Notes for Noah Wardrip-Fruin Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies

Key concepts: expressive processing, software studies.

Related theorists: .

Series Foreword

Expressive Processing


Chapter 1
Media Machines

Digital media enabled by possibility of modern computers to create new machines; claim as first book focused on computational processes from media, games, and fiction, founding software studies.

(1) This is what modern computers (more lengthily called “stored-program electronic digital computers”) are designed to make possible: the continual creation of new machines, opening new possibilities, through the definition of new sets of computational processes.
(2) “Digital media” are the media enabled by this possibility.
(2-3) But regardless of perspective, writings on digital media almost all ignore something crucial: the actual processes that make digital media work, the computational machines that make digital media possible.
(3) As far as I know, it is the first book focused on computational processes that comes from the perspective of media, games, and fiction (rather than software engineering or computer science).

Expressive Processing

Authors defining system behavior as form of expression beyond simplified models of everyday world; second aspect of expressive processing is deep structure in processes not visible to audience.

(3) First, computational processes are an increasingly significant means of expression for authors. Rather than defining the sequence of words for a book or images for a film, today's authors are increasingly defining the rules for system behavior.
(4) Computational processes can also be used to craft possibilities that aren't simplified models of phenomena from our everyday world.
(4) Second, I use the term
expressive processing to talk about what processes express in their design – which may not be visible to audiences.

Processes central to understanding digital media, although their history seldom told; link to Manovich, Montfort and Bogost, and theorists common to Annals of History of Computing.

(5) This second sense of expressive processingwhat processes express through their designs and histories – is important to me because I think it is central to understanding digital media.
(5) Rather than theoretical discussions, though, most of the rest of this book is dedicated to a close examination of a set of influential examples.
(5) It is also a history almost never told.

A View of Digital Media

Authoring new processes precisely where my approach of doing humanities scholarship, philosophizing with electricity, fits.

(7) It is common to think of the work of authoring, the work of creating media, as the work of writing texts, composing images, arranging sound, and so on. But now one must think of authoring new processes as an important element of media creation.

Digital media processes exhibit alien temporality.

(9-10) The processes of digital media, however, are separated from noncomputational media processes by their potential numerousness, repetition, and complexity. . . . It is the computer's ability to carry out processes of significant magnitude (at least in part during the time of audience experience) that enables digital media that create a wide variety of possible experiences, respond to context, evolve over time, and interact with audiences.

Compare to Turkle much less precise discussion of surface of a work in Life On The Screen.

(10) In this book, the surface of a work of digital media is what the audience experiences: the output of the processes operating on the data, in the context of the physical hardware and setting, through which any audience interaction takes place.
(11) we generally understand this situation from the audience's perspective, looking at both the audience's actions and the work's behavior as though the work is a proverbial black box. I believe it is also essential to understand this situation more reciprocally; to think about the
relationship between the audience's experience and the system's internal operations.

Compare Figure 1-4 on interaction to closed loop process model, such as pinball machine.

(11-12) While interaction is certainly a contested term, for the purposes of this book I am defining it as a change to the state of the work – for which the work was designed – that comes from outside the work. . . . Finally . . . digital media works interact with more than audiences – which is why the revised diagram also notes the possibility of interaction with outside processes and data sources.

Operational Logics

Operational logistics are higher level patterns in interplay of elements in digital media model; start here for critical interpretation.

(14) I am interested in the examination of the interplay of a system's operational logics – and in this as a starting point for critical interpretation.

Three Effects

Eliza, Tale-Spin and SimCity effects cover audience expectations of depths based on surface, concealed richness, procedural rhetoric.

(15) The first – the Eliza effectis the well-known phenomenon in which audience expectations allow a digital media system to appear much more complex on its surface than is supported by its underlying structure.
the Tale-Spin effect . . . works that fail to represent their internal system richness on their surfaces, in an inversion of the Eliza effect that is not uncommon in digital media.
The SimCity effect is my term for systems that shape their surface experience to enable the audience to build up an understanding of their internal structure, especially a relatively complex one.

Looking Forward

Pay more attention to processes of digital media through survey of history of innovations in digital fictions and games reflecting back on society.

(18) One book makes an argument that we need to pay more attention to the processes of digital media.
(18-19) The other book within these covers is the one shaped by my passion for digital fictions and games. It tells a history of process-oriented innovations in these areas – a history that can provide inspiration (and cautionary guidance) as we create the projects that will shape the future of storytelling and play. . . . Coming to understand fictional worlds as systems – and exploring their potential through play – is also a powerful means of coming to understand our evolving society, in which (often hidden) software models structure much of how we live now.

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Print.