Programming for fun, together! Nick Montfort’s keynote at Remediating the Social
[VIdeo of the conference is also available at http://bambuser.com/v/3110251]
Remediation of the Social is the international conference that is the highlight of the ELMCIP project, and we’re excited to be here! We not only brought the whole Electronic Literature Research Group from UiB, we also brought eleven of our e-lit students. Look at everyone arrived at the airport:
Actually I didn’t arrive with the team, I showed up this morning, still in time for the start of the conference though. The auditorium at the Edinburgh College of Art has stuccoed ceilings and many familiar faces from the e-lit and new media conferences I’ve attended in the last fifteen years, and many new faces I don’t yet know.
Nick Montfort gives the keynote (documentation, and soon, the video, are available on the ELMCIP Knowledge Base), and his theme (as I read it) is about fun, and about how programming and creating programmable art and literature can and should be fun and accessible. He shows us an early television commercial for the Vic-20 computer, emphasising that it was “not just for games” – it had “a real computer keyboard”. Next, an Australian commercial for the Commodore 64 that I’ve shown students as well. This ad is pretty funny, but notice particularly the wonderful juxtapositions: look at these fun things we could do! We could go to a waterpark – or we could program! Back then, programming was seen (and marketed) as fun, easy and an obvious thing you’d want to do with your computer. The demoscene is another example of this, a wonderful subculture of young people who challenge each other to make their computers generate cool graphics and “demos”. “The Popular Demo” is an example of how the demoscene is about fun, and very different from the apocalyptic aesthetics of most computer games (I’d say there are plenty of exceptions to this – and I’m sure Nick would agree.)
Next, Nick fires up a C64 emulator and proceeds to teach us enough BASIC programming to write the 10 print program that he and a pile of other scholars have just written a book dissecting. I am definitely showing students this bit of the lecture for my next run of my BASIC class. Happily all this is being videotaped. All this will lead, in a moment, to the program that is also the title of the book Nick and nine co-authors are releasing in a couple of weeks from MIT Press: 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10.
Scott Rettberg steps in for Rita Raley (who is stuck in lower Manhattan without power or internet or access to the flight she had tickets on) as respondent, and uses the example of collaborative writing as a counter example to Nick’s programming examples. E-lit authors also collaborate and have fun, for instance as Nick and Scott did in Implementation, or more programmatically, as Scott and then many, many other authors rewrote and recoded Nick’s generative poem Taroko Gorge.