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The Wunderkammer

A Digital Alchemy Lab

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Gold

Final Reflection

Well, I made it to the end of the semester…  Overall, I think I fell short of my goal for this class, as I missed several assignments and blog posts, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t gained something valuable from the Spring 2018 Networked Narratives experience.  If I had to condense it into one statement, I’d say that I gained a deeper understanding of the Twitter platform. Hosting a Twitter chat about empathy games and learning to create simple Twitter bots allowed me to experiment with different types of expression and participation. I am particularly proud of my bots.  This is reflected in my blog, where one of my personal favorite posts discusses the first bot I made for class, and all I associated with its creation. My bot pride is also reflected in my choice of final project, where I created an entirely new generative literature bot using the set-up tool we were given in class.

I also gained a lot from taking part in the virtual studio visit with Emilio Vavarella.  Though I had some technical difficulties, I learned a great deal about digital art and I was able to ask a couple really good questions, which prompted rich responses from Mr. Vavarella.  My preparation for the studio visit brought me to Vavarella’s work, and I was amazed at the way he interpreted the concept of digital art. It definitely broadened my own personal definitions.  

I wasn’t as diligent with my DDAs as I could have been, but I still had a great time creating them this go around.  My favorite DDA was DDA #174 “Conjure Up a Rainbow.” I was able to play with the theme of conjuration and share a piece of art from my weird, morbid etsy surfing.  That’s a win-win!

Despite not doing as well as I’d hoped, I feel pretty satisfied with my NetNarr experience.  I learned, and I had fun, and really that’s all one could ask of a class. Plus, now there’s a bot of my creation wreaking automated nounjective havoc on the Internet.  NounjectiveBot shall be my NetNarr legacy!

 

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Bot-ulism

Last week in class we ventured into the world of bots.  We started by looking at some exemplary bots, from the famous experiment ELIZA to the works of poetry-generating bots.  We concluded with an exercise where we created our own Twitter bots to tweet about a given topic.  I found the topic of bots both fascinating and challenging, even a little nostalgia-inducing.

I’ve had a soft spot for robots and artificial intelligence ever since I saw a documentary about real-life robots as a child.  The documentary showed robots completing puzzles, toddling down hallways, and using early digital cameras to “see.”  As a teenager I read all of Isaac Asimov’s robot-related short stories, and I became enamored with the Sony AIBO (which was discontinued for a while, but is apparently back!).  My first published story was a piece of flash fiction about a robot.  So, yeah, I’ve got some history with bots.

When we tried out ELIZA in class, I was reminded of an old DOS computer program I played as a kid.  Luckily for me, my dad was a huge nerd with an MS in Computer Science, so we always had personal computers in the house.  I must have been about 3 or 4 years old when my dad let me play with a program called Doctor Spatzo.  From what I remember, it was an ELIZA clone with early voice simulation so it could talk to its user in text as well as audibly.  Like ELIZA, Doctor Spatzo was meant to be an automated therapist to whom users could tell their problems.  I remember asking it questions and saying stuff to it, but my most vivid memory of the program comes from a time that I antagonized it.  I forget exactly what I said, but it was continuous strings of little kid nonsense, probably about poop and farts.  I remember Doctor Spatzo’s response perfectly, however.  It told me to “Shut up and go fly a kite.”  I was awe struck, and a little scared.  I thought that Doctor Spatzo was actually angry at me.

Using the Bot or Not Poetry Turing Test reminded me of the fascination I had, perhaps about 5 years ago, with historic automatons.  The images on the Bot or Not site are, I believe, of the Mechanical Turk.  The Mechanical Turk was an 18th century illusion masquerading as an automaton.  It was a box with a mannequin of a Turkish man connected to it that could play chess.  Eventually, the Turk was revealed to be an elaborate trick instead of a brilliant automaton.  There was actually a live human squished inside the box playing chess for the mannequin!  Even though the Turk was a fake, the 18th century was the golden age of automatons.  Many times, clock makers would create automatons as a way to show off their skills or gain favor from royalty.  Some of them were downright amazing, even by today’s mechanical standards.  There was a duck that actually pooped, dolls that were able to write, and countless singing birds.  If anyone is looking to read about these 18th century automatons, I recommend the book Androids in the Enlightenment by Adelheid Voskuhl.

Lastly, the bot creation exercise was difficult, frustrating, and incredibly rewarding upon completion.  It brought me back to the Quick BASIC and Visual BASIC programming classes I took in high school, though it was obviously not as in-depth thanks to the setup tool (Thank goodness!  I don’t think that part of my brain works anymore!)  Once I got things working right on my Twitter bot, I really enjoyed inputing word combinations and seeing them randomized and broadcast out to the world.  I actually have ideas for two more bots that would utilize the same setup, and I’m hoping I can make one of them for our electronic literature project.

 

The Internet and Games

Well, hello! Sorry for the radio silence on here. We’ve reached the beginning of March, and that means it’s the beginning of our section on Games, which Justin and I will be moderating. It’s tempting to think only of video games when we discuss games in relation to networked narratives and online culture, but for my post today I’m going to discuss two other ways that the Internet facilitates gaming: Art Roleplaying Games and Fan-made augments to traditional table top games.

To borrow the definition listed on the reference site of the Griffia ARPG, “ARPG is a term that is short [for] Art Role Play Game and is used to describe a game in which you have to draw or write in order to complete written prompts that are referred to as Trials, Training, and Quests. By completing these Activities and receiving an approval from a mod, your [character] will gain rewards that will further their progress in the ARPG.” ARPGs share similarities with both video games and tabletop games, but are considered neither. Like video games, a computer or smartphone, as well as an Internet connection, is needed to access and participate in an ARPG; however, unlike video games the engine is not computerized. The “engine” running an ARPG is completely human, much like a tabletop game. Participants and moderators log points, progress, and items, not a computer system. Sometimes ARPGs make use of random number generators, but that’s as far as it goes. In general, the computer just allows access to and transfer of game-related information. Another way that ARPGs differ from both video games and tabletop games is in their method of play. Rather than fighting monsters by pressing buttons on a controller or rolling dice, in an ARPG one fights monsters by drawing their character and the monster, or writing about them. The artwork or writing is then made available to the entire network of players for that ARPG, turning individuals’ game progress into a community art gallery/library. To learn more about ARPGs, I would suggest clicking around Griffia’s reference site. Reading some of the resources there will give you a better idea of how ARPGs operate.

Tabletop games, like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), have been around for decades. There is a unique feel that sitting around a table with one’s friends provides that not even massively multiplayer video games can compete with. That’s why tabletop games still thrive in the age of next-gen consoles. That, and the endless creative possibilities that tabletop roleplaying games allow. Ask any D&D player, and they will no doubt tell you stories about some outlandish situations they’ve found their party in, situations that not even the best video games could have rendered. In the eighties, what you, your friends, and your Dungeon Master (DM) created stayed on your table and in your notebooks, but today the Internet allows players to share their creations with the world. There are communities online where tabletop RPG players can share their adventures and even unique game mechanics. These fan-made races, classes, items, etc. are referred to as “homebrews.” If someone can imagine it, work it into the rules and context of the game, and share it in a way that’s easily understood, someone else miles away can play it. To learn more about this concept of making small-group tabletop games infinitely networked, check out this homebrew wiki.

I hope this has given you all some new ideas about digital gaming!  Although video games are wonderful and artistic, they’re not the only game in town when it comes to networked narratives!

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