Games-Language An interview with Noah Wardrip-Fruin by Cicero Silva* Noah Wardrip-Fruin is a digital media writer

, artist, and scholar. His writing/art work creates new experiences of reading through bodily interaction, algorithmic recombination, and exploration of the potential of the network as more than a delivery mechanism. This work has been presented by galleries, arts festivals, scientific conferences, DVD magazines, and the Whitney and Guggenheim museums. As a scholar he has recently edited two books: The New Media Reader (2003, with Nick Montfort) and First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (2004, with Pat Harrigan), both from MIT Press. He has taught writing for digital media in Brown University's Literary Arts program, New York University's Graduate Film and Television program, and the Summer Literary Seminars of Saint Petersburg, Russia. His work is discussed in Information Arts (2002), Digital Art (2003), and Art of the Digital Age (forthcoming) - as well as in The Guardian, The New York Times, Technology Review, BBC News, Wired News, and U.S. public radio stories. Wardrip-Fruin grew up largely in California, in the cities of Palo Alto and Long Beach, though his family also spent time in Japan and Boston. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where his contemporaries included rapper Snoop Dogg, and graduated in 1990. After college, Wardrip-Fruin moved to New York City, where he was an artist in residence and then a research scientist at the New York University Center for Advanced Technology and Media Research Laboratory (1994-2001). At NYU he collaborated with computer graphics pioneer Ken Perlin on the design of next-generation interfaces and received an MA from NYU's Gallatin School, 2000. After NYU he became a professor at the University of Baltimore, where he collaborated with Stuart Moulthrop and Nancy Kaplan on the design of the curriculum for the newly-launched School of Information Arts and Technologies. From Baltimore he moved to Brown University, where he works with Robert Coover and others on exploring the literary potential of digital media (especially the immersive virtual reality "Cave"). He is currently a Teaching Fellow at Brown University, where this interview took place on April, 2005. We talked about Games, language, Digital Literature and the Future of the Game theory.

Cicero Inacio da Silva: You have recently edited a book (First Person) on new media, story and games. Why are you interested in games? Noah Wardrip-Fruin: For a couple reasons. I think that -- on a fundamental level -- playing games, performing for each other, and sharing stories and poems are deep human activities. All these activities have come to digital media, in one way or another, and I wanted to create a book where people who were thinking about all of these would be in one context, and could actually respond to each other -- so we can start to, through that dialog, think about the field in a broader way. This is part of the motivation. But another motivation was that, although I think this is changing, there was a sense that games were a kind of the Other, the separate thing in digital media. Games were very successful commercially, but very uninteresting from an artistic point of view, from a scholarly point of view. So I also wanted to challenge that a little bit and say: "Yes, games are one of the most popular forms of digital media, but they are also interesting art work, interesting writing, interesting design, and I think that scholars and artists have to contribute to our discussion about making and criticizing games." CIS: What do you think about the relationship between games and literature? NWF: There are three relationships that I want to think about. One is the relationship between games and the traditional literature. So, someone like Warren Motte, who has written a book called Playtexts (from the University of Nebraska Press), talks about writers, from the surrealists to the OULIPO, and many others groups, who used play as a way of thinking about their writing process, who used play as a way of thinking about the reading process that they wanted, how the audience can go through the text and engage with the text. That is one of the relationships that I want to think about. Another is that some early computer games were very textual, and some pieces were quite literary; others were graphical, and maybe literary in some structure, but not in the language that they contained. And what happened after that was that our ability to deal with language computationally didn't develop as quickly as our ability to deal with graphics. In the 1970’s and in the early 1980’s we tried to deal with language computationally using ruled-based artificial intelligence techniques, and that ruled-based artificial intelligence…

CIS: You mean an algorithmic process to produce a text or work… NWF: Yes, right… I'm talking about processes for recognizing and producing natural language. At the moment we have techniques that work very well using statistical techniques, operating with large bodies of language. We use the patterns that we see in these large bodies of language to try to interpret and produce language, and that is more successful. In the 70’s and in the 80’s, we used ruled-based techniques, and we got some results, but could not go further. At the same time, computer graphics took off. Computer graphics driven by military applications, driven by Hollywood, and now driven by computer games, got better and better. So computer games, maybe for that reason, maybe for others, became more and more focused on graphics, and there wasn't much to say about that in terms of literature. Now, I think that is changing. Computer game companies are hiring full-time writers. They are hiring writers who have experience, who think and write through and for procedures. At the same time, our ability to deal with language, computationally and algorithmically, is getting better. So, the second issue to think about is how these things may be producing a new kind of literature, connected to the field of computer games. Now, most computer games are becoming better written, but often toward the goal of being like Hollywood blockbusters. However, I think there is a growing alternative game movement. And the alternative game movement may produce work as well written as good plays or good movies, instead of as the bad movies. The third interesting relationship is thinking about how literary structures may be important to games that it doesn't make sense to think of as literature. An example is quest structures. Espen Aarseth has written about this. Janet Murray has written about this. We don’t want to think about all computer games as literature, but we can better understand some of the structures by using literary models. CIS: Actually, my third question has something to do with your answer… how do you see the game market with this explosion of these new game technologies, and with the big media companies (like Disney, Warner, etc.) getting inside this field? NWF: Well, in the US we had our first big boom in games in the early 1980’s, and people like Warner did get involved; they did things like buy game companies. And this was huge in the US, because people were playing

so many games… and then came the big bust. The computer game industry entered in a kind of collapse. Some people have interpreted that collapse, in part, as having to do with the intrusion of the big media companies. This leads to people saying: “Big media companies don’t understand games,” and so on. I don’t know if I believe that. It's hard to believe that big media companies categorically can’t understand games. But it is true that, right now, the big games companies are people like Electronic Arts, and people like Microsoft, although also people like Sony, and Sony does have a significant presence in other kinds of media. It'll be interesting to see how these big companies play out. All that said, I think right now most computer games are produced on the model of big media, where we have a big studio that spends a lot of money and takes a big risk trying to create blockbusters hits. And everything that is not a blockbuster hit is a kind of failure. We need to change that. I think computer games are only going to grow as an art form when they become much more diverse that they are now, in terms of their models of production. CIS: Do you think that this “games invasion” is a fashion, or up-to-date, like the TV in the 50’s and the internet in the 90’s? NWF: Well, I think TV in the 50’s and the Internet in the 90’s were marked by a struggle to understand something, and this is a struggle, probably momentary… CIS: Let me situate my question: I think that the internet changed many points about our culture, and I think that, even today, we still cannot understand exactly what happen through the internet and on the internet. Now we have this game culture, which also uses the internet. Today, we still are thinking about what is the Internet, what kind of impact it has in our representations. I think that it is a great impact, it is something important… NWF: Right. I am thinking that my mother has a laptop that she carries with her, not just when she travels, but she carries it around the house, you know… CIS: My parents do the same...

NWF: Right. And when she is thinking about something, and she wants information about it, she opens her laptop and she does a web search. And, usually, the information she wants is right there. I think we haven’t finished thinking about what that means for our culture. For one thing, I think a large group of people assume that the online world is going to be like a library, with a lot of information available for free. That is very powerful, because the most powerful thing is what people take for granted, and what they take for granted is that the internet is a library, and if you try to change the internet and stop the internet from being a library they are going to say: “What?” They know that the internet is a library, and we can only see how that developed in retrospect. In the 1990’s we were saying: “What is the internet going to be? Is it going to be like cable television?” Now we know that for people like my Mother the internet is like a library (and email). We don’t know yet about computer games. We don’t know what sort of dominant models will develop, or if they will be like the current dominant models, or how they will challenge our expectations. But, certainly, for those in their 30’s and younger, we have a group of people who expect games to be part of daily life: not set apart in the arcade, but played on a console with a television; or played on a computer where they also do their work; or played on a device that they can keep in their pocket, like a Game Boy. So I think that it is taken for granted that games no longer are separate, and that will be, maybe, one change that we will start to see. CIS: Yes, it was interesting when I was playing a certain game and, inside the game, I found I could go to the bank. It impressed me that while I play I am able to go to the bank, check my balance account, or transfer money to someone. In some cases, you can go to the supermarket and do some shopping. Also, we start to see a lot of ads inside the games... CIS: What do you think about the critic view on VR, related to aspects like “reality” and “virtual”? Do you think that, with the VR, we are trying to build a new cave for our lives, as Plato pointed out, or that we are trying to understand how we are what we are? Do you agree with the point of view that we are outside Plato’s cave, and now why come back? We are already out, and there is nothing interesting outside, so now what?

NWF: (laughs…) If I remember Plato's cave correctly, there were chains, and we could only see shadows. OK, this is not the literal cave, and not the literal chains, either. So one thing that interested me about a lot of theories of virtual reality was the assumption that we could use VR to reproduce normal spaces, and to create impossible spaces. But I think that computer games are the closest thing that we have to popular Virtual Reality, even if it’s not stereo display. People move through virtual spaces a lot. Most of these virtual spaces operate by the same physics, as much as possible, as our reality, or contain structures as much as possible like buildings in our reality. It’s much more popular to play a game like Counter Strike than it is to play a game like an abstract shooter, where you can move through impossible spaces. CIS: Like Doom... NWF: No, let me think of a good example… I'm trying to remember the names of a couple of games made by a guy called The Yak, where what you do is fly. You fly in an abstract vehicle through abstract spaces that are made up with shapes and colors. And some are beautiful spaces, the kind of spaces that I think a lot of early Virtual Reality theorists imagined. And, of course, you are playing a game, and you blow up these beautiful things, and it makes great sounds when you move through it. But this is not as popular as shooting things in much more normal spaces. However, that said, we don’t really know what will become popular for a certain generation. It could be that when people who are now in their 30’s are in their 50’s they will want these impossible spaces. Or could be that they will want more and more realism, they will want The Sims. The Sims is about our everyday life, but maybe they will want even more reality: the people acting more like real people, the economy acting more like the economy. Who knows? It’s very hard for me to predict. CIS: The representational aspect of the games is one of the most important points to discuss in game theories, because it implies in what somebody can do in a game: kill, explode, be a terrorist etc. And in the games we need a purpose or objective to continue playing, that always include kill, buy, sell or explode. Do you think it is possible to produce a game in witch an objective doesn’t exist? If it’s possible, what kind of game will it be?

NWF: First, I need to say that in some games, like Tetris, you don’t blow up anything and you can’t win. There is no objective about winning; the objective is only about not losing for as long as possible. I think this is kind of interesting, because we tend to think that Americans always want to win. And Americans love Tetris, Space Invaders and a lot of such games. Of course, you can have a high score -- maybe having a high score it the closest to wining -- but you always lose, and you need to keep from losing as long as you can. But, yes, I think that there are going to be, and maybe already are, digital media experiences that share a lot of traits in common with games, but have different kinds of goals and different kinds of actions that you take. But I’d say that if you don’t have game kinds of goals, probably we should not call the experiences games anymore. Maybe we should call them another kind of digital entertainment. So for example, do you know projects called Dogz, Catz, and Babyz? People like Andrew Stern and Adam Frank have worked on these projects, where you have just a little pet that lives on your computer and... CIS: You published something about this in your book, I think in one of the discussions about an article… NWF: Yes, in one discussion. Andrew Stern is one of the respondents in the book, and he talked about those projects. They are a kind of project in which you can explore your of relationship with the character, and I guess, from our point of view now, they might seem a bit primitive. You know, the graphics were simple, the artificial intelligence was simple, and who can imagine what will happen when things like this go further? Similarly, there are projects where the creators really focus on things like the story. Andrew Stern collaborates with Michael Mateas (who also has a piece in the book) on a project called Facade. In this project what you do is: you go over to have drinks with some people who you introduced and who are now married, and their marriage falls apart during your visit, but it falls apart differently, depending how you interact. It falls apart horribly, almost no matter what; there isn’t a way to win, there isn’t a score, and you don’t have to have a high score, but people play them. It’s not been publicly released, but I've played it, and replayed it, and a number of people that I know, who have received copies of it, are playing, and playing again, and playing again. Not because they want to do better, but just because they want to understand the space of possible stories. In some ways, it is a kind of postmodern fiction, which makes you think that the story can happen

this way, or can happen that way, with much left to chance, and where you play the part of “chance.” CIS: The game theory is nowadays exploring new theoretical interfaces, and some of them are narrative and literature. Some scholars are producing a lot of texts explaining the resources and the advantages of using games in the educational and pedagogical field, pointing out that games are easy and closer to their reality than books are. Do you agree with this point of view? What do you think of the critics that say that this student will be a person that just reacts to some specific actions, and that he or she will actually not think about it, or even elaborate some new point of view about his or her own situation? Or in other words, quoting Lyotard: “this is the perfect world to capitalism”. We will have just action and reaction. What do you think about this? How can we differentiate when somebody is responsive to a situation or when he or she is really thinking about a problem, even playing a game? NWF: Well, one thing that we might have to think about is where the graphics technology for games comes from. A lot of funding is from military sources, and their aim was to create flight simulators and battle simulators. The reason the military put a lot of money into developing things like flight simulators is not because they thought that books are bad, but because maybe there were things that you can learn from the simulation, but you can’t learn from the book, or that are very hard to learn from the book. For them, these flight simulators were not an alternative to giving someone a book about flying, but were an alternative to actually putting someone in a cockpit of an airplane, an alternative to real world action. I think, in some ways, that what we need to think about is the goal of games in education. And the goal of games in education probably should not have to be trying to teach things that we can learn from books, but to teach things that we can’t teach with a book. And to teach things like these we might be able to simulate things that we can do in the real world, or things that we can’t do at all. People try to do this, for example, using games like SimCity to teach kids about cities. But there we run into another problem: Sim City does not come from nowhere, it is based on a research by an MIT guy called Jay Forester. Forester did a lot of work trying to understand urban planning

through simulation, but his cities were very distorted cities -- for example, his cities have no suburbs, so we have children… CIS: I also think that he never saw a “favela” in Brazil… NWF: Yes, and if you have children trying to learn how to understand cities, and trying to learn how to understand cities through a simulation, that simulation will be always authored by people, and will always encode some of the ideological assumptions of those people. Part of what we try to do in education is to help students to develop a critical view of what they read in books; not just learning information, but also learning to think about what is not there, what the author doesn't say. What we now need to consider, in thinking about children learning through simulation, is how to develop a critical view of what they learn from the simulation, how they can understand the rules that make the simulation operate, and what are the limits and the blind spots of these rules. How children can develop that is a very tricky question; if they don’t develop that, then they are just reacting, they are just doing that simulation in a way that we don’t like. And the answer, maybe, is the same that we had from written literature, where people, or part of the people, achieve a critical view of what they read, and then they learn to write, and they learn about the writing process, and how with the writing process all these things came out. Maybe children will have to learn to author simulations, before they will be able to understand the relations, limits, and ideological field of games, and are able to be critical about simulations. CIS: What do you think about the images in the games, aesthetically speaking? I mean, in 90% of the games we have, more and more, an exact reproduction of what we call reality. In the Renaissance, we have the same thing, and now, after Walter Benjamin, after Susan Sontag, after all the critics of the metaphor and representation, we are producing again the same reproduction of reality. Why do you think that we are doing this, if the computer can create images without any relation, or need, to capture this named reality? NWF: One of my favorite phrases from a game theorist named Eric Zimmerman (and he has a lot of pithy phrases) is: “Cinema Envy”. He says that a lot of the game industry is caught up in “Cinema Envy”, and in part

because cinema is taken seriously as an art form. But a lot of it is just because they like films, and because games right now can’t reproduce the cinematic experience, and because cinema is seen as desirable, and because you can be lauded as a computer graphics researcher for producing something more realistic. I think there are a lot of forces that drive games to increased cinematic realism, and, at some point, that will exhaust itself. I think, at some point, you will be able to, in real time, in response to what the users have done, produce something that is not distinguishable from a videotape, as good as the quality that you can get from your television. We’ll probably have to go that far before non-realistic rendering really begins to take hold. Right now, there are occasional games like Viewtiful Joe, done in cartoon style, where the imagery is really trying to reflect the content of the game in a non-cinematic way. But, right now, almost all the work that is trying to reflect the content of the game visually is drawing from cinema. Games like Max Payne are trying to look like a noire movie. They are not trying to invent a new way of looking, that only will be possible with the computer. Having said that, I think that we need to remember that movies are starting to be influenced by computer games. Maybe there is a new aesthetic form emerging from that as well. All that said, personally my interest in games is not usually driven by what the game looks like, and I agree with those critics who say that, regarding most serious players of games, they are looking through the imagery to the play. Eventually, what the game looks like becomes only a way of understanding the way that the system works. Games have a meaning in terms of play, and not only in terms of what happens visually; most games are about accomplishing something in terms of rules and goals, and those are not visual. On the other hand, I'm reminded that Peter Molyneux’s game studio is working on a game called “The Movies”, and the result of play is to produce trailers and snippets for movies, so your game goal is actually a visual goal, and those visuals try to have a style, but again it is a style based on movies, so who knows… CIS: Do you think it’s possible that in the future a “game critic” will write about a game in an analytical and critical (scholarly) sense? I’m asking this because I think that the majority of the critics of Game Theories and digital narratives doesn’t quote or sometimes even know authors or important discussions about literature and literary criticism, and we know that this field had produced a lot of discussions about narrative, form, meaning, representation,

reality, and one of the most important: ideology. Do you agree with this point of view? I think that some points of Digital Literature, and the use of the name “literature” itself, sound to me sometimes just as an attempt to give more credibility to this “digital” field, and what I see is a few authors discussing criticism, related to these “digital” topics of writing. NWF: I think that one useful thing to do is to look at something called the “Scandinavian School” of games scholarship. Part of the reason is that this Scandinavian School -- and I am talking about people like Markku Eskelinen, Espen Aarseth, and Jesper Juul -- so these people, many of them are deeply engaged with contemporary literary criticism. They are very aware, and a number have backgrounds as literary scholars, so they know the history of literary criticism. And yet the work that they are doing is seen by some literary scholars as very naive, because their work is often quite formalist, trying to talk about the formal characteristics of games, or how you understand the passage of time in a game, and so on. People say: “We have been through this phase in critical history”. But their point of view is: “No, we haven’t been through this. We have been through this in literature, we have been through it for films, but we have to go through it again for games”. Because games are fundamentally different. And only once we go trough this period of formalism can we begin to take that formalism apart and expose its limits, and talk about the blind spots of the earlier generation -- but there has to be a first generation. Some people disagree, and they may also come from a literary background. Let’s say the Georgia Tech group -- people like Janet Murray, Ian Bogost, Michael Mateas, and Jay Bolter -- who have significantly less interest in formalism than the group I associate with Scandinavia, though also work on projects with names like "game ontology." Henry Jenkins -- who doesn’t come from a literary background, but from a media studies background -- in the First Person book talks about the Scandinavian Vikings versus the North American Eagles. There's some perception of conflict, but also a humorous attitude toward it. And we shouldn't forget people like Gonzalo Frasca, Nick Montfort, Stuart Moulthrop, and others who can't be put in a camp (or the fact that Gonzalo's been both at ITU Copenhagen and Georgia Tech). I guess I would say that, personally, I find a lot of valuable work in both groups. I think neither group is ready to have games just talked about in terms of current literary theory. I think that both groups agree that we need to develop some new perspectives to understand that games are procedural

and interactive. If we don’t understand those things, and just apply perspectives from literary studies, we will misunderstand this experience. But I think we'll make progress. And just the same way every major university has cinema scholarship, I have no doubt that we will not have any serious university without game scholarship. CIS: …and now, a hard question: do you play games? What is your favorite? NWF: (laughs…) Yes, I play games, and playing games is like reading: it takes a lot of time. I mean, you're never caught up, you always need to do more than you have done. I think that is one of the advantages that cinema scholars have over us. You know, they take two hours to watch a movie. And you take so many hours to play a game, and to interact in a complex novel. You can go and survey the work of a major director in a week -- and if you go through a series of works by a major game company it'll take many times that. Anyway, my first experiences with games were with things like the Infocom games, like Zork, and maybe earlier things like Hunt the Wumpus. Then, when I was in high school, I played a lot of Tetris, and we had a Nintendo game console. I'm also passable at arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede and Pole Position. Right now, I would say I've gotten to the point that my favorite things are experimental. So I really enjoy things like Façade, though I also enjoy playing blockbusters like Fable. But in some level, it’s not the same; the people who are doing Fable have an obligation to their funders to create something that will appeal to a really wide audience. And things with such appeal, not meant for a narrow audience, don't grab me in the same way. CIS: Thank you and I hope that you can come to Brazil as soon as possible to work with us in future projects, and maybe develop a scholarship in the game field.

* Researcher and professor of new media art and digital communication. Cicero coordinates the Software Studies Initiative in Brazil. He founded, along with Marcos Khoriati, the GPSface website and the GPSart (GPSarte) project at The aim of these projects is investigate new forms of social participation using Global Position System (GPS) and also develop an online wireless community using cell phones with GPS. The GPSface is a social networking online community and a Midlet (software) developed in Java that connects people around the world and shows on the Google Maps the position of the user's contact list, and also the distance of the people listed in the “contacts”. The GPSart is a Midlet designed to draw lines on Google Maps using GPS location and it is available for unlocked cell phones that support Java. As a researcher in Art & Technology Cicero developed in the end of 90s softwares to create online texts on a project called “Plato online: nothing, science and technology”, which is completely documented on a book with the same name. The project was commented worlwide due its provocative target, e.g. the algortihms were baptized with the name of important philosophers, most of them related to the end of the authorship in the digital era creating a huge confusion in the www since Google exhibited the websites of the project when users searched for “Michel Foucault”, or “Gilles Deleuze”, for example. In 2004 he started a project to develop more participation of the audience on the web and the result was exhibited in 2006 with the project “magnetopoetry”, a website programmed in Ajax, using a model developed by Garrison Locke. Cicero's work has been analyzed by theoriticians and curators, such as George P. Landow in his book Hypertext 3.0 (John Hopkins UP, 2006), among others. Currently he is a Researcher in the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and director of the studio witz, a new media studio based in São Paulo/Brazil. He was a Visiting Scholar at University of California, San Diego (2006-2007/Fellowship from CAPES/State Department of Education/Brazil) and at Brown University (2005/Scholarship supported by CAPES/MEC). Cicero holds a Master degree and a Ph.D. in Communication and Semiotics, is author of Plato online: nothing, science and technology book (All Print), member of the Jury and Scientific Board of FILE SYMPOSIUM (chair), and has been organizing Seminars such as Tecnocriações and Estética e Novas Tecnologias.

Links: Warren Motte: OULIPO (Cent mille milliards de poèmes: e Raymond Queneau: Espen Aarseth: Janet Murray: Electronic Arts: The Sims: Tetris: Dogs, cats and babies: 9.html Facade: SimCity: Viewtiful Joe:

Max Payne: The Movies: Markku Eskelinen: Hunt the Wumpus: Infocom games: Zork: Gonzalo Frasca: Jesper Juul: Ian Bogost: Michael Mateas: Henry Jenkins: Peter Molyneux: The Yak: