Grand Text Auto

February 29, 2004

Orientalism and E-Fest 2004

by nick @ 12:26 pm

It’s been a week and a half since the fine E-Fest at Brown already — no time for me to write anything like a trip report — but I wanted to bring one incisive comment from there into this forum.

Brian Kim Stefans was one of many who provided great readings/performances and participated in interesting discussions. Speficially, he compared humanistic writing about internet and computing culture to the Orientalism that Edward Said discusses: people from a different culture, with no direct knowledge of the country or culture, learn about it second- or third-hand and construct their own fantasy of what it is like.

The most provocative thing about Brian’s comment is that it suggests that new media studies of a certain sort may have things in common with racist or colonial perspectives. But that, which will just rile people up, isn’t what interests me about the idea, really. More importantly, Brian is assuming that computing and network culture actually is culture (or sub-culture) and that there are severe limits to what people can learn about it from the outside, without programming or designing or blogging or file-sharing or instant messaging or playing games, depending upon what subculture you’re interested in.

February 27, 2004

Two new game studies faculty at Tech

by michael @ 11:54 am

I’m happy to announce that two new games studies faculty, Ian Bogost and Michael Nitsche will be joing us at Georgia Tech this Fall.

Some of you already know Ian from watercoolergames and as a frequent commentor here. Ian is interested in the rhetorical function of games, how they can be used to convey a position and change opinions. Ian also develops games, most recently the Howard Dean campaign game (which we discussed here).

Michael, currently at Cambridge, explores how insights from architecture, narratology and film studies can be applied to the design of games conceived as narrative spaces. As part of his research he also develops games, including developing for the Playstation platform. You can find out more about his research here.

Gonzalo noted (Feb. 26 entry) that the recent New York Times article dubbed Copenhagen IT as the “hub of of game studies”. With Jay, Janet, myself, now Michael and Ian, plus the Experimental Game Lab, plus game-related research taking place in the College of Computing (including my research in game AI), perhaps Georgia Tech will steal Copenhagen IT’s title :).

“Magic Words,” XYZZY

by nick @ 12:22 am

The current lead article on gaming site 1up is about interactive fiction, and it includes an excellent set of interiews with Emily Short, Stephen Granade, Andrew Plotkin, Adam Cadre, and 2003 IF Comp winners Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster. (Although there are many good bits apart from the interviews, the IF history part of the article, at the beginning, is cribbed from Graham Nelson’s brief history in the Inform Designer’s Manual — as stated in the article — and it’s better to just read Nelson’s history if you’re looking for brief background. The names of both Thomas M. Disch and Robert Pinsky are wrong in the article, too.) The article is by Andrew Vestal and Nich Maragos; 1up is a ZiffDavis joint.

And it’s just in time for the annual XYZZY awards, which will take place on ifMUD this Saturday at 1:30pm Eastern Time. Hope you can make it!

Update: Slashdot Games (and the Uber-Slashdot) picked this up a bit before my post, I just noticed.

Further Update: Slouching Towards Bedlam took top honors today. I was in lost in New York and without a wireless signal (>WAVE iBOOK didn’t work) but fortunately for me, and anyone else who missed the XYZZYs, Stephen Granade has provided a list of winners and transcript of the event. (The links to the transcript are at the bottom.)

Even Further Update: The transcript is available all as one huge file at XYZZY News. Also, the interview with Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster is great, but be warned that it includes big hunking spoilers for Slouching Towards Bedlam, which is even greater - you should play it first.

February 26, 2004

Area Man Found in Onion

by nick @ 4:13 pm

Woohoo! Twisty Little Passages was reviewed in The Onion: “… too dense and dry for casual readers … mechanical contraptions … eschewing substantive literary analysis … deception or even murder … juicy …”

February 25, 2004

The Ivy-Covered Console

by andrew @ 8:51 pm

Following on the heels of last week’s AP news article about game studies is a new NYTimes article that interviews several researchers, including grandtextauto’s own Nick Montfort.

New to grandtextauto? Our URL managed to make it into the article too, so as is custom when this happens, for any new readers visiting for the first time, we like to offer a list of links to noteworthy discussions we’ve had over the past year about games, interactive narrative, art, and so on. These are in reverse chronological order. Add new comments to any of them, to continue the discussions!

Fear of Code, Jabberwacky, The Dublin of Dr. Moreau, Experimental Game Lab, Moral Treatment of Virtual Characters?, This is not a game, Back to the Future at Musée Mécanique, Time To Stop Playing Now?, Reflections of a Larger Issue, Making, Not Telling, Trying To Break It, Clicking a Mouse (and Cracking a Whip) in Two Worlds, Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction, Interactive Storytelling Exam, The Whoa Effect, Magic Crayons and More, Twisty Little Passages, Teaching Computation as an Expressive Medium, Copyright and Missing the Point of the Computer, “What Is a Game” Conference, Everyday Ordinary Strange, Agitating for Dramatic Change, That Darn Conundrum, Taking Bernstein’s Bait, Fiction and Recombinant Text, Machine Learning and Literary Work, AI and Narrative, Interaction and Agency, Meaning machines, (Sharing) Control, Artist Programmers, Narrative as Virtual Reality, The Space of Interactive Narrative, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, How to Destroy Possibilities

February 24, 2004

Continuous Paper

by nick @ 12:29 am

A few hours ago I gave a talk entitled “Continuous Paper.” It was at the History of Material Texts Seminar here at Penn, and dealt with the print-based heritage of computer interfaces. The full text is online.

Text-Porn on Little Screens — an AI Sweet Spot?

by andrew @ 12:07 am

Speaking of chatterbots… A BBC technology correspondent is eager to report that text-porn bots have passed the Turing test. The article begins by lumping apples and oranges together:

At first glance spam, pornographic text messages and video games are not contributing much to human development.

Great, thanks. But he goes on to describe how AI’s have been known to fool users, and is particularly taken with Natachata, a chatbot that operates in adult SMS text chatrooms.

I’m not too surprised these bots can manage to seem human, when the interaction occurs only once every minute or so, with only a few words of text displayed at a time on a little LCD screen, to people who really, really want to believe. What’s a bit more surprising is that people actually pay over $1 per SMS message for this.

And, apparently it does take a rocket scientist to pull this off.

AI Iago

by andrew @ 12:01 am

On the heels of Noah and Michael’s posts from yesterday… At first it seemed like yet another sexed-up article headline: two upcoming AI-heavy interactive entertainment products described in a Popular Science blurb titled “Terror Games”.

Peek behind the graphics of two new games [The Sims 2 and Peter Molyneux’s Fable] and you’ll find the same artificial intelligence that’s at work in Pentagon-sponsored war simulations.

But the blurb offered no further explanation. Huh?

February 23, 2004

Second Earth

by michael @ 9:06 pm

The BBC reports that the gaming company There (1 2 3 4) is creating a detailed model of the entire earth for the US Army. The Army will use the simulated earth to plan future battles.

Fear of Code

by noah @ 12:09 am

“The Enemy Within” is a basically informative — if unexciting — overview article about viruses and worms in the Sunday Observer. But someone appears to have decided that stating the article’s topic honestly wasn’t going to cut it. Hence the headline, and these two sentences that ended up just under it:

He’s 21, he’s got dreadlocks, likes punk bands… and his hobby could wreck your computer in seconds. Clive Thompson infiltrates the secret world of the virus writers who see their work as art - while others fear that it is cyber-terrorism

Apparently the government aren’t the only people in London who like to sex up documents and draw questionable ties to terrorism. But what interests me is how fully the folks at the Observer seem to have missed the point their interviewee was trying to make in their final paragraph. He doesn’t release malicious software into the wild. He views creating an innovative worm, and doing it with elegant code, as “like art.” This is presented as though we’re supposed to find it baffling or frightening. I’m more baffled by the way it’s reported. Haven’t we already established, culturally, that innovative software and elegant code are very much like art?

Correction: What I found on the Observer site appears to be an oddly-truncated version of a more interesting-looking article (with some interesting-looking comments as well).

February 21, 2004

There is no strange thing

by nick @ 10:57 pm

Crimson Room screenshot

There is something oddly compelling about Crimson Room (also available on a US server) by Toshimitsu Takagi. Not that it’s the best graphical adventure game that is available for free, but the conflation of camera movement from The 7th Guest with amusingly awkward English and puzzles worse than the ones in the most painful Penguinsoft title…

And it’s all online, in Flash. Yes, I finished it and have the right to be on the escape person list. (I did peek at the solution; the interface isn’t always pleasant.) Shout out to my poetry homie JK for passing along the link.

February 19, 2004

Cheating While Studying

by andrew @ 10:27 am

On Memory Card, her new blog, Mia Consalvo, game researcher and assistant professor at Ohio U, wonders if it’s okay to cheat at a game while researching it.

February 18, 2004


by scott @ 4:26 pm

We’re reading Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen in my Internet Writing & Society class, and discussing AI. While googling around trying to see if there was a working version of Depression 2.0 out there, I ran across Jabberwacky, a Web chatterbot that took 3rd place in the 2003 Loebner Prize.

The Dublin of Dr. Moreau

by michael @ 12:07 pm

Beard of Bees Press has just made available The Dublin of Dr. Moreau, another collection of machine-generated poetry produced by Gnoetry, a poetry composition system that sythesizes new language based on probability distributions learned from existing texts. In the case of The Dublin of Dr. Moreau, the poems are based on the statistical properties of James Joyce’s Dubliners and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau.

We’ve previously mentioned Gnoetry (1 2 3 4).

On Academia - Industry Conversations

by andrew @ 12:01 am

Chaim Gingold wrote this month’s IGDA Ivory Tower column.

Game developers and academics, by engaging one another, can help both of their practices mature. But what does it mean to have conversations with one another? If we’re going to play together, what are the rules of the game, and what are the motivations of its players?

February 17, 2004

What I’m Supposed to Be Doing

by nick @ 6:26 pm

In case you were wondering about my life as a computer and information science Ph.D. student at Penn, I’ve put some information about my research, teaching, and studies online.

February 16, 2004

It Worked Jointly

by nick @ 12:30 am

The Joint Work reading at the Kelly Writers House went wonderfully. As promised, the four of us read from 2002, Implementation, and The Unknown. There was a great turnout, the technologies involved worked smoothly (eh, the problem with the wireless mike didn’t really matter), and readers and read-to alike seemed to have great fun. Thanks to Jen Snead for introducing us and to her and the others at the Writers House for hosting us.

Some Joint Work photos are online, courtesty of the person who traveled the furthest to attend to reading - no, not Dirk, who came in from Cincinnati for the 33rd reading of The Unknown, but Jill. The blogsphere also graced us with Hanna’s presence. Hanna and Jill provided us with numerous photos of Implementation “placements” that were shown and read from during the event. I don’t know many of the others who turned up at the reading, but perhaps we’ll learn who some of them are if they end us email Scott and me some Implementation photos. We handed out sheets from the otherwise-unreleased installment 2 to try to entice attendees to participate in the project.

February 15, 2004

Experimental Game Lab

by michael @ 8:07 pm

I’m happy to announce the creation of the Experimental Game Lab, a new video game research lab I’ve founded at Georgia Tech. The EGL’s mission is to serve as an interdisciplinary meeting place, supporting work at the intersection of art, technology and culture, in which faculty and students work together to create the future of gaming. The lab has been active since early last fall, though we’re just now giving the lab a public face.

On February 27, 1:00 – 6:00 pm, we’re having an open house to showcase current lab projects and present our facilities for game studies and development. We hope to encourage more people within the Tech community to use the lab’s resources to support game research projects. If you happen to be in Atlanta, drop by!

February 13, 2004


by andrew @ 3:55 pm

Thanks to Terra Nova for linking to today’s Associated Press article about game studies, including quotes from the usual suspects.

The article will probably get printed in many local papers around the country. For example, here’s the article printed in Bixoli Mississipi’s local paper, the Sun Herald.

February 11, 2004

Free Game Designer Speaker Series

by andrew @ 9:32 pm

Save yourself the price of admission to GDC — a new “Legends of the Game Industry” Speaker Series is being hosted by The Art Institute of California – San Francisco. The first talk in the series, by Will Wright, will be held at 7pm on Feb 25, free and open to all Bay Area students, game industry professionals and the general public. (via Gamasutra)

Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism

by michael @ 10:34 am

The speaker schedule for Form, Culture, & Video Game Criticism, a one day conference being held at Princeton on March 6th, has been announced. Looks like a good lineup, and includes our own Nick Montfort as well as frequent GTxA commentor Dennis Jerz. I couldn’t find a website with the conference schedule, so I include the full program below.

February 9, 2004

Implementation 1 Online, Joint Work Coming…

by nick @ 4:41 pm

Implementation installment 1 is available to everyone on the Web now, in US Letter and A4 sizes. And the first reading of Implementation will occur Saturday, along with a reading of 2002 and The Unknown, at the Philadelphia event Joint Work…


Brown E-Fest

by noah @ 4:24 pm

efest imageE-FEST 2004
Readings, Symposia, Performances
February 17-19

Brown University Program in Literary Arts will present E-Fest 2004, a celebration of electronic literary art February 17-19. The program will feature readings by John Cayley, Stephanie Strickland, Talan Memmott, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Brian Kim Stefans, Aya Karpinska, Alan Sondheim and more.

The program will open with an overview of electronic writing activities at Brown University, including readings by Talan Memmott and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, with a special performance by Thalia Field and Jamie Jewett. Wednesday’s program includes panels and discussions with artists and theorists in the field including George Landow, Roberto Simanowski, and Alan Sondheim. An evening reading will feature John Cayley, Stephanie Strickland, Brian Kim Stefans, and Aya Karpinksa. Thursday will feature artist demos and the introduction of new books on digital media. [Including Nick’s Twisty Little Passages.]

February 7, 2004

Moral Treatment of Virtual Characters?

by andrew @ 10:25 am

The Christian Science Monitor has a great new article posing the question, “How should people treat creatures that seem ever more emotional with each step forward in robotic technology, but who really have no feelings?” The article briefly touches on many facets of this question. One quote that sticks out is from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

The turn toward having robotic animals in place of real animals is a step in the right direction… It shows a person’s recognition that they aren’t up to the commitment of caring for a real animal. Practically speaking, from PETA’s perspective, it really doesn’t matter what you do to a tin object.

On GTxA we recently touched on the issue of abusing virtual characters and the topic of blurring / fusing of fiction and reality with virtual characters.

Variety o’ Links

by andrew @ 9:56 am

New Products:

Tamagotchi keychain pet is back: Using infrared portals, the new Tamagotchi Plus will be able to mingle, chat and date, marry and have babies with other Tamagotchis. The original version sold 40M units. (via Slashdot Games)

Singles! Flirt Up Your Life! is shipping soon. Pick two characters to live together from a cast of twelve, and using a Sims-like interface try to coax them to get it on. Includes nudity and romantic erotic situations but no pornography. (full index of screenshots) (via GameGirlAdvance)

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