Grand Text Auto

October 30, 2004

State of Play II-04 NY Law School, online economics

by mary @ 8:56 am

more from Day 1, State of Play II.
The economic and work aspects of gaming were analyzed in depth on the panel Virtual Property/Real World Markets: Making a Living in a Virtual World. Aside from the current economic practices such as exchanging characters and materials on ebay (and this ebay market has been said to be significantly large enough to affect real economies, see Castronova), further economic implications lurk for all of what is being called “the play economy.” While raising far too many questions than could be answered in a 90 minute session, the issues brought forward in the discussion resulted in a compelling conversation about the social impact of games.

Virtual work was most interestingly addressed by Julain Dibbell, who noted that in games, one could make the choice to include *real* work within — such as analyzing xrays for cancer screening — into game environments, thus effectively transferring real paid and skilled labor into a game. Dibbell even goes on to suggest that games represent the brink of a revolution akin to the 19th century industrial revolution.

The trick would simply be a design issue - how the activity works within the play rules and game narrative. We can always trade money for time, so perhaps developers can, should and will incorporate the game economy into their games. While this idea may — even to Dibbell — be somewhat “science fiction” in nature and tone, it may have serious overall cultural implications about the amorphous continuum between work and play. In other words, if players are receiving steady rewards, but these activities into work, and it blurs the lines between these categories completely.

I’d like to take this back to the design table, however, to issue a challenge to we game designers:

Could we use these themes of mixing work and play to benefit others’ social situations– in other worlds, for activism? Could a game be designed to incorporate “real work” that is “real fun” that also changes the living situations of real people for the better? I think so, and would like to invite people who are highly engaged in game design and interested in collaborating on this to contact me — let’s see what’s possible!

Digital Media 2004

by nick @ 2:24 am

I guess it shouldn’t amaze me, but it does. The Bush campaign’s use of digital media and the “Internets” seems to have so far involved digitally cloning supporters, sending emails to coordinate the suppression of the minority vote, and of course blocking the world from reading its website. They also have a new game, as I’ve mentioned on here already, which is accessible globally thanks to Water Cooler Games.

Meanwhile, those who favor Kerry (or just want any president who hasn’t already led the country into a war based on a lie) seem to be using digital media, and urging others to use it, in quite different ways. Michael Moore is recruiting a “video army” to document attempts at election fraud. The previously apolitical Eminem offers for free download a video that is not to be missed, “Mosh,” calling for an army as well. (Daily Kos has a great writeup on the politics of “Mosh” and its relationship to games like Grand Theft Auto and movies like Fight Club, by the way.) It heartens me that some people are rising to the occasion of the election, even as others attempt to keep 23,000 citizens from voting and (in my own city) try to move the polling places of black voters out from under them:

Race played a role in at least five of the requests, according to Matt Robb, the Republican leader of the 48th ward in South Philadelphia. Robb said he allowed his name to be used because those polling places are in neighborhoods he doesn’t wish to visit.

“It’s predominantly, 100 percent black,” said Robb, who is white. “I’m just not going in there to get a knife in my back.”

It’s a crazy world when Michael Moore and Eminem are what I need to restore my faith in humanity, but I’m grateful for whoever provides just enough spark that we need to proceed.

October 29, 2004

State of Play II-04 NY Law School, digital property

by mary @ 4:51 pm

The morning panel at the State of Play conference 2 here at the NY Law School was invigorating; David Johnson from the NY Law School led a discussion of Intellectual Property/Digital Property. The panelists, an amazing mix of lawyer, culture worker, and theorist, provided a glimpse at a range of approaches towards IP law in online worlds and specifically games.


IF Walkthroughs

by scott @ 12:14 am
IF Walkthroughs
Nick, Scott, Star, Dan, and Emily after IF Walkthroughs

Wednesday night at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, I played host and interactor for the IF Walkthroughs event. Although Nick has done a pretty good job of familiarizing me with the world of interactive fiction (incessantly) virtually since the first moment I met him at DAC ‘99, I have never felt as engaged with this form, with its heritage in the ancient riddle and the Zork games of my adolescence, as I did after interacting with Slouching towards Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star C. Foster, Nick’s work-in-progress Book and Volume, and Emily Short’s Savoir-Faire.

October 28, 2004

Where to Vote

by noah @ 3:24 pm

In the U.S., many people don’t vote because they’re not sure of their polling place. This year the Internet will help, with sites like MyPollingPlace. Also, this year people who are told they aren’t registered to vote can cast “provisional ballots.” As tells us, “If you are sure you are in the correct polling place and the officials claim you are not registered, ask for a provisional ballot and fill it out correctly. You are entitled to one by law.

October 26, 2004

Blocking the World on Cue

by nick @ 7:41 pm

I recently blogged about a presidential campaign site located in Uruguay, encouraging people, such as my fellow US citizens, to check out the political expression going on there, and to learn some about another country’s politics by doing this. Unfortunately, people in Uruguay and other countries are now not allowed to view the campaign Web site of the president of the United States. Netcraft offers some charts and additional details. (If you live in the US you can reach Bush’s site, or you can check to see that you can’t if you live elsewhere.) Of course, US citizens who live overseas and are voting by mail, and those who are currently overseas and will be returning to vote in person in the November 2 election, use the same networks and are also being denied access to this president’s site. John Kerry’s site is still accessible overseas.

Update, Oct 27: longer story from Wednesday, story picked up by The Register, still no comment from the campaign. Oct 28: Hanna, Jill, and Gonzalo at WCG noted the story here and blogged about it, with Gonzalo offering a mirror of Bush’s campaign game; there is now a top cluster of tech news on Google News containing about 94 stories on this blocking from different sources: The Washington Post, Slashdot, ABC News, The BBC, etc.

To Live and Die in Los Santos

by andrew @ 7:11 pm

The newest release from Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, available today for the PS2, has already garnered extremely positive critical reviews, and from what I can tell looks to be a masterpiece. Interactive narrative-wise, the reviews say that like previous GTA3 titles — which in 2001 broke new ground in combining detailed virtual world simulation with freeform gameplay and mission-oriented narrative — San Andreas also has a fairly linear story, but the sheer size and scope of this new action/adventure is larger than ever. Players have three complete cities to play in — takeoffs of LA, SF and Vegas, each their own mini-societies. Furthermore, ~50% of the content is found off of the 100+ quests main storyline, including playing classic arcade games and billiards, working out at the gym if you overeat at Burger Shot, dressing well, dating women, dancing, and joyrides and racing out of the city on winding country roads.

Sounds like one of the richest virtual worlds that’s ever been built. Between San Andreas and Katamari Damacy, I might just have to buy myself a PS2… (My copy of Sims 2 for the PC also still sits on my desk, waiting to be installed…)

Two positions at Tech

by michael @ 6:03 pm

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve had a chance to post. Lame… I’ll try to write a real post soon, but in the mean time, please enjoy this lovely job ad for two positions at Georgia Tech. If you do new media work at the intersection of theory and practice, please consider applying; we’d love to have you on the LCC team.

Budget permitting, the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology will make two tenure-track assistant professor appointments.
1) Film and Media Studies with an emphasis on the intersection of traditional and digital media. Preference for an established research trajectory and teaching experience that could include film history, film theory, media studies, and digital technology with possible additional interests in television and cross-cultural issues.
2) Digital Media Theory and Practice. Requires evidence of sophisticated digital practice and theoretical insight in one or more of the following areas: interactive cinema or documentary, enhanced television, immersive environments, multi-user environments, games as social networks, procedural art, electronic literature, or information architecture. Both positions offer the opportunity for graduate and undergraduate teaching. Normal teaching load is 2/2. Ph.D. or appropriate terminal degree required for both positions.

October 25, 2004

State of Play II

by scott @ 6:35 pm

stateofplay2 This weekend, Mary Flanagan and I will be appearing at NYU Law School as the official GTxA Press Corps to cover the State of Play II: Reloaded conference. The conference program promises an intellectually stimulating couple of days, covering topics at the intersection of law and gaming such as Intellectual Property/Digital Property, Avatar Rights, Virtual Liberty, and Free Expression in Virtual Worlds, Virtual Property/Real World Markets: Making a Living in a Virtual World, The Culture of Play, and Dispute Resolution and Trust Building in Virtual Worlds. It would appear that registration is still open. I won’t be there until Friday, and probably won’t post anything until after the conference, but look for reports from us next week.

October 23, 2004

Wired and the vision thing

by noah @ 3:49 pm

It’s a sad fact that, in the mid-1990s, as the field of digital media anticipated by Ted Nelson’s 1974 Computer Lib / Dream Machines exploded in size, the book was out of print and many new to the field were largely unfamiliar with Nelson’s work — and quite a few even with his name.

Wired magazine, the most prominent publication for new and aspiring ’90s ‘digerati,’ ran a story in June 1995 that introduced many to Nelson’s work. Unfortunately, the piece was dedicated to making Nelson out in the worst possible light — beginning with its title, ‘The Curse of Xanadu.’ Nelson was called ‘the king of unsuccessful software development.’ (I won’t link to the article, but you can find it via web search, if you’re looking for drivel.)

There are many ways of disputing the presentation of Nelson in Wired’s article, but at this moment it might be more interesting to make a comparison with a figure from digital media’s history that Wired has presented rather differently — Nicholas Negroponte. Wired has identified Negroponte, among many glowing appellations, as ‘the Media Lab’s visionary founder.’ My question here is: What made Nelson ‘unsuccessful’ and Negroponte ‘visionary’ in Wired’s estimation?


October 21, 2004

Literary Lemmas

by nick @ 2:58 pm
from At War

Jean-Michel Espitallier, poet and editor of Java, read at the Kelly Writers House yesterday, offering some poems that join mathematical principles with language and its sounds in ways that aren’t exactly Oulipian, but are certainly reminiscent of the algorithmic approaches of that group. And Espitallier’s work has something else in common with that of the Oulipo: it was playful and fun, even if it takes on rather serious topics. Espitallier and his translator, Sherry Brennan, read from the new chapbook Fantasy bouch�re (Butcher Fantasy) and read several other pieces, showing a video work in progress that is based on his “De la guerre civile” (”On Civil War”). The Writers House has three of his poems (with translations) online. Of these, “De la guerre civile” (”On Civil War”), from Le Theorem d’Espitallier, is certainly the most principled in its construction.

Links from Distraction

by andrew @ 8:52 am

Again I am unable to find the time write a post this week, but I think I have an even better excuse this time. (Pardon me for a moment… YYYEEEAAAHHHH!!! *cough* ahem.) (Oh, and I also just finalized an offer yesterday on our first house, which took some extra time too — we’re moving from Boston to Portland, Oregon in January.)

Anyhow, I’ll contribute links to others’ interesting writings, in case you haven’t seen them yet:

Raph Koster, lead designer of the Star Wars Galaxies MMOG and Ultima Online and an implementor of LegendMUD, has written A Theory of Fun, to be available in a few weeks. A press quote says, “Raph’s intention here is to write an Understanding Comics for computer games: an accessible, lay-oriented text that explains, finally, what this medium means…”

The Public Beta folk will soon be publishing Difficult Questions About Videogames in which 71 contributions from CEOs, developers, journalists, academics and players were culled from 969 initial responses to an open call for opinions.


October 20, 2004

Academic Blogs

by noah @ 11:18 pm

I’ve been thinking about a few things related to academic blogs, but rather than roll them all into one mega-post I think I’ll post them one at a time. For starters, I was struck by some reasons for academic blogging noted by Liz Lawley and a group of social software all-stars:

  • speed of publishing (and dissemination),
  • spontaneity,
  • the ability to publish (and get feedback on) work in progress,
  • an increased authorial/personal voice (in contrast to the typical passive voice of academic writing),
  • bypassing of the editorial process, and
  • increased distributed peer review.

Part of what struck me about this list is that is doesn’t include some of the main reasons we had for starting GTxA.


October 18, 2004

Leonardo LABS

by scott @ 11:40 pm

Leonardo recently announced a project that is likely to become a great resource for new media students and scholars:

LABS is a comprehensive database of abstracts of Ph.d, Masters and MFA theses in the emerging intersection between art, science and technology. Persons who have received advanced degress in arts (visual, sound, performing, text), computer sciences, the sciences and/or technology which in some way investigate philosophical, historical, critical or applications of science or technology to the arts� are invited to submit an abstract of their thesis for publication consideration in this database.


by scott @ 11:29 pm

Jewelboxing looks like a nice DIY packaging solution for folks looking to hawk their short-run digital wares at conference schwag tables, arty bookstores and the like.

October 17, 2004

Book, Reader and More

by nick @ 10:13 pm

Jill got the scoop already: At the second event in the Digital Arts and Electronic Literature Series, on Friday, Noah and I gave readings and talked about new media history.

Nick and Noah
Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin determine the order in which they will deliver their serious literary addresses.

Noah discussed the history of hypertext (and the meaning of “hypertext”), described the concept of instrumental text and the more general notion of the textual instrument that can “play” upon several different texts, and read from Regime Change and News Reader. I showed my in-progress interactive fiction Book and Volume, using that as a framework for a discussion of four influential electronic literature pieces and as an excuse for making a few comments about the history of the Z-machine and Inform. (I have a good bit more development work to do … I’ll do the first proper reading of Book and Volume on Wednesday Oct 27, at the Kelly Writers House, where three other authors will read from two other recent, and award-winning, IF pieces.) Thanks to the many who turned out on that Friday night, despite the nearby lure of Atlantic City, and thanks to Scott for having us out to speak. It was a great event.

Habitat’s New Media Makeovers

by noah @ 10:29 am

The Interactive Project Lab (IPL) is a collaboration between the Banff Centre’s Banff New Media Institute, the Canadian Film Centre’s Habitat New Media Lab in Toronto, and L’Institut national de l’image et du son in Montreal. Habitat is now accepting applications for slots in a 6-week IPL “Project Makeover” workshop that begins November 5th. Applications will be accepted until Friday, October 22nd at 5:00pm. The twelve (12) positions in the IPL Workshop will be awarded to the first twelve qualified applicants who apply. (The Habitat announcement follows.)


October 14, 2004

Casa de Cambio

by nick @ 5:10 pm

From the gaming house of Gonzalo Frasca comes the first political videogame for a non-U.S. presidential election, the election in Uruguay: “Cambiemos” (Let’s Change.)

Frasca's Cambiemos“Cambiemos” is a short, positive game that is both fun and seems to be good at expressing political principles: rebuilding is important, rebuilding takes work and cooperation, you have to be perceptive as you work, … even “you can fix your mistakes if you have time,” I think. It’s not a Boalian system for working out people’s political approaches through play - and unless Boal runs for office again, I don’t think any political campaign would pay for Gonzalo to whip up one of those - but it is something else that’s pretty interesting. I have to admit that like it better than the Dean game, which was more of a campaign volunteer’s manual than an interestingly-presented political statement. “Cambiemos” is easy to play, not being fast-paced at all. It also has good gameplay, and is aesthetically pleasing, making good use of black-and-white and color images.

The game was announced on and mentioned on Elastico (in Spanish). You don’t need to know Spanish to play the (self-explanatory) game. It has sound, so this is another one you should unmute for, here. Gonzalo’s announcement provides some political context.

Level 17: Tear-Jerker

by andrew @ 4:19 pm

Coming up for air after several intense weeks of crunch time at work, west coast travel and Façade debugging, I will simply link to Rob Zubek’s recent post summarizing a recent series of articles, essays and discussions about Interactive Story, starting with comments from Spielberg and Zemeckis, then a reaction from Chris Remo (who last month ranted well with “I kill you”), and follow-up reactions from Walter Kim and the Slashdot Games community.

On a related note, I’m excited to have just found out that a Game Developers Conference 2005 panel proposal of ours was just accepted, “Why Isn’t the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories?” The goal for the panel will be to discuss the obstacles to achieving a deeper vision of interactive stories / drama, and realistic ways to get there, in terms of technology and design. I’ll be moderating and participating in the discussion between panelists Neil Young of EA (fingered in the aforelinked essays), Warren Spector, Michael Mateas and more.

Michael and I also have a Programming lecture proposal accepted, on the topic of “Towards Deeper Natural Language in Games”, where we’ll discuss the need for language understanding and generation in order to create interactive experiences about human relationships and the human condition. Part of the talk will be describing the NL approach we took with Fa�ade, how well that worked and didn’t work, ideas for improvement and pointers to current research.

In the next week or so Michael and I plan to write up some posts describing some of our recent travel, including a workshop Michael attended at USC on evaluating embodied conversational agents, and a day we spent at USC’s military-funded Institute for Creative Technologies, one of the world’s largest academic labs focused on AI-based interactive characters and drama, applied to training.

Fallujah Flash

by nick @ 1:09 pm

A new piece, [ FALLUJAH . IRAQ . 31/03/2004 ] is up at Turbulunce. It’s one of seven there by Michael Takeo Magruder. Some of his other pieces there are more intricate and offer interactvie options; this one is simpler in its form, meditative, and worth a look, even if your time is short. It has sound, so unmute as you visit the piece.

Magruder's Fallujah “Fallujah, Iraq, 31/03/2004 - According to witnesses and U.S. officials, four American ‘civilians’ were ambushed and shot or beaten to death by Iraqi insurgents. Townspeople mutilated the bodies of the men, dragged them through the streets, lynched them from a bridge, and burned them while crowds danced and cheered…” As Magruder’s notes explain, video of the mutilations of the bodies was shot by an AP crew, but not shown; the “‘civilian’ casualties were mercenaries employed by Blackwater Security Consulting, of Moyock, N.C.” News about the event is still online from Fox and a college paper (printing a Washington Post story.)

October 13, 2004

RFID Tags and Privacy

by scott @ 6:21 pm

This afternoon, NPR’s Talk of the Nation broadcast an interesting story on RFID technology and privacy concerns, and discussed RFID technologies ranging from bracelets to help parents at Denmark’s Legoland theme park find their stray children to subdermal implants which can be used for hospital patients to carry their medical histories under their skin.

Two Hypertext Bookmarks

by nick @ 12:58 am

What exactly happened to the link-and-node hypertext novel? We don’t have to carry out that much of an investigation to see what’s going on with Flash poetry, or the network novel, or interactive fiction. But what’s up with the venerable form used by the soi-disant wunderkinder authors of The Unknown, the one in which Victory Garden took root, in which Shelley Jackson stitched together her Patchwork Girl?

Praying to Frank Circa 1968-1969

Well, I’ll keep you in suspense no longer: Folks are still writing these sorts of things. Below, I’ll mention a few nice aspects of two recent, lengthy works of hypertext fiction I’ve managed to dip into. I’ll be reading more, when I can afford to, of both Praying to Frank, the first hypertext novel by Damon M. Smith, and a new work by veteran hypertext writer Edward Falco, Circa 1967-1968.


October 12, 2004

“Hypermedia” @ the Orange Lounge

by noah @ 12:49 am

Atari Poetry IVThanks to a tip from Scott, I recently visited the “Orange Lounge” at South Coast Plaza (part of the Orange County Museum of Art) — a space “devoted exclusively to the presentation and interpretation of video, computer and Internet-based art, audio works, and other forms of new media.” A welcome addition to the SoCal scene!

The inaugural show (which closed September 26) was titled “Hypermedia.” Unfortunately, none of the work happened to “branch or perform on request.” But I enjoyed the show, and there was even a piece of game-oriented elit!


October 11, 2004

Aspect celebrates “Joie de Vivre”

by noah @ 11:58 pm

Aspect: The Chronicle of New Media Art has a new call for participation. This issue’s theme “reflects an interest in artwork that conveys some levity or joy in its subject matter.” Aspect is a DVD magazine, and they seek video that documents artworks in experimental, installation, digital, and other formats hard to communicate well on paper. Deadline 15 December 2004. (More info follows.)


October 10, 2004

Glazier’s Windows Restored

by nick @ 10:35 pm

Anatman... book coverA Review of Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm
Loss Pequeño Glazier
Salt Press
112 pp.

Loss Pequeño Glazier may have just experienced his geek apotheosis on Slashdot last December, but he’s a poet whose digitally engaged work, both creative and critical, has been progressing since before the time of Mosaic. His book of poems Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm is an engaging investigation of how the projects of poetry and computer technology can jostle our cultures and our imaginations. It’s “The Comedian as the Language C,” a voyage to the south, powered by Unix.

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