May 12, 2009

Blog-Based Peer Review: Four Surprises

Last year we undertook an experiment here: simultaneously sending the manuscript for Expressive Processing out for traditional, press-solicited peer review and posting the same manuscript, in sections, as part of the daily flow of posts on Grand Text Auto. As far as I know, it became the first experiment in what I call “blog-based peer review.”

Over the last year I’ve been finishing up Expressive Processing: using comments from the blog-based and press-solicited reviews to revise the manuscript, completing a few additional chapters, participating in the layout and proof processes, and so on. I’m happy to say the book has now entered the final stages of production and will be out this summer (let me know if you’d be interested in writing an online or paper-based review).

One of my last pieces of writing for the book was an afterword, bringing together my conclusions about the blog-based peer review process. I’m publishing it here, on GTxA, both to acknowledge the community here and as a final opportunity to close the loop. I expect this to be the last GTxA post to use CommentPress — so take the opportunity to comment paragraph-by-paragraph if it strikes your fancy. (more...)

May 7, 2009

Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives

Third Person Cover

Pat Harrigan and I are pleased to announce the publication of the final volume in our 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 (though not exclusively) focused on computer games and electronic literature, and the second injected tabletop gaming, performance-oriented play, and other kinds of systems that create meaning through play, this new volume greatly increases the range of narrative forms considered, while continuing to keep our previous concerns in play.

Given this, it’s probably no surprise that this is the biggest volume yet (more than 400 pages, though not, as the catalog currently states, more than 600). We continue to include the voices of practitioners and critics — for example, both Rafael Alvarez, who wrote for The Wire, and critic Jason Mittell reading The Wire‘s structure in game-like terms. We also continue to bring together popular arts (e.g., The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Watchmen, and Doctor Who) with experiments that will only be directly experienced by a select audience (e.g., Tamiko Thiel’s culture-crossing VR installations and Richard Grossman’s three-million-word, four-thousand-volume novel). And we also continue to connect the present and past, bringing in writing on vast narratives ranging from the early female superhero Miss Fury to Thomas Mann’s masterwork Joseph and His Brothers.

But shifting the focus to vast narrative also, of course, introduces discontinuities with the previous volumes.

April 19, 2009

Eight pounds, four ounces

Zoe smiles

Following Grand Text Auto tradition (Eva and Nataly and Jessica) Jen and are happy to welcome a daughter into our lives.

Zoe’s a couple months old now, and already stunning us with the pace at which she’s growing and changing. Meanwhile, I’m hoping for a slow return from my total blogging hiatus. I wish I could blog from the new GTxA show at the Krannert Art Museum, but I’m going to have to leave that role to Nick. (Thanks Nick!)

February 12, 2009

Call to Conlang

This March 21-22, at Brown University, there will be the 3rd (almost-annual) conference on constructed languages (CONLANGs). The organizers are accepting proposals and suggestions for sessions — in addition to all that’s already in store. More below!

January 22, 2009

Make Software as Culture with Warren Sack

Warren Sack — the software artist and theorist behind projects like Agonistics and Conversation Map — is leading up a new MFA for “artists working with software art, software design, and software studies.” Michael and I plan to lend a hand. Application deadline is Feb 15th, and there’s more information after the jump.

December 24, 2008

Geeks Bearing Gifts: New from Ted Nelson!

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:25 pm
Cover of Geeks Bearing Gifts

After a last-minute gift? I’m looking forward to receiving a copy of Ted Nelson’s brand-new book, Geeks Bearing Gifts: How the computer world got this way.

To my knowledge, this is the first new volume in years from the author of the original personal computer book (Computer Lib / Dream Machines) and developer of key concepts in digital media (most famously, hypertext), who remains one of the field’s consistently engaging thinkers.

November 25, 2008

FDG Doctoral Doctoral Consortium and Student Scholarships

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:26 pm

The 2009 Foundations of Digital Games conference is now accepting applications for two student-oriented programs. For PhD students there is a Doctoral Consortium, chaired by Ian Horswill, with applications due December 19th. For advanced undergraduate and Masters students there is a Student Scholarships program, chaired by yours truly, with a deadline of December 20th. Both provide ways for students to attend FDG free of charge, get additional feedback about their work, and make valuable connections. Please encourage students you know to apply!

November 21, 2008

A New Scholarship for Making Games

As reported earlier this fall by the San Jose Mercury News and others, UC Santa Cruz recently received more than $450,000 from Sony Computer Entertainment America (as part of a class-action settlement) to fund undergraduate scholarships.

I’m happy to announce that application information is now online. The first scholarships will be available to students applying this year — each will provide $10,000 to students entering the B.S. Computer Science: Computer Game Design degree.

November 11, 2008

Beyond the Screen, in Siegen

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:14 pm
Poster for Beyond the Screen

Next week I’ll be in Siegen, Germany for Beyond the Screen: Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces and Genres. Organizers Peter Gendolla and Jörgen Schäfer have put together a program in which I’m honored to participate, including my former Brown colleagues John Cayley and Roberto Simanowski as well as my current UC colleagues Rita Raley and N. Katherine Hayles.

The conference theme, as one might expect from the title, arises from examinations of works such as locative narratives, literary immersive environments, and what the organizers call “stagings” (using AR Facade as an example). I was invited, in part, because of my work on Screen (hopefully there’s no pun intended with the conference title).

I’m certainly interested in, and sympathetic toward, literary work that uses interfaces that move beyond the standard screen. But as I put together my presentation, I find myself wanting to use a chunk of my time to vent my frustration with tantalizing literary interfaces that do little to harness the combinatory possibilities they open. For example, at the Hybrid Ego show at this year’s Ars Electronica, I was excited to get my hands on Tablescape Plus. But while it was listed in the catalog with literary-sounding words (“users can develop new stories by changing the arrangement of the screens”) to me it was actually just an interface demonstration, with no fictional world beyond characters that could be made to bow to each other, sit next to each other, etc. Each combination resulted in an animation, but no state or history of the system could impact anything else. People with no histories and no futures aren’t characters. Events that happen in no consequential order aren’t stories.

October 27, 2008

Scalable City‘s Game

Scalable City

A new installation of Scalable City — created by Sheldon Brown and UCSD’s Experimental Game Lab — just opened at the Calit2 Gallery. While I haven’t seen the new version created for this installation (yet) the event prompts me to share a few thoughts about games, processes, and choice that Scalable City has helped me bring into focus.

I believe that games express ideas about the world through the design of their systems. Even a family tabletop game like Monopoly expresses something about the positive feedback loop of unregulated capitalism and its effects — inequality producing greater inequality — during its excruciating endgame. Of course, the systems of family-oriented board games tend, by necessity, to be relatively simple. Their players are responsible for carrying out all the processes involved, which means the rules can’t take too long to learn or execute.

Computer games, on the other hand, can have an immensely complicated set of processes in their repertoire.

October 20, 2008

Morality and Gameplay in “Bring Down the Sky”

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:00 am
Bring Down the Sky

I’ve been in the process of moving, one of my least favorite activities, so when I had an evening to give myself a break I decided to indulge by downloading “Bring Down the Sky” — the first DLC release for BioWare’s Mass Effect.

It was a pleasure to return to the Mass Effect universe — though, like many others, I was disappointed that so much of “Bring Down the Sky” focuses on the boring peek-a-boo tank combat that was probably the weakest element of the original game.

More troubling, however, was the morality embedded in “Bring Down the Sky.” Explaining this requires a little background. (Also, there are spoilers ahead, so don’t read further if you’d like to avoid them.)

October 14, 2008

Get an MFA with Noah, Michael, and company

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:11 pm

The Digital Arts and New Media MFA program at UC Santa Cruz is organized around a set of collaborative research areas — and I’m happy to announce a new one in Playable Media. The official description reads:

DANM’s Playable Media research explores the potential of computational systems for the creation of new media forms that invite and structure play. This group works to understand and create new ways for computer games and related forms to engage audiences, make arguments, tell stories, and shape social space. Ongoing Playable Media work combines game design and artificial intelligence research with writing, art, and media authoring.

September 7, 2008

Gaming Space at Ars Electronica 2008

This year’s Prix Ars Electronica recognized a tactile augmented reality game, a game sculpture, and the project behind an optical-illusion game that, as it happens, I spent quite a bit of time playing earlier this year (at the Game Developers Conference). Each got an honorary mention in the interactive art category. The larger Ars Electronica festival also featured something between an urban game, a flash mob, and a ritual. An engagement with space and physicality ran through them all.

Julian Oliver’s levelHead, like many augmented reality experiences, is experienced both immediately (at the site of non-augmented reality) and by looking in a video mirror (where the augmentation is visible). It’s a spatial navigation and memory game that involves moving an animated silhouette through photographic rooms of an odd, technically-oriented building (e.g., it has a “machine room”). The piece has been around since 2007, but I’ve never had a chance to play it before.

Like others I saw at Ars, drawn in from the moment they got their hands on the piece, I found it a pleasure just to hold the levelHead cube, see the image change as I tilted it, watch the figure walk, and so on. I wasn’t bothered at all by the flickering of the AR image — when I was playing I filtered it out, noticing it much more when I was a spectator (and it’s pretty evident in this video I took). However, on the other hand, I had persistent trouble with “playing in the mirror.” I didn’t make errors when I wanted to move the character side-to-side, but I kept tilting the cube toward me when I should have tipped it away (and vice versa). Obviously, given the AR nature of the interface, this isn’t something that should be “fixed” by allowing me to invert the vertical axis on my controller (this cube is no thumbstick). But I was surprised that I didn’t adapt during the period I played (which, admittedly, I would have liked to be longer, but there was a queue).

September 5, 2008

Ars Electronica 2008 Coverage

Since I’m not liveblogging Ars Electronica (it appears I’d need a new battery or two) here are a few links to those who are giving more coverage:

Joi Ito, the curator of this year’s “A New Cultural Economy” conference (first Ars 08 post, Flickr set).

David Weinberger is doing a valiant job of liveblogging “A New Cultural Economy” (first Ars 08 post).

Rather than the conferences, the art is being discussed on the SHOWstudio blog (first Ars 08 post).

Here are more Flickr folks: pieceoplastic, Judo10, Karli2000, and fumi.

September 4, 2008

Interaction, Interactivity, Interactive Art

Ars Electronica Festival 2008

I’m in Linz, Austria for the Ars Electronica Festival — and later today I’ll be speaking at the festival’s first conference: “Interaction, Interactivity, Interactive Art – a buzzword of new media under scrutiny.” I’ll try to blog what I can, updating this post as we go along. The conference is organized by the Ludwig Boltzmann Insitute for Media.Art.Research with intellectual leadership from Katja Kwastek and institute director Dieter Daniels.

The conference is broken into three sections. The first is titled “Interactive Art – with and without media” and includes Christiane Paul (Whitney Museum), Lars Blunck (Technical University Berlin), and Suzanne Lacy (Otis College of Art and Design). Right now the introductions are happening. Dieter Daniels is explaining that the Boltzmann Insitute is engaged with history, including pre- and non-digital history, as opposed to Ars Electronica’s focus on what is happening “right now” at the time of each festival.

August 24, 2008


Baskin Engineering

Welcome to the new home of Grand Text Auto! There are still a few lingering DNS problems, but if you’ve made it to this page you’re now seeing us at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering of UC Santa Cruz. Both Michael and Noah are now faculty in the Baskin School’s department of Computer Science — which hosts the UC system’s first computer game degree. We’ll be updating the template and doing some further changes soon.

July 23, 2008

Things We Think About Games

Things We Think cover

In the past, when Pat Harrigan and I both contributed to a book, it was always as the editors. But now Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball (from gameplaywright) have announced Things We Think About Games. Pat and I each shared a little of what we think with the book’s author/editors, as did such folks as John August, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, John Kovalic, Michelle Nephew, Philip Reed, S. John Ross, and Mike Selinker. Robin D. Laws calls the result an “unholy mixture of helpful guidebook and jabbing provocation.” I’m looking forward to holding one in my hands!

July 17, 2008

Second Person a Diana Jones Award Finalist

Diana Jones Award: For Excellence in Gaming

I’m honored to announce that Second Person is a finalist for the Diana Jones Award! Pat and I are very pleased to be in such great company, ranging from a major RPG (Grey Ranks) to an innovative festival (Come Out and Play), a worthy charity (Child’s Play), a popular podcast (Canon Puncture), and an innovative publishing model (Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design). We’re also impressed to have our book characterized as a “necessary, seminal volume” in the statement on the nominees.

June 28, 2008

SoftWhere 2008 videos

Last month UCSD hosted SoftWhere 2008 — the first software studies workshop in North America. It was a great experience compressed into a short time period, with one afternoon for an overview of the broad variety of work being done by participants and one morning for a set of focused discussions on the state of the field and possible future projects.

Now there are online videos available for a number of the presentations, each in a punchy “Pecha Kucha” style (under 7 minutes). They can be downloaded in QuickTime form at the workshop page and are becoming available on YouTube and in other forms.

June 12, 2008

The Future of Writing: Deadline Nears

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:30 am

June 30th is the proposal deadline for “The Future of Writing” — to be held November 6th and 7th at UC Irvine. Proposals are sought for digital art works and electronic literature (there will be an exhibit), individual presentations / demonstrations (15 min), and panels (70 min). The organizers’ interests are broad — as the CFP makes clear:

“The Future of Writing” is a mini-conference (November 6-7, 2008) designed to bring together scholars across the UC system and a cadre of nationally recognized experts to explore how the new communications technologies, particularly the Internet, are challenging previous conceptions of what “writing” is.

June 9, 2008

Grand (Text Auto) Convergence

I’m pleased to announce that soon, for the first time, two of GTxA’s bloggers will be at the same institution. This summer I’ll be joining Michael in the Computer Science department at UC Santa Cruz!

Like Michael, I was recruited by a search committee headed by regular GTxA commenter Jim Whitehead — who was also the mastermind behind the UC system’s first computer game degree. As UCSC grows in this area, we’re looking forward to developing research relationships with other labs, groups, and companies, both in the SF Bay Area and beyond.

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 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.

April 16, 2008

Software Studies Meets TechnoTravels/TeleMobility

As mentioned earlier, I very much enjoyed the first HASTAC conference. Now registration has opened for the second HASTAC iteration, themed “TechnoTravels/TeleMobility.” I’m also happy to say there will be a substantial selection of software studies content, including a panel featuring information from the first North American software studies workshop, special software studies presentations by Lev Manovich and Jeremy Douglass using the massive-resolution HiPerWall display at UC Irvine’s branch of Calit2, and a short talk by yours truly on the Expressive Processing blog-based peer review project.

April 8, 2008

IndieCade Deadline Nears

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:31 am

From the call:

Indiecade invites independent game artists and designers from around the world to submit interactive media of all types – from art to commercial, ARG to abstract, serious to shooter – for consideration. Work-in-progress is encouraged.

A diverse jury of industry leaders will select entries for top prizes at the IndieCade @ Open Satellite Festival. All entries for the Festival will also receive consideration for presentation at the other 2008 IndieCade international showcase exhibitions.

Submissions Deadline: April 11, 2008 at Midnight PST.

For more information and to enter:

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