First Person

What is Queer Game Studies?

Addressing a lacuna in games studies, Jason Lajoie makes a case for why a queer games studies is needed, and he shows how these two areas of study are united in Bonnie Ruberg’s and Adrienne Shaw’s collection.

Infiltrating Aesthetics: Videogames, Art, and Distinction


Though scholars of literature and the arts remain skeptical, Strunk explores some of the ways “videogames are making the transition into being objects worthy of artistic attention.”

Field Notes from the Future of Publishing


At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Ed Finn and his team attempted to “write, edit, and publish a book in three days.” In this essay, Finn explains the process, outcomes, and future considerations of that collaborative experiment in writing, reading, and publishing in parallel and as performance, in the same room at the same time, as he attempts to answer the question, “What is the future of publishing?”

Critical Code Studies Week Five Opener - Algorithms are thoughts, Chainsaws are tools


Stephen Ramsay introduces a short film in which he does a live reading of composer Andrew Sorensen’s performance “Strange Places” and provides commentary.

Critical Code Studies Conference- Week Five Discussion


David Shepard heads off the discussion regarding Stephen Ramsay’s live reading of Andrew Sorensen’s “Strange Places.” His initial contribution is followed with posts by Amanda French, Mark Marino, Max Feinstein, Jeremy Douglass, Daren Chapin, John Bell, Jeff Nyoff, Jennifer Lieberman, and Stephen Ramsay, as well as Andrew Sorensen himself.

See the Strings: Watchmen and the Under-Language of Media


Engaged in his own kind of structured play, Stuart Moulthrop uses the concept of “under-language” to explore the boundaries, gutters, masked intentions, and hidden meanings of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen, while simultaneously using the graphic novel to provide an equally complex, over-determined rendering of the term.

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Four Introduction


Reviewing the week’s discussion of Programmed Visions, Sarah Zurhellen finds a pleasurable respite that, necessarily, generated as many questions as answers.

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Four Discussion


In Week 4, Critical Code Studies contributors kept the magic alive as they discussed Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “On Sourcery and Source Codes,” the first chapter of her forthcoming Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Informed by Chun’s psychoanalytic reading and her awareness of the materiality of code work, the conversation deals with fetishism, gender, genetics, and performativity in ways both abstract and tangible.

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Three Introduction


How do you annotate an experience? Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux grapple with competing logics of computer code at the intersection of Adventure, nostalgia and new media scholarship.

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Three Discussion


In Week 3 of a six-part series, Critical Code Studies contributors spelunk the mysteries of Colossal Cave Adventure, a seminal text adventure game. Delving into close readings of the original FORTRAN code, the group plots the twisty passages linking media theory, deconstruction and philosophies of programming.

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Two Introduction


Can Critical Code Studies overcome the divide between technology workers and technocultural theorists?

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week Two Discussion


In the second installment of a six-week discussion, contributors search for examples of Critical Code Studies “in the wild.” Instead of asking how code can be read critically, they examine how code is already being created and disputed by lawyers, programmers, and the general public.

Lost and Long-Term Television Narrative


David Lavery ponders the “neo-baroque” tap-dancing of TV’s most playful and commercially successful serial drama.

All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling, and Procedural Logic


Jason Mittell calls David Simon’s bluff: to what degree is The Wire really like a “televised novel”? To what degree is it more like a video game? Why not classify it as what it really is - a genre-spawning “masterpiece” in the medium of television.

Critical Code Studies and the electronic book review: An Introduction


Mark C. Marino explains the rationale for the Critical Code Studies Working Group, a six-week experiment in using social media for collaborative academic production. Marino also analyzes the first week’s discussion, which focused on debates about what it means to read “code as text.”

Critical Code Studies Conference - Week One Discussion


What does it mean to apply a “critical” lens to programming code? Members of the CCS Working Group grapple with this and other foundational questions, hashing out the methods, boundaries, and stakes of a new academic field. This essay is part of a series on Critical Code Studies distilled from a six week online discussion.

Reconnoitering the Rim: Thoughts on Deadwood and Third Seasons


Sean O’Sullivan explores numerous aspects of narrative and seriality in his examination of the HBO series Deadwood, created by David Milch. O’Sullivan argues that Deadwood often resists seriality’s dictates and conventions by adhering to, amongst other structures, Aristotlelian dramatic principles that are by nature at odds with seriality’s essence. This is but one example of the existence of an “internal constriction” that “pushes against some of the conventions of television serials by denying the very principle of expansiveness, of stretching out, inherently endorsed by a narrative that cannot be contained, whose sum exceeds our capacity to remember it.”

Multiculturalism in World of Warcraft


Christopher Douglas argues that within the fictional world of the popular online game World of Warcraft, race is not understood as being socially constructed, but rather as a biological fact, “composed of inherited, immutable, essential differences,” and thus perpetuates the old-fashioned “notion that the outward packaging signifies an inner reality, where the differences are.”

The Unit Is in the Eye of the Beholder


Emily Short interrogates Ian Bogost’s Unit Operations and finds his approach to videogame criticism too capacious in its attempt to account for a variety of expressive media, and too narrow in its focus on low-order choices in videogames.

Editors' Introduction to "Real Worlds"


Editors Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin introduce a group of essays on games that exceed the bounds of the tabletop playing session, the game console, or the computer screen - games that emerge out of, take place in, or encroach on, the real world.

Santaman's Harvest Yields Questions, or Does a Performance Happen if it Exists in a Virtual Forest?


Adriene Jenik describes a project of virtual performances via avatars in online chat spaces.

Finding the Game in Improvised Theater


Tim Uren argues that each improvisational theater scene functions as a game that generates its own rules within a few seconds of its inception, rules based on each performer’s observation of the audience and/or other actors.

Communities of Play: The Social Construction of Identity in Persistent Online Game Worlds


Celia Pearce applies the logics of identity politics, diaspora studies, and cultural studies to an online gaming community.

Me, the Other


Torill Elvira Mortensen explains the joys of the role-playing high, in which the player no longer has to contemplate how her character might act in a given situation; instead the player simply reacts as the character. Mortensen develops the case to argue that role-playing experience can lead to a cynicism about the sincerity of people’s out-of-character (or real-world) personae.

A Network of Quests in World of Warcraft


Jill Walker argues that although the quests in World of Warcraft lack the narrative or linguistic sophistication that we expect from literary texts, the sustained attention that players give to games equates with the attentiveness that readers give novels (or at least that readers once gave novels - back when novels had readers).

On Adventures in Mating


Joe Scrimshaw describes his interactive stage drama, which with the exception of the technologies it employs, operates much like the computer-based interactive fiction Facade (discussed elsewhere in this thread). Rather than using code to select the proper reaction to user input as in Facade, the audience of Adventures in Mating votes on the choices the characters make, a la a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

Eliza Redux


Adrianne Wortzel explains a revisioning of the 1960s computer-based therapist simulator, which moves beyond the original’s text-only interface to include graphics, robotics, and an ever-expanding vocabulary.

Video Games Go to Washington: The Story Behind The Howard Dean for Iowa Game


Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca explain a new genre: persuasive games, and delve into the development and emerging legacy of The Howard Dean for Iowa Game, “the first official video game ever commissioned in the history of U.S. presidential elections.” This new genre provides an opportunity to rethink the cultural status of games. If games are normally judged by how entertaining they are, persuasive games must be released from this criterion and assessed on how well they convey their message.



Robert Nideffer describes a multi-modal game in which the player will be more impressed with the number of media the game engages than with its (unexceptional) main character.

The Puppet Master Problem: Design for Real-World, Mission-Based Gaming


Jane McGonigal argues that pervasive games - which involve electronic and ‘real world’ missions - reverse the traditional conception of the power dynamics of gaming, which has understood gamers as free agents. In contrast, according to McGonigal, designers of pervasive games exercise power over players, though their control is ultimately compromised by players’ interpretive agency.

On A Measure for Marriage


Nick Fortugno describes a live-action role-playing game with a real-world consequence - a marriage proposal.

On Itinerant


Teri Rueb describes Itinerant and quotes excerpts from the project’s vocal track. The installation-style piece uses a GPS system and a headseat. As the participant walks through the allotted space, the GPS cues various recordings. Rueb claims to want “to implicate the participant as a charged body in public space whose movement and presence become critical agents in structuring the meaning of the work.”

On John Tynes's Puppetland


Sean Thorne explains how he uses Puppetland to help children improve their writing. The RPG allows the students to develop characters, and to participate in the construction of stories so that they’re imaginatively invested in what they write.

Political Activism: Bending the Rules


Kevin Whelan argues that there’s not much difference between role-playing games and grass-roots political activism.

Prismatic Play: Games as Windows on the Real World


John Tynes argues that it took the novel two hundred years to gain cultural capital; film, forty years; rock and roll, fifteen. Given this increasing velocity and the fact that it’s been three decades since Colossal Cave Adventure, interactive storytelling should have gained a much higher level of respect than it has. Tynes argues that games should eschew escapist fantasy for more timely “engagist” settings that would allow the player to reflect on contemporary life and politics.

Editors' Introduction to "Computational Fictions"


Editors Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin introduce the essays of the “Computational Fictions” section of Second Person, focusing on the conversion of human ludic interaction into computational processes - a necessary condition for computer games.

On Twelve Easy Lessons to Better Time Travel


Mark Marino explains Twelve Easy Lessons to Better Time Travel as an allegory of electronic writing, featuring characters that represent salient figures from Alan Turing to Shelley Jackson.

On Juvenate


Marie-Laure Ryan describes Juvenate as an audiovisual hypertext that can be navigated via a provided map or wandered through like a maze, evoking the question of whether the text is best understood as a narrative or a game.

The Creation of Floyd the Robot in Planetfall


Steve Meretzky reflects on one of the earliest (1982) NPCs (non-player characters) to evoke an emotional investment from videogame players. Meretzky draws attention to the fact that character development - integral to fiction and film - is not often emphasized in game design.

On Savoir-Faire


Emily Short explains that one of the goals of Savoir-Faire is to teach the player to become a magician. This pedagogical orientation means that - in contrast to interactive fictions that allow only a severely limited range of player input - Short’s game rewards undirected play because the player is not only solving puzzles, but also learning.

RE: Authoring Magritte: The Brotherhood of Bent Billiard


Talan Memmott describes The Brotherhood of Bent Billiard as “a narrative hack of Magritte’s symbolic calculus”; it allows the reader to negotiate a number of clickable Magritte-inspired screens, which provide the reader a forum for thinking through the questions of representation immanent in the painter’s work.

On Soft Cinema: Mission to Earth


Lev Manovich describes a filmic methodology for the information age: narratives structured on the logic of databases. The delegation of a large part of the editing Mission to Earth to a computer results in a product that is “between narrative and a search engine.”

On Solitaire


Helen Thorington describes Solitaire, a program for generating fiction in the same line as the projects explained by Chris Crawford and D. Fox Harrell elsewhere in this thread.

Pax, Writing, and Change


Stuart Moulthrop argues that Pax answers John Cayley’s question, “What would textual instruments look like?” Moulthrop maintains that one plays this electronic text (in the manner of a musical instrument) as much as one reads it.

Fretting the Player Character


Nick Montfort argues that the contentious notion of the “player character” usefully constrains and makes possible the player’s interaction with the gameworld. He considers the possibility that in interactive fiction one plays the character (like an actor plays a role) rather than playing the game.

Enlightening Interactive Fiction: Andrew Plotkin's Shade


Jeremy Douglass evaluates Shade within the history of interactive fiction, and considers how light is represented in the code structure of scene descriptions, arguing that “[w]ithout vision there is no agency.”

On The Archer's Flight


Mark Keavney describes his process in composing a story in which the readers voted on plot points as he was writing, resulting in a truly interactive fiction - a narrative in which, as Keavney puts it, “[n]either the players nor I owned the story completely.”

Jeff Tidball Responds to the Second Person Collection as a Whole


Jeff Tidball contends that the Second Person collection makes too much of the narrative vs. play debate, and pays attention to the mechanics of narrative and play over their affective capabilities.

Writing Façade: A Case Study in Procedural Authorship


Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern argue that new media practitioners and scholars should be literate in the code that underlies their objects of creation and study. To this end, they explain how they structured the code of their computer-based interactive drama Façade, which capitalizes on the procedural nature of computers to create a forum for participatory drama that negotiates players’ local and global agency within the game world.

The Sands of Time: Crafting a Video Game Story


Jordan Mechner explains how the team developing of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time incorporated a number of cinematic techniques such as flashback and voice over (which do not usually figure into video games) while also working within the practical restrictions of a commercial production schedule.

On The Breakup Conversation


Robert Zubek describes how his program takes advantage of the tropes of breakup conversations. These generic norms allow The Breakup Conversation to assess players’ textual entries categorically rather than semantically and thereby convincingly simulates an IM-based interaction.

Deikto: A Language for Interactive Storytelling


Chris Crawford walks through Deikto, an interactive storytelling language that “reduce[s] artistic fundamentals to even smaller fundamentals, those of the computer: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.”

GRIOT's Tales of Haints and Seraphs: A Computational Narrative Generation System


D. Fox Harrell considers what is computational about composition, and describes the GRIOT system for generating literary texts.

On And Then There Were None


Lee Sheldon describes his playable adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which relies on his invention of a “suspicion meter” to quantify and track the player’s interaction with - and assessments of - NPCs (non-player characters).

Between Acting and Narrating: Editors' Introduction to "Tabletop Systems"


The electronic release of Second Person starts with a number of essays on tabletop role-playing. Most of these consider the entanglement of play and narrative in a variety of game systems, from the highly controlled to the largely open-ended.

Design Decisions and Concepts in Licensed Collectible Card Games


Eric Lang (with Pat Harrigan) explains the advantages writers have in crafting adaptations of literary franchises into collectible card games. Lang maintains that, while attempting to remain true to the original, when turning narratives into games, one must “respect the medium.”

One Story, Many Media


Kevin Wilson describes his methodology of boiling a franchise down to its core elements and weighing the differences among media when translating games from medium to medium.

On Mystery of the Abbey


Bruno Faidutti begins with the controversial premise that “[e]very game tells a story,” in his description of how he uses literary techniques to enhance gameplay - even in non-RPG systems such as board games, which don’t traditionally include a story.

Creating a Meaning-Machine: The Deck of Stories Called Life in the Garden


Eric Zimmerman describes his interactive paper book as “an inverted exquisite corpse,” and although a digital version of the book would be easy to produce, he argues that an electronic edition would not produce as meaningful an experience as the printed volume.

On Life's Lottery


Kim Newman describes various methods of approaching his choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, which can be read or played because, like a role-playing game, “you are at once a reader and the main character.”

Structure and Meaning in Role-Playing Game Design


Using Exalted as her text, Rebecca Borgstrom begins with the premises that every role-playing game requires a setting, and that to establish a fictional world players work within a mutually agreed upon structure to construct meaning.

Making Games That Make Stories


James Wallis uses genre as the fulcrum for balancing game rules and narrative structure in story-telling games, which he differentiates from RPGs through their emphasis on the creation of narrative over character development.

Storytelling Games as a Creative Medium


Will Hindmarch contests Greg Costikyan’s challenge to the idea that “games have something to do with stories” by contending that “storytelling games reconcile the theoretically antithetical relationship between their two halves - story and game.”

It's All About You, Isn't It? Editors' Introduction to Second Person


Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin justify their focus on the experience of play over theory in their assemblage of the essays by game designers, players, and critics featured in Second Person - the book.

Games, Storytelling, and Breaking the String


Greg Costikyan revisits the narrative versus game-play debate that continues to be a staple of both Game Studies and Game Design. He presents a spectrum that ranges from game-focused forms to narrative-centric models, and suggests that free-form role-playing may be the most desireable marriage of narrative and game-play.

From the Basement to the Basic Set: The Early Years of Dungeons & Dragons


Erik Mona takes a first step toward measuring the cultural impact of Gygax and Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons by providing a pocket history of the game’s generation and evolution. Mona explains the addition of character development as a game goal - the innovation that distinguishes D&D from its predecessors, and started the role-playing revolution.

Narrative Structure and Creative Tension in Call of Cthulhu


Kenneth Hite argues that the long-running, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Call of Cthulhu franchise differs from traditional tabletop role-playing in its focus on suspense rather than character growth. Hite’s analysis suggests that in its origins and emphasis on narrative structure Cthulhu is a highly literary game.

On "The Haunted House"


Keith Herber discusses how in his “Haunted House” scenario for Call of Cthulhu, characters are driven insane by their attempt to unravel the game’s mysteries. Herber’s explanation distinguishes his work from many other role-playing games in which the goal is to develop characters and acquire power and/or wealth. In contrast, characters in Herber’s scenario are rewarded with mental instability.

On Character Creation in Everway


Jonathan Tweet explains how, unlike highly narratively structured games such as The Call of Cthulhu, the free-form, character-focused Everway includes a matrix that allows for the creation of coherent characters and productively constrains the otherwise open-ended game-play.

My Life with Master: The Architecture of Protagonism


Paul Czege explains that he aimed for My Life with Master to be an engine for story creation rather than just another variation on the traditional role-playing game system.

Privileging Language: The Text in Electronic Writing


Now that the First Person essay collection is complete and the case has been made for computer games as a form of narrative, Brian Kim Stefans asks the fundamental questions - concerning what can be read as literature, and what really cannot.

New Readings


The reader steps to the fore in the final section of First Person, reconfigured and ready for interaction.

Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia


Reading subjectivity into the software interface, N. Katherine Hayles offers a compelling case for computational authorship.

How I Was Played by Online Caroline


Jill Walker’s encounter with a participatory, and vaguely sinister, online narrative.

Interactive Fiction


Which alias best fits interactive fiction?
The nominees are:
“Story,” “Game,” “Storygame,” “Novel,” “World,”
“Literature,” “Puzzle,” “Problem,” “Riddle,” and “Machine.”
Read, and decide.

Beyond Chat


The subject of conversation enters the conversation that is First Person, here in section seven.

What Does a Very Large-Scale Conversation Look Like?


Warren Sack uses The Conversation Map, a “graphical interface” that analyzes newsgroups and listservs, to analyze the possibilities of discourse analysis itself.

Community of People with No Time


“Collaboration shifts”: Victoria Vesna investigates the digital/physical limn, the compression of spacetime, and the condition of tensegrity in projects such as n0time and Datamining Bodies.

If Things Can Talk, What Do They Say? If We Can Talk to Things, What Do We Say?


The subtitle - “Using Voice Chips and Speech Recognition Chips to Explore Structures of Participation in Sociotechnical Scripts” - tells the story, partly. But there’s more in store.

The Pixel/The Line


For all the talk of cyber-difference, screens still behave like pages. The contributors in section six have developed, in response, a digital aesthetics unlike that of print.

Literal Art


John Cayley dadas up the digital, revealing similarities of type across two normally separate, unequal categories: image and text. “Neither lines nor pixels but letters,” finally, unite.

Unusual Positions


Camille Utterback exposits “embodied interaction with symbolic spaces” - the body and language of digital art.

Approaches to Interactive Text and Recombinant Poetics


In this series of “media-element field explorations,” Bill Seaman suggests configurations for the shape of the virtual artist-author to come.

Hypertexts and Interactives


The parallels (and oppositions) between hypertext and AI are brought out in section five.

Card Shark and Thespis


Eastgate Systems alumns Diane Greco and Mark Bernstein explain two “exotic tools for hypertext narrative.”

Moving Through Me as I Move


Techno-poet Stephanie Strickland surveys the digital artistic practices of her peers and presents a “paradigm for interaction.”

The Pleasures of Immersion and Interaction


J. Yellowlees Douglas and Andrew Hargadon on the affective side of hypertexts via “schemas, scripts, and the fifth business.”

Game Theories


It’s “Game Time.” Here in section four we see what the dynamics of time and space have to do with the games people play.

Game Design as Narrative Architecture


Henry Jenkins uses narrative space to distinguish between different tale-ends.

Introduction to Game Time


Jesper Juul maps the “flow” state of gameplay onto innerspace and elsewhere.

Towards a Game Theory of Game


Applying games to games, Celia Pearce uses The Sims to showcase six keywords.

Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games


Eric Zimmerman whips “four naughty concepts” into disciplinary shape.

Critical Simulation


Theories of performance, training, and psychology explain simulation - or do they? - in the third section of First Person.

Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation


Do violent games train us for violence? Drawing on social psychology and cognitive science, Simon Penny examines the “ethics of simulation.”

Videogames of the Oppressed


Gonzalo Frasca’s proposal for videogames that address “critical thinking, education, tolerance, and other trivial issues.”

Schizophrenia and Narrative in Artificial Agents


Phoebe Sengers discusses the Expressivator and socially situated AI.



First Person, second section: What is Ludology? Editors Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin see a disciplinary shift away from ill-advised analogies toward analyses of the gaming situation itself.

Towards Computer Game Studies


Literature scholars eager to understand gaming have made early inroads. Markku Eskelinen sets up serious checkpoints.

Genre Trouble


“Where is the text in chess?” asks Espen Aarseth. Rules, play, and semiosis are the (un)common ground between games and stories in “interactive narrativism” and the art of simulation.

From Work to Play


Stuart Moulthrop (re)mediates the interpretation (narrativists) vs. configuration (ludologists) debate by going macropolitical.

Towards Computer Game Studies (sidebar)


Sidebar images, “From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games.”

Genre Trouble (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation.”

From Work to Play (sidebar)


Sidebar images, “From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games.”

First Person: Introduction


Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin introduce First Person, an interactive, multi-player collaboration between ebr and the MIT Press.

Between a Game and a Story?


Ken Perlin on a game-narrative difference that makes a difference: does agency, rather than identifiction, make characters in a game seem more real than those in novels or films?



Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin introduce Cyberdrama, the first section of First Person.

From Game-Story to Cyberdrama


Moving from the holodeck to the game board, Janet Murray explains why we make dramas of digital simulations.

A Preliminary Poetics


The builder of Façade, an “interactive story world,” Michael Mateas offers both a poetics and a neo-Aristotelian project (for interactive drama and games).

From Game-Story to Cyberdrama (Sidebar)


Game-Story set theory.

Between a Game and a Story? (Sidebar)


Illustrating Perlin’s “Can There Be a Form between a Game and a Story?”

How I Was Played by Online Caroline (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “How I Was Played by Online Caroline.”

Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia.”

What Does a Very Large-Scale Conversation Look Like? (sidebar)


Text and full-size sidebar images from “What Does a Very Large-Scale Conversation Look Like?”

Approaches to Interactive Text and Recombinant Poetics (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “Approaches to Interactive Text and Recombinant Poetics - Media-Element Field Explorations.”

Literal Art (sidebar)


Sidebar images from “Literal Art: Neither Lines nor Pixels but Letters.”