg’s Kind of Blue, an email novel in the vein of, and following up on, Rob Wittig’s Blue Company. Damn.

If you read all the subject lines one after another they make this sort of INSANE FUCKING POEM that is like the chapter titles of If on a winter’s night a traveller assumed into heaven or something. (The word “fuck” occurs only 45 times in the 105 email messages that make up Kind of Blue, by the way.) Reading KOB in one sitting made the summer of ’02 rush back to me like a frozen margarita, slightly hurting the roof of my mouth. It’s all there: the fallout from 9/11, that season’s stage of the economic slump, the Enron scandal, Rettberg’s desperate struggle to avoid working on his dissertation, male fantasies of getting lesbians to “jump the fence.” It sounds too good to be true but YES even if you weren’t lucky enough to be one of the original recipients of this email novel, you can read it all, right now, or at least during your next three or four lunch breaks. It only takes about two hours. You can see how much is left because the links turn kind of purple as you go. If you use wget to download it you can even read it offline, in the tub. Or in a bar.

August 12, 2003

Digital Art

Still on the road, in Amsterdam I picked up a copy of Christiane Paul’s new Digital Art. As far as I know, this is the only current book dedicated to a discussion and survey of digital art — rather than broader topics like “art and technology” or “information arts.” It’s essential reading, and not simply because it’s a source of information not coherently collected elsewhere. Paul (who curates new media art for the Whitney Museum and edits Intelligent Agent) also brings a deep understanding of the field to the book’s organization and selection of work. The one complaint I’m sure some will have is that the book is rather slight (a little over 200 pages), and therefor far from comprehensive. Also, as part of the Thames and Hudson “World of Art” series it inherits a certain picturebook character. But it will serve admirably as an introduction for students and also hold some new information or insights for most of us in the field. (I, for example, found the short discussion of Charles Csuri’s work more helpful than those I’ve read in the past.) I’m certain Digital Art will be a touchstone of the field for years to come.

Fun is Fine

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:01 am

I just came across a nice article by David Kennerly, an MMOG producer and designer, called “Fun is Fine: Toward a Philosophy of Game Design”. It was published in June on

I think his suggestions are applicable to IF, interactive drama, etc., not just game-games.

August 8, 2003

Dissertation Unknown

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:34 am

Scott Rettberg, e-lit practitioner and theorist and co-founder of the ELO, now has his PhD dissertation online, “Destination Unknown: Experiments in The Network Novel.” It’s on my reading list; I’ve only had a chance to skim through it so far. It begins with a nice introduction to electronic literature and its history over the last two decades. The chapters delve into the nature of links and networks in the context of literature, e-books, and the pleasures, challenges and frustrations of reading and writing hypertext fiction. He does an interesting analysis of how people read The Unknown, a hypertext novel he co-wrote, based on the log files that record when and how often each page in the hypertext was accessed. He concludes with a chapter about possible future directions for e-lit, including a discussion of Facade.

August 6, 2003

Interaction and Agency

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:36 pm

I just played Dead Reckoning, the interactive fiction (IF) Nick recently translated. Playing this IF reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, the relationship between interaction and agency. Before continuing, let me provide a preliminary definition of these terms in the context of new media. By “interaction” I mean the act of physically manipulating an input device (e.g. wiggling a mouse, moving in front of a camera, etc.) and eliciting a response (e.g. an image changes on a screen, motors turn on and off, etc.). Interaction is an abstract concept, saying nothing about the character of the relationship between input and elicited response, just that there is some relationship between them. Agency is a phenomenal category, describing what it feels like as a player/interactor to be empowered to take whatever actions you want and get a sensible response. That is, an experience is productive of a sense of agency if it supports the interactor in forming intentions (based on what’s happening, the interactor can think of something they want to do), taking action with respect to these intentions (there is a way to express the action the interactor wants to take), and interpreting the response in terms of the intention (the system’s response makes sense with respect to the intention). Given these definitions, the question that interests me is whether the sole function of interaction is to produce a sense of agency, or whether interaction can yield other, equally interesting phenomenal experiences.

August 5, 2003

control <ALT> Digital Media delete

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:45 pm

I saw <ALT> Digital Media at the Amercian Museum of the Moving Image the other day. It’s a great space for interacting with and appreciating visual works. Unfortunately, the MOMI’s big video game exhibition is no longer up, and about half the pieces in this smaller exhibition (installed on two PCs) were down, but there were several pieces to enjoy, including Cory Archangel’s I Shot Andy Warhol, the stimulating commercial videogame Rez, and two Potent Objects from a series by Camille Utterback and Adam Chapman.

August 4, 2003

Dead Reckoning

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:05 pm

I’ve just recently completed a translation of Olvido Mortal, an award-winning Spanish interactive fiction work. (You can try it on the Web should you not want to download it.) It was a rather involved process to carry across into English both its langauge and its workings, even though this piece is quite short and the author, Andrés Viedma Peláez, had written and coded clearly. But I found it a rewarding experience, and I’m glad to help share one of the gems of Spanish interactive fiction with the English-speaking world.

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