Suspend Your Disbelief

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And Now for Something Completely Different: Electronic Literature

Going to writers’ conferences like AWP, I usually know what to expect: I’ll go to panel discussions and readings, meet friends I haven’t seen in years, and listen to my fellow fictionistos talking about agents, and publicity.

elo_conference_2012_posterNot so with the recent conference of the Electronic Literature Organization, hosted this June by the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University. The ELO, co-founded by metafictionist Robert Coover, is one of a handful of organizations working to study and produce literary projects designed for (and frequently created by) computers. I came to the conference armed with nothing but curiosity and came away with a sense that electronic literature—or computational storytelling, or digital poetics, or whatever else it gets called—is a wide-open field for writers with curiosity, inventiveness, and an ability to handle knowing very little about a huge subject that is still in the process of discovering itself.

This field is all about fertile “how” questions that lead toward new creative territory. How can we get a computer to write one kind of poetry rather than another? How can we give characters in interactive fiction sufficiently attributes to make them worth playing with? While the commercial field of video gaming seeks to make graphics increasingly lifelike, the people whose work I saw at ELO seek to dig into the nuts and bolts of expression itself as they find new ways for machines to help us express it. My favorite presentations (as a fiction guy) were about creating interactive storytelling platforms, as discussed by Fox Harrell of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Erik Loyer, creative director of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. There was also a terrific session on “Games, Interactions, and Computational Narratives” featuring Noah Wardrip-Fruin of the University of California-Santa Cruz’s Expressive Intelligence Studio, UC-SC’s Aaron Reed, and Jichen Zhu of Drexel University.

All of this left me so hungry for more. If you are too, check out the links below (as well as those above) and see where they take you.

Literary Partners