MACHINE Reading Series Gears Up for 2006

The MACHINE reading series, which takes place at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, has a new Web page. MACHINE is co-sponsored by the Electronic Literature Organization, and the three events in the series so far have featured ELO board members Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland, and Nick Montfort along with several other electronic literature authors: Interactive fiction authors Emily Short, Dan Ravipinto, and Star Foster, and Unknown co-authors William Gillespie and Dirk Stratton. Past events have included Interactive Fiction Walkthroughs and Joint Work, a reading of literary collaborations with digital dimensions.

Two Spring 2006 events are being planned now; information about them will be added to the page and announced on the ELO site as soon as it is available.

The Minotaur Project

The Minotaur ProjectThe Minotaur Project is a cluster of four poems fused with image, movement and sound. It is part of a hypermedia novel in verse that explores contemporary issues of identity using the framework of classical myth. Minotaur appears as a fragmented persona confined in the computer’s labyrinth. It attempts to understand self and others (specifically Kore, the main character in this verse novel) without that primary means of connection to the sensate world, the body. See the Directory entry for more information about this piece.

They Come in a Steady Stream Now

They Come in a Stready Stream NowPowers’s compelling short story meditates on spam and connects our computer-mediated commuications and experiences with the contents of our memory. This Flash presentation provides the story in a series of email messages, delivered to a simulated inbox. See the Directory entry for more information about this piece.

Bleeding Through

Bleeding ThroughBleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, 1920-1986 is a co-production between USC’s Labyrinth Project, Germany’s ZKM (Center for Art And Media), and cultural historian Norman Klein. It poetically explores the history of a small area near downtown Los Angeles — a city often thought to have no history or downtown. Images of the city past and present are superimposed upon each other, archival documents are presented for exploration, and Klein appears in a small video window to tell the story of Molly — a fictional neighbor based on a real person, who may have murdered her husband.


Eliza/DoctorWeizenbaum devised a startling invention in the mid-1960s: the first computer character. When Eliza system that he built ran his script, Doctor, it could simulate a Rogerian psychotherapist in a way that was, if nothing else, highly amusing and enjoyable. Eliza/Doctor is the first “chatterbot,” and has remained available through the decades, since Weizenbaum documented the system well enough for it to be re-implemented.

The Beast

The BeastThe first successful alternate reality game, this project never had an official name or website, but involved writing and work in other media being distributed across the Web on thirty sites; on other Internet servies; via phone, fax, USPS, bathroom walls, and live events; as well as on TV. It never advertised itself as a game and in fact declared “this is not a game.” Microsoft developed this non-game, which centered on the mystery of the death of Evan Chan, to promote the movie A.I. Thousands worked to solve what came to be called “The Beast” — which involved interpreting nearly 4,000 documents (in four languages), constructing a nightmare database, decrypting from the WWII Enigma code, and so on — a feat only possible with many readers cooperating online.

The Unknown

The UnknownThe encyclopedia hypertext novel The Unknown tells the story of a group of successful authors (who call themselves “The Unknown” and happen to be named William Gillespie, Scott Rettberg, and Dirk Stratton) on a drug-crazed cross-country book tour. The Unknown has been publicly read more than three dozen times, in readings where the audience is invited to interrupt and take things in a different direction whenever linked text is read. See the Directory entry for more information about this piece.

The Carl Comics

The Carl ComicsThe author of Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics has invented several new comic forms for the Web. In “The Carl Comics,” McCloud offers an “expandable” comic and a “Choose Your Own Carl” that branches and recombines at numerous points, offering different horizontal and vertical paths. More than a thousand readers offered suggestions, participating in developing this “fully interactive, multiple path, reader-written, death-obsessed comics extravaganza.”

Thom Swiss Seminar at University of Queensland

ELO President Thom Swiss will be at the University of Queensland’s St. Lucia campus on Tuesday, August 9th, to give a talk on “New Media Literature and Art: A Writer’s Perspective”. Swiss will discuss “the possibilities for literature offered by the electronic convergence of words, images, and sound.” For complete information on this event, visit the University of Queensland’s Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies. This event is free and open to the public.

ELO’s Born-Again Bits Released

Following up on its pamphlet Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature, ELO has released online Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature by Alan Liu, David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Part of a continuing series of publications by ELO’s Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination (PAD) initiative, Born-Again Bits is a white paper that presents a conceptual, technical, and institutional framework for imagining how electronic literature — more experimental and harder to preserve than many other kinds of digital materials — can follow standards-based paths of migration into future technical environments. Two main kinds of migration strategies are addressed under the titles: “Interpreter Initiative” and “X-Lit Initiative.” (For a printed copy of this publication, contact Carol Wald at ELO.)

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afternoon, a story

afternoon, a storyafternoon, a story is one of the most widely-discussed works of electronic literature. It is the story of Peter, a technical writer who (in one reading) begins his afternoon with a terrible suspicion that the wrecked car he saw hours earlier might have belonged to his former wife: “I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning.” See the Directory entry for more information about this piece.


GalateaShort’s all-text simulation lets the interactor converse with a statue that has come to life. Depending on how the conversation affects the mood of Pygmalion’s creation, and where the conversation goes, different secrets will be unfolded and different (sometimes incompatible) backstories will be revealed. Galatea won the 2000 IF Art Show and set the standard for compelling characters in interactive fiction. See the Directory entry for more information about this piece.


FaçadeFaçade, a finalist 2004 Independent Games Festival, is an interactive drama that is visually rich and dramatically deep. A first-person-shooter interface accepts typed conversational statements and allows the animated characters, Trip and Grace, to speak back to this drama’s “player” as their marriage dissolves.

New Reviews in Cyberculture Studies

Jeff Rice’s Writing About Cool: Hypertext and Cultural Studies in the Computer Classroom is reviewed by J.M. King at the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. Other books reviewed include Women and Everyday Uses of the Internet: Agency and Identity (Lang, 2002); Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace (MIT Press, 2004); and Granny@Work: Aging and New Technology on the Job in America.


ShadeIn this brief work of interactive fiction, Plotkin (a.k.a. zarf) causes the ordinary actions of looking for a glass of water and searching for plane tickets to turn terrifying, transforming an ordinary setting. Shade is a very unusual entry in the classic “one room game in your apartment” category.