gtxa_reunion.jpgThis past week at the University of California, Irvine, all the members of Grand Text Auto descended on the Beall Center for an exhibition of their work and a symposium. How does a blog become an exhibit? Quite easily, as the artist/critics of that widely read blog presented works from their variegated repertoire.
Included in the show were works and works in progress. During the symposium (notes below), some previewed current and future works. Noah discussed a rather provocative online serialized vetting of his new book. Nick presented another glimpse at his dissertation IF system. Andrew gave a preview for “The Party.” Scott previewed a potential locative media project and a more specifically located collaboration with Jill/txt. (I came in late for Mary and Michael’s talks.)

gtxa_facade21.jpgThe exhibit featured prior work at times in very new forms. “Screen,” Noah’s collaborative piece in the Brown cave, was perhaps the oldest work. Scott and the Unknown gave a wonderfully representative reading, including Dirk in a brightly colored purple(?) cap and gown, denouncing the project. (William Gillespie added a spontaneous new piece inspired by novelist Thomas Berhnhard, I believe.) Nick’s display included Winchester’s Nightmare, Ad Verbum, and Book and Volume. Mary presented her [giantJoystick] and Michael presented a performance of the interactive rhetoric documentary machine “Terminal Time,” which may date back to his Carnegie Mellon days.

What stole the show for me was the three-dimensional rendering of Facade, created in collaboration with the GVU Center at Georgia Tech. After having beta-tested and played Facade for far too long, to be able to see and explore this physical rendering of Trip and Grace’s apartment constructed was a bit like Going to Disneyland, and entering it was like going to Disneyland and encountering Mickey and Minnie’s “World of Baggage” in Toon Town. More curious was playing Facade in the apartment with head-mounted display and a Powermac strapped to my back.

The experience was surreal. Of course, the illusion was not quite perfect (hence it was an illusion). Float and Grace floated about. I had to shout all my witticisms so that a stenographer/interactor/dramaturg off stage (a woman docent, a gender role we should reflect on) transcribed my dialogue so that Trip and Grace could hear it.

markfacade_small.jpgWhat ensued however as I became more acclimated was truly one of the most uncomfortable interactive experiences of my life — very true to the game. I was proud that I had as usual flummoxed Grace with my charm, her keeping Trip in the kitchen thanks to my flirtations. But more importantly, I found it difficult to leave the room. Their problems did seem that much more, shall I say it, real. Plus, there was an immediacy, a sense of a performance I would not be able to access again — a sense I don’t get when I am on my computer and can run the program whenever I’d like. It’s why we would probably wait in line to go on the Winchester’s Nightmare ride.

Of course, nothing can downplay the experience of seeing these friends, colleagues, and collaborators reflect on what blogging together has meant to them. As they wrestled to define that essence of GtxA, it became more apparent that definitions were the last thing that this group of bloggers needed to keep them working together on a project held together not, as Nick pointed out, held together by a document, some manifesto, but forming a manifesto in reverse (declared Mary) and organizing around a blogging platform under the banner of the blue and orange.

Kudos, team GTxA. Kudos to the Eleanore Stewart and David Famillian of the Beall Center for supporting the event. Here’s to many more years. And here are my unedited notes of the event.

[Also in attendance: Simon Penny, MD Coverly, Liz Losh, Perry Hoberman and more!)

Notes: [Note on notes: These are extremely, raw, but in the interest in sharing the experience, rather than procrastinating on the polishing I’ll never do, I’ll post them. Please contact me with any corrections, and I will touch them up as time allows. Also, I entered after Mary and Michael had presented]
gtxa_mary.jpg Scott is working on locative media project
several characters in several (3) historical strata of the city…

Gave updates a various upcoming publications including his book Chameleons of Change.

Mentioned new ELO projects including a new directory of electronic literature that would feature well-categorized works and criticism to help provide a critical vocabulary, develop new ontologies.
Andrew Stern
His post: I Can’t Get no Satisfaction is still true a when he wrote it, he’s sorry to say.
Frustrated by lack of agency
Feels like he’s straight jacketed by systems that do not give him much choice..
Has learned much from his others
Being a capable improvisational partner.

System would need:
System needs narrative intelligence to write its own dialogue

Wants to make commercial product that will get funded

New project:
Interactive comedy melodrama, called the Party:
Desperate Housewives meet The Sims
Michael and Andrew.
About 10 people

Concept images

You play as man or woman
Everyone has hidden motivations and machinations trying to suck you in— Best friend leaving his wife, what’s your help getting lucky. Boss tells you he’s going to fire you tomorrow.

You can: try to fight back or you can have fun and get into the
Flirt with wife’s best friend
Try to start seduce people.
onscreen artists rendering: man getting caught with his pants down,
The story builds toward a climax, perhaps framed for murder.
Every time you play its different
Like Facade:
Single place, house, limited time scope [unity of time and place]
Designed to be played several times.

Noah Wardrip Fruin:
gtxa_noah.jpg Begins with ELIZA.
First conditions…
Other than play, ELIZA falls apart
ELIZA system:
After a long time of interacting with the system, after a short time of looking at how the system operates.

You don’t argue with me
Substitutions: I don’t argue with you
Keyword: Certain decompositions:
Decompositions* I * You
Reassembly: Why do you think I don;t argue with you.

Audience ←→ Interface System
the ELIZA effect
Defined: names the disjuncture
Boom and Bust
boom: I can type anything and it will respond as if it heard me.
Bust: Disappointed

Freeform interaction enables play
Play leads to breakdown
Breakdown reveals the shape of the system
The shape of the system proves to be boring.

Why ELIZA doesn’t last — so why does Afternoon last? Or does it?

now deciding what else I’d like to avoid

“Tom asked Wilma whether Wilma would tell Tome where there were some berries if Tom gave Wilma a worm”


Tom the bear, wants berries, proposes deal. Wilma speculates — imagines Tom, creates an imagined version of the world where there is a Tom. What could happen if Tom believes in berries. I’m going to look for benefit for myself. Use this speculation to decide what I want to do. Wilma decides to lie to Tom. Accustomed to this psychological action in fiction, but we don’t get it in the output.

Everything interesting in the system is elided if you look at the output of the system

The Tale-Spin effect.
Has no boom
The complexity is lost in the interface. It doesn’t appear in the interface.

There is also no way to play with it. You can’t access the

This opacity is not uncommon in digital art. Fascinating inside of the system, but you can’t access it or even see it — black box effect.
? Why are we interested in characters

The SimCity effect:
Important commercial system for him.
The system gives feedback to your experience. Some of it is
Constantly demand stadium. Never wants to give them a stadium.
Will Wright: As a player, a lot of what you’re trying to do is reverse engineer the simulation….The more accurately you …
(my words) emulate the system in your head,.,

Eliza .. play dispels
Talespin… can’t alter
SimCity: The simulation you can explore.

Future work:
David Durand: CardPlay, paper about but no system…
Expressive processing….

Simon Penny: Desire to avoid the opacity of the system to avoid the Talespin effect, in my expereince building experiential environments, one also wants to avoid the reverse engineering effect.
The savvy observer will essentially be focused on decoding — look behind the curtain…Exclusivity with the interface..

Different kinds of players? Those who seek out how the system works and how to enjoy the system…

Andrew: The interface we set up with facade is so open it kind of pushes people to

Michael: Finding the edges of systems is a part of game culture…
We built parts of facade with an idea of making game culture interesting….
to find the edges, you’ve got to find the way the system operates
we wanted to

Andrew: Gamers: Asshole physics— who want to act crazy in the space.

Mary Flanagan: Play, playing with dolls, cutting the hair of dolls. It’s just part of play.

Even among the artist/critic/hackers….
Getting to explore the edges of the system when you are trying to set up your printer.

You want the appropriate extractions and encapsulation of these things.
You want to negotiate…If your game invites play… How do you have a game respond.
Some would IF commercial would end when people typed obscenities

How do you deal with people misbehaving.

Using a sledgehammer.

Commercial game…If it can understand obscenity but can’t speak it back does that change the rating?

Nick: Special sticker: Understands profanity.

Michael: Maybe it’s part of play. Player vs. user. User as commodity appliance. The person who doesn’t want to edge find, just use it: Cellphone example. We are building experiences that delimit play.

Nick, but play has its protocols.

Mary: We have to be careful, play is this. My mother is not going to try every profanity. Different people have diffferent relationships to the system. I never cut my Barbie’s hair. My cousin, soon as she came over…(jokes) I’m still trying to get over it. Play styles that we should recognize

Q: Even in pure use, sometimes it doesn’t work, so you turn to edge-finding…
Noah: Button-mashing
Q: Trying to find the verbs in an IF system, searching out verbs. Someone saying you can’t use the mouse. Docent…
Perry Hoberman: You set up a contract with the user: If the mouse is there, don’t give them a mouse
You have to hide the power switch. People will press the power switch. People will use the mouse.
You are not going to edgefind.
There are a lot of ways to set up those “contractual things.”
Also, reverse engineering: they’re trying to test. The second, you’re making this IF, you have a system with a certain knowledge and the reader has different knowledge. But they’re applees and oranges, such different.

You realize that SimCity has this argument about Public Transportation, but you can come to this argument from many ways.

You can figure out that’s what it takes to win, then you can decide whether or not you agree with it.
If I find out you have this view of the system does that mean I have to comply, that I’ve been coopted by the system.
Interested in building systems with unfamiliar interface objects

Simon: Ideally, you want to avoid both of those scenarios. Ideally you want to rachet the user into a state of increasing fluency without them being aware that they are taking a tutorial.
AI: The discernment of the abilities or literacies of the user in order to rachet up the complexity of the system. We’re dancing around this fundamental AI problem, the common sense problem.

Mateas: The way out of it:… Some kind of common sense reasoning the system requires…the way out is to structure the experience as a microworld.
Facade: When they heard we were going to use unconstrained natural language, they think we’re insane.
But the reason I wasn’t — ah, that’s impossible — is you can suggest affordances to the reader…this is a constrained situation…they might misunderstand you or ignore you at times. At the same time, there was this whole blocksworld line of AI….They gave up because the solutions thought of in the microworld would never scale up.
Expressive systems can revive the microwolrd… You can push … Blocks world had no cultural capital. Build microworld that are meaty experiences that have cultural capital and could push AI in interesting ways.

MD Coverly…We’re hoping that someone else would do. We see in the work of many of the people up there — we see the artists push the technology and an extensive narrative concept way to the limit of what could be done…
Then we see nothing like it…
Building on pre-conceived conventions.
We have a slew of narrative conventions…
The narrative depends on 80% of people knowing what’s going on already. If you’ve got all these competing conventions….We have almost know conventions…

Scott: Games have become generic (7 kinds of games). They have expectations

Me: Aesthetic borrowed from a capitalist technological innovation….It’s on Boing Boing

Mary: We are in the technological sphere of technological innovation — whether it’s innovation for innovation sake… We just don’t have th context for building on.
Mary — it would be odd.
If games have conventions we can use.
The reskinning of games vs. the mechanics. Making mechanics meaningful.
We have a reusable convention…Joystic.
Game Tools: Make Game Tools….Thematic mapping…(Michael’s talk)
Game maker, Gamester mechanic, 3 ways to interact: kill, shoot/throw, collect coins, and the game goals are so codified.
You can’t make a game out of a lot of the game tools were to have
WarioWear stuff is great.
Values modding of games, introducing values to games. How you instill values into the mechanics of a game is it fun. (all directed to Michael)

Michael: Mixed initiative Software systems, building a special design space into the system. The author becomes a kind of play. As an author, you play with the design space. What can I make with this space. Flash. Language-like tools [Inform 7] pretend to a universality that they don’t have? critique, the mixed-initiative. It’s not trying to be a transparent universal.
Mary: If you’ve staked out this space, what are the conventions you are trying to model:
News games: Negotiation and competition.

Michael: Political Games: trying to understand approaches for representing ideologies and politics. Representing politics in ways that are operational for game mechanics.
Part of it is poor.
Don’t want to build authoring systems..
Currently limiting Interactive Drama: Too damn hard.
A one-off is a one off.
Actually enables…

gtxa_mary.jpg GTA: on Collaborative Blogging
How do you see your relationship to GTxA. What do you think of the posts?
Our exciting Label…
? I’ve always thought of a GTxA discursive position that you share?
Q. Even objects of study?
Mary: The manifesto in reverse: I’m not going to directly answer that question. But I’ll cause a discussion where everyone will jump in. First time we’ve all been together.

We were talking about in some ways…(are you a movement are you a group do you have a manifesto, what is your ideology, your platform),, the group selected itself. It came together…We never had this discussion…what’s our position on things. How do we move forward. We don’t take out full-page adds in the NYT. We’ve come to look at things…
Unlike dada,…the declaration is implicit in the process of making. We’ve got things we could articulate but it’s a manifesto in reverse…

Nick: We’re organized not around a text but around a writing system…that let’s us associate in that way….

Michel: Part of the concept of the blog (Noah’s idea). We would see each other (subsections) and then we would go home. and meet up again in DAC. Why not have those great conference discussions online.

Scott: It’s also not like a conference. It’s more like persistent presence. I’ve gotten windows into al of your processes.

Low cultural impulses….
Mary: Popculture?
Nick: Some of it, isn’t even popular…
The little videos….
You all have radically different backgrounds….It can be radically different…
Different kinds of manifestos..this is interesting…

Q: Manifesto is one thing. Would have liked to be in the room
Persistent editing of that dialogue …

In addition to posting there’s
Greatest GtxAuto posts are the discussions threads.

Noah: The most inappropriate: linking to something that’s in the NYT:
Andrew: Hey, I do it plenty.
Noah: What is appropriate to a blog?
Glad to post how Talespin was made and see how that responds.
Noah is going to serialize the manuscript on the blog and comment on it and see how people respond to it…process.

Future of the Book did an interesting thing with Gamer Theory, but it was all there.
Exploring serialized blog form.

Michael: Crazy, topsy turvy, feeling persistent and deep guilt about not blogging..
Prefers the longer form blog post, less frequent long form. The fact that we have a mix of styles is great. Interesting link to something that just happened.

Security with knowing that if things really slow down at the blog, Nick would post about going to the bookstore.

Q: Always uncomfortable about writing: I saw this movie and it sucks. I was occasionally post mathematical theory of blah… Are these research notes? What is this?
I’ve heard people, Bruce Sterling, say blogging is not going to be like blogging now. The terrain is so unstable.

Scott: Twitter: It was interesting the first, the MIT Media in Transition conference. Conference blogging, asynchronous blogging. Twitter conference blogging, one line observations…

Q: 30 twitter feeds, Robert Scoble has a funny hat

Archiving and passing notes. At what point does it become redundant and masturbatory?

A: Right at the beginning.

Noah: GTxA is a collaborative blog. Not just Nick will post. Worst genre of blog posts the apology for not posting. Does shape an answer to this question. It’s the blog we share with those people. Is there something that we share with these other people.

Mary: Nick, do you have demographic information on our readers…

Mainly Young White Male people who play video games?

Not sure how we would get it. Our readership may match our panel,
Noah: Strong Honkey bent.

Scott: Is this the right number of people? Should there be more people: Terranova. How big a group can you have and still have a cohesion and interest to each other? We have some issues, quite a few white males.
Q: Are you writing for each other?
Michael: Imagines each other
Nick says he always imagines anonymous reader
Scott: At least 50 regularly read and comment
And strange things happen
Nick: We get comments
Scott: Commenters — it might seem more public than…Will have occasional when we write about things (Richard Powells or Roger Schank, or general in America’s Army, Ian Bogost, Marie-Laure Ryan), respond right away. Intimate public, known public, outside public.
Michael: surprised by the times that people reading the blog respond…. Within an hour the organizers of the conference.
Scott: Place where stake holders feel comfortable responding…
Nick: What would make it more welcoming?
Mary: I do feel if I post something about Gender or Race that gets a lot of comments in the negative sense. It is a little overwhelming. If you want put some post out there about some problematic design and ten people post on, it makes you want to post less.
Scott: Gender?
Mary: no , conceptual issues versus identity issues. I talk about race, ethnicity, and class, activist stuff — it is political charged stuff, brings up a lot more dialogue.
Nick: In productive ways, we should have that dialogue In the technical posts, we’re only going to comment if we have something to offer.
Because we have a lot of different perspectives…they reply…and say, someone see that as offensive…I don’t, maybe I’ll post.

Michael: There’s always a troll. Am I being trolled or not. How much obligation do I feel to answer — someone commenting in an pointed way to draw you into an argument — deliberately misunderstanding you.
Nick: Problem, sufficiently developed ignorance is indistinguishable from trolling…
Andrew: Wish we had more comments among themselves..
Nick: Blogging software. Time we’ve had collaboratively authored posts, limitation of the post. The one modification I made to WordPress. People can’t edit each other’s post.

The other realm of the blog…What is the relationship of this to the academic community?
Michael: for some of my longer-form blog posts — it isn’t big enough to be an article..You’ve thought enough to write a page about it. OR for a repository to links to other interesting works…
Scott: Memex approach to things. Shared
Noah: It’ a way of keeping up what’s going on in the field.
Nick: One of the nice things is that the blog is not only about scholarly communication. Bring in issues of art that interest you, etc.
Andrew: The biggest appeal for me is that we are all practitioners…trying to build stuff.

Simon: New relationships between game and play. Perry and I…long time practitioner in practices that verge on open-ended play but are non-textual. Sensorial… Both their relationship to computational tools. While it’s clear that the kinds of software platforms are more amenable to expanded forms of literature and the kinds of practices that demand embodied engagement in specific situations — artifacts that have texture — there’s a gap there. How we talk about gaming.
Interactive Literature is at one side of the continuum, sensory engagement is at the other side.

I remember seeing you playing Mary’s game with John Caley. While it’s that may phone can accept .
It assumes that the revolution that took place in music did not.
Turning out collage-based sentences is not as acceptable as collage-based music.
It’s true that there are a lot of things that make text possible, computational text feels like it’s in its infancy.

Michael: A lot of what we discuss on the blog is about textual art, narrative, screen-based things: If you look at the show, there are all the embodied things: the joystick, the stickers. embodiment is key in fundamental things.
Q: Is it more about your interests or what’s suitable to the physical space.
Q: The AR piece was an addition.
Mary: But if you look at the kinds of works we’re interested in. Without the joystick, the show would have much less to do with games than it does. I’ve equally shown lots of…The name of our blog is about a game-ish place
Noah: Or is it a crime?
More keyboards in the space than there was:
gtxa_unknown.jpg Mary: Simon, your challenge to us is something that I’ve considered in my own work. We’ve done lots of text. I’ve done object work. But how I got there was any interesting path.
Simon: There are a number of different planes. One of the planes is that at its core— the technology represents abstract symbolic representations — not effect physical spaces.
Michael: So AI-based art should be huge, but, you know, not so huge. (laughs) so I am a computationalist. I don’t see people using the general symbol manipulator at their disposal.
Scott: [something about textual practices I missed] These experiences would not have to be procedural.
Noah: As a writer, I want to put text anywhere someone would read it. I’m genuinely unavoidably obsessed with text.
We should be thinking about MS Word Macros and MS Word files.
Nick: Writing practice. I’m a writer. You are an artist, too. I’m a writer. Like Scott, would you put yourself in that camp?
Scott: Not till the paychecks come.
Nick: Engage in artistic practices. If you go to the art section, you are going to find works attributed to multiple authors, but if you go into a bookstore, you are not going to find multiple-authored works.
Noah: Or you’ll find multiple-authored works attributed to just one person.
Perry Hoberman: Fiction: Fiction isn’t quite right. Nonfiction functions. I think there is this sense in which for me — that’s one of the things that unites all of your practices, you do have an interest in story. In some way, to lose myself or put myself in a story in a way I find interferes with my direct experience. So I tend to stay away from that. The kind of stories I’m interested in, the fiction or character is the kind of thing I avoid
Noah: It reconfigures
Q: Sometimes it feels like a distraction….That’s another axis you could look at this one….story fiction vs…. Certainly language exists that’s not about language.
Noah: Only Mary’s piece locates things differently.
Michael: Not sure we’re all interested in fiction. I’m also interested in AI-based art. Nick is more of a poet than a fiction writer, if I was going to put him in a category. Mary are you interested in fiction at all?
Mary: No. Narrative, questions of storyteling, the use of language, but it’s a lot of that richness. And then not language, translating it into something else. It’s based in language. I want to make this axis of which you think.
Simon: Build it like a see-saw
Michael: Fun to ride on.
Michael: I do feel there are lots of polarities that are running through this group in so many ways. Knowing these people….these criss cross connections are what draw me in. They are defined by a bunch of axes.
Nick: What we’re willing to entertain. The background [literacy] we have with different new media projects. It’s not that the issue concerns me, but I understand what it grows out of. Interested in seeing how it all develops.
Noah: The goal of a lot of my work, now that I’m thinking about this continuum, is to try to find a way to tie those two ends of the continuum together. To propose a traditional text while finding a way to [losing it here] having something computational happen.

Q: 3 areas: Text, Games, Fiction.

Michael=:Generative art
Nick: A lot of us do work that interrogates the technology itself. Michael’s TA is about AI.
Mary: Text, Games, and Fiction, but there’s poetics.
Nick: But computers definitely have something to do with it.
Mary: You know, cultural studies of computational languages, programming, software studies.
Simon Penny: Nick and Michael, paper on obfuscating computer languages…..the funniest academic.
Noah: Funniest paper delivered. And it was about software and code.

How do you balance blogging with the responsibilities of your academic life?

8 Responses to “The Exhibitionists of GTxA”

  1. 1 noah

    Mark — wow — that’s a lot of notes. And some interesting reflections on AR Facade (love the “world of baggage”). I think Steven Dow would probably like to talk with you more…

  2. 2 Scott Rettberg

    Nice work on these notes, Mark. One quick note — my response “not until the paychecks start coming” was a response to Nick’s question as to whether I’d consider myself an artist rather than a writer. It was kind of a joke.

  3. 3 Mark Marino

    Thanks, fellows, I will update the post with your corrections! And Scott, I took it as a joke as written, too. Throughout the panel you were lobbing one-liners and my transcribing rarely captured the delivery.

  4. 4 Scott Rettberg

    Mark — You’re still up! Man. I posted a short video of the Unknown experiencing AR Façade.

  5. 5 Christy Dena

    Great stuff Mark! Thanks for sharing this, I wish I could of gone to the event.

  6. 6 Steven Dow

    Very insightful Mark. In fact we published a study that supports your sentiment… “what ensued however as I became more acclimated was truly one of the most uncomfortable interactive experiences of my life — very true to the game.” We also found that players did have a hard time stepping out of the role, to engage playfully. The original desktop version feels more like portraying a role, rather than “being” the role, making the uncomfortable social scenario more pleasant – to some extent. :)

  1. 1 Grand Text Auto » Big Joy Stick, Big Baggage
  2. 2 Grand Text Auto » More on the GTxA the Show

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