Playable Media and Textual Instruments

Abstract (in English): 

The statement that "this is not a game" has been employed in many ways — for example, to distinguish between high and low culture electronic texts, to market an immersive game meant to break the "magic circle" that separates games from the rest of life, to demarcate play experiences (digital or otherwise) that fall outside formal game definitions, and to distinguish between computer games and other forms of digital entertainment. This essay does not seek to praise some uses of this maneuver and condemn others. Rather, it simply points out that we are attempting to discuss a number of things that we play (and create for play) but that are arguably not games. Calling our experiences "interactive" would perhaps be accurate, but overly broad. An alternative — "playable" — is proposed, considered less as a category than as a quality that manifests in different ways. "Playable media" may be an appropriate way to discuss both games and the "not games" mentioned earlier.

The impetus for coming to this term was not a love of terminology, but the author’s need as an artist to situate a set of experiments in creating "instrumental texts" and "textual instruments" within an appropriate context. While it doesn't make sense to discuss all of these experiments as games, what distinguishes them from other electronic texts is their playability — both that they can be usefully considered as playable, and their particular structures of play. This essay discusses, particularly, two "textual instruments" recently constructed by the author in collaboration with David Durand, Brion Moss, and Elaine Froehlich. While both of these instruments operate according to the logic of n-grams (as first used in textual play by Claude Shannon), one instrument is designed to play with known local texts while the other is designed to employ the contents of network RSS feeds and web pages. One composition for each of these instruments — Regime Change and News Reader, respectively — is considered.

(Source: Author's abstract on Dichtung Digital)

Note: first published in Dichtung Digital (2005), Republished in The Aesthetics of Net Literature: Writing, Reading and Playing in Programmable Media (2007).

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Jörgen Schäfer