Grand Text Auto

June 30, 2005

Pictures from the Phront

by michael @ 1:16 am

Andrew and I were at Phrontisterion VI this last weekend. The timing was perfect - we’d just finished our final build of Façade (!!) a day or two before the Phront.

A regular thread of discussion on GTxA is the artist/programmer debate and related issues of procedural literacy for digital media artists and theorists. In this light, it was nice to see this 23 year old magazine cover depicting Chris as an artist/programmer hanging on the wall.

[Update July 6: Chris’ conference report is online.]

June 28, 2005

Game Slash AI

by andrew @ 8:44 pm

AI engineer extraordinaire Damian Isla has started a new group blog called Game/AI, and invited fellow AIIDE attendees Rob Zubek and Paul Tozour onboard. Damian did great work at MIT Media Lab’s now winding-down Synthetic Characters group, and since became the AI lead at Bungie for Halo2. Rob you may know from his occasional comments here on GTxA — he recently finished an excellent dissertation at Northwestern (more on that in a future post; see an older post here) and has just joined Maxis. Paul was an AI developer for Metroid Prime, Thief 3 and Deus Ex 2. One of their first discussions: ending the tyranny of hierarchical finite state machines.

Speaking of AIIDE, the keynote talk slides are now online.


by mary @ 3:40 pm

In my research on a new collaborative project (with d. howe) I happened to re-explore some ‘commonsense’ databases including the commonsense project at MIT, “open mind.” After various approaches to making effective search engines, this one–with its reliance on real people’s knowledge aggregated over time–seems promising.

Yet such a system is rife with problems, as one can imagine. It is criticised by some net researchers and bloggers for containing too many ‘garbage’ entries to be efffective, and just plain factual errors by those who might even mean well.

Liu, Lieberman, and Selker at MIT are engaged in the mission of making better searches. In their 2002 article on a proposed search engine ‘goose’, they discuss the act of problem solving in searches; among other threads, they research the ways that people move from goals to actual key words in their searches, tracking inference chains. The authors note that most searches either use
1) thesaurus style tools to expand topics
2) ask for relevance feedback from users
3) use question templates (such as those used in Ask Jeeves).

I’ll be posting other related search engine material while researching…

June 27, 2005

Do You Thumb Your PlayStation at Me, Sir?

by nick @ 6:25 pm

Proof that young researchers can bolster their publication records when they write about video games: The BBC reports that South Africa’s main medical journal has accepted an article on “PlayStation Thumb” for publication - one written by a 13-year-old girl.

Her study found that 28 of the 60 boys and 17 of the 60 girls she spoke to played regularly.

Of these, eight boys and seven girls complained of symptoms such as redness, tingling and blisters.

The unfortunate thing is that Safura Abdool Karim, the author, does not herself own a PlayStation and finds them “a waste of time.” So here we have another case of game research being done by a non-gamer…

June 23, 2005

Free Culture at Emory

by michael @ 9:13 pm

On October 14, 2005, MetaScholar Initiative at Emory University is hosting Free Culture & the Digital Library. “This interdisciplinary symposium, featuring Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan, will explore the relationship between digital access to public cultural information and intellectual property constraints. In recent years, new legal limitations in the United States have affected public access to the materials held in a variety of different open digital library infrastructures, ranging from those of the Library of Congress to Kazaa. As new technological possibilities and laws governing their many uses emerge, it becomes critical to examine the relationship between digital innovation and legal regulation. This symposium seeks to promote a better understanding of the associated impacts of these changes on the local, national and international levels, both now and in the future.” So come down to Atlanta and get your dose of Free Culture.

A Literary Agent: Mathews’s My Life in CIA

by nick @ 4:45 pm

When I saw the headline “Fake spy guilty of kidnapping con” on BBC news today, I was worried that Harry Mathews might have gotten himself in trouble. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Mathews, a novelist, poet of the New York School, fashioner of literary forms and sole American member of the Oulipo, is most recently the author of My Life in CIA. This delightful book was reviewed a while ago by local Oulipophile MadInkBeard. Mathews calls it an autobiographical novel; in it, he describes his dangerous escapades of 1973. That tumultuous year, he purportedly answered the suspicions of his friends abroad (who thought, or in some cases were certain, that he was a CIA man) by beginning to play spy.


June 22, 2005

Call for Future Play

by andrew @ 4:42 pm

The CFP is due July 8 [update: July 31] for Future Play, billed as the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology. It will be held at Michigan State University, October 13-15. Already on the lineup: John Buchanan (academic liason for EA), Chris Hecker, Ernest Adams, Brenda Harger, James Gee, Henry Jenkins, Greg Costikyan, and GTxA’s Michael Mateas giving the closing keynote.

Also there is a juried call for games — academic, experimental, independent and/or student games, due September 9.

The Doctorate Went Down to Georgia

by nick @ 3:19 pm

Janet Murray has a great article just out in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Humanistic Approaches for Digital-Media Studies.” It discusses the Georgia Tech masters of science in information design program and technology and the new digital studies Ph.D. program (the first class just started last Fall) and also mentions the new undergraduate computational media program. Janet gives a great view from her own perspective of how these programs have some together, and she describes the faculty’s diversity (with a nod to Michael, of course) and the strength that the programs gain from this diversity. She makes a good case for studying outside of one’s core strengths and for taking the risks necessary to found new programs like these. She writes,

The Georgia Tech degree programs differ from those of other universities in some significant ways. Most important, the master’s degree is an academic, rather than a narrowly professional, degree.

Although, as she continues, summer internships provide “real-world” experience to supplement the program’s academic offerings, so students end up well-prepared for professional work. Those who subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education can read the article here - it isn’t otherwise online, unfortunately.

June 21, 2005

DiGRA05 in Pictures

by andrew @ 5:33 pm

What follows is a visually-guided tour of one particular path through last weekend’s Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference in Vancouver, BC. There we so many parallel tracks of talks (8+ at times) that I’ll only be offering a sliver of what went on, but the other GTxA’ers in attendance, Mary and Michael, as well as several other bloggers out there, will surely fill in more detail and show you more images.

Before we begin, I should say there was a game studies person sorely missed at the conference (note I’m avoiding the L-word), who tells us he was off cavorting in Paris at the time and couldn’t attend. However his spirit was in Vancouver with us nonetheless, and in fact as you browse this series of pictures, I invite you to play a little game I’d like to call, “Where’s Gonzalo?” (more…)

June 19, 2005

From Coast to Cradle

by nick @ 9:48 pm

What interesting literary presentations I’ve been to recently. Yesterday Hanna and I took the train out to meet up with Scott in South Jersey. We went to a small, carceral structure in Ocean City where lawn furniture was set up in an arts and crafts studio. There we heard John Ashbery read to a crowd that was still ambulatory but of a noticeably different demographic than is the grad student/junior faculty crowd. The motto of the Ocean City Arts Center seems to be “Life is short … the arts extend it!”

Today, Hanna and I went to a “A Potable Joyce,” a show at the Rosenbach Library and Museum performed by actors and employing some shadow puppets. The performance tells (some of) the story of the Odyssey, Ulysses, and Joyce’s writing and publishing Ulysses. The Nausicaa episode was elided - probably a good move, as there were several audience members around age three.


“Literary” Digital Media

by noah @ 6:27 pm

At Brown we’ve renamed the Creative Writing program “Literary Arts.” This encompasses regularly-offered workshops in fiction, poetry, playwriting, electronic writing (combining writing with designing computational contexts for the writing), and the recent additions of screenwriting (now that we have someone to teach it) and cross-disciplinary workshops (which encompass hybrid forms of text as well as things that are closely related to performance, installation, and video art). So, now that it’s in the name of the department, I find myself using the word “literary” a lot more than I used to — and using it to mean, roughly, “a common element in all the types of art we make in our department.”

Obviously, that’s not a very rigorous way of using the term. And a couple times recently, when I’ve used “literary” to refer to that common element in the digital media work we do, I’ve gotten pressed to unpack what I mean. At which point, of course, I can’t help but flash all the way back to college — (more…)

June 18, 2005

Story generation at ACH/ALLC

by michael @ 8:18 pm

I spent Thursday at the ACH/ALLC conference in Victoria. I was invited to participate in the panel Story Generation: Models and Approaches for the Generation of Literary Artifacts, organized by Jan Christoph Meister and Birte Loenneker. The panel consisted of three presentations: Chris and Birte with “Dream On: Designing the Ideal Story Generator Algorithm”, Federico Peinado (whom I met at TIDSE last summer) with “A Generative and Case-Based Implementation of Proppian Morphology”, and myself with “Beyond Story Graphs: Story Management in Game Worlds”. Chris and Birte define paper-and-pencil story generation architectures with the aim of pushing on structuralist narratology. The goal of the work is to integrate various narratological theories, reveal where these theories are underspecified (their architectures are much more detailed than narratological theories expressed in natural language), and push narratology in new directions. Reminds me of some of Marie Laure-Ryan’s work, particularly in Possible Words, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory. Birte coined the term “computational narratology” (has a nice ring to it) to describe this work. Fernando, a Ph.D. student working with Pablos Gervas (who has himself done work in poetry generation), described a case-based story generator based on Propp’s story functions. Given an initial user query specifying the story functions that should appear in the story, the system recalls the most similar story from its case base and performs generate-and-test on the retrieved case. This consists of randomly tweaking the story (performing story function substitutions) many times, stopping when a story is found that both includes the functions requested by the user and satisfies constraints captured by the ontology. He is starting a project with Birte to implement within his system the architectural theory she and Chris have developed for discourse-level manipulation (e.g. flashbacks, flash forward). Finally, I talked about what happens when generation is combined with real-time interactivity, presented story management as a far more scaleable and robust alternative to story graphs, described the author-centric viewpoint that infuses my approach to Expressive AI (I don’t care about automation for automation’s sake, but about building architectures with powerful authorial affordances), and gave an overview and comparison of both the beat-based drama manager used in Facade and the search-based drama manager proposed and Bates and Weyhrauch and recently revived in my own work (more on this in a later post).

Reconsidering the Oulipo and the Computer

by noah @ 1:55 pm

My sources at ACH tell me that Mark Wolff just delivered a great paper called “Reading Potential: The Oulipo and the Meaning of Algorithms.” Here’s an excerpt:

When the Oulipo formed in 1960, one of the first things they discussed was using computers to read and write literature. They communicated regularly with Dmitri Starynkevitch, a computer programmer who helped develop the IBM SEA CAB 500 computer. The relatively small size and low cost of the SEA CAB 500 along with its high-level programming language PAF (Programmation Automatique des Formules) provided the Oulipo with a precursor to the personal computer. Starynkevitch presented the Oulipo with an “imaginary” telephone directory composed of realistic names and numbers generated by his computer. He also programmed the machine to compose sonnets from Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes. In both cases the Oulipo was impressed but did not believe these computer applications had ‘potential’. What worried the Oulipo was the aleatory nature of computer-assisted artistic creation: they sought to avoid chance and automatisms over which the computer user had no control (Bens 147-148).

And now David Durand is about to deliver the paper on which I lent him a hand: “Cardplay, a New Textual Instrument.

Machine (COMIX) Narrative

by scott @ 12:26 am

The Flux Gallery in Queens is presenting Comix Ex Machina, an exhibition of “devices that present a series of narrative images to the viewer by means of a mechanical process, either interactively or automatically.” It looks pretty nifty.

June 17, 2005

women, games

by mary @ 3:13 pm

Where is the hard data about women in the games industry? In a 2004 New York Times article, the approximate number of women in the US games industry is estimated to be 10%. But where is the hard data? Send on if anyone has it. Also, while I’m sure everyone heard of Lowenstein’s call for new kinds of games at E3, I wish to repost it as a reminder that the issue of gender and gaming runs deep and is multifaceted: a more

Taiwan Gamers

by mary @ 1:39 pm

I’m at DIGRA 2005, and listening to HoLin Lin, a Taiwanese sociologist at National Taiwan University.

Lin and her team interviewed almost 60 players in internet cafes. She notes how much parents have control over children’s and teen’s gaming. In fact, she notes that the most common complaint of children living at home was surveillance. In addition, boys generally enjoy priority of computer access.

Lin discussed the social stigma in ‘netcafes’, In fact, many netcafes do not even have word processors or other simple programs. Netcafes have becoming notorious, because most visitors to netcafes are online gamers, causing a ‘moral panic’. Lin then detailed ‘urban legends’ surrounding such cafes, such as that they are ‘bad for girls, becuase girls will end up with babies.’ Its a compelling study. Read more on the research in her paper.

Intelligent Agent 4/4

by noah @ 11:20 am

Intelligent Agent continues to be one of the most provocative and wide-ranging publications on the digital media scene. Now published in an online, modular format, IA’s recent releases include David J. Leonard arguing that sports video games replicate “the ideologies and nature of nineteenth century minstrelsy” and Donato Mancini (in a review of Writing Machines by N. Katherine Hayles) asserting that the “emergence of electronic literatures in the 20th century and the ever-increasing use of new media in literature means that the acceptance of media and materiality as dimensions of literary meaning is inevitable.”

June 16, 2005

GTxA in Portuguese

by noah @ 5:10 pm

Today in Trópico — the Brazilian online magazine of Art, New Technologies, Cinema, and Culture — there’s an interview with yours truly by Cícero Inácio da Silva. We cover many topics familiar to GTxA readers, from critical readings of simulations to the pleasures of the forthcoming Façade.

June 15, 2005

Photoshopping for Summer Camp

by scott @ 12:52 pm

rex the bat dogElin Sjursen, the blogger behind Bloggerdy Doc, is doing an interesting variation on the blog tip jar with Help Send Mr. Teen to Summer Camp. In an effort to send her teenage son to camp this summer, she’s making photoshop art in exchange for donations to the summer camp fund. If you send her a high resolution image along with your donation to the summer camp fund, she’ll send back a piece of photoshopped artwork, such as Rex, this photoshopped bat-dog.

June 14, 2005

DiGRA Papers Online

by andrew @ 3:38 pm

The proceedings of the upcoming DiGRA conference are now online, giving folks a chance to read up before the ludopolooza officially begins Thursday evening in Vancouver. Looks like quite a diverse collection of ideas and arguments! Among them you can find the full text of a new paper by Michael and me, Build It to Understand It: Ludology Meets Narratology in Game Design Space. Preluded in part of last December’s Head Games discussion and sort of a companion paper to our AIIDE paper, in this new paper we talk about our take on resolving the tension between game and story: to recast interactions within a story world in terms of abstract social games, where players fire off discourse acts instead of guns, in which the player’s “score” is not communicated to the player via numbers or sliders but rather via enriched, theatrically dramatic performance.

Michael also is a contributing author to two other DiGRA papers, Evolution Of Space Configuration In Videogames with Clara Fernandez Vara and Jose Zagal, and Towards an Ontological Language for Game Analysis with Jose, Clara, Brian Hochhalter and Nolan Lichti. Prolific one, that Michael.

Hope to see you in Vancouver.

And the Winner is . . .

by scott @ 1:02 am

I am pleased to announce the winner of the 60 Second Story Competition.

After much deliberation, The judges selected “Charles” by Steve Himmer as the winner of the first 60 Second Story Competition, citing its humor, clarity, and completeness as a story. Steve will be receiving a one-minute supply of chocolate, and a one inch by one inch edition of his story will be printed by Spineless Books. Steve Himmer teaches writing and cultural studies at Emerson College in Boston. He is the author of an unpublished novel about a bear, and also writes at

The runners-up included “Faith” by Ed Falco in second place, a tie between “The Golden Age” by Roderick Coover and “Pillow, Pillow” by Jason Nelson for third, and “Florence” by Christine Wilks in fourth.

June 13, 2005

blogger reblogging

by mary @ 3:36 pm

for the next two weeks, i’ll be reblogging at the eyebeam reblog site.

BBS: The Documentary Parts 2-5, Gamer Br

by nick @ 2:31 pm

Last week I finished watching Jason Scott’s BBS: The Documentary (which I mentioned earlier on here) and also saw Gamer Br [torrent], [main site] a freely available 45-minute documentary about video gaming in Brazil that’s available via Legaltorrents.

They’re both well worth watching if you like the kind of stuff we like here on Grand Text Auto. It was interesting to see, though, how the two films look very different approaches to talking with people about their computing experiences, the digital communities that they’ve been part of, and the things that make them passionate about computing.


June 10, 2005

Bernstein’s Bait Redux

by andrew @ 11:59 pm

Echoing the debates we had two years ago in both blog and book, Mark Bernstein has recently restated his argument, with the coda, “As far as I’m aware, this argument has been essentially ignored.” Actually, I responded to this argument in my First Person book essay response to his and Diane Greco’s essay (see below).

Before you stop reading, thinking this is just pointless academic jousting, let me say I think Bernstein and Greco’s argument is a good and very useful one, pushing important design issues to the fore, that I rarely see done. And although I’m not wanting to rehash the debate, it would be interesting to hear others’ take on the issue, if anyone has any new thoughts to contribute. (Mark includes a link to a good new essay from WRT on frustration with IF and HTF.)

Here’s an excerpt from my response, written four years ago, taken from the book (that you won’t find in the abbreviated version at EBR):

“Even if we could experience Hamlet on the holodeck, it wouldn’t work. Tragedy requires that the characters be blind…” I agree, it seems likely that certain types of stories such as traditional tragedy may not work as an interactive story, for the reasons Bernstein and Greco describe. Instead authors will need to tell the kinds of stories that do work interactively. Façade is a more open-ended, explorative, psychological situation. Is this drama anymore? We hope to understand this better once we get a chance to play with the finished work.


June 8, 2005

Eliza into Art

by nick @ 1:08 pm

Eliza Redux, by Adrianne Wortzel and Studio Blue at the Cooper Union, has just launched and is featured in the Turbulence Spotlight. The Eliza Redux site offers online access to a “a physical robot which, having passed the Turing test with flying colors, thinks it is a human psychoanalyst and persists in offering online pseudo- psychoanalytic sessions. … Peer consultation is available in the Reception Area as well as archived sessions and other reference materials.” Of course, the reference is to Eliza/Doctor, the 1964-1966 system Joseph Weizenbaum created at MIT. (Dennis has Charles Hayden’s implementation online - the same one we included in The New Media Reader and which is widely available for download.) Wortzel’s announcement reads, “In spite of the transparency of the program’s lack of intelligence, lab personnel were unable, or unwilling, to distinguish the machine from a human psychotherapist and became so dependent upon ELIZA for ‘therapeutic sessions’ that eventually Weizenbaum had to withdraw its use.”

I got to glimpse the physical being of Eliza Redux in a session just now, but didn’t hear any sound, and the communication process didn’t seem to be quite as meaningful (or to provide quite as much grist for the meaning-creating mind) as did the original. E2 kept its camera eye fixed at the spot where the empty couch was displayed, and constantly displayed what looked like Rorschach tests on a black-and-white display. What did I miss - anyone?

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