[Humanist] 24.835 literature brought virtually to life

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Apr 1 08:38:17 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 835.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2011 12:05:00 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.819 literature brought virtually to life
        In-Reply-To: <20110328051635.40CC412125D at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

On 3/28/2011 1:16 AM, Daniel Allington wrote:
> Having a research interest in what Bradley Bleck calls 'text-based
> virtual realities' (below), I was wondering whether anyone else on
> the list has tried using MOOs and related forms of programming (eg.
> Inform 7 or its multi-user offshoot, Guncho) for teaching in the
> humanities.
> Somehow I find the idea of students building a MOO to be rather more
> exciting than the idea of them staging plays in Second Life. But
> perhaps I'm just showing my age...

Showing your age? Back in 1994 I demonstrated MediaMOO to the CETH 
summer seminar, in a rather rushed presentation at the end of our two 
weeks of work surveying the state of the art in Humanities Computing. 
The pitch was that this could, at least, be a platform for a "virtual 
reference desk". (Maybe Willard remembers this.) If I recall correctly, 
it rather split the audience in half. One camp thought the technology 
had revolutionary potential. The other could see it was prone to devolve 
into a frivolous circus of self-involvement and pseudo-community. I 
think both were right. Facebook or Twitter, anyone? Isn't each in its 
way rather like semi-asynchronous MOO in slow motion, a way of hiding 
oneself even as one puts oneself on display?

MOOs have certainly been used in and around Humanities instruction. 
There was (off the top of my head), early on, PMC MOO, an experimental 
affiliate of the journal of that name. There was LinguaMOO, for 
instruction in language and composition. There have also been more or 
less active MOOs, from time to time, at institutions such as UVA 
(IATH-MOO) and UMD (Romantic Circles). Additionally, initiatives such as 
Jay's House MOO or DhalgrenMOO were platforms where more serious or more 
entranced MOO-freelancers could work with more quota and bandwidth. In 
Dhalgren, I invented a "Thespian Player Class", with costume technology 
... you could create costumes to disguise yourself, share them with 
other thespians, etc. Others in the room would see you participate in 
costume, not as yourself. My collaborators wondered what was the point, 
since everyone was already disguised with a pseudonym and more or less 
outlandish fantasy-description. Until Hallowe'en came along.

Leaving aside the idea that Facebook, Twitter and so forth embody some 
important aspects of text-based VR (to say nothing of email lists), if 
the technology in its more immersive forms never caught on, I think this 
is related to James Rovira's point about the nature of the literate 
imagination and of imaginative literacy, and how not everyone is able 
and willing to develop it. Indeed. However, as we know from Plato and 
from contemporary authors such as ecocritic David Abram, there is a 
debate here with at least two sides (see, for example, 
http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/abram.htm). The challenge of 
the literary and the literate is always to find its ground in our ground 
-- the ground of politics, society, family, contributing and getting a 
living -- and not to spin off into its own bemusements, the inevitable 
and involving logic of its own ideologies. (Consider Twitter. Consider 
Homer's Odyssey.) This is probably true of media in general, and in spades.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
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