Narrative, Play and Social Space

I’m interested in addressing the question of how an increasingly mobile, ubiquitous and interoperable communications infrastructure can enable new forms of computationally-mediated narrative, both in terms of traditional author-to-audience storytelling and emerging modes of collaborative networked expression and participation. Three broad classes of activity inform this inquiry: the development of cross-media artworks that go beyond the frame of the screen; procedural approaches to drama management; and the role of play in creating hybrid forms of audience and community.

Key questions I will address in this context include: Can highly-mediated approaches to play and narrative, many of which involve the deep and tangled integration of story-telling and story-consuming into the fabric of everyday life, produce emotional and social effects analogous to those produced by the novel or the narrative cinema? What kinds of theoretical frameworks can help us to understand how ruleset-driven cross-media narrative experiences fit into the history of performance and representational art? And finally, as the lines between audience and community, author and participant blur in the context of highly personalized, network-enabled game-like story-activities such as SF0 or World Without Oil, is it even possible to address issues of identity and epistemology without inventing new terms and poetics?

Crucial to this study will be an examination of the intersection between structured social play and computational drama-management systems (e.g. Facade, Oz). How can procedural approaches to story-making help to guide massively-scaled improvisations in social space? What are the limitations of such systems, and what are their core affordances? Can game-like, goal-directed improvisational encounters be mediated by computational agencies such that the end result is a focused and clearly-articulated narrative? Or is the insistence on notions of dramatic unity, parsimony and closure an unreasonable intervention of “legacy” critical modes on a fundamentally novel medium?

An inquiry into the nature of this intersection is essential as we enter an age of ubiquitous information technology wherein the respective agencies of authors, crowds and machines promise to collide in productive and unpredictable ways. Drawing on recent research in the field of computational drama management, I will explore the notion of a “procedurally-authored Alternate Reality Game system,” both as a means of deploying cross-media artworks such as my ongoing Black Sea Tapes project, and as a way to enable massively-scaled narrative play systems wherein player/participants co-create game-like narrative objectives alongside a computational agency. In developing this system, I hope to explore a range of possible futures for the role of computation in cross-media narrative and structured social play.

Key readings include the critical theory of Deleuze and Guattari; drama management research by Michael Mateas, Andrew Stern and Joseph Bates; the “relational aesthetics” of Nicolas Bourriaud; Situationist polemics and manifestos from the “New Games Movement” of the 1970s; notes on the persuasive and political aspects of game play by Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca; Jane McGonigal’s extensive research on Alternate Reality Gaming; and visions of the future of community and ubiquitous computing by Clay Shirky and Rich Gold.

HBR Breakthrough Ideas for 2008: ARG

From the Harvard Business Review’s list of Breakthrough Ideas for 2008:

In the coming decade, many businesses will achieve their greatest breakthroughs by playing games—specifically, alternate reality games, or ARGs. Custom-designed ARGs will enable companies to build powerful collaboration networks, discover solutions to specific business problems, forecast opportunities, and innovate more reliably and quickly.

ARGs are immersive, massively multiplayer experiences that unfold in the course of people’s real lives for days, weeks, or months. ARG designers, known as “puppet masters,” distribute thousands of story pieces, puzzles, and missions via websites, e-mail, mobile messaging, online video, and podcasts. The players who receive these building blocks use wikis, social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs to analyze clues, debate interpretations, devise mission strategies, predict game events, and ultimately build a common narrative. (Harvard Business Review)

Mariko Takahashi’s Fitness Video

This is a mesmerizing and frightening video. It’s a word-for-word parody of Susan Powter’s first workout video, featuring poodles and a crazy poodle-woman. Absolutely surreal. It was made by Nagi Noda for Panasonic. It was part of 10 films they made for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Reprap: The self-replicating replicator

RepRap will make plastic, ceramic, or metal parts, and is itself made from plastic parts, so it will be able to make copies of itself. It is a three-axis robot that moves several material extruders. These extruders produce fine filaments of their working material with a paste-like consistency. If RepRap were making a plastic cone, it would use its plastic extruder to lay down a quickly-hardening filament of molten plastic, drawing a filled-in disc. It would then raise the plastic extrusion head and draw the next layer (a smaller filled disc) on top of the first, repeating the process until it completed the cone. To make an inverted cone it would also lay down a support material under the overhanging parts. The support would be removed when the cone was complete. Conductors can be intermixed with the plastic to form electronic circuits – in 3D even!

This process is called fused deposition modeling; machines that do this are called 3D printers, rapid prototypers, or fabbers. They are very useful. Unfortunately they are also very expensive – €20,000 or more – and existing models don’t self-replicate. The RepRap build cost will be less than €400 for the bought-in materials, all of which have been selected to be as widely available everywhere in the world as possible. Also, the RepRap software will work on all computer platforms for free. Complete open-source instructions and plans are published on this website for zero cost and available to everyone so, if you want to make one yourself, you can. (

The Trouble With Five

We are all familiar with the simple ways of tiling the plane by equilateral triangles, squares, or hexagons. These are the three regular tilings: each is made up of identical copies of a regular polygon — a shape whose sides all have the same length and angles between them — and adjacent tiles share whole edges, that is, we never have part of a tile’s edge overlapping part of another tile’s edge.

In this collection of tilings by regular polygons the number five is conspicuously absent. Why did I not mention a regular tiling by pentagons? It turns out that no such tiling can exist, and it’s not too hard to see why: a regular pentagon has five interior angles of 108°. If we try to place pentagons around a point, we find that three must leave a gap — because 3 × 108 = 324, which is less than the 360° of the full circle — and four must overlap — because 4 × 108 = 432, which is more than the 360° of the circle (

David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — And Megastars


The fact that Radiohead debuted its latest album online and Madonna defected from Warner Bros. to Live Nation, a concert promoter, is held to signal the end of the music business as we know it. Actually, these are just two examples of how musicians are increasingly able to work outside of the traditional label relationship. There is no one single way of doing business these days. There are, in fact, six viable models by my count. That variety is good for artists; it gives them more ways to get paid and make a living. And it’s good for audiences, too, who will have more — and more interesting — music to listen to. Let’s step back and get some perspective. (Wired)