Grand Text Auto

August 30, 2004

New Media Histories

by mary @ 12:48 pm

Since ISEA has been a theme not only in GTxA but in various lists, blogs, etc, I thought I�d add this. As noted by other drivers @ GTxA, the art and science distinction is still a discussion point even within a field developed from this assumption. I think that has more to do with the institutionalized spaces in which many ISEA participants work, and not an inherent difficulty in the topics or fields. But the important question is, how can this be addressed?

As Errki Huhtamo noted in his ISEA keynote on mobile technologies (with images thanks to Jill Walker), Carolyn Marvin�s words are appropriate when characterizing new media: ‘Media are not fixed objects: they have no natural edges. They are constructed�the history of media is no more or less than the history of its uses�’ Marvyn’s book, When Old Techologies Were New, has always been inspirational to me.

It seems as though looking at alternate histories of how we concoct these technologies in the first place is an important step in making sure we do not �fix� a medium characterized by its fluidity. All of us, especially teachers and lecturers in new media, must consciously avoid reinforcing a particular �accepted� history, but rather offer a multiplicity of histories of new media. These multiplicities could certainly include various art and design movements, in particular, fluxus and performance or everyday practices, or even alternate forms of experimental thinking such as sci fi. In the Rapunsel talk at ISEA on the “Cultural Softwares” panel, I noted that Yoko Ono’s “instruction paintings�, for example, might be a profound way to introduce instruction - based thinking to those not familiar with programming concepts. One could think of crossing disciplinary boundaries and remember the idealistic thinking of the Bauhaus participants rather than rely upon technology narratives alone. What do you think?

Façade and The Bus Station

by michael @ 11:54 am

I was pleased by the reception of Façade at ISEA. There was pretty much someone playing it all the time, and often a line waiting to play.

For me, one of the surprising aspects of Façade is how well it seems to work as a group activity. At Level Up, GDC and ISEA (as well as more informally at TIDSE), we saw that people who are watching someone play Façade seem almost as engaged as the player herself. The audience is often laughing, offering suggestions, and commenting among themselves about the story. This runs counter to the results of an early ’90s Oz project experiment, The Bus Station. The purpose of the Bus Station experiment was to determine whether interactive drama, conceived of as a dramatic world inhabited by autonomous characters in which the player occupies a first-person perspective, with a drama manager watching over the world and issuing instructions to the characters in order to create a longer term dramatic arc, could actually create an engaging experience for the player. In a sense it was a sanity check to make sure that it was actually worth developing a bunch of AI technology for the characters and drama manager. In the Bus Station, the player stands on a stage with improv actors. The actors improvise around a loose script, simulating the autonomous characters. A director sits in the audience, simulating the drama manager. The director gives the actors direction via wireless headsets. In the scenario, the player is waiting in a bus station with several other characters, including the Punk. The situation escalates to the point that the Punk pulls a knife. The Clerk offers the player a gun; the player must decide whether she will shoot the Punk or not. In addition to the players on stage, there were several non-interacting audience members watching. In post-experience interviews, the players found the experience intense, fast paced, engaging, while the audience members found it slow, inconsistent (the director would sometimes tell actors to reverse what they were doing) and non-engaging. The experiment showed that interaction and immersion can create powerful player experiences, but that these experiences may not be engaging to passive observers (interactive drama is structurally different from experiences intended for non-interacting audiences). Based on this, one would predict that an experience like Fa�ade would not be engaging to spectators, yet in several venues now we’ve seen that it is. What’s different between Fa�ade and The Bus Station? Are we just seeing novelty effects?

August 29, 2004

It Hits the Gamespot

by nick @ 12:07 pm

Michael is interviewed pretty extensively in a long Gamespot article on academics and computer games. The illustrated piece, unfortunately broken up into 18 ad-revenue-generating pages, is built around discussions with Michael as well as Janet Murray, Gonzalo Frasca, Christopher Lowood, and Paul D. Miller. Andrew’s mentioned in discussion of Façade; Grand Text Auto gets a special plug. Plenty of topics are taken on in the piece, from newsgaming to Army gaming to machinima to Janey Murray’s fated and fateful encounter with Mad Dog McCree.

Thanks to Ian for pointing the way to this bonanza.

New to Grand Text Auto? Check out our new comprehensive index of all our posts from the past year. Here you’ll find many links to short essays, debates and rants about games, interactive story, art and science, the net, conferences…

August 28, 2004

ISEA 2004: art/sci and Penny’s paper

by michael @ 12:06 pm

This post was jointly written by Michael and Noah.

ISEA was a remarkable concentration of people bringing together technology and the arts. But there was an odd fixation, in many of the discussions, on the notion of “art/sci collaborations.” It seems that many who spoke at ISEA think of “artist” and “scientist” as exclusive categories — inhabitants of each unable to even glimpse far within the culture of the other, much less participate in both cultures. Significant work is needed, we were told, to find better ways for these vastly different beings to communicate and collaborate, so that the work of art/sci can move forward.

What makes this puzzling is that much of the foundational work for the ISEA community was created by people like Myron Krueger — people who worked on both the scientific and artistic aspects of their projects. People who saw these aspects as inextricably entwined (or “deeply intertwingled”) rather than as the separate territory of deeply different types of people.


8-Bit Pedagogy, a Game Game, We Are Worthy, Top-Down Bottom-Up, and What is Knowledge anyway

by andrew @ 9:50 am

Andre Lamothe, author of several game programming books that I’ve found handy, has launched XGameStation: as Slashdot describes, it’s “a retro level hardware platform, similar to the old Atari and NES systems, designed to teach enthusiasts and students the elements of console hardware design and effective low level programming skills.” Wow! Cool.

Two bloggers independently come up with a great idea at the same time — someone should make a game that explores the meaning of games themselves, a la McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Must be something in the water.

Gamespot’s got a new essay on games as worthy of academic study.

There are video games that have something to offer beyond their base entertainment value — even without so-called literary content. They are the media in which [previously existing] art forms can be combined into a single multidisciplinary edifice.

Justin Hall muses on the right balance between top-down authoring and bottom-up emergence, something we’ve thought about too (pdf, search for “sandbox”).

And Rob Zubek points us to an especially good 1993 essay that goes back to basics to explain “what is knowledge representation“?

August 27, 2004

Implementation Updated; Final Phases Near

by nick @ 2:44 pm

Thanks to one of the Implementation authors who is an intrepid and prolific digital photographer (not me), I’ve just loaded up a new Baltic update to the Implementation site. The more than 100 new photos occupy huge tracts of disk (15MB) and picture bits of Implementation on the Baltic Sea and in Helsinki (where sticker art seems not too uncommon), Stockholm, and Tallinn. There’s even one site from Amsterdam that is pictured. This update follows fast upon the sizable and diverse “Pour la France” update supplied by yet another anonymous photographer and project participant. And we have some more photos waiting to be processed, too…

Six of the eight installments of Implementation have now been published, by the way. Please enjoy them however you see fit! Checking out the photos online, reading the installments online, downloading and affixing the texts, photographing your placements and sending the photos in — these are all among the recommended techniques for savoring Implementation, of course.

August 26, 2004

List of Urban Mobile Games

by scott @ 9:01 pm

One for location-based buffs, via Howard Rheingold et al., a list of urban mobile games.

Rickman on SIGGRAPH

by andrew @ 5:00 pm

I meant to post this a few days ago when I initially read it — our antimodal friend Brandon Rickman, a frequent GTxA commenter, has written a couple of posts (1 2) about SIGGRAPH from two weeks ago. Sounds like as we feared, SIGGRAPH’s appeal has dwindled a bit when compared to previous recent years, particularly the art gallery and panel sessions.

Handbook of Computer Game Studies

by nick @ 12:52 pm

Looks like The Handbook of Computer Game Studies, edited by Joost Raessens and Jeffrey Goldstein, is due out from MIT Press in January 2005. Both of the editors are from the University of Utrecht; The broad and nearly 500-page collection includes articles on video game prehistory, psychological research, video games vs. film and literature, and cultural connections. The contributor list includes several usual suspects (Henry Jenkins, Jesper Juul, Katie Salen, Sherry Turkle, Mark J. P. Wolf, Eric Zimmerman), a few less usual but well-known suspects (e.g., Justin Hall), and numerous other names I’m not familiar with — presumably some of those are coming from the psychological, film, or “prehistorical” angles.

The book’s goal of being a “comprehensive scholarly treatment” of game studies seems a little difficult for it to attain, if it means to be comprehensive by representing the writing of all the major scholars. From the list, it seems there are no contributions from Aarseth, Eskelinen, Ryan, or Tosca (the editors of Game Studies), from Castronova, Frasca, or others who have published in Game Studies, with the exception of Juul; from Brenda Laurel, Stuart Moulthrop or Janet Murray; from any of the presenters at the Princeton video game conference; or from those at several notable blogs and labs. That’s probably just a testament that game studies has already grown to be a sizable field with many important researchers. Whether or not this new book comprehends the field, through, it seems like it will offer a lot that is new to me, and that it’s poised to bring some interesting and previously segregated perspectives on computer gaming together.

August 25, 2004

ISEA Fashion (Wearable Computing) Report

by scott @ 11:18 pm

led wearable thingieThe Tallinn portion of the ISEA conference was focused on wearable computing. Although I didn’t attend many of the panel sessions on this topic, my general impression from the keynote, from the exhibition, and from the runway of the fashion show at Club Bon Bon in Estonia is that wearable computing has a long way to go. It seems that as a culture, we have not yet worked out how (or if) we want computers to function in our clothing. Another problem with wearable computing is that the majority of current funding for the technology comes from either a) the military-industrial complex or b) the fashion industry. This makes sense, but the sources of funding seem to constrict the imagination of designers in a variety of ways. The military wants wearable computing that will make for better soldiers, that will make for safer military service and better killing machines. The fashion industry is by its nature interested in disposable objects, in making things that serve an aesthetic purpose of limited duration.


Playboy’s Girls of Gaming

by scott @ 8:05 pm

CNN is running a story on the upcoming October issue of Playboy, which will feature a photospread on the Women of Gaming — that is the virtual characters. Perhaps it won’t be too long before all of Playboy’s photospreads are CGI. The story also covers a slough of recent adults-only games, and discusses potential industry concerns that “female characters appearing topless could reinforce the outdated stereotype of gamers as shut-in losers who lack any sort of social skills.” It also notes, however that the gaming demographic is now generally older than it used to be, with the average gamer a crusty 29 years old, and the average game buyer 36 years old, making it a good match for Playboy’s (33 year-old median) demographic.


by mary @ 2:58 pm

Have you seen Kaena: The Prophesy yet? Caught it at the Red Vic cooperatively owned theatre in San Francisco. Like her colleague Dr. Aki Ross of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Kaena is another youthful virtual heroine meant to save a people and a planet from absolute annhilation. While crawling around on the most lovely-rendered branch-architecture-world I’ve seen since the short “Cathedral” at SIGGRAPH 2003, Kaena practically bursts her high tech bodysuits in virtual exuberance crawling around her planet Axis. MANY moments of homage to Oshii’sGhost in the Shell as well… Sometimes feeling like a mod, sometimes Matrix like, and oddly, sometimes Jungle-Book inspired character animation styles clash in the weirdest pop culture mix I’ve seen on the big screen. Is this what EuroDisney feels like?
Unusual bonus: As the character learns more in the film, her breasts appear to grow. Talk about innovative character stats interface design…?

August 24, 2004

You Got Your IRC in My Newspaper

by nick @ 11:31 pm is a fascinating record of IRC, occasionally containing amusing real quotes from conversations that aren’t staged especially for the sake of

For extra credit, develop a computational literary project that takes as input the URL of a specific conversation, such as this one, and produces as output a 20th-century-style newspaper item relating the conversation, using some random journalistic variations, such as this one:

In a development that has disturbed many in the community, online communication occurred late yesterday. Using the IRC channel #leetchat, a user identified only as Zybl0re said “get up.” “get on up,” he continued, adding, “get up,” and then “get on up.” “and DANCE,” said an individual using the name phxl|paper.

At this point, a user going by the name nmp3bot emoted “dances :D-< ," "dances :D|-<," and "dances :D/-<." Finally, an individual calling him or herself [SA]HatfulOfHollow replied "i'm going to become rich and famous after i invent a device that allows you to stab people in the face over the internet." Zybl0re did not return calls from a reporter before press time.


by mary @ 6:15 pm

hi all, delighted to be here. Lots to write about incl. new artwork, activist design, programming, and gender… I promise sarcasm and whimsey to boot. For starters, I send along the RAPUNSEL url, This is a collaborative project to teach middle school girls to program. More soon!

Welcome Mary Flanagan

by noah @ 3:41 pm

We’re scooting over to make room for a visiting driver, Mary Flanagan. Mary’s work ranges from games research to media projects to being a professor in NYC — you can read more in her GTxA bio (rollover her name above) or at her site. And check out the pages of Mary’s tiltfactor lab (with which — full disclosure — I’m affiliated). We’re looking forward to having Mary’s energetic, thoughtful, and thought-provoking voice added to the GTxA mix!

August 23, 2004

Media Event

by andrew @ 8:15 pm

My s.o. Tania and I recently returned from a great 10 days of touring a series of northern Atlantic and Baltic cities — Reykjavik (capital of Iceland), Helsinki, Mariehamn (on the Finnish island �land) and Stockholm. I’d never been north of Berlin, so it was educational for me as well as enjoyable. In the middle of the trip we spent two days on the ISEA ferry cruise on the Baltic Sea, hanging out with Noah, Jill, Scott, Michael, Ken Perlin and others. Traveling along the coast of Sweden through a channel of hundreds of little islands with teeny houses on them, some smaller than a typical American suburban lot size, was quite beautiful and memorable.

Michael and I exhibited Fa�ade in a little room just off a smoky casino in the middle of the ship. It was played about 100 times, from which we have the traces to analyze, serving as another helpful user test. Feedback from players was generally positive, if a bit muted. Simon Penny had some good suggestions for us. One guy played it over and over for a couple of hours, perhaps trying to figure out how it worked, or trying to get it to behave the way he wanted it to.

I deliberately missed the rest of the conference; that’s alright, I’ve always found the appetizer to be the tastiest part of a meal anyhow.


August 22, 2004

Interview at Dichtung Digital

by noah @ 4:37 am

I had a great time talking with Roberto Simanowski earlier this year — our conversation ranging over topics of art, writing, digital media education, and more — and the resulting interview has just been published at Dichtung Digital. The new issue looks like a good one, and I’m particularly pleased to see John Cayley’s Overboard on the table of contents. The only blemish appears to be a review of First Person that gets many simple facts wrong — starting on the very first line, with Pat’s name. (As of this writing, the reviewer has him as “Herrigan” rather than “Harrigan.”)

August 21, 2004

Species of Spaces and All Your Bases

by nick @ 12:00 pm

For the next few days, you’re invited to submit information about your favorite video game to the beta site of The Museum of Video Game Ontology (moVGO), which Kim Marie will launch at in September. Or you can at least go admire the submission form.

ISEA 2004: Critical Interaction Design Keynote

by noah @ 5:21 am

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun: “Control and Freedom: On Interactivity as a Software Effect”

Asked to address one of ISEA’s sins: Our tendency is to take work at interface value. To appreciate work because of its novelty, rather than the actual experience of work.

User-friendly interfaces conflate control with freedom. A version of freedom is emerging within politics, society, and computing that isn’t opposed to control. As in gated communities.


August 20, 2004

IF Reading in Philadelphia

by nick @ 3:57 pm

Scott will be hosting a reading of three IF works by Emily Short, myself, Dan Ravipinto, and Star Foster. The program is called “Interactive Fiction Walkthroughs” and will take place at the Kelly Writers House on October 27. There’s more information on this IF reading online.

Continuous Paper

by nick @ 5:30 am

An advantage of not being physically present at ISEA 2004 is my excellent Internet access. Here is the text of the talk Scott should have just delievered on my behalf, “Continuous Paper: Print interfaces and early computer writing.” Hopefully we’ll hear from the away team soon about how the panel (with Noah, Michael, and Jill) went. I hope Scott didn’t crack up the fifth time he had to say “Wumpus.”

ISEA 2004: Histories of the New Keynote

by noah @ 4:34 am

We just finished the panel with Michael, Nick/Scott, Jill, and yours truly. Now the keynote for ISEA’s “Histories of the New” thread: Shuddhabrata Sengupta on “The Remains of Tomorrows Past: Speculations on the Antiquity of New Media Practice in South Asia”

Starts with a reading of Kipling’s “The Deep Sea Cables.” (He’s happy to claim Kipling as a fellow South Asia, with a fascination with new media.) We are forced to occupy an eye of the storm called “the new” while waiting to be the ground for tomorrow’s mushrooms. The Remains of Tomorrows Past” — the things that appeared yesterday as though they might credibly grow into a tomorrow. Those that do are indebted to those that do not.


August 19, 2004

ISEA 2004: Curating and Preserving New Media Art

by noah @ 9:26 am

Well, the GTxA crew has certainly been enjoying ISEA. Personally, I’d say this is one of the most ambitious and interesting gatherings I’ve ever attended. But it hasn’t been terribly easy to blog — until now, in Helsinki. Now I’m writing notes about a panel on “Curating and Preserving New Media Art.”

Steve Dietz. Two core principles for curating new media art. (1) Like curating any art, but different. (2) The most interesting potential is how it might change the practice of curating.


August 18, 2004

We Few

by nick @ 11:53 pm

Sure, I’m not off drinking Grand Text Auto’s FY 2004 revenues on a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea, but I did get to catch up with Mike Maguire today in Philadelphia and talk about palindromes. Poe, Nabokov, and Cortázar liked ‘em. They play an important role in children’s literature. Mike and I pondered whether nontrivial infinite palindromes can exist; perhaps if the sequence is biinfinite and a first and last element are always defined, as in 123123 … 1230321 … 321321? Mike showed me his very impressive palindrome notebook and told me about his tree-search method of composition. I told him some about how William Gillespie and I composed 2002, too, although that process seemed far less interesting and principled. (Well, of course it had the same principle in one sense.) Collaboratively writing palindromes with someone who can cull your sense from nonsense does seem to have the advantage of preventing linguistic insanity, however, an occupational risk among palindrome composers. Mike hardly seems in need of such measures, however, since — in contrast to 2002 — his poems, such as “Same Nice Cinemas,” are among the most lucid texts in the English language.

August 17, 2004

opens|observes (inspects? reviews?) $unit BMCH-005

by nick @ 5:55 pm

“A Bad Machine Made of Words,” my review of Dan Shiovitz’s Bad Machine, is now up at trAce.

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