August 13, 2007

We Have Code / Cave

by Nick Montfort · , 12:36 pm

Check out Dennis G. Jerz’s excellent article about Adventure‘s cave and Adventure‘s code, (link updated) now out in the second number of Digital Humanities Quarterly and already trumpeted in Boing Boing.

The photos provide a nice hook and make a strong argument that it’s worthwhile looking at the real places digital works represent. These places are often not what we’d expect, and the differences can tell us something interesting about the places in question, or perhaps about our imaginations. Beyond the photos and the texts they correspond to, there is also some very nice analysis of the subculture of caving in this piece, and some compelling description of how it can be used to read the spaces and artifacts of the first text adventure. Finally, Jerz not only went to the earthy source of all interactive fiction cave-games; he took a parallel journey into Adventure‘s source code, uncovering a great deal about the remote collaboration between Crowther and Woods. Overall, there’s plenty for IF fans and digital humanists to explore, and treasures to find.

8 Responses to “We Have Code / Cave”

  1. andrew Says:

    wow, that’s quite an article. Great job, Dennis!

    Reading it, I felt an intriguing sense of deja vu — reading the article itself reminds me of reading House of Leaves (in a good way, of course).

  2. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    I’m pretty sure that if, when I started this whole project, I had known that I would actually find the code and visit the cave, I might have tried to make it a book. I considered chopping it up into three or four “smallest publishable units,” and in fact there is another segment that emphasizes caving culture (some of which I presented at Princeton several years ago, with additional material co-authored with David Thomas), but I think I found the right venue with DHQ.

  3. Rubes Says:

    Outstanding work on that bit of IF archaeology, Dennis. It was a joy to read and I got a real kick out of seeing that code.

  4. nick Says:

    Hm, the article doesn’t seem to be up at that URL now, and I can’t find it at Maybe I linked to a staging server?

  5. Rubes Says:

    FYI, a posting on RAIF said the following:

    I contacted the Digital Humanities Quarterly editor (Julia Flanders)
    today and here is what she replied:

    Thanks for asking–the link to the Jerz article was posted somewhat
    prematurely, and links (linked) to an internal draft site, not to the
    final publication. The actual published version of the article will
    be available at the DHQ site by the end of this month, at

    If you can spread this information around we’d be grateful! the
    internal URL got widely disseminated before we could correct it.

    Best wishes, Julia

    Julia Flanders
    Editor, DHQ
    Brown University

    Dennis later posted:

    David Kinder just e-mailed me to say he has placed a copy of the
    article on the IF archive at: (2.7M)

  6. Ian Bogost Says:

    ZOMG you can’t clobber the article after it’s on slashdot and boing boing and the like! Ah, the joys of academic marketing savvy.

  7. nick Says:

    Digital Humanities Quarterly 1:2 is now truly online, with a “permanent” link to Dennis Jerz’s Adventure article. There’s another IF article in the issue, Eric Eve’s piece on his All Hope Abandon.

    Dennis, I’m still hoping you make this into a book. I’m also glad you brought the insights and methods together from two “publishable units” in this piece. This rich work that you’ve done can lead in many directions – for instance, branching out into other “recreational computing” programs of that era and explaining how common, or unusual, things like writing programs for one’s family and friends were, and how often there was longitudinal collaboration of this sort between people who didn’t communicate except to ask for the code. Plus, it would be interesting to know if other textual descriptions of caves by cavers (in books or letters, for instance) differed from the first Adventure description. And, something I’ve always wondered: Did Crowther actually code Adventure offline on his Teletype, only taking his paper tape in to run it on the PDP-1 after he’d amassed a great deal of code? If this was done, was it typical, or did the few recreational programmers of the time usually hack interactively? If he didn’t program interactively, that could certainly explain the bugs here and there…

    Anyway, after reading the article again, I wanted to restate that the piece is a very nice illumination of Adventure. It can also provide a great platform from which to ask a lot of questions like these, which could connect Adventure to 1970s computing and the origins of computer gaming in a really interesting way.

  8. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    Thanks, Nick. I am still pondering the next steps, some of which would work better online (as software) than in book form. I’m far from through with IF.

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