May 31, 2008

Provocation by Program: Imagining a Next-Revolution Eliza

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:17 pm

By Nick Montfort and Andrew Stern

(This is the text of the talk we gave at the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference just now. Mark Marino already has a reply online.)


In the 1960s, Eliza, and specifically that system running the famous Doctor script to impersonate a psychotherapist, prompted conversations and controversies about anthropomorphic concepts of the computer, artificial intelligence and natural language understanding, user interfaces, and even psychotherapy. Decades later, Janet Murray hailed the system as the first electronic literature work, saying it was at that point still the most important one. All this was the result of a rather small amount of code that lacked multimedia elements, contained very little pre-written text, and was developed by a single person, Joseph Weizenbaum.

May 30, 2008

Pound, Chat, and Maps

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:16 pm

At the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference, I just heard the ReVisioning Electronic Literature: Origins and Influences panel – featuring a dynamic trio straight out of Southern California.

Jessica Pressman presented her work on Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’s Dakota as digital modernism. She showed us the beginning of Pound’s first canto alongside a transcription of the beginning of Dakota. She compares this text machine with Bob Brown’s proposed machine “The Readies” (1930) to speed up and automate reading, keeping up with the technology of “the talkie.” A 1931 collection (out of print) was assembled to be read on the Readies machine. Pressman showed a Flash presentation of William Carlos Williams’s poem from the collection, hypothesizing that it might have appeared like that when read with the machine.


from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:46 pm

The latest panel at the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference featured fascinating talks about metafiction and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and one about interactive fiction: Jimmy Maher’s talk “A New Approach to the Storygame: Blending the Crossword with the Narrative,” based on his paper “Toward Games that Matter: The Promise and Problems of the Storygame.” The concept of “storygame” as Maher discusses it is broader than “interactive fiction,” in that it includes computer games that have narrative aspects, but computational simulation of some sort is required for a storygame. Maher distinguishes “three-dimensional” works that present a world (you can get lost in a good book) with the “two-dimensional” work in which the qualities of the text are foregrounded; related to Burgess’s type 1 and type 2 authors. Genre literature is often the previous; literary fiction the latter – but great literature can do both. The idea can be extended to games: Chess is two-dimensional, in that we don’t imagine battlefields and everything happens on its surface. War games through D&D and Adventure are three-dimensional.

Cycles, Links, and Caves

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:24 am

I just heard some great talks here at the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference.

David Benin presented a collaboration he and Chris Calabro did at UCSD: Hors Catégorie, an experiment in affective, embodied interactive fiction. The piece deals with the Tour de France doping controversy, among other things. (Because the UCSD computer science server doesn’t have MIME types set correctly, clicking on the “story file” link may net you a browserful of special characters. Just save the result and you should have a z5 file.) Benin took some of my discussion in Twisty Little Passages as a point of departure, seeking to distinguish the possible from the potential and characterizing IF as offering possible narratives and a gift of open-ended engagement that provokes thought.

On Transliteracy

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:08 am

Sue Thomas spoke this morning at the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference about the concept of transliteracy that she and others have put forth. Online resources about this idea can be found at and in the First Monday article “Transliteracy: Crossing Divides.”

The First Monday article defines this concept, an enlarged idea of literacy, as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social network.”

May 29, 2008

Communitizing Electronic Literature

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:19 am

I’m sitting in a cafe in Vancouver, Washington, trying to cut down my presentation for the ELO conference to a manageable size. Since I’ll only present about half the paper at the conference, I thought I would post the paper here for people who are interested in reading it. My paper is not about any particular work of e-lit an attempt to take a kind of “long view” of the field of electronic literature as it currently stands, about nine years after we started the ELO. Forgive the lack of formatting. I’ll also post a pdf version on my website later this week.

Communitizing Electronic Literature

I have been involved in what you might loosely call “the field” of electronic literature for ten years, as a writer of digital fiction and poetry, as a community organizer through my work with the Electronic Literature Organization , and as a scholar and teacher. In 1998, after writing the collaborative hypertext novel The Unknown with my collaborators Dirk Stratton and William Gillespie, I fell down a rabbit hole from which I have yet to emerge. After The Unknown won the trAce/AltX prize for hyperfiction , I found myself immersed in the fascinating world of computer literature. At a conference in 1999 hosted by Robert Coover at Brown University titled “Technology Platforms for Twenty-First Century Literature,” I encountered a small but robust community of authors who had chosen the computer as a platform for their literary endeavors, a motley and innovative crew of literary experimentalists who were energized by the potentialities of the networked computer as a medium: by the new ease with which multimedia elements could be integrated into literary texts, by the programmable nature of digital literary artifacts, by the distributive capabilities of the emerging global network, by the new registers of semantic representation opening up to authors who made this network their home.

May 28, 2008

Digital Storytelling Workshop in Louisville

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:10 pm

I just learned from Alice Robison that at the next Thomas R. Watson Conference there will be a special workshop on digital storytelling – as the announcement says,

We are also very excited to announce that in the spirit of this year’s Watson Conference theme, “The New Work of Composing,” we will host a three day digital storytelling workshop on the University of Louisville’s campus October 13-15, 2008. Workshop instruction will be provided by the Center for Digital Storytelling. Their website,, offers dozens of playable stories, a history of their organization, and links to valuable resources. Daniel Weinshenker, Director of the Center’s Denver office, will be teaching the Watson Conference Workshop. …

Spineless Brains

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:58 am

Sure, this may be a little off-topic for Grand Text Auto, but I can’t help mentioning how continually amazed I am by the intelligence of those sea-dwelling, eight-legged invertebrates. Here’s an incredible picture of an octopus solving a maze, for instance. (Thanks to Philip Tan for news of this.)

E-Lit in a Northwest Landscape

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:01 am

I feel fortunate that so many electronic literature practitioners will be converging tomorrow through Sunday in Vancouver, Washington, only minutes from my home city of Portland, Oregon. It’s the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference, featuring several who are regularly discussed on and/or contribute to this blog, including Jeremy Douglass, Mark Marino, Fox Harrell, Rita Raley, Jason Nelson, Jimmy Maher, Stuart Moulthrop, Rob Wittig, Talan Memmott, and GTxA’s own Scott, Noah, Nick, and me.

Scott “Daddy-O” Rettberg is traveling all the way from Norway to present “The Communitization of Electronic Literature”, in the Electronic Literature Revisioned session. In Machine Dreams, Noah is presenting “Eliza Revisited”. Rounding out the Elizaphile contingent, as part of Code, Programs, and Interactive Environments, Nick and I will be co-presenting “Provocation by Program: Imagining a Next-Revolution Eliza” — Nick and my first joint work, besides this blog. Abstracts follow after the jump.

I hope to lure some adventurous souls to explore a bit of Portland’s nightlife as well; a drink at the Low Brow Lounge seems somehow apropos. Please join us!

May 26, 2008

PIC, a Pack of Poems

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:39 pm

APxD circut board and batteriesAdam Parrish, who left a poetry machine in a comment here on Grand Text Auto, has recently completed a hardware device that does (at a high level) the same sort of thing: Autonomous Parapoetic Device (APxD mkII). This resulted from his work at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where he wrote the thesis “New Interfaces for Textual Expression.” Other text machines of his include the rubbery, non-computational but nevertheless combinatorial Poem Sphere, a Markov generator that looks suitable for installation in the Exploratorium, and a keyboard that enforces lipogrammatic writing. Check it out – even if you don’t enjoy watching as sausages are made, you’ll like reading about his several projects that extrude the Oulipian ideals into meatspace, by mechanical, electrical, and elastic means.

May 23, 2008

The Expressive Processing Review Discussion at HASTAC II

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:03 am

Noah just spoke at HASTAC II (Irvine, CA) about the process of reviewing Expressive Processing here on Grand Text Auto. Noah has of course written about this review process here on the blog. I don’t intend to thoroughly blog HASTAC II; anyway, it would make little sense to recapitulate Noah’s presentation here, since we know about the process first-hand and via his writing about it on here. But here’s a quick paraphrase of the Q&A:

Q: How did the press react? Do they think this will work in other fields? What will happen with this model?
A: Acknowledgment that it was a good investment of time for me, but only those who are really interested will do it in the future.

May 21, 2008

My Generation about Talking

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:00 pm

I just gave a talk at the Software Studies Workshop at UCSD – Michael is here, too, and Mary just showed up, and Noah is actually an organizer of the gathering. My talk was “My Generation about Talking,” now posted on along with the program that I ran to accompany the talk, a suite of 15 tiny text generators.

May 17, 2008

Nideffer and Szeto’s WTF?!

WTF?! quest giver

Speaking of responses to World of Warcraft, I’ve just played my first few minutes of Robert Nideffer and Alex Szeto’s new indie/art game, WTF?! I’ve noticed that the characters are decidedly aware of certain genre conventions (my first quest is to “start killing shit”). And I’m very much looking forward to my encounters with the characters who await deeper in the game, from Karl Marx to Mary Daly (you can guess which one argues that “the game naturalizes a Western militaristic heterosexist hypersexualized patriarchal capitalism, played out in relation to a spiritually infused race war — kinda”).

May 16, 2008

Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:55 am

WoW Reader CoverYou’ve played the game, now read the book. This month Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: a World of Warcraft Reader was published by the MIT Press and is now available for purchase on Amazon. My colleagues at the University of Bergen, Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg, edited this volume, which is the first book-length anthology to carefully read the culture of the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online game. The anthology is the product of a unique collaboration. The volume’s contributors all played the game together for a year in a guild of academics known as “The Truants” before writing their chapters, each of which examines the game from a different theoretical/analytical bent. There are thirteen chapters in the book. The chapter I wrote, “Corporate Ideology in World of Warcraft,” examines both the economic model of MMOGS and the economies within the game, with the thesis that the reason why so many players are willing to spend so much of their lives playing the game is that the game is in fact a form of play that itself is enough a form of work to appeal to the protestant work ethic which has plagued America since its foundations. In her chapter “Never Such Innocence Again,” Esther MacCallum-Stewart examines the tropes of war and histories in the game.

May 15, 2008

One Banana, Two Banana …

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:10 am

Adam Cadre writes about Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy, using the book’s unusual style as a starting point for discussions of impressionism and description in interactive fiction. You’ll definitely be interested if you’ve tried >COUNT LEAVES. In his calendar entry, he also states that Narcolepsey is his best-written game.

May 14, 2008

SoftWhere: Software Studies Workshop 2008

Next week, at UCSD, we’re having this continent’s first Software Studies workshop. I’m very much looking forward to having GTxA’s Nick, Michael, and Mary in San Diego, along with an all-star lineup.

If you can make it for the public session on Wednesday (all afternoon) I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. But you will need to RSVP.

The official announcement follows.

May 13, 2008

CFP: Interactive Storytelling’08

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:50 am


*** Interactive Storytelling’08 ***

1st Joint International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

26-29 November 2008, Erfurt, Germany

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2008

*** The first joint conference of the two previous European conference series:
– TIDSE (“Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling”) and
– ICVS (“Virtual Storytelling – Using Virtual Reality Technologies for Storytelling”)

*** SCOPE***

Interactive Digital Storytelling is a huge step forward in games and learning. This can be seen through its ability to enrich virtual characters with intelligent behaviour, to allow collaboration of humans and machines in the creative process, and to combine narrative knowledge and user activity in interactive artefacts. In order to create novel applications, in which users play a significant role together with digital characters and other autonomous elements, new concepts for Human-Computer Interaction have to be developed. Knowledge for interface design and technology has to be garnered and integrated.

May 12, 2008

Call for Papers and Works: Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe: UiB September 11-13th

from Scott Rettberg
by @ 4:19 am

Call for Papers and Works: Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe

September 11-13th, 2008 at the University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway.

The Fall 2008 Bergen Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe will build upon the work of the e-poetry seminar held in Paris in February 2008 at the University Paris 8, the 2007 e-poetry conference in Paris, the 2007 Remediating Literature Conference in Utrecht, and other recent activity in the field of electronic literature in Europe. The goals of this gathering are:

1) To provide an opportunity for European researchers to share and discuss their current research on electronic literature, e-poetry, and digital narrative forms.

Call for Papers and Works: Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:56 am

Call for Papers and Works: Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe

September 11-13th, 2008 at the University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway.

The Fall 2008 Bergen Seminar on Electronic Literature in Europe will build upon the work of the e-poetry seminar held in Paris in February 2008 at the University Paris 8, the 2007 e-poetry conference in Paris, the 2007 Remediating Literature Conference in Utrecht, and other recent activity in the field of electronic literature in Europe. The goals of this gathering are:

1) To provide an opportunity for European researchers to share and discuss their current research on electronic literature, e-poetry, and digital narrative forms.

2) To provide a forum for European authors of electronic literature to share, demonstrate, read, or perform their work.

3) To discuss and explore the foundation of a European research network focused on electronic literature, funding opportunities for such a network, and network activities.

The seminar will last three days and will include about 20-30 participants. The day-long meetings during the first two days will consist of short presentations of papers in panel format. Additionally, there will be performances, readings, and demonstrations of electronic literature in the evenings. The third day of the conference will be dedicated to proposing and discussing the formal establishment of a research network on electronic literature in Europe. Paper presentations should be in English. Presentation and performances of works can be made in English or in the native language of the presenter.

May 11, 2008

We’re Five

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 3:17 pm

Yesterday was our fifth birthday. Happy Birthday GTxA!

May 10, 2008

A Swell (and Swollen) NES Controller

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 2:24 pm

The NES coffee table in use. (Photo from Downes' blog.)

Ian Bogost writes in “The Rhetoric of Exergaming” that gross motor activity in the living room is inhibited by coffee tables. That seems to be true in many cases, but not when your coffee table is also a functional NES controller. Kyle Downes has built such a furnishing and functional piece of hardware, which also serves as a storage box. A glass tabletop places the unit in beverage-supporting mode. While playing the NES with this controller may not qualify as a fitness activity, it’s certainly a change and engages more than the player’s thumbs. If this trend of controller embiggenment, kicked off by Grand Text Auto‘s own Mary Flanagan and her [giantJoystick], keeps rolling along, we might be playing casual games on ginormous cell phones before too long. Oops – we already are. (Thanks to Hanna for the tip about Downes’ project.)

May 9, 2008

A Reading of the Adventure Text

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:18 am

In early 2007, the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania hosted a reading of all of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

On May 15, 2008, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities will host a reading of another work that first appeared on a long scroll of paper – Adventure, in its original version by Will Crowther. “As part of our work on a project funded by the Library of Congress dedicated to Preserving Virtual Worlds, MITH will be hosting a table-read of the original version of ADVENTURE, recently recovered from backup tapes at Stanford University.” This table-read is at noon on the basement level of McKeldin Library, in MITH’s conference room – at the table, I presume. And the reading may contain spoilers!

May 8, 2008

Games for Health Underway in Baltimore

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 8:58 pm

Personally, I’m struggling to keep my health up so I can continue playing this game, but if you’re the other way around, and in Baltimore, check out the second day of the Fourth Annual Games for Health Conference 2008. And, dear reader, if you are attending, drop us a note about how the conference is going or a link to anything you have online about your experiences.

May 8-9, 2008 / Baltimore Convention Center / Baltimore, Maryland / Web site for registration:

Digging Digits

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 1:48 pm

Prehistoric Digital Poetry cover A Review of Prehistoric Digital Poetry:
An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995

By Christopher T. Funkhouser
University of Alabama Press
408 pp.
$75.00 cloth/$39.95 paper

This is an incredible compendium of decades of seldom-noticed work, guided by poetics, that has been done with language and computers. The work surveyed in this book is not “prehistoric” in the sense of being before history was developed; nor does it include pre-computer work that anticipated or laid the foundations for digital practice. But Funkhouser’s effort is clearly archaeological in terms of its scale and effort, and it is an attempt to recover a prehistory in the sense that our awareness of digital media history usually has the graphical, popular Web as its starting point. This recognition of our digital blind spot, or dark age, was what also motivated me and Noah to try to fill in a similar gap with The New Media Reader, which collects materials from WWII to the WWW.

May 6, 2008

Game Studies Agon

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:09 pm

Why must you hate gamers, game studies? Thus rants classics professor Roger Travis in The Escapist. Ian Bogost rants back.

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