March 16, 2004

First Person

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 3:24 am

Let’s face it. We’ve pretty much exhausted the story/game discussion, at least as formulated in the question, “What does Tetris have to do with Hamlet (or Half-Life)?” First Person exists to replace this with a more interesting question.

The contributors to First Person certainly consider games like Tetris. But they also discuss the “not games” and playable art I wrote about last month. They consider the politics of playable simulations, and the ways they may be employed for more explicitly political ends. They examine the ways that time functions in games, as well as the lack of dramatic compression in The Sims. They present concepts for game analysis and approaches to game design. They discuss the necessity of a field of ludology, and debate how it might be defined.

The contributors also certainly consider traditional stories, and the commonly-discussed game/story examples, and the ways that story-like experiences can emerge from contexts like massively multiplayer games. But they also discuss interactive drama and cinema. They discuss hyperfiction and interactive fiction. They discuss electronic poetry and textual digital art. They present narrative-focused alternatives to traditional AI approaches to characters and agents. They present frameworks for understanding very large scale online conversations and for understanding the roles that voice chips perform in intelligent toys, car alarms, and artworks.

This takes place in a conversational structure. 25 essayists each present a point of view, and then each is responded to by another essayist and also by an outside respondent. Then each essayist responds to their respondents.

The result, Pat and I hope, is a contribution toward ending some of the talking past each other that has plagued our field (e.g., in the debate that never happened). The result is, Pat and I hope, a contribution to helping us replace the exhausted question with a more productive (if also more complicated) question. If I were to try to articulate the new question, it might be, “In the field of digital media, how do we understand the playable, and how do we understand the literary, linguistic, and performative — in relation to the broader culture and to one another?”

Starting from where we are now, 25 essays and 74 responses aren’t enough to come close to definitively answering all the pieces of that question. But hopefully they’re enough to definitively open the question. And the next stage will be further discussion of these issues in the forthcoming First Person thread at electronic book review.

I post this with my first copy of First Person sitting beside me, just now in my hands.

20 Responses to “First Person”

  1. andrew Says:

    I picked up a copy of First Person at the MIT Press Bookstore two days ago. I’ll write more later when I have some free time, but first I really want to thank Noah and Pat for putting this together. This is the kind of book I’ve been wanting and waiting for. The idea of gathering together so many active, knowledgeable voices into one volume, who are making a real effort to dig into the multitude of possibilities of the playable and anticipating the challenges that lie ahead, is extremely helpful to me as a practitioner. And, having the contributors respond back and forth to one another, laid out on the page in parallel with the essays themselves, is really valuable, and a lot of fun to read. (Admittedly it’s not quite as novel as it would have been before many of us started blogging over the past year, but still… :-)

    It’s not an overly thick volume, but the book is bursting with ideas and perspectives. I’ve skimmed it so far; and while I’m already familiar with some of the essays and arguments, there are several that are new to me, and of course all of the back-and-forth responses are new. I wish I could just sit down and read it cover to cover, but it’ll have to wait until my plane ride to GDC next week, I think…

    I’m looking forward to the forthcoming thread on EBR too.

  2. Gonzalo Says:

    Hey, congratulations! Thanks for First Person (and for the New Media Reader). I’ll grab a copy next week, first thing after I get to San Francisco. Congrats again!

  3. noah Says:

    Hey Gonzalo – thanks for the congratulations! They tell me First Person will be on sale at the GDC bookstore, so no need to search around San Francisco. Also, as you’re one of the essayists, MIT Press should be sending you a copy before long.

  4. nick Says:

    I can’t wait to get a copy. Having glimpsed at the bits of the project as it was in progress (writing an essay, reading John Cayley’s essay to reply to it, writing a response to that, writing a reply to Brenda Laurel and Janet Murray’s replies to my essay, seeing the book manuscript in the late stages before typsetting) I’m particularly excited about the book.

    Obviously, it was a huge load of work – and I suppose will be for a while as the discussion continues on ebr. The type of conversation it contains, and will engender, will be proof that the book can play new and interesting roles in new media studies.

    Best of all, I think the book will be one that people read not to plunder it for citations or to expose an individual’s point of view for precision attacks, but in the way they attend a really influential conference or have transforming discussions with faculty and students in a great class.

    So, congratulations to Noah and Pat!

  5. nick Says:

    I got to see a copy today, as Joe Tabbi was in town speaking. (Definitely worth a blog entry, but I am exhausted.) The book looks great. Surprisingly small, thanks to a compact and familiar layout. (Surprisingly similar to The New Media Reader typographically, too!) I am looking forward to reading the essays in the book and to following up on that reading in ebr.

  6. Jesper Says:

    Congrats to all! Looking forwards to seeing a copy at GDC!

  7. noah Says:

    … and it looks like it’s finally starting to show up “in stock” at online retailers:

  8. bryan-mitchell young Says:

    Is there a table of contents available online somewhere? I’m sure I’ll pick this up eventually, but it would be nice to see the names of the articles.

  9. noah Says:

    Ah – good question! I realize it’s a little long for a comment, but here’s a TOC for the book:

    I. Cyberdrama

    Janet Murray: From Game-Story to Cyberdrama

    Response by Bryan Loyall

    From Espen Aarseth’s Online Response

    Ken Perlin: Can There Be a Form between a Game and a Story?

    Response by Will Wright

    From Victoria Vesna’s Online Response

    Michael Mateas: A Preliminary Poetics for Interactive Drama and Games

    Response by Brenda Laurel

    From Gonzalo Frasca’s Online Response

    II. Ludology

    Markku Eskelinen: Towards Computer Game Studies

    Response by J. Yellowlees Douglas

    Note Regarding Richard Schechner’s Response

    Espen Aarseth: Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation

    Response by Chris Crawford

    From Stuart Moulthrop’s Online Response

    Stuart Moulthrop: From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of

    Deadly Games

    Response by Diane Gromala

    From John Cayley’s Online Response: Playing with Play

    III. Critical Simulation

    Simon Penny: Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation

    Response by Eugene Thacker

    From N. Katherine Hayles’s Online Response

    Gonzalo Frasca: Videogames of the Oppressed: Critical Thinking, Education,

    Tolerance, and Other Trivial Issues

    Response by Mizuko Ito

    From Eric Zimmerman’s Online Response

    Phoebe Sengers: Schizophrenia and Narrative in Artificial Agents

    Response by Lucy Suchman: Methods and Madness

    From Michael Mateas’s Online Response

    IV. Game Theories

    Henry Jenkins: Game Design as Narrative Architecture

    Response by Jon McKenzie

    From Markku Eskelinen’s Online Response

    Jesper Juul: Introduction to Game Time

    Response by Mizuko Ito

    From Celia Pearce’s Online Response

    Celia Pearce: Towards a Game Theory of Game

    Response by Mary Flanagan

    From Mark Bernstein’s Online Response: “And Back Again”

    Eric Zimmerman: Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four Naughty

    Concepts in Need of Discipline

    Response by Chris Crawford

    From Jesper Juul’s Online Response: Unruly Games

    V. Hypertexts & Interactives

    Mark Bernstein and Diane Greco: Card Shark and Thespis: Exotic Tools for

    Hypertext Narrative

    Response by Andrew Stern

    From Ken Perlin’s Online Response

    Stephanie Strickland: Moving Through Me as I Move: A Paradigm for


    Response by Rita Raley

    From Camille Utterback’s Online Response

    J. Yellowlees Douglas and Andrew Hargadon: The Pleasures of

    Immersion and Interaction: Schemas, Scripts, and the Fifth Business

    Response by Richard Schechner

    From Henry Jenkins’s Online Response

    VI. The Pixel/The Line

    John Cayley: Literal Art: Neither Lines nor Pixels but Letters

    Response by Johanna Drucker

    From Nick Montfort’s Online Response

    Camille Utterback: Unusual Positions — Embodied Interaction with

    Symbolic Spaces

    Response by Matt Gorbet

    From Adrianne Wortzel’s Online Response

    Bill Seaman: Interactive Text and Recombinant Poetics —

    Media-Element Field Explorations

    Response by Diane Gromala

    From Jill Walker’s Online Response

    VII. Beyond Chat

    Warren Sack: What Does a Very Large-Scale Conversation Look Like?

    Response by Rebecca Ross

    From Phoebe Sengers’s Online Response

    Victoria Vesna: Community of People with No Time: Collaboration Shifts

    Response by Stephanie Strickland

    Natalie Jeremijenko: If Things Can Talk, What Do They Say? If We

    Can Talk to Things, What Do We Say? Using Voice Chips and Speech

    Recognition Chips to Explore Structures of Participation in

    Sociotechnical Scripts

    Response by Lucy Suchman: Talking Things

    From Simon Penny’s Online Response

    VIII. New Readings

    N. Katherine Hayles: Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia

    Response by Eugene Thacker

    From Bill Seaman’s Online Response

    Jill Walker: How I Was Played by Online Caroline

    Response by Adrianne Wortzel

    From Warren Sack’s Online Response

    Nick Montfort: Interactive Fiction as “Story,” “Game,” “Storygame,”

    “Novel,” “World,” “Literature,” “Puzzle,” “Problem,” “Riddle,” and


    Response by Brenda Laurel

    From Janet Murray’s Online Response

    I’m at GDC, along with Andrew and Michael, and just got to interact with Facade for the first time yesterday!

  10. noah Says:

    Hey! The book’s been sighted over at

    We didn’t manage to post anything from GDC, but we expect to do some post-GDC blogging soon. The GDC bookstore, by the way, was already sold out of First Person when I went to ask about it yesterday. I was glad to hear it!

  11. noah Says:

    Jill mentions First Person in a post today, and paints a tri-generational image: showing the book to her mother, then reading it while her daughter reads a book to herself. There’s no generation after mine in my (immediate) family — and neither my brother nor I seems in a hurry to change that — but I think I experienced a somewhat-similar moment with my mother and First Person. My first copy of the book was delivered to my mother’s house (I’m visiting California this spring) and when it arrived, and she called, I asked her to open the envelope and describe it to me. We were both smiling, I could tell even over the phone. Later, at her house, she said, “You’re old enough, you can post it on the refrigerator yourself.” Ah, but where do we find magnets strong enough for hardback books?

  12. Jill Says:

    Oh, I love the idea of posting it on the refrigerator!


  13. Margaret Says:

    What a pleasure to find this book on the table at GDC! When will the site be up at electronic book review?

  14. noah Says:

    Margaret, thanks for your kind words. All of the URLs printed in the book are “live” now. However, we haven’t publicly launched the ebr incarnation of First Person yet. When exactly that launch will take place is a current topic of conversation — but it won’t be too much longer.

  15. andrew Says:

    Click to see Joe Bates enjoying First Person.

    (I’d embed the image here if I could, but it appears Movable Type doesn’t allow images in comments)

  16. andrew Says:

    Greg Costikyan begins reacting to the book here.

  17. noah Says:

    Two First Person links of note today.

    Mark Barrett’s got a note up at his site (looking forward to that rant!).

    And as Gonzalo and Ian note here’s an article about computer games with a political message at The Guardian titled “The role of play.” In addition to quoting those two bright fellows extensively, the article’s author also makes the pleasing move of mentioning First Person.

    Andrew, thanks for noting those other links above!

  18. Grand Text Auto » Bernstein’s Bait Redux Says:
    […] ait Redux
    by andrew @ 3:01 am

    Echoing the debate we had two years ago in both book and blog, Mark Bernstein has recently restated his argument, with the coda, “ […]

  19. noah Says:

    There’s an Italian review of First Person over at (and a translation is currently at the top of their English page).

  20. Grand Text Auto » Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives Says:

    […] POV series: Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. Following the first two volumes (First Person and Second Person) this project broadens our scope yet again. While the first volume was mostly […]

Powered by WordPress