[Theory Book] Academe and its supposed Opposite

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ems...@mindspring.com

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Dec 2, 2001, 1:25:10 PM12/2/01
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Magnus wrote:
>>As I try to explain on the website for the book, --
>>(http://www.iftheory.com, for those playing along at home) -- I
don't
>>think those two goals are entirely incompatible.

>I really hate to have to say this - it's never fun to be a wet
>blanket - but I think they are sufficiently incomaptible to make
>the book a rather strange beast, that may satisfy neither the
>academics nor the "craftsmen" of IF (if I may generalize wildly,
>the "craftsmen" are people like me with practical experience
>writing, designing and playing IF, but no academic background in
>literary theory).

<further eloquent elaboration of this idea snipped.>

One of the most irritating and distressing things about academia, at
least to me, is its cultural separation from the "popular" world. All
too often it regards the products of nonprofessionals as
dilettante-ish, worthless attempts; all too often the rest of the
world eyes it, in return, with some resentment for its failure to
return (on the vast investment of time and energy) anything of
tangible value; for its enfeebling abstraction; for its obscurity and
pompous self-absorbtion. From the outside, it is sometimes hard to
believe that anything so fascinated with itself, so dismissive of
everyone else, and so incomprehensible could be anything other than
bullshit -- and that impression is, alas, strengthened by the fact
that there *are* ruthless careerists in the discipline, there *are*
papers written that say nothing in a large number of very large words,
there *are* abuses and ridiculous elements.

In the realm of the sciences, this may be forgiven because academic
research leads into industry and to the development of fine useful
products. But what good do the humanities do anyone, in the ethereal
forms practiced in the university?

There is a (relatively) recent book circulating and causing
indignation in the world of professional classics called _Who Killed
Homer._ It is essentially a book-length diatribe about the failure of
modern classicists to do anything of real use; about people who write
sniveling, jargon-crusted articles in order to earn tenure, even
though they have nothing to say; about the failure of modern classics
teaching to convey to its students anything at all of the grandeur of
the ancient world. The Greeks, the book posits, have Something To
Teach us, but it is not about orality, anxiety of influence,
intertextuality, or any of the other topics over which so much ink has
been bled. Those things are *our* constructs for understanding the
relation of texts in modern terms. What Greek thought has to offer is
insight about how to *live*; it is about the nature of humanity. And
the more we wrap that in the protective gauze of abstraction and
theory, the less it can reach students. More and more professors;
fewer and fewer undergraduates; a vast gap between the proceedings at
an American Philological Association conference and the popular
conception of ancient Greece.

I don't embrace quite such an extreme view of the situation, but I do
think that the point is an important one. I was fortunate in my
undergraduate training to have professors who were not only
academically interested in their material but thought it was of some
importance to the development of their students as humans: my
particular mentor, now on the verge of retirement (alas -- a great
loss to the discipline, though he published very little), closed our
senior seminar on Greek drama with some words about the message of the
Bacchae, which we had just finished reading, and the conduct of our
lives. I suspect that to some people in the discipline this would
have seemed startling and bizarre, but I loved it. It was to a large
extent this intense engagement with the humanity of the material that
drew me into the Classics department in the first place.

I consider this part of my own calling. I find theoretical
discussions interesting, but the core of my own interest in Classics
has to do with a rather romantic conception, namely that there is
something that I gain as a person from the study of these texts, and
that if I choose I may participate in the preservation and
transmission of that light to others. Some of the time it may be
through my teaching: not that I tend to moralize at great length to my
undergraduates, but that I try to draw attention to the interesting
aspects of the story, the rhetorical progressions, and the
philosophical implications of a passage of Cicero instead of (as many
people at the second-year level would) simply dragging them through
the grammar. It is important to learn to read Latin, but essentially
useless unless you are then prepared to gain more from the text than
the grammar itself.

So I strongly disbelieve that the ideas of the academic world, and the
more valid fruits of theoretical speculation, *need* to be
inaccessible to the common reader. Many of the greatest thinkers and
writers are not only brilliantly incisive but also, strangely, quite
comprehensible. One of my favorite pieces of literary-theoretical
writing is that of Erich Auerbach, in his book _Mimesis_: it deals
with texts from the Bible and the Odyssey on through much of the
history of western literature and makes many profound observations,
but never loses its gentle lucidity, or veers into the pretentious in
its presentation. [I have also seen some more recent work that is
somewhat popularizing in its phrasing but still read with much
interest by academics: check out _Courtesans and Fishcakes_ sometime,
a discussion of luxuries in classical Athens.]

When I first asked Dennis Jerz to help give shape to the theoretical
section of the book, I stressed that it is very important to me that
the content of it not be incomprehensible or off-putting to the
general r*if audience. As our website says: this is first and
foremost a book for r*if denizens; it is meant to be readable, from
cover to cover, by a person who has never read Murray or Aarseth. It
is meant to contribute interestingly to r*if discussion by at least
beginning to fill some of the gaps in theory that you, Magnus,
mentioned in the later part of your post; and it is meant to at least
attempt to look at some of the basics that concern Nick Montfort, but
without being incomprehensible.

It is probable that the book will not be considered a fully academic
product by the establishment. But it may be that, to people
interested in the issues involved, it provides insights that cannot be
sought elsewhere. (Then again, it may be ignored, in which case,
we'll survive; it needs, whatever happens, to be useful to *us*.)
It's worth remembering, though, that all disciplines were in their
infancy undertaken by dilettantes, and that modern critical theory of
any discipline owes something to people who, in the 17th or 18th or
19th century, pursued the topic out of love and curiosity.

One of the things that spurred Nick's post was presumably a concern
about my ability to head the project in a useful direction, given my
lack of background in the hypertext world, and my
sometimes-only-glancing familiarity with the critical topics at issue.
It's in a way reassuring to have the crisis of confidence presented
from the other direction as well: at least the balance is complete.

Let me put it to you that Nick has perhaps more legitimate cause for
concern than you do, but that he realizes that this has to be a book
accessible to the readership of r*if, from which the primary
contributions come and which is the primary intended audience. Still,
I think that an attempt to look at theoretical issues does shed some
real light on questions of craft. Though you may disagree, I don't
think the essay I wrote in answer to his question is especially
abstruse, and I found, at least, that thinking things through from
that perspective helped me understand a lot of things about my own
approach to IF.

Please note that we have not imported strange creatures from the moon
to write for it: everyone who has expressed an interest so far is a
known member of the community, with a proven track record of writing
in fairly clear English and with a definite familiarity with actual
works of IF. As far as David Cornelson is concerned, and he is the
one who commissioned the book to start with, this is in fact as much
as we need hope for.

Magnus, you would be more than welcome to write for it: the
feeling-out of the shape of the field, and the identification of
questions-to-be-asked, is quite valid. If you feel disinclined to do
so, that's fine; but I would be sorry for anyone to skip volunteering
because they have a mistaken view of what this enterprise is or what
it's about. Feeling that you've only just identified some questions
is a valid starting point; it is, indeed, the starting point of this
entire set of threads, since I posted about a technique that intrigued
me but of which I felt I did not yet fully understand the
implications. Writing a book like this is partly an *investigation*,
not just a formalization of what we already know; quite often the
process of writing about something, thinking about it, and discussing
it with other interested parties (whether the whole of r*if or just
the editorial board) produces new insight. Moreover, it's exciting
and fun. In the beginning, there was no academy; there were only some
guys sitting around talking about things that interested them.

The proof will be in the final outcome, as always, and before the book
comes out there will be some samples of its content publicly
available, so that people can consider whether or not it suits their
interests.

ES

Gregg V. Carroll

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Dec 2, 2001, 9:32:59 PM12/2/01
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ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.01120...@posting.google.com>...

> Magnus wrote:

> >>As I try to explain on the website for the book, --
> >>(http://www.iftheory.com, for those playing along at home) -- I
> don't
> >>think those two goals are entirely incompatible.
>
> >I really hate to have to say this - it's never fun to be a wet
> >blanket - but I think they are sufficiently incomaptible to make
> >the book a rather strange beast, that may satisfy neither the
> >academics nor the "craftsmen" of IF (if I may generalize wildly,
> >the "craftsmen" are people like me with practical experience
> >writing, designing and playing IF, but no academic background in
> >literary theory).

> <further eloquent elaboration of this idea snipped.>

> One of the most irritating and distressing things about academia, at
> least to me, is its cultural separation from the "popular" world. All
> too often it regards the products of nonprofessionals as
> dilettante-ish, worthless attempts; all too often the rest of the
> world eyes it, in return, with some resentment for its failure to
> return (on the vast investment of time and energy) anything of
> tangible value; for its enfeebling abstraction; for its obscurity and
> pompous self-absorbtion. From the outside, it is sometimes hard to
> believe that anything so fascinated with itself, so dismissive of

> everyone else...

<snip>

In other words:

TOWER
You are standing in the middle of a barren field. A massive, white
tower reaches up into the heavens. Despite the fact that it is
incredibly tall, you can still hear the sounds of bickering faintly
from its peak.

There is a large quantity of plastic explosives here.

> EXAMINE TOWER
It seems to be made of ivory.

> EXAMINE THE EXPLOSIVES
There is enough to put a large hole in a small world.

> INSERT THE FUSE INTO THE EXPLOSIVES.
Done.

> LIGHT THE FUSE WITH A MATCH.
The fuse catches fire and begins to burn.

> RUN NORTH
You run away from the tower as fast as you can, eventually
coming to...

REALITY
This is a large space dominated by lush gardens, a warm climate, and
fun people, who are drinking wine, eating good food, dancing, and
generally having a good time discussing things and/or just goofing off
and ejoying the thrill of being alive. There is not a stuffy academic
in sight.

In the distance, you hear the sound of a very, very large explosion.
Nobody else seems to notice, however.

Gregg

Nick Montfort

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Dec 2, 2001, 9:43:19 PM12/2/01
to
I spoke briefly to Magnus's point already -- I hope academic theory is
good for something besides getting tenure -- and I agree with Emily's
overall reply here. If you write a book with theoretical discussion
that really does help people write better IF, of course people in
academia who are studying the topic will be interested.

But...

> One of the things that spurred Nick's post was presumably a concern


> about my ability to head the project in a useful direction, given my
> lack of background in the hypertext world, and my
> sometimes-only-glancing familiarity with the critical topics at issue.

Er, no -- not the right presumption. I didn't think it was a good
start to use certain terms -- as they have been used on raif --
casually rather than strictly in the theoretical discussion that was
starting. I felt that what may not be a problem for typical Usenet
discussion or the occasional manifesto-like document is a different
matter when you're talking about writing a foundational book for the
field. But let me make it clear: I joined the discussion because I
want to talk about these issues with you and others in this forum, as
we're doing, not because I felt unsure about anyone's abilities.

Regarding background, I don't really know that any hypertext theory is
particularly useful in dealing with IF, unless you're talking about
the very unusual case of things like SUTW and TTL, so I don't think
that you or anyone else needs a deep understanding of that to put
together a good book on IF. The books by Murray and Aarseth you
mention aren't mainly about hypertext, of course, and I do think some
relevant things (like those books) are worth reading by IF authors;
perhaps some readings are really important to making progress in
theory. Anyway -- reading a book takes perhaps three hours. The
tremendous experience that most of us on raif have with many different
IF works from different eras and of different types is by far the most
important background for understanding the form.

Also, I find it rather funny that I'm seen as an incomprehensible
outsider here, since everyone I know in academia thinks of interactive
fiction when they think of me. I guess Dennis summed all of that up by
associating me with that most dismal category of music, "crossover."


-nm

Magnus Olsson

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Dec 3, 2001, 5:25:03 AM12/3/01
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In article <ae605ba7.01120...@posting.google.com>,

Nick Montfort <ni...@nickm.com> wrote:
>Also, I find it rather funny that I'm seen as an incomprehensible
>outsider here,

You are? I must have missed that. You don't seem incomprehensible
to me.

I haven't had time to read all the responses to my post yet - they
turned up very late last night - but let me say that I hope I didn't
make the impression that it's a "them vs. us" situation - the problem
I see (at least before reading all the responses) is not a problem
with academia per se, but basically that the book is aimed at two
different audiences who speak different languages and think in
different terms.

--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, m...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~mol ------

Dennis G. Jerz

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Dec 3, 2001, 10:54:51 AM12/3/01
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<ems...@mindspring.com> wrote in message
news:a69830de.01120...@posting.google.com...

> When I first asked Dennis Jerz to help give shape to the theoretical
> section of the book, I stressed that it is very important to me that
> the content of it not be incomprehensible or off-putting to the
> general r*if audience.

All I can say is that, since the "literary" section of the planned book has
been entrusted to me, my goal is to make it as accessible as I can. I
suppose a certain percentage of r*if citizens will be turned off by the very
idea of analyzing the literary qualities of IF. In case anyone is
worrying, I don't think of this book as an opportunity for me to showcase
all that I (don't) know about French intellectualism.

As it happens, my main job is teaching technical writing. My job
description has me teaching 80% of the time; the remaining 20% is supposed
to go to research, serving in committes, and advising (helping students add
and drop courses, etc.). So... if by profession I have to work in the ivory
tower, the rewards system of my particular job expect me to keep my office
is fairly near the ground floor.

I teach a general course called "Writing Electronic Text," which covers
creative hypertext, personal home pages, writing informational websites for
clients, a little bit of hypertext theory, and also interactive fiction.
The course has a large practical component, and typically only a small
handful of students choose to write IF projects, and even they have to do
substantial work in other areas. At best, I can give students an
introduction to IF issues, and then work with them as they develop their
games. But each time I teach the course, I have to begin from scratch with
a new group of students, and thus don't have much time to delve into the
complex corners of IF culture. I depend on r*if & the rest of the IF
community for that.

When writing for academe, I have to "dumb down" my IF references so much
that I think my arguments suffer. I welcome the opportunity to help shape a
collection of essays written for an audience that doesn't have to be told
what a parser is. (That is, I imagine that I will write an introductory
essay that handles such remedial details, so that the individual articles
can jump right into the IF subject matter.)

> It is probable that the book will not be considered a fully academic
> product by the establishment. But it may be that, to people
> interested in the issues involved, it provides insights that cannot be
> sought elsewhere.

Agreed, on both counts.

> One of the things that spurred Nick's post was presumably a concern
> about my ability to head the project in a useful direction, given my
> lack of background in the hypertext world, and my
> sometimes-only-glancing familiarity with the critical topics at issue.

I've always thought of Nick as something of an IF emisarry in the wider
world of e-texts. Quite frankly, when I consider the area of overlap
between hypertext theory and IF, I think that IF is a better example of what
they hypertext theorists are claiming that hypertext is supposed to do.
(Again, see Nick's review of Aarseth's _Cybertext_.)

Those of you who are concerned that the end product is accessible to those
outside academia -- if you have a good idea, but are unsure how to present
it -- that's what editors are for. Of course I defer to Emily to determine
the details of the editorial process, but editors are supposed to help
authors realize their visions. Those who would rather not right, but still
want to be heard -- please volunteer for the project, and lend your services
as readers -- "beta testers," if you will -- in whatever subject area
interests you most. (And I'm not talking about proofreading, here.)

I do hope that this book will be read by people outside the r*if community.
If we design the book primarily to serve r*aif, such book would, by its very
nature, offer much that will be of value to hypertext theorists, postmodern
literary critics, and the like.

I don't see a binary opposition, here.

--
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)836-2431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
------------------------------------
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg


Nick Montfort

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Dec 3, 2001, 11:12:32 AM12/3/01
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m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote in message news:<9ufjtv$dn4$2...@news.lth.se>...

> the problem
> I see (at least before reading all the responses) is not a problem
> with academia per se, but basically that the book is aimed at two
> different audiences who speak different languages and think in
> different terms.

A legitimate concern. You're right that it's wise to pick a readership
to address and to consider their vocabulary and frameworks of thought,
instead of trying to please everyone by addressing no one in
particular. Having tried to write things that are worthwhile for both
academics and people in the IF community, I do think it's possible to
address both of the audiences here, while granting that you'll never
please every individual reader in either category.

If interactive fiction theory were as well-establised as literary
theory, it would be difficult to write something that strongly appeals
to both the "Writing Down the Bones" audience of fiction writers and
the "S/Z" audience of theoreticians. Even in this case, those who are
most earnest about the topic do read books in both categories.
Novelists do read theory, and theorists (many of whom actually teach
writing) read the more workshop-oriented books.

For IF, there's not going to be a huge body of different types of
theoerical work out there in the next few years. I suspect a
clearly-written and serious book that is about IF will be read by
people on raif even if it's more academic in its leanings (and I hope
so, since I'm trying to write one) and I know several people in
academia (not hordes, but several) who will be eager to read IF
Theory, even if the main intended readership for that is raif.

I guess I feel that despite some different assumptions, both of these
hypothetical readerships here are people concerned with IF. If you
make some real advances in IF theory -- finding genuine insight into
the nature of this form -- these should be understandable to and
appreciated by both audiences, as long as you write well.

-nm

Adam Thornton

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Dec 3, 2001, 12:08:10 PM12/3/01
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In article <9ug78c$ng2$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,

Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
>I do hope that this book will be read by people outside the r*if community.
>If we design the book primarily to serve r*aif, such book would, by its very
>nature, offer much that will be of value to hypertext theorists, postmodern
>literary critics, and the like.

You think so, and I think so.

I bet *they* don't think so.

Bitterly and soggily-encheerioed,
Adam

Gregg V. Carroll

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Dec 3, 2001, 12:29:20 PM12/3/01
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m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote in message news:<9ufjtv$dn4$2...@news.lth.se>...

> In article <ae605ba7.01120...@posting.google.com>,
> Nick Montfort <ni...@nickm.com> wrote:

> I haven't had time to read all the responses to my post yet - they
> turned up very late last night - but let me say that I hope I didn't
> make the impression that it's a "them vs. us" situation - the problem
> I see (at least before reading all the responses) is not a problem
> with academia per se, but basically that the book is aimed at two
> different audiences who speak different languages and think in
> different terms.

My goofy post aside, I was under the impression that the book was
going to be like a "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan, or "The God Particle" by
Leon Lederman or "Chaos" by James Gleick type book. That is, something
about theory, experimental IF, etc. that is accesible by an armchair
reader.

Now, all the books I mentioned (with the possible exception of Sagan's
work, which really was largely intended for people who knew next to
nothing about cosmology) *do* require at least some familiarity with
the subject matter. "The God Particle," which is about theoretical
particle physics, is by no means readable by someone who doesn't at
least have a solid understanding of basic science, but on the other
hand, it is definitely not a technical, academic publishing only
understandable by a select few, with pages filled more often with
equations than actual text. At the same time, a professional physicist
could certainly gain something from the book. If nothing else, ways in
which to describe abstract concepts to people who have no clue. Say,
for example, Congress members who are asking why they should spend x
billions of dollars on a new particle accelerator when there's
thousands of kids who can't read.

But I digress...

So I don't think that it is unreasonable to say that "IF Theory"
cannot appeal to both camps. I doubt that it is easy to do. Just last
night, the topic of solar weather came up between myself and someone
who knows very little about cosmology (not that I'm an expert by any
stretch), and in order to describe the workings of the Sun, I had to
resort to a rather feeble "coal to diamond under pressure gives off
heat" analogy to gain even the slightest hint of understanding. A
teacher I am not, so I appreciate the task, but I don't think it's
impossible.

Gregg

Paul O'Brian

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Dec 3, 2001, 12:35:03 PM12/3/01
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On 2 Dec 2001, Gregg V. Carroll wrote:

> REALITY
> This is a large space dominated by lush gardens, a warm climate, and
> fun people, who are drinking wine, eating good food, dancing, and
> generally having a good time discussing things and/or just goofing off
> and ejoying the thrill of being alive. There is not a stuffy academic
> in sight.

Rarely has a room description borne so little resemblance to its title.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
Add your own brick to the wall of SPAG -- write a review! The deadline
for the annual competition issue is December 5, 2001.

Gregg V. Carroll

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Dec 3, 2001, 3:18:12 PM12/3/01
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in article Pine.GSO.4.40.011203...@ucsu.colorado.edu, Paul
O'Brian at obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu wrote on 12/3/01 12:35 PM:

> On 2 Dec 2001, Gregg V. Carroll wrote:

>> REALITY
>> This is a large space dominated by lush gardens, a warm climate, and
>> fun people, who are drinking wine, eating good food, dancing, and
>> generally having a good time discussing things and/or just goofing off
>> and ejoying the thrill of being alive. There is not a stuffy academic
>> in sight.

> Rarely has a room description borne so little resemblance to its title.

Well, no, it doesn't. But then, towers don't typically stretch into the
heavens, either. At least not in my neighborhood.

Gregg

Roger Carbol

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Dec 3, 2001, 4:06:35 PM12/3/01
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Emily wrote:

> In the realm of the sciences, this may be forgiven because academic
> research leads into industry and to the development of fine useful
> products. But what good do the humanities do anyone, in the ethereal
> forms practiced in the university?


This reminds me of a slightly-disturbing trend I've noticed from
the IF Theory Outline and other comments by its main editors.
The main page does specify that "anything pertaining to technical
coding issues is beyond the scope of this book," which is perfectly
reasonable. However, there is a huge potential to speak to the
the computer science theory of IF, in addition to the literary
theory. Specifically, I'm thinking of things like basic state
machine design, the issue of complexity, algorithm design, etc.

I suppose I'm not especially bothered by the book not covering
these issues, but more that they've been omitted silently, as
if IF Theory is *of course* all about literary theory and the
computer science of it is just a small matter of implementation.


.. Roger Carbol .. rca...@home.com

Branko Collin

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Dec 3, 2001, 4:22:20 PM12/3/01
to
Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu>, you wrote on Mon, 3 Dec 2001
10:35:03 -0700:

>On 2 Dec 2001, Gregg V. Carroll wrote:
>
>> REALITY
>> This is a large space dominated by lush gardens, a warm climate, and
>> fun people, who are drinking wine, eating good food, dancing, and
>> generally having a good time discussing things and/or just goofing off
>> and ejoying the thrill of being alive. There is not a stuffy academic
>> in sight.
>
>Rarely has a room description borne so little resemblance to its title.

Oh?

(Excuse me while I put some more ambrosia down my throat.)

--
branko collin
col...@xs4all.nl

OKB -- not okblacke

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Dec 3, 2001, 4:12:30 PM12/3/01
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m...@df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson) wrote:
>You don't seem incomprehensible
>to me.

Gblorken fzglt opgrempft ahmenzoogler!

--OKB (Bren...@aol.com) -- no relation to okblacke

"Do not follow where the path may lead;
go, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail."
--Author Unknown

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 3, 2001, 4:50:47 PM12/3/01
to

Well, in the present state of the art of IF, it *is* just a small
matter of implementation. Or a lot of small matters of
implementations.

None of the IF systems used for top-of-the-line games use algorithms
that are interesting from a computer-science point of view. They're
*complicated* and the product of a great deal of work, but there's not
a lot to say about them. (Unless you plan to write a new IF parser and
world model -- which is not what this book is about, I'm pretty sure.)

Occasionally someone re-implements Dijkstra's algorithm for finding
paths across a graph.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

David A. Cornelson

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Dec 3, 2001, 7:06:22 PM12/3/01
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"Roger Carbol" <rca...@home.com> wrote in message
news:82675075.01120...@posting.google.com...

>
> This reminds me of a slightly-disturbing trend I've noticed from
> the IF Theory Outline and other comments by its main editors.
> The main page does specify that "anything pertaining to technical
> coding issues is beyond the scope of this book," which is perfectly
> reasonable. However, there is a huge potential to speak to the
> the computer science theory of IF, in addition to the literary
> theory. Specifically, I'm thinking of things like basic state
> machine design, the issue of complexity, algorithm design, etc.
>
> I suppose I'm not especially bothered by the book not covering
> these issues, but more that they've been omitted silently, as
> if IF Theory is *of course* all about literary theory and the
> computer science of it is just a small matter of implementation.

There is a reason for this, but it's a secret. There may or may not be
another book and it may or may not be about technical IF stuff and it may or
may not already be in the works.

"I know Nothing!" - Seargent Schultz

Jarb


Nick Montfort

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Dec 4, 2001, 1:00:00 AM12/4/01
to
"David A. Cornelson" <dcorn...@placet.com> wrote in message news:<u0o4ev4...@corp.supernews.com>...

> "Roger Carbol" <rca...@home.com> wrote in message
> news:82675075.01120...@posting.google.com...
> > However, there is a huge potential to speak to the
> > the computer science theory of IF
>
> There may or may not be
> another book and it may or may not be about technical IF stuff and it
> may or may not already be in the works.

Whatever they may be plotting at the IF Library, there is indeed
another book in the works that seeks to understand IF from a computer
science perspective: Twisty Little Passages. I'm not mainly looking at
how IF has influenced computer science (re:Zarf's post) although it
has had some influence -- e.g., commercial use of the virtual machine
and research at CMU -- and that is discussed. Mainly, I approach IF
from CS to learn things about the form and do things like demonstrate
-- for instance -- that IF isn't hypertext, as it's usually formulated
today at the ACM Hypertext conference and such. This is obvious to all
of you, but some in academia are actually confused about this, since
they assume every text-based "fiction" on a computer must be
hypertext.

-nm

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Dec 4, 2001, 3:48:00 AM12/4/01
to
In article <9ugs3n$e8a$1...@news.panix.com>,
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>Roger Carbol <rca...@home.com> wrote:
>> However, there is a huge potential to speak to the
>> the computer science theory of IF, in addition to the literary
>> theory. Specifically, I'm thinking of things like basic state
>> machine design, the issue of complexity, algorithm design, etc.
>>
>> I suppose I'm not especially bothered by the book not covering
>> these issues, but more that they've been omitted silently, as
>> if IF Theory is *of course* all about literary theory and the
>> computer science of it is just a small matter of implementation.
>
>Well, in the present state of the art of IF, it *is* just a small
>matter of implementation. Or a lot of small matters of
>implementations.
>
>None of the IF systems used for top-of-the-line games use algorithms
>that are interesting from a computer-science point of view. They're
>*complicated* and the product of a great deal of work, but there's not
>a lot to say about them. (Unless you plan to write a new IF parser and
>world model -- which is not what this book is about, I'm pretty sure.)

Agreed. In fact, from a CS point of view, current IF is pretty trivial
- even the parsers aren't very interesting. And while things like
disambiguation and talking NPC's are complicated feats of engineering
to get right, they're not very theoretically interesting.

Conversely, current IF uses very little from CS. The data structures
are basic trees and lists, the parsers are pretty basic, too. Some
authors use some pretty basic object-oriented desing, while others
gleefully ignore the field, and there's not much more.

Of course, if you want a book about techniques from CS that *could*
(or even should) be of interest for writing better IF, then there's a
whole lot that could be written. It could cover everything from basic
data structure theory (tree, lists, and how to care for them) to OOD,
knowledge representation and logic-oriented programming (remember the
Prolog-based NPC who could solve puzzles by themselves?)

Come to think of it, there's a need for a "Computer Science for IF
Authors". But it would be such a different subject from that of the
current theory book project that it would warrant a separate book.

Such a book would also be a difficult pedagogical task, I think,
because if we (the IF community) have widely different backgrounds
when it comes to the humanities, it's nothing compared to the wildly
different exposure we've had to CS, academic programming courses, even
programming in general. The writing subset of the IF community
contains everything from Unix wizards, C++ gurus and Prolog experts,
over Basic addicts and old-school data base programmers, to sheer
beginners and people who tremble in awe at the sight of a variable.

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Dec 4, 2001, 5:02:50 AM12/4/01
to
In article <a69830de.01120...@posting.google.com>,

ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>Magnus wrote:
>>>As I try to explain on the website for the book, --
>>>(http://www.iftheory.com, for those playing along at home) -- I
>don't
>>>think those two goals are entirely incompatible.
>
>>I really hate to have to say this - it's never fun to be a wet
>>blanket - but I think they are sufficiently incomaptible to make
>>the book a rather strange beast, that may satisfy neither the
>>academics nor the "craftsmen" of IF

><further eloquent elaboration of this idea snipped.>

"Eloquent" - well, I suppose I was carried away a bit by my own
rhetorics, being (metaphorically speaking) a bit too fond of the sound
of my own voice. What I mean is that perhaps I should have just framed
my comments as a couple of questions, rather than a rant, but
fortunately it seems people are taking it the right way, so no damage
done, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm rather reassured by your response and others; the project
seems firmly grounded in the soild of the IF community. And I think it
may interest the academic theorists in some ways.

And the lack of any real "theroy of IF" - I think my issue is mostly
that the choice of name for the project made me wonder who might have
any suhc theory to contribute. But writing about theoretical matters
is of course a different thing from presenting a complete theory,
and I'm reassured that it's primarily the former you're after.

>Magnus, you would be more than welcome to write for it:

Thanks. There remains, of course, the questions of time, and of
having anything substanital enough to contribute to fill out a
book-quality chapter, or essay, rather than just a Usenet post.

Matthew Russotto

unread,
Dec 4, 2001, 10:15:27 AM12/4/01
to
In article <9ugs3n$e8a$1...@news.panix.com>,
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>
>None of the IF systems used for top-of-the-line games use algorithms
>that are interesting from a computer-science point of view.

Inform uses red-black trees. I think they're pretty interesting. But
I guess you mean algorithms in the game, not the compiler.

>They're
>*complicated* and the product of a great deal of work, but there's not
>a lot to say about them. (Unless you plan to write a new IF parser and
>world model -- which is not what this book is about, I'm pretty sure.)
>
>Occasionally someone re-implements Dijkstra's algorithm for finding
>paths across a graph.

Me, on paper, when working on a Phoenix game...
--
Matthew T. Russotto russ...@pond.com
=====
Get Caught Reading, Go To Jail!
A message from the Association of American Publishers
Free Dmitry Sklyarov! DMCA delenda est!
http://www.freedmitry.org

Magnus Olsson

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Dec 4, 2001, 10:27:00 AM12/4/01
to
In article <u0pq4fd...@corp.supernews.com>,

Matthew Russotto <russ...@wanda.pond.com> wrote:
>In article <9ugs3n$e8a$1...@news.panix.com>,
>Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>>
>>None of the IF systems used for top-of-the-line games use algorithms
>>that are interesting from a computer-science point of view.
>
>Inform uses red-black trees. I think they're pretty interesting. But
>I guess you mean algorithms in the game, not the compiler.

Compiler writing is such a large topic that it deserves its own
book. Oh, wait, there's a whole shelf of such books at the library :-)

Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.
A list of recommended reading to put in the hands of prospective
compiler writers would be good, though.

Dennis G. Jerz

unread,
Dec 4, 2001, 10:34:19 AM12/4/01
to
"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
news:9ui70a$33n$1...@news.lth.se...

The revised version of my "Exposition in IF" article, which is one of the
articles being considered for the collection, actually incorporates a few
raif postings that commented on my first draft. So I think there's still
room for input that comes in a wide variety of ways.

Magnus Olsson

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Dec 4, 2001, 1:00:51 PM12/4/01
to
In article <9uiqdr$mfc$1...@wiscnews.wiscnet.net>,

Dennis G. Jerz <Jer...@uwec.edu> wrote:
>"Magnus Olsson" <m...@df.lth.se> wrote in message
>news:9ui70a$33n$1...@news.lth.se...
>> In article <a69830de.01120...@posting.google.com>,
>> ems...@mindspring.com <ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:
>> >Magnus, you would be more than welcome to write for it:
>> Thanks. There remains, of course, the questions of time, and of
>> having anything substanital enough to contribute to fill out a
>> book-quality chapter, or essay, rather than just a Usenet post.
>
>The revised version of my "Exposition in IF" article, which is one of the
>articles being considered for the collection, actually incorporates a few
>raif postings that commented on my first draft. So I think there's still
>room for input that comes in a wide variety of ways.

Certainly; but those postings are still just part of the article.
I think an article in a printed book should be on a higher level -
academically, content-wise, linguistically - than a typical usenet

Dennis G. Jerz

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Dec 4, 2001, 2:26:22 PM12/4/01
to
While I would tend to agree with the sentiment raised elsewhere in this
thread that IF authors don't need to know much advanced CS theory in order
to produce good IF (whatever "good IF" means), certainly gaming theory, the
technical details of beta-testing, and the effect of better IDE's,
individual library extensions (the Photopia talk system?) on the production
of IF might be worthwhile.

Em's proposed outline has placed "Tools of IF Creation" under the "Theory"
section that I've offered to edit, so I'd welcome suggestions and ideas as
to whether/to what extent we should address the specific issue Roger Carbol
noted -- that is the silent exclusion of CS theory. I, being the proud
author of what has been heralded as "possibly the worst-coded" entry in
Comp01, clearly need some help in this subject matter. Since the outline is
still taking shape, there's much ground that we can cover productively at
this early stage.

Here's my own weak stab at the matter. The Inform library, and the
corresponding universes created by the designers of other IF languages, have
an undeniable but perhaps unperceived effect on the kinds of stories that
get written. The tone of the default messages (with a strong "pay no
attention to the man behind the curtain" flavor in the Crowther/Woods
Advent, more smart-alecky in Infocom, a little more gentlemanly in Inform)
sets a certain tone. Since navigation, containment, and light is fairly
richly implemented in the Inform library, those kinds of puzzles tend to be
overdone, which affects the popular reception of games that feature those
elements.

The Oz Project, VR and "believable agent" research in the past few years
has, over time, amassed a set of ideas that IF authors and critics could
probably benefit from, even though few if any of those articles has much to
offer in the way of shedding light on the nature of IF as a genre unto
itself, rather than a convenient example to bring into a discussion of
something else.

ems...@mindspring.com

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Dec 4, 2001, 4:19:46 PM12/4/01
to
ni...@nickm.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<ae605ba7.01120...@posting.google.com>...

> ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.01120...@posting.google.com>...
>
> > One of the things that spurred Nick's post was presumably a concern
> > about my ability to head the project in a useful direction, given my
> > lack of background in the hypertext world, and my
> > sometimes-only-glancing familiarity with the critical topics at issue.
>
> Er, no -- not the right presumption. I didn't think it was a good
> start to use certain terms -- as they have been used on raif --
> casually rather than strictly in the theoretical discussion that was
> starting.

Ah, ok. Sorry. I think I was reading between the lines with too
large a magnifying glass.

> I felt that what may not be a problem for typical Usenet
> discussion or the occasional manifesto-like document is a different
> matter when you're talking about writing a foundational book for the
> field. But let me make it clear: I joined the discussion because I
> want to talk about these issues with you and others in this forum, as
> we're doing, not because I felt unsure about anyone's abilities.

Fair enough. I appreciate the substance of the criticism, and, as you
saw, it drove my thinking in some further directions.

ES

M. D. Krauss

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Dec 4, 2001, 4:31:38 PM12/4/01
to
On Mon, 3 Dec 2001 10:35:03 -0700
Paul O'Brian <obr...@ucsu.colorado.edu> wrote:

> On 2 Dec 2001, Gregg V. Carroll wrote:
>
> > REALITY
> > This is a large space dominated by lush gardens, a warm climate, and
> > fun people, who are drinking wine, eating good food, dancing, and
> > generally having a good time discussing things and/or just goofing off
> > and ejoying the thrill of being alive. There is not a stuffy academic
> > in sight.
>
> Rarely has a room description borne so little resemblance to its title.
>

No, I'd say that's reality, or at least a part of it. The good part, the
worthwhile part.

> --
> Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
> Add your own brick to the wall of SPAG -- write a review! The deadline
> for the annual competition issue is December 5, 2001.
>
>
>


--
To email me convert my address to something resembling reason

Roger Carbol

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Dec 5, 2001, 3:32:14 PM12/5/01
to
Magnus Olsson wrote:

> Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
> writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.


One can make an exactly analagous statement that writing IF is
not so different than writing in general as to warrant its own
literature.

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 5, 2001, 3:35:38 PM12/5/01
to
Roger Carbol <rca...@home.com> wrote:
> Magnus Olsson wrote:

>> Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
>> writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.

> One can make an exactly analagous statement that writing IF is
> not so different than writing in general as to warrant its own
> literature.

Except that I agree with the first statement, and disagree with the
second statement.

(oops, didn't mean to email this reply also.)

Eytan Zweig

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Dec 5, 2001, 4:00:26 PM12/5/01
to

"Roger Carbol" <rca...@home.com> wrote in message
news:82675075.01120...@posting.google.com...
> Magnus Olsson wrote:
>
> > Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
> > writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.
>
>
> One can make an exactly analagous statement that writing IF is
> not so different than writing in general as to warrant its own
> literature.
>
>

I think the skill set required to write IF is quite different from that
required to write normal fiction - and even if you ignore the coding element
(since you might use a codeless IF authoring system, or have someone code it
for you), you need totally different skills of plot structuring and
character development, to name a few.

I'm no computer science expert, but I can't see why anyone capable of
writing a compiler for any major programming language would have to learn
totally new skills to write an Inform or TADS compiler.

Eytan

Magnus Olsson

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Dec 5, 2001, 5:13:56 PM12/5/01
to
In article <9um0eq$9nm$1...@news.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>Roger Carbol <rca...@home.com> wrote:
>> Magnus Olsson wrote:
>
>>> Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
>>> writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.
>
>> One can make an exactly analagous statement that writing IF is
>> not so different than writing in general as to warrant its own
>> literature.
>
>Except that I agree with the first statement, and disagree with the
>second statement.

And I'd say that it's not just a matter of opinion in the second case:
writing IF *is* different from writing in general, and trivially so:
since when doordinary "how to write" books contain sections on puzzles
and NPCs?

However, I think I ought to say one thing: if you have a language
definition, writing a compiler for an IF language is exactly the same
thing as writing a compiler for an "ordinary" language.

But *designing* an IF language is not quite the same, since the
requirements are a bit different.

So maybe we need a book on how to design new IF languages, or at least
on what makes them different from other languages. The readership will
not be very large, though.

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 5, 2001, 5:42:56 PM12/5/01
to
Magnus Olsson <m...@df.lth.se> wrote:

> However, I think I ought to say one thing: if you have a language
> definition, writing a compiler for an IF language is exactly the same
> thing as writing a compiler for an "ordinary" language.

Yes.

> But *designing* an IF language is not quite the same, since the
> requirements are a bit different.

> So maybe we need a book on how to design new IF languages, or at least
> on what makes them different from other languages.

Such a book would probably want to be one-sixth about the language,
and five-sixths about the library and world model. (Rather like the
Inform manual.)

> The readership will not be very large, though.

Right.

Daryl McCullough

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Dec 5, 2001, 6:12:55 PM12/5/01
to
rca...@home.com says...

>
>Magnus Olsson wrote:
>
>> Seriously, I don't think writing IF compilers is so different from
>> writing compilers in general that it warrants its own literature.
>
>
>One can make an exactly analagous statement that writing IF is
>not so different than writing in general as to warrant its own
>literature.

Except that that statement would be false, while Magnus' statement
is true.

--
Daryl McCullough
CoGenTex, Inc.
Ithaca, NY

ems...@mindspring.com

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Dec 6, 2001, 3:51:20 PM12/6/01
to
rca...@home.com (Roger Carbol) wrote in message news:<82675075.01120...@posting.google.com>...

> I suppose I'm not especially bothered by the book not covering
> these issues, but more that they've been omitted silently, as
> if IF Theory is *of course* all about literary theory and the
> computer science of it is just a small matter of implementation.

At some point when I am a bit less pressured by the non-IF side of my
life (ie, in about a week or two), I'll update the IF Theory page to
reflect some of the points that have been raised in this and other
threads.

ES

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