Thursday, 4 April 2013

IF Statement

Courtesy of

Let's talk about interactive fiction for a bit, shall we? The stuff's been around for ages and despite what many might think there's still a dedicated community out there creating and playing these wonderful text games.

Both the things I'd like to show you have been around for a while. First up is the Inklewriter, an online tool created by Inkle Studios. Inklewriter is an easy to use editor that let's you create your own piece of interactive fiction. Using blocks of text and a simple logic of links and if-statements you can have your  choose-your-own-adventure story up in no time. Admittedly, this is more of a hypertext editor than a true interactive fiction tool, but it's a fun tool to play around with and a good place to start. Wondering what all this would look like? You're in luck then, because here's something I prepared earlier. This is my own little experiment with the Inklewriter. It's not all that complicated - no crazy loops or if-statements - but it'll give you a good idea of the look and feel. It turned out longer and a bit more rambly than I expected, but hey, it's a good story. Actually, it's kinda terrible and a little self-indulgent. But in a good way. Enjoy. Think you can do better? Then click here and get cracking.

All right, the second thing I want to share is some interactive fiction of the command prompt variety. This variety lets the player enter text commands as opposed to clicking on predetermined links giving the player more freedom to play the game at his or her own pace. This stuff takes a little bit more effort to get into nowadays, but it can be a very worthwhile experience. One of my personal favorites is Galatea. It's very free form, keeps track of what has been said so far and has multiple endings. I'm not going to spoil it but you can read about and download it here. Or you can just go here and play it in your browser (as long as it supports Java).

If you really like this sort of stuff and want more of it, then head over to the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction and dig into their collection.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hitting the Social City

Last week I visited the Social Cities of Tomorrow workshops and conference. I could try and describe what it was all about but the organizers have already done a pretty good job at that.

A quote from the website:
"Our everyday lives are increasingly shaped by digital media technologies, from smart cards and intelligent GPS systems to social media and smartphones. How can we use digital media technologies to make our cities more social, rather than just more hi-tech?

This was the lead question for the international conference and workshop Social Cities of Tomorrow, organised by The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform with the support of ARCAM. The event took place in February 2012 at several locations in Amsterdam and brought together key thinkers and doers working in the fields of new media and urbanism."

Have a look around the website. There's good stuff there about the workshop cases and participants, as well as information on the three keynote speakers. Usman Haque, Natalie Jeremijenko and Dan Hill all had interesting things to say and showed a lot of their work.

It's not inconceivable that at some point you might be particularly interested in what I had to say about the whole event. If you are such a discerning reader, please click here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Weighty Papers: Generative Biomedia Art

An axe wielding executioner in a movie once said: "There's always room for one more!" Now, that's a rule I live by. It doesn't matter if your talking about drinks at the pub, prison tattoos or body kits for my car, there's always room for one more. It also counts for posting papers to my blog, obviously. This one's a bit arty and full of talk about biomedia, generative art and the conceptual notion that everything is made of information.

Do you like snippets? Here, have one:
Biomedia explores the convergence of digital and biotechnology, leading to a world where eventually the concepts and materiality of either can be applied to the other. Generative art is often inspired by biological phenomenon, yet the execution is often purely digital. This equates itself to one side of the biomedia coin where the biological is recontextualized using digital technology. The other side of the coin, where digital concepts are fully applied to the biological, are less prevalent. Though artists are conceptually exploring this space, practical biotechnology is not yet advanced enough for easy artistic application.
Not satisfied by tiny biomedia morsels? Then bite down in that big juicy biomedia burger here. It's okay. There's always room for one more.

Weighty Papers: Fully Immersed

I'm on a roll. Like a lizard shedding its skin and prancing around with it for the world to see, I'm unleashing another one of my papers into the Internet jungle. This time I wrote about how different aspects of game design influence a player's sense of immersion. Here's me saying that very same thing, only with more and bigger words:
Many different aspects of a game’s design can have a big impact on the immersive qualities of the playing experience. Some of these rely on embodiment and physicality while others are more focused on the psychological and social involvement of the player. The remainder of this paper is dedicated to highlighting various game design aspects and to examining how all of them together influence a player’s overall sense of immersion.
Using many examples, I discuss how world building and storytelling can influence a player's sense of place by tusing (meta-)narrative techniques. I also look at how a player's sense embodiment is influenced by interface design and player perspective, paying attention to the artificiality of some interfaces versus ones that are integrated into the game world. Lastly, I look at the differences between singleplayer and multiplayer games. In some cases the presence of other people can greatly enhance the immersive qualities of a game, in other cases it completely obliterates them.

Game scholar predators can devour my work here.

Weighty Papers: Anonymous Politics

Having come across this article on the political dimensions of Anonymous, I thought why not throw my own two cents out there. Back in December 2010 I wrote a paper about Anonymous, triggered by their retaliatory attacks against Mastercard and PayPal for denying their services to WikiLeaks. This being an assignment for my Digital Methods class at the UvA, I set about investigating the history of Anonymous by analyzing the content of the Wikipedia article about the group. In particular I looked at the nature of the operations Anonymous involved itself in, the amount of vandalism inflicted on the article (for the lulz, obviously) and the users doing the editing.

Here's a snippet:

Based on the collected information, it does seem like Anonymous has adopted more of an activist mentality lately, especially in comparison to the earlier years. While serious issues related to the Church of Scientology were dealt with as Project Chanology, cases of harassment and trolling continued as evidenced by the defacement of websites dedicated to epilepsy support and hip-hop music. The turning point seems to have been Anonymous’ involvement with the 2009 Iran election protests. Following this event, all of their actions have been related to free speech, censorship, net neutrality and the opposition of copyright enforcement. However, it must be said that their methods have remained largely the same, still revolving around the DDoS attack, and that the curious sense of humor and inside jokes remain.
You can find the article here.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

ERROR: The Art of the G/itch

I recently curated a mini exhibition on glitch art together with two of my classmates at the UvA. When I say mini exhibition I mean we gathered a bunch of online videos and watched them on a big screen. It was good fun and we managed to give one girl a headache. Head on over to Masters of Media to see the entire collection along with our curatorial statement. Here's a quick snippet:
"This mini exhibition has been assembled based on the concept of ‘destructive creativity’. This artistic principle focuses on the unexpected use of technology where preconceptions of aesthetic value are manipulated, twisted and obliterated. Purposefully bending and breaking technology in order to create errors and glitches attacks the set limitations of standardized technology and art, and pushes the observer to think outside the box. ‘Destructive creativity’ is not tied to any specific form or style and incorporates many different media. Visuals, audio, games and code can all be used."
So yeah, art speak. Also, the posts contains cool videos on circuit bending, data moshing, a cello made out of televisions and more simultaneous Pikachu's than any sane person can handle. Have a look.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Exploring the Zone of Alienation

Please, allow me to indulge myself. Let me tell you a tale about a book, a film, a series of video games and what is perhaps the world’s eeriest man made disaster area. I’ll even throw in a bit of media theory. Let me tell you about the Zone of Alienation.

Following the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor station in 1986, a 30 km exclusion zone was established around the plant to ease the evacuation of civilians and prevent others from entering the highly contaminated area. Despite being a horrible example of technology gone awry, this Zone of Alienation, as it’s come to be called, has acquired almost mythical properties. Mankind attempted to control a mysterious, invisible force and failed. The crumbling architecture and abandoned machinery bare silent witness to this failure even today. As a tale of human hubris, it bears a striking resemblance to the story of Icarus’ burned wings, only with less feathers and more concrete. One can even go so far as to say that the Zone as a whole is a direct manifestation and perhaps permanent reminder of the failed Communist experiment.

Though it might seem obvious that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a fertile breeding ground for the imagination, the idea of an invisible, unknowable force infecting the land already resonated within the former Soviet Union. The 1972 science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic, written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, describes the existence of a mysterious quarantine zone. An area where the normal laws of physics seem warped and sometimes completely broken. Most likely extra-terrestrial in nature, this zone is filled with strange objects and materials utterly alien to mankind. Though cordoned off by the military and regularly examined by researchers, the zone is also routinely raided by ‘stalkers,’ desperate individuals who crawl through the zone’s muck, hunting for alien artifacts and hoping to sell them on the thriving black market. Though the zone still bears traces of human habitation – abandoned houses, factories, railways – it has become something else entirely. The land itself has become poisoned and lethal. Like ants and forest animals confronted with the remnants of a roadside picnic, mankind simply cannot fathom what has taken place inside the zone. As with the real Chernobyl Zone of Alienation, the zone described by the Strugatsky’s was seen by some as a metaphor for the entire Communist system. A system that had proven to be hazardous to its people as well as its lands.

The story doesn’t end here, though. In 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky directed a movie called Stalker. Loosely based on Roadside Picnic, the movie tells the tale of a stalker as he guides a professor and a writer through a mysterious zone. Tarkovsky’s presentation of the zone is strikingly minimalist. Long, meandering takes that pan across the still landscape, sparse dialogue and an atmospheric musical score lend the movie an otherworldly feel. The zone’s deadly anomalies are never actually seen, but the ruined industrial landscape combined with the stalker’s reverence for its power make the zone feel authentic. This is an area that can break a man if he doesn’t obey its rules and treats it with respect. The danger is real. Over the years many rumours have surfaced pertaining to the actual locations depicted in the movie. Some said that it was actually filmed in the areas surrounding the real Chernobyl plant. The movie, however, was shot on location in Estonia. In a curious blend of reality and fiction, the film reels containing the first version of the film were destroyed due to the dangerous chemicals that saturated the area. The film crew themselves were also effected. Many experienced illness and even cancer due to their time spent filming on location. Like the fictional stalkers, they had risked too much and the zone had changed them.

The actual event of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is still felt throughout the modern day Ukraine and Belarus. Confronted with the Zone of Alienation, nearby inhabitants reached out towards the compelling stories of the fictional zones depicted by the Strugatsky’s and Tarkovsky. Soon, real life stalkers ventured inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone risking health and freedom to loot whatever valuables were left behind during the evacuation.

Stalker - The Game
The mythology surrounding the Zone of Alienation, already as vibrant as, say, that of Area-51, received a new impulse in 2007 with the release of the computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadows of Chernobyl by GSC Game World. This game fuses the fictional zones of Roadside Picnic and Stalker with the myths and locale of the actual Chernobyl exclusion zone. Presented as a first-person shooter, the player assumes the role of a stalker and hunts for artifacts, fights mutant wildlife and explores derelict military-industrial complexes. Consisting of three separate games at this moment, the series depicts the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation as a highly atmospheric, desolate area filled with dangers both visible and invisible. Spending the night in a ruined factory complex, huddled around a campfire gives a real sense of adventure, despair and ever present danger. Another example of fiction bleeding into reality are the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. cosplay events where fans dress up in a mix of disheveled military gear and home-made sci-fi equipment and battle each other across outdoor areas.

To add a little theory to this hopefully entertaining yet otherwise light piece, I’d like to call upon the remediation and premediation theories presented by Bolter & Grusin and Grusin respectively. Remediation theory is based on the concept that one medium can be represented inside another medium. Of particular interest is the idea that “remediation… reform[s] reality itself.” Starting chronologically, the movie Stalker is a remediation of the book Roadside Picnic. Not so much because it cinematically represents the book itself, but because it remediates its fictional reality. Together, both the book and the movie premediate the creation of the actual Chernobyl Zone of Alienation. This might seem odd, but is in line with Grusin’s theory which states that “the logic of premediation…insists that the future itself is also already mediated.” A more radical standpoint would be to say that the Chernobyl event was actually a remediation of the book and movie, because it reformed reality itself according to their fictions. The next step in this chain of remediation events is the creation of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. computer games. In its fictional depiction of the Chernobyl zone, the series remediates both the book and movie, but also the actual Zone of Alienation. Because the games are set in the near future, who knows, they might even be premediations of a future yet to unveil itself. Other examples of remediation include the real-life Chernobyl stalkers adopting the ‘stalker’ moniker and customs and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. cosplay events.

If all this talk of reality warping zones and stalking has peaked your interest, perhaps you should look into taking a guided tour of the actual Chernobyl area. I’m not kidding, this is actually possible. If you prefer a less intense introduction to the zone and its wonders, maybe you should start by reading the book, watching the movie and playing some of the games. I highly recommend them. Be careful not to stare into the zone too deeply, though. It might look back.

This post was inspired by Jim Rossignol’s post on BLDGBLOG, which is a wonderful website with an out-of-the-box approach to architecture.


Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard. “Remediation.” Configurations 4.3 (1996): 311 – 358. Print.

Grusin, Richard. “Premediation.” Criticism 46.1 (2004): 17 -39. Print.