As a practice, we don’t announce talks at WRT, but this one presents an interesting convergence, a kind of crossover episode where the IF League meets the X-Bots meets the Game Squad in one of those moments of academic alliance: But who are we fighting against?

Second Person: An evening on writing and gameplay

6-8pm, April 4, 2007,
Scott Fisher’s CTIN 511 USC’s Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts (RZC), Room 201 Zemeckis Media Lab (ZML)

[This talk is not open to the public, but we will blog about it afterwards. The hosts can answer inquiries about access.]

As part of the LA book launch for Second Person, Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (MIT Press 2007) several of the contributors and one of the editors will be speaking at USC to one of the Masters classes in interactive media. Editor, artist, and scholar Noah Wardrip-Fruin will present the collection joined by WRT’s Jeremy Douglass and Mark Marino and renown video game creator Jordan Mechner.

The talk marks one of the first public launch stops for Second Person on the West Coast but more importantly marks an important presentation of a few of the many topics in the collection, namely mainstream video games, interactive fiction, and conversational agents. Of course, these topics leave out the table top games, the interactive dramas, et cetera. What you realize from considering this list is just how varied the objects of study in Second Person are, though the menagerie does make a coherent zoological exhibition.

Here are some excerpts from posted reviews of the collection, albeit some written by contributors:

Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media is a remarkably rich book, covering amateur and commercial projects in a number of media and forms. Second Person blew me away…. I haven’t much to say about some articles: George R. R. Martin’s history of the invention of the Wild Cards series; a number of pieces on RPG design in various systems; etc. Inasmuch as I’m in a position to evaluate these essays at all, I generally thought them very good, and often quite enjoyable. But here I will be picking out just a few themes. Emily Short

I won’t even go into the articles by Erik Mona, Jonathan Tweet, Will Hindmarch, Rebecca Borgstrom, Jim Wallis, and John Tynes on RPGs, or the three (yes, three!) short yet complete RPGs packaged with the book, or those boring old articles on computer gaming. This book is expensive, but if you are writing for Call of Cthulhu (or want to do so), you need to read the two articles I mentioned. Buy the book, look for it at a local library, or get it through interlibrary loan. They’re that good. Daniel Harms

It’s a goodie. Four hundred pages of essays and discussions on all aspects of interactive narrative, story-telling and character in games and games design, written by a veritable B to Z of industry notables, from Ian Bogost to Eric Zimmerman…..Before I saw the book I was a little afraid that its tone would be as dry as First Person (MIT, 2004) which is hard work for those of us who’ve been out of academia for twenty years, and that my piece would make me look like a yokel as a result. I’ve only dipped and skimmed so far, but it all looks accessible for those of us who don’t speak fluent academe, and with really meaty thought-provoking content. Cope: James Wallis

(emphasis mine in all three)

What’s remarkable about these reviews, even when by contributors, is their collective admiration of the book side by side with their distance from large portions of the content — distance that ranges from Emily Short’s abstaining from commenting on various articles to Daniel Harms’ snap about computer games. (See also Short’s recent reflections on the relationship of IF and new media poetry.) Wallis’ comment stresses a further source of fragmentation caused by the often unbearable language of being in the academy.  Of course, these are amicable rivalries and disciplinary divisions among colleagues, but there is a sense underlying these reviews that this group is a bit of an uneasy coalition, or that all of these genres have been invited to the party by Harrigan and Wardrip-Fruin but are a bit reluctant to mix, having been snubbed by other parties and other guests. It is the sign of good anthologizing to bring these all together, but it is also a sign that Harrigan and Wardrip-Fruin have more than just a collection, they have a thesis, and an agenda: to foster the development of narrative games, playable stories, and game-like dramas.

Jeremy and I, of course, are here at WRT. Here are brief bios for the other presenters as well as short descriptions of their topics.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin
Noah Wardrip-Fruin is a digital media writer, artist, and scholar. His writing/art has been presented by galleries, arts festivals, scientific conferences, DVD magazines, and the Whitney and Guggenheim museums. In addition to Second Person, he has edited First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (2004, with Pat Harrigan) and The New Media Reader (2003, with Nick Montfort), both from MIT Press. He is an Assistant Professor of Communication at UCSD, a Vice President of the Electronic Literature Organization, and a blogger at

Noah will talk about the overall Second Person project.

Jordan Mechner
Jordan Mechner is one of the world’s best-known videogame creators. His games, including Karateka, Prince of Persia, The Last Express, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, have sold millions of copies and received worldwide critical acclaim. He is also the director of two award-winning short films, Waiting for Dark and Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story. Mechner received his BA from Yale University.

Jordan will talk about his Second Person contribution, which was about the writing and story and game design for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

In “Enlightening Interactive Fiction” Jeremy Douglass discusses the meaning of Andrew Plotkin’s Shade en terms of both surface signification and source code, continuing how the medium and its particular history shape the message of the individual work unfolding before the player.

I will present my hypermedia tale “12 Easy Lessons to Better Time Travel” (Windows or Mac) which is featured in Second Person, presenting some of the functionality I have been adding since the publication of that book.

What binds these talks together is no doubt a consideration of the poetics of play, of the narrative of games. Second Person in some ways searches for the story in games even as it fosters the production of storied games by highlighting some examples. It is like a folksonomic tagging of objects as story-games that encourages others to make objects that fit this category.

4 Responses to “2/3 WRT + 1/6 GTxA + 1 Prince = Second Person @ USC”

  1. 1 Emily Short

    To be fair, I wasn’t abstaining from comment out of rivalry or sense of distance. In some cases, though, I felt unqualified to offer a critical response (some of the articles on RPG design, e.g.), or had less to say because the articles in question were more narrative than theoretical (as in the case of Martin’s contribution). I did think the anthology an exceptionally good mix — I don’t *think* I implied that there was anything “uneasy” about it. But I was already writing a pretty long review, and I was aiming it primarily at members of the interactive fiction community, so I made a conscious decision to highlight the aspects of the book I thought would be most valuable to them.

    (For that matter, I also read Wallis’ comment as self-deprecation.)

    In any case, it sounds like a neat talk! And I do agree with you about the shape of the book overall; I’m just not sure the contributors were as unwilling to mix as you suggest…

  2. 2 Mark Marino

    Emily, thank you for your note.

    I did not mean to suggest you were abstaining because of rivalries. You were part of the “distance” example, and your “aiming it primarily at…” speaks very much to what I am noting, a fragmentation of scholarship (one that Second Person seems to try to redress). This fragmentation may be necessary for any depth of discussion, but it also seems to separate new media researchers.

    However, Second person does draw upon an array of mainstream forms and various new media — perhaps not the best word but — subcultures.

    As a result, authors may focus on (or favorite) different slices of the book. That may be the case for many anthologies, but it seems particularly the case in a book whose objects of study have such dedicated and often-disconnected bodies of scholars.

    Whether Second Person will allow our discussions to cross-fertilize or even coalesce into some aggregate study area remains to be seen.

  3. 3 Mark Marino

    Also, on second look, I agree with you on the Wallis and have since amended to discuss his comments on the alienating language of academia.

  4. 4 James Wallis

    Of course it was self-deprecation. The Wallis is British, after all. The paper I dismissed as ‘guff’ is my paper.

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