January 31, 2008

EP 2.2: The Eliza Effect

I don’t remember the specifics of my first conversation with Eliza, but here is Eliza’s most famous exchange (with the computer’s responses in all capital letters):

Men are all alike.
IN WHAT WAY
They’re always bugging us about something or other.
CAN YOU THINK OF A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
YOUR BOYFRIEND MADE YOU COME HERE
He says I’m depressed much of the time.
I AM SORRY TO HEAR YOU ARE DEPRESSED
It’s true. I am unhappy. (more...)

January 30, 2008

EP 2.1: Meeting Eliza

When I was a teenager — in the 1980s — my mother bought a personal computer. It was an impressive machine for the day, decked out with two floppy drives, a dot matrix printer, a Hayes modem, and a monochrome amber display. At first I only used the machine for some minor programming experiments (in Basic and later Pascal), writing for school (in WordStar), and a few games. But that mysterious modem sat there. Probably intended to let my mother exchange data with the big Digital Equipment Corporation machines she had in her lab at the university, I knew modems could also be used for other things. (more...)

January 29, 2008

EP Meta: Chapter One

With today's post of section 1.6, we've reached the first major milestone of the Expressive Processing review. The entire first chapter has now been posted. Given this, I'd like to ask for further thoughts about issues that have been raised — and also invite wider discussion.

Here are some of the comments that stand out most for me, thus far: (more...)

EP 1.6: The Next Steps

Earlier I mentioned that this book will discuss three “effects” that arise in the relationship between system operations, surface presentation, and audience experience. These will serve as the major waypoints for the remainder of this volume. The first — “the Eliza effect” — is the well-known phenomenon in which audience expectations allow a digital media system to appear much more complex on its surface than is supported by its underlying structure. However, I will consider what most authors have ignored: during playful interaction with the simulated therapist for which the Eliza effect is named, the illusion breaks down rapidly. One alternative to breakdown, with a system of this sort, is to severely restrict interaction. Another is that pursued by many modern games: never building up the Eliza illusion, and instead clearly representing the operations of a simple system on the work’s surface. But these simple systems prove too limited for the fictional experiences games seek to make available to their players, resulting in breakdowns of a different type. This leaves only one option for those seeking to create ambitious playable fictions: more developed system models of story and character. (more...)

January 28, 2008

EP 1.5: Audiences and Processes

In this chapter I have talked about the perspectives from which I look at processes — perspectives that are authorial, critical, and political.

So far, however, there’s been little mention of something quite important about digital media processes: the fact that they don’t operate on their own. From web-based knowledge repositories to console-based video games, the operations of digital media are, in important ways, only truly realized in contact with audiences. A wiki’s processes mean little if the audience doesn’t use them to add data, edit it, and follow the connections embedded in it. Similarly, many of a game’s processes never come into operation if the game has no player. (more...)

January 26, 2008

A Companion to Digital Literary Studies

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:32 am
Cover of A Companion to Digital Literary Studies

Speaking of $200 books, I just received my copy of Blackwell's A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, edited by Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. It looks great, with essays by a range of interesting people, including digital media heavy-hitters like Alan Liu, Marie-Laure Ryan, Johanna Drucker, and GTxA's Nick Montfort. If you're at an academic institution, make sure your library is getting a copy.

January 25, 2008

mySpace, myCulture

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 7:36 am

Lauren Collins' 21 January 2008 article, "Friend Game: Behind the Online Hoax that led to a Girl's Suicide" seems to me as significant and timely an examination of online culture as Julian Dibbell's

EP 1.4: Politics and Processes

In 1974, the cover of Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines proclaimed, “You can and must understand computers NOW.”

Nelson’s book (mentioned earlier in this chapter’s discussion of Expressive AI) wasn’t a response to the ubiquity of computers. In fact, Nelson’s book was published the year before the first personal computer kit — the Altair — became available. At that time the number of computers was tiny by comparison with our present moment. Those that existed were carefully tended by teams of professionals (what Nelson called the computer “priesthood”) and determining their uses was considered the province of specialists. It seemed a long way from everyday life. (more...)

January 24, 2008

New AI Links: Books, Code Releases, Articles and a TV Show

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:09 pm

EP 1.3: Interpreting Processes

My second meaning for “expressive processing” is rather different — and itself has two elements.

First, it encompasses the fact that the internal processes of digital media are designed artifacts, like buildings, transportation systems, or music players. As with other designed mechanisms, processes can be seen in terms of their efficiency, their aesthetics, their points of failure, or their (lack of) suitability for particular purposes. Their design can be typical, or unusual, for their era and context. The parts and their arrangement may express kinship with, and points of divergence from, design movements and schools of thought. They can be progressively redesigned, repurposed, or used as the foundation for new systems — by their original designers or others — all while retaining traces and characteristics from prior uses. (more...)

January 23, 2008

EP 1.2: Authoring Processes

Figure 1.1: Authoring data and process.

A few paragraphs ago I said that the possibility of creating new simulated machines, of defining new computational behaviors, is the great opportunity that digital media offers. Seizing this opportunity requires a bit of a shift. It is common to think of the work of authoring, the work of creating media, as the work of writing text, composing images, arranging sound, and so on. But now one must think of authoring new processes as an important element of media creation. (more...)

January 22, 2008

EP 1.1: Media Machines

A computer is a strange type of machine. While most machines are developed for particular purposes — washing machines, forklifts, movie projectors, typewriters — modern computers are designed specifically to be able to simulate the operations of many different types of machines, depending on the computer’s current instructions. (more...)

Expressive Processing: An Experiment in Blog-Based Peer Review

Expressive Processing is the name of my forthcoming book about digital fictions and computer games, scheduled for publication next year by the MIT Press. Now is the time, in traditional academic publishing, when the press sends the manuscript out for peer review — anonymous commentary by a few scholars that guides the final revisions (and decisions). As Jeff Young reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education today, we've decided to do something a little different with Expressive Processing: asking the Grand Text Auto community to participate in an open, blog-based peer review. (more...)

January 20, 2008

Choose-Your-Own Dogma

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 6:31 pm

Malcolm Ryan, a frequent commenter on here who several of us recently heard undertaking to analyze a page of Peter Rabbit, has apparently been circulating the beginning of a manifesto pertaining to interactive narrative and drama systems. Most people in this area think of Dogz when they hear "dogmatic," but there's also the obedience to doctrine that the Dogme 95 filmmakers have pledged and the Dogma 2001 vows Ernest Adams proposed, following the lead of those filmmakers.

Grand Text Auto has managed to obtain the first vow from this still-secret document:

As a signatory to the 2007 Narrative AI Manifesto, I do hereby solemnly vow that:

1) I will no longer assign events a numeric "tension" value and plot a story as an Aristotelean "dramatic arc". I recognise that real stories contain situations and devices that are more semantically complex than can be represented by a sequence of numbers that rises and falls.

What else might be in store? We have some ideas ...

January 19, 2008

My Week in Review

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:35 am
  • I heard several wonderful talks from researchers at GAMBIT, the Singapore-MIT Game Lab. It was particularly good to hear from my new colleague, Jesper Juul, who has joined us as a lecturer in the program I'm in, Writing and Humanistic Studies. Welcome, Jesper!
  • Ian Bogost and I completed our book on the Atari VCS, Video Computer System: The Atari 2600 Platform. There is still copy-editing, indexing, design, production, much more to do before it manifests itself to the world, but we've got everything in to the press. Whew!

January 18, 2008

frog 2008

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 4:57 pm

There is a new call for proposals out for the 2008 Vienna Games Conference, to be held October 17 - 19th this year! The theme, “Future and Reality of Gaming” (F.R.O.G.), is incredibly interdisciplinary, intended to forge bridges between industry and academia. Representatives from design, industry, theory, culture, and education will be sharing their current findings and innovative models for thinking about games and for making them.

The organizers are seeking proposals from a range of folks including those who work in the areas of Education, Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Cultural Anthropology, the Arts, HCI, Media and Communication Studies, Philosophy, Social Science....

"Interested authors are requested to submit an extended abstract of approximately 1500 to 2000 words due 28th of March 2008 exclusively as email attachments (doc-files or rtf-files) to eva.frick@univie.ac.at."

The organizers promise an engaging and convivial atmosphere, and knowing these particular organizers, this conference

January 16, 2008

CFP: Virtual Pets Symposium

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:20 am

The AISB conference is holding their second virtual pets symposium, building upon the first one from last April.

The Reign of Catz & Dogz symposium aims to explore aspects of interaction with anthropomorphised embodied devices such as Aibo, Pleo, Paro and Nabaztag, software such as Catz, Dogz and Nintendogs, as well as the numerous non-commercial devices and systems that have been developed in many research labs. The world-wide popularity of many of the commercial examples of such artefacts provides evidence of the widespread appeal of interacting with artificial representations of creatures - however the academic investigation of such interactions remains scarce.

January 15, 2008

My Tiny Life Freed (Almost)

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 12:14 pm

As Julian Dibbell reports:

I am pleased to announce that my first book, the widely cited but long out-of-print MY TINY LIFE: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World (Being a True Account of the Case of the Infamous Mr. Bungle and the Author's Journey, in Consequence Thereof, to the Heart of a Half-Real World Called LambdaMOO), can now be downloaded in its entirety in a handsomely formatted PDF edition, completely free of charge. Or, if you prefer, the fine folks at Lulu will package up a perfect-bound paperback version for you . . .

January 12, 2008

Get Fat on Monday

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:36 am
Poster for Fatworld

Ian Bogost announces a Monday launch date for the new Persuasive Games title Fatworld (funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting). It looks to be a far cry from exergaming -- and from the constant bemoaning that "kids aren't getting outside because they spend all their time on those darn video games." While the game's not out yet, we can get an intriguing sense of its procedural rhetoric from the Fatworld page on the Persuasive Games site. Rather than simply telling people what they should do, it aims to expose the fact that "our culture and environment are actually structured to discourage healthy habits."

January 11, 2008

AIIDE 2008

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 10:44 am

AIIDE (AI and Interactive Digital Entertainment) is the premier conference for artificial intelligence, games, and other forms of interactive digital entertainment (disclosure: I'm the general chair of AIIDE this year). The Call For Papers is now available. Papers are due April 22. The conference will be held October 22-24, 2008. The full CFP follows:

January 10, 2008

10 Worst 10 Worst Lists of All Time

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 9:22 pm

Things are bad! And ten of them are the worst of all, the worst of all time. With that in mind, and in the spirit of looking into the bottom 5% of user-created content, Grand Text Auto presents you with this list of the 10 worst lists of 10 worst things.

[10] The 10 Best and 10 Worst IT-Related Super Bowl Commercials of All Time (So Far). The compilers of these two lists say "we must admit to a soft spot for monkeys," which won't save them from a fusillade of my abuse. The lists are not ranked, precluding an exciting buildup of interest; they can't keep themselves to ten and include an honorable mention; the article is broken up over six pages for no good reason; and there is only one case in which the commercial itself is included - every other entry just has a textual description. The payoff we get for clicking through this is learning about things like Autobytel.com's lugubrious advertisement The Pajama Purchase. And, as the one person who bothered to comment on this list has written: "You should post a follow-up article to this: Top 10 worst spelling and grammar mistakes in this article."

Taking Tabletop Seriously: Second Person part 1

While in game studies we often reference tabletop role-playing games -- especially Dungeons & Dragons -- there are few academic press publications that take them seriously, and much of the discussion situates tabletop games as computer game incunabula. Pat Harrigan and I decided to take a different approach with Second Person, inviting a range of RPG practitioners and theorists to look carefully at tabletop structures, experiences, and histories, with or without reference to their digital counterparts.

We're very happy with the results -- and now I'm happy to announce that these essays are becoming part of the First Person thread on electronic book review. This not only makes them publicly available, but also brings them into ebr's network of ripostes, glosses, enfoldings, and so on. We'll be adding the essays to ebr over time, this is only the first release, and I'm excited to see that a couple thought-provoking ripostes are already present.

This release begins with our overall Second Person introduction and an introduction to round one of Tabletop Systems. There are also three full-length essays:

January 8, 2008

A New Hyperrhiz

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 11:10 pm

Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, a peer-reviewed online journal specializing in new media and net art, has a new issue out. It features work by Thom Swiss, Mark Marino, Braxton Soderman, Stephanie Strickland and Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, Jaka Zeleznikar, Michael Peters, and Jeanne Hamming.

January 3, 2008

Five Keynotes in Miniature

from Grand Text Auto
by @ 5:39 pm

the product owner is at it again You can skip your 2008 video game conferences and just read the keynotes, in five easy pieces. Thanks to dfan for this one.

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