What are “the new digital genres”? Answers on a postcard to …

This post is in lieu of a Tangent du jour, as the next one of these will not be appearing until next week at the earliest. However: herewith a Topique à propos, c/o Digital Medievalist. Please do send in any solutions or resolutions, reflections and ruminations, to Daniel O’Donnell (Director of the DM Project and Chair of the TEI) who can be contacted by email. Further discussion is as always also very welcome to spill over here, in the form of commenting on this post …

The original question:

I’m just finishing off an article and I am about to refer to the extent to which humanists now need to know something about the “new digital genres”. By that I mean the things that if you have been traditionally trained and were bookish rather than videogamish or
technologically oriented as a teenager, you might not know much about:

  • blogs
  • wikis
  • MOOs and MUDs and other text-based games (an older genre, I know)
  • SIMs and other immersive game-like environments (ranging from second life through doom)

Others? Corrections? I’m trying to think how to get something with GPS in there.

Answers thus far:

Sharon Goetz (Digital Publications Manager, Mark Twain Papers & Project, UC Berkeley)

One digitally reliant genre that bears relevance to the work of some humanists is Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). Jane McGonigal’s work and installations are one place to start if you’d like a quick grounding, since she co-designed several major ARGs (see “my games” and “my research”: http://www.avantgame.com/

Another is interactive fiction, which is not new at all insofar as ADVENT (Adventure) was programmed in the 1970s: http://ifwiki.org/index.php/Adventure IF had a renaissance around the late 1990s, however, after Infocom (the company that produced Zork) was acquired and killed off, which is what might make it relevant here as “new.” Again, for a quick grounding one could do worse than to start with Emily Short’s how-to page, with links down right-hand sidebar: http://emshort.wordpress.com/how-to-play/

See also Nick Montfort’s work, esp. the “IF” link in the left-hand sidebar: http://nickm.com/

Short is (the pseudonym of) a classicist. Montfort’s monograph, Twisty Little Passages, cites the riddles in the Exeter Book as amongst IF’s precursors. IF as a form is distinct from much of the “hypertext” activity, by the way, though some practitioners cross over.

For GPS, try searching on “geocaching” and “KML” (keyhole markup language).

(Also, I might suggest using “simulations” rather than “SIMs,” especially if you plan to use Second Life and Doom as examples for it. I’m used to seeing the EA / former Maxis games–from SimCity and SimEarth through The Sims–called simulations, whereas Doom is a first-person shooter. Second Life is a virtual world, near kin to MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. 🙂 Your mileage may vary, of course, as we used to say on Usenet!)

Neven Jovanovič (Filozofski fakultet, Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, Croatia) adds:

“PowerPoint” presentations (mihi parcite), too.
Google Earth kmz?
Moodle et al.?
forums and usergroups?
bibsonomy / delicious etc.?
Facebook (v. Digital Texts 2.0!)?

Your administratrix can’t add much to this – apart from being pedantic about the distinction to be drawn between genre and form, format, or mode – so a matter of stylistics and poetics:  function vs. form; content vs. shape and/vs. mood/mode; any necessary relationship between the elements in any one of these pairs; and the mapping of one pairing onto another.  Being wary of statements such as “all ‘Medieval romance’ is about love AND in octosyllabic rhyming couplets” and  rearranged variants thereon. That being a statement that is only sometimes valid; and so is actually untrue, in a proper and universal sense; it’s Logic 101.

I happen to be very fond of Medieval French romance precisely because it is hard to nail down; to capture, chloroform, pin down, dissect, and display in a nice order in a nice glass case. (The finest – albeit, well, cartoonish – demonstration of this phenomenon may be the Musée ethnographique du Schtroumpf within the Centre belge de la bande dessinée in Brussels.) In some senses like its successors, descendant forms of post-Medieval French roman – MFR may be best defined precisely as that which it is not, combined with characteristics of experimentation and  of constant refashioning, renewal (with continuing strong links to the novas, nouvelle, and obv. the later novel), re-invigoration, re-self-appraisal, and other motions and movements of eternal return.

Asides aside, admin. does admit to having dealt with a related matter in her PhD thesis (currently being rewritten, unwritten, and reformulated as some other kind of work, possibly but not necessarily as simple as “turning your dissertation into a book”):

[…] I propose a “choose your own adventure” reading of Flamenca; this is the first work to do so.

The phrase is borrowed from recent imaginative fictions and computer games.⁵ The form’s characteristic second-person narration – with the reader assuming the role of the first person – recalls other literary experiments such as Italo Calvino’s Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore… (1979) and Nathalie Sarraute’s play with narrative voices. The first interactive narratives are, however, in the field of multiple-user interactive computer games, such as MIT labs’ Zork, the first such MUD (1977). Literary-gaming hybrids have also been flourishing for some time, in the form of “interactive fictions” such as Amnesia, by the Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning writer Thomas Disch (1987). Such post-modern narratives are closer to certain medieval narrative forms than, say, the 19th century novel. Familiarity with these recent works and this recent literary and narratological history is a useful way to understand works such as Flamenca; just as is the case for recent critical and theoretical approaches.
⁵ The first recorded use of “choose your own adventure” is as the title for a children’s series published by Bantam Books from 1979 to 1998, during the period of greatest flourishing of role-playing games based on the canonical Dungeons and Dragons (1974). That phenomenon had its roots in modern non-military wargaming, originating at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s. The 19th century Oxford Wargaming Club is a predecessor of a slightly different form; and military wargames, such as the Prussian Kriegspiel, go back as far as do war and games themselves. Other classic examples in the field of narrative computer games would be strategy games such as Civilization (1991), adventure-games such as Resident Evil (1996), and first-person shooter games such as Doom (1993). Choose your own adventure is a major cultural and imaginative phenomenon. In February 2006, World of Warcraft, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), had 5.5 million regular players worldwide.

Trobar Cor(s): Erotics and Poetics in Flamenca. “Introduction: Flamenca“; first section, “The text and this dissertation’s reading”. Diss. Princeton U (2006): 6-7.

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