Wednesday, 13 July 2016

New book proposal, Games and Literary Theory (eds. Welsh & Goggin)

I've just agreed to contribute a chapter on Jason Nelson's poetry games to Timothy Welsh and Joyce Goggin's proposed collection, Games and Literary Theory - very exciting project, so fingers crossed it'll find a suitable publisher. My proposed chapter will be a version of my forthcoming talk at a Gothenburg-based Digital Poetry symposium in September, which will also feature the likes of H.C. Rustad and J. R. Carpenter.

My proposal:

“Can You Can Play?” Metaludicity and Surrealist Hyperattention in Jason Nelson’s Poetry Games
Astrid Ensslin, University of Alberta

Literary gaming (Ensslin 2014a) happens at the creative interface between hyperattentive gameplay and deep-attentive close reading (Hayles 2007). Literary game designers experiment with the question of whether hyper and deep attention are indeed compatible, and they do so by juxtaposing creatively the readerly and playerly elements of a text/game. In this sense, literary games evoke a ludic metazone by foregrounding (poetic) language and other forms of semiotic expressivity, thus producing a variety of artefacts that inhabit various loci on the spectrum between ludic digital literature and literary computer game (Ensslin 2014b).
In this talk I’m going to focus on the poetry games of American digital poet and artist, Jason Nelson. In his ludic oeuvre he translates the clash between close reading and gameplay into an array of diversely surreal gaming interfaces that literally play with and undermine the rules of game design but also those of language and other semiotic modes. I will show that underlying his puzzling and often “annoying” (Alfredsson 2016) interfaces are concise techno-, socio- and ludocritical messages that emerge procedurally through kinetic, cognitive and curiously fun-oriented engagement with the ‘codes’ of his works.

Alfredsson, J. (2016), Personal Correspondence, June 29th, 2016.
Ensslin, A. (2014a) Literary Gaming. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ensslin, Astrid (2014b) ‘”Womping” the Metazone of Festival Dada: Jason Nelson’s Evidence of Everything Exploding’, in Marcel Cornis-Pope (ed.) New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression: Crossing Borders, Crossing Genres, pp. 221-231. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hayles, N. K. (2007) "Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes." Profession 2007: 187-99.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

ELO buzz

ELO 2016 at University of Victoria, BC, has just come to a close. It was a wonderful experience to see such a diversity of creative and scholarly projects. My favorite works on display (either in the gallery or in delegates' presentations) were Inanimate Alice, Episode 6 (more ludic and immersive tan ever - a real pleasure to play and read); Jason Nelson's Impossible Box (haptic fun with hardware); and SIS's / Nam Le's The Boat (both shocking and fascinating in its horrifying beauty). Following an inspiring discussion with Mark Marino, I've now set up a Facebook Group for Young People's elit - a platform for an informal SIG and curatorial / readerly community enjoying and wanting to share children's and teenage digital fiction and poetry. Academic sessions that particularly stood out for me were Kathi Inman Berens', Jessica Pressman's and Caitlin Fisher's panel on Feminist Horizons; Dave Ciccoricco's, Ilya Szilak's and Caitlin Fisher's panel on Narratives and Narrativity, and the keynotes by Anastasia Salter and Christine Wilks. I also massively enjoyed being on a panel on Literary Interventions with Kate Pullinger and Aaron Angello. I regret having to miss Sandy Baldwin's elit pedagogy session, but instead I enjoyed a refreshingly informed interview/discussion with James O'Sullivan. Thanks for the opportunity.
My own talk was a co-authored paper (with Alice Bell, Isabelle van der Bom and Jen Smith) on Dreaming Methods' WALLPAPER installation - an empirical reader response analysis on matters of immersion, site-specificity and multimodality.

The full slideshow is available here

Monday, 18 May 2015

Where gaming and reading meet - an interview with me on German radio (Deutschlandradio Kultur, Berlin, 13 May 2015)

Here's a brief interview with me on Deutschlandradio Kultur, which was inspired by my keynote at DiGRA 2015 at Leuphana University (Lueneburg, Germany), and explains how reading and gaming are converging and clashing in literary games and gaming. English translation to follow.
Another brief interview about digital fiction, the language of gaming, literary gaming and the future of literature has been published bilingually here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

First review of Literary Gaming published in Leonardo

I'm really excited by the first review of Literary Gaming, published this month in Leonardo. In it Rob Harle describes the book as "a fascinating and detailed scholarly exploration of this fairly new field of academic inquiry...The book is very well written and, considering some of the complex theories (communication, meaning, authorship and so on) discussed, is still accessible to the interested general reader." He expects that "Literary Gaming will become a core text in the academic fields of new media, digital gaming, and literature itself. I cannot recommend the book highly enough to be included in all of the relevant university curricula, as well as being an excellent resource and inspiration for experimental game designers and creative writers." My response to his criticism that there should be an appendix listing all the works discussed in the book is that there is actually a comprehensive list of all primary material mentioned in the manuscript (pp. 173-177 of the Bibliography). But I accept that a list of further primary reading would have been useful too. I've made such a list for my own research and I may put it on this blog as soon as I've had a chance to edit it a little. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you'd like to see it in its present, raw form.
Anyway, thanks to Rob Harle for this positive evaluation. Hope we'll meet some day in person.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Literary Gaming is out!

My new book, Literary Gaming, is now out with MIT Press! So pleased to see it in print, and the endorsements (thanks to Stuart, Sandy and Noah) are really great too:


In this book, Astrid Ensslin examines literary videogames—hybrid digital artifacts that have elements of both games and literature, combining the ludic and the literary. These works can be considered verbal art in the broadest sense (in that language plays a significant part in their aesthetic appeal); they draw on game mechanics; and they are digital-born, dependent on a digital medium (unlike, for example, conventional books read on e-readers). They employ narrative, dramatic, and poetic techniques in order to explore the affordances and limitations of ludic structures and processes, and they are designed to make players reflect on conventional game characteristics. Ensslin approaches these hybrid works as a new form of experimental literary art that requires novel ways of playing and reading. She proposes a systematic method for analyzing literary-ludic (L-L) texts that takes into account the analytic concerns of both literary stylistics and ludology.
After establishing the theoretical underpinnings of her proposal, Ensslin introduces the L-L spectrum as an analytical framework for literary games. Based on the phenomenological distinction between deep and hyper attention, the L-L spectrum charts a work’s relative emphases on reading and gameplay. Ensslin applies this analytical toolkit to close readings of selected works, moving from the predominantly literary to the primarily ludic, from online hypermedia fiction to Flash fiction to interactive fiction to poetry games to a highly designed literary “auteur" game. Finally, she considers her innovative analytical methodology in the context of contemporary ludology, media studies, and literary discourse analysis.


“In this wise and insightful book, Astrid Ensslin makes a good start on a new literary criticism, one that sees beyond the mere facticity of digital mediation, deep into the substance and operations of important works. The book is exemplary, both in its keen grasp of textual theory and, perhaps more crucially, its smart and sensitive engagement with demanding, often baffling texts. Perhaps close reading is no longer possible for works so nontrivial in their configurative requirements. Ensslin offers an intriguing substitute, call it deft reading, a criticism answerable to the great, protean demands of texts relentlessly in play.”
Stuart Moulthrop, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
“It is easy to say games contain narratives and easy to say that narratives are playful. Saying so does little other than repeat existing rather poor metaphors for games and narratives. Astrid Ensslin does something much harder and more rewarding: she takes on all the works occurring on the spectrum from games to literature (what she calls the L-L spectrum) and provides the first rigorous descriptive vocabulary for reading these works. I was surprised and informed by the diversity and invention found in the works examined. More than this: I was persuaded and even amazed by the rich and fine-tuned readings Ensslin offers. Literary Gaming sets the standard for understanding literary ludicity.”
Sandy Baldwin, The Center for Literary Computing, West Virginia University 
Literary Gaming moves beyond tired debates as to whether the playful and poetic are compatible, and instead offers detailed readings of specific projects, illustrating a range of ways that compelling artistic experiences combine the ludic and literary.”
Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of Expressive Processing

AHRC Reading Digital Fiction project up and running

Alice Bell and I have been awarded about £243k by the AHRC for a 29-month empirical project looking at Reading Digital Fiction. The project has two core aims. Primarily, as keen readers of digital fiction, we want to introduce more readers to digital fiction. To achieve that aim, we are organising various public events including workshops, exhibitions, and writing competitions to introduce people to this exciting new form of literature. Secondly, as cognitive stylisticians, we are interested in how readers process particular linguistic and multimodal features within digital fiction. We are therefore running several reader-response studies, collecting data from readers in order to understand how digital literary reading works cognitively.

We've now got a website and regularly tweet @ReadDigFic, @AstridEnsslin and @AliceBellTweets #elit. I presented our first poster, on how to test our theories on textual 'you' in digital fiction with actual readers, at Bangor University yesterday. Here it is:

Jen and I will give this poster as a full 20-min presentation at Nottingham University's forthcoming 'The Reader in Stylistics' conference on 24th June.