Stuart
Moulthrop


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The Works

This page lists works of electronic literature, art, or what-have-you, from 1991 to the present (in reverse chronology).


Screen capture from <em>1000 Words Into the Future of Text</em>

Screen capture from 1000 Words Into the Future of Text.

1000 Words Into the Future of Text (The Future of Text, 2020)

HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

This substition grammar project was written when Frode Hegland, developer of the Liquid writing platform, asked for a contribution to a book on the Future of Text. The way I see it, text is kind of like a teenage child. It determines its own future. With not a lot of emphasis on responsibility, though in truth that's always the parent's fault, isn't it? The page will deliver either a nicely sized kiloword slice, or an unending stream of wordspew. Choose wisely.


Title image from <em>Dread Box</em>

Title image from Dread Box.

Dread Box (The Digital Review, 2020)

Twine. Project available |here|.

This project began as one of the final exercises in my book with Anastasia Salter, Twining (2020), a simpler spatial riddle called Twine Box, which is also available |here|. Dread Box allows the player only a single traversal of the six (or seven) spaces (where its predecessor allowed for unlimited wandering), and on each stop challenges the player to find words that will justify a certain outcome -- hopeful, or something else.

Written in the new Chapbook story format, Dread Box is my first published Twine work.


Screen capture from <em>Stromatolite</em>

Screen capture from Stromatolite.

Stromatolite (New River, 2020)

HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

During my flarfical work with Michael Joyce's "novel of internet" I discovered unexplained word-masses hovering at the statistically improbable edge of networked language. Though they are probably less mysterious than they seem (unless you believe in the Deep Web), they remain ineffable to me, and so the occasion for a poem in a dream in a verbal midden. Dig it!


Screen capture from <em>Why 2K</em>

Screen capture from Why 2K.

Why 2K (Taper 2.0, 2018)

HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

This is a fairly simple substitution-grammar text generator written within a 2,000 kilobyte restriction on the code. Aside from the joy of constraint, this project provided yet another occasion for thinking about apocalypse, utopia, and why I seem to need to put a semicolon after every executable statement.


Title image from <em>Ouroboros vs. Jabberwock</em>

Title image from Ouroboros vs. Jabberwock.

Ouroboros vs. Jabberwock (2017)

With Deena Larsen. HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

When a poet-hacker as brilliant as Deena Larsen proposes a joint project, you don't say no -- especially at a moment when lots of us needed something to take our minds off the world. Ouroboros vs. Jabberwock (or 'the O-J case,' as I would call it) started with a debate at ELO 2015 about... something. Deena could tell you. I've forgotten. What eventuated is a dual-stream presentation in which the reader is invited to attend either to Deena's side of things -- a looping, audible poem with discrete hyperlinks -- or mine, which uses sub-grammars to compile endless poetic matchups between the Heroic Youth and the Jabberwock... scored as a tennis match, of course. We had more fun making this thing than the world will ever understand.


Title image from <em>Show's Over</em>

Title image from Show's Over.

Show's Over (Vassar Review, 2017)

HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

If progress, democracy, and civilization can be disrupted, why not fiction? This piece was written in the dire winter of 2016-17, when Michael Joyce invited topical pieces of digital production for a re-launch of the legendary Vassar Review. The pattern here is similar to White Subway, though in place of a gamified train ride there is a potentially endless scroll of imaginary movie credits. Or maybe a ride on the bus of doom. The reader presses a button to request a stop and receives a chunk of story in return. Someone in the TINAC circle actually had the idea for a cable television channel that would broadcast nothing but the credit rolls of (existing?) films. Michael Joyce says it as McDaid. McDaid says it was me. I blame Nancy. Anwyay, here's the demo.


Title image from <em>Sharing the Fantasy</em>

Title image from Sharing the Fantasy.

Sharing the Fantasy (R-CADE Symposium, 2016)

HTML/Javascript (from HyperCard). Project available |here|.

John McDaid's multimedia hypernovel Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (Eastgate, 1995) contains the digital version of a science fiction convention program ("Spasticon '88"), including a panel called "Sharing the Fantasy" moderated by Stuart Moulthrop. So when James Brown, Jr. and Bobby Emmons invited me to a 2016 creative symposium on the Funhouse, the play was obvious: simulate the transcript of the imagined session using HyperCard. Which I was able to do, thanks to a much-faded copy of HyperTalk Programming and a 2004 PowerBook I scored from eBay. Explaining to airport security why I wanted to fly to Philadelphia with two laptops, one of them made in the Bush administration... that was also an occasion for storytelling. Anyway, the port from HyperTalk to JavaScript was dead simple -- so much has not changed -- and so we are able to experience the late eighties with all the comforts of web.


title image from <em>End of the White Subway</em>

Title image from End of the White Subway.

The End of the White Subway (New River, 2016)

HTML/Javascript. Project available |here|.

Emerging from a long stretch in which I was thinking and writing about stories and games, this HTML/Javascript project allows reader/players to prolong dwell state as long as they like. It takes us on a hallucinatory ride on the White Subway (a William S. Burroughs invention reframed by John McDaid), which continues until we decide to get off. Along the way, there are objects to inspect and collect, opportunities to ask for advice, and other occasions for metered behavior. There is also a story, in cut-scenes as it were, about descent, exploration, encounter, and dread. In the end, always, the score.


<em>Deep Surface</em> alternative title image

Deep Surface alternative title image.

Deep Surface (Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 2, 2013)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

For SWF File Player: download component files |here| (10.4 MB). Start with deepSurface.swf.

With Under Language, this project won the Ciutat de Vinarós prize, for fiction. It is nearly the most ambitious thing I built in Flash (eclipsed by Pax), using a stack of overlaid text-and-image layers through which the reader/player can sink and rise. I have called it the monstrous progeny of a reading machine and a free-diving simulator. Read, breathe, read some more... till robot voices wake you, and you drown. A certain sinister figure from early-2000s American politics is lurking in the depths... Times change.


Title image from <em>SC4NDA1 in New Media</em>

Title image from SN4NDA1 in New Media.

SC4NDA1 in New Media (Dichtung Digital 2011)

Not currently available.

For a while I had this piece on the scholarly side of my CV, because it was submitted to a special issue of the German publication Dichtung Digital that invited formally experimental essays. Having recently been teaching basic 2-D animation with JavaScript to a bunch of bemused English majors, I did what came naturally: crossed an essay with a game of Pong. It turns out this is, according to Ian Bogost in Persuasive Games, the stupidest way to think about the intersection of prose and games. (And maybe he's right.) An astute Australian grad student pointed this out to me when I showed SC4NDA1 there. 'You were doing it deliberately, of course,' he said. Of course! Not. I read Ian's book years before attempting this piece and remembered everything he said about prose and Pong, except the part about how it shouldn't be done.

Oh well. There's your scandal. SC4NDA1 did give me an opportunity to experiment extensively with animated text effects in JavaScript, and with the pattern of interrupted linearity that has become my signature dish.

This project exists in both Flash and HTML/JavaScript versions. Sadly, neither runs reliably in contemporary browsers, so the project is offline until I can find time to rebuild it in proper HTML5.


Title image from <em>Under Language</em>

Title image from Under Language.

Under Language (Iowa Review Web 2008)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

Courtesy of Dene Grigar and the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State Vancouver, an emulated version is available. This version will run in any browser, no plug-in required.

For SWF File Player: download component files |here| (10 MB). Start with main.swf.

Under Language appeared in a special issue on "Instruments and Playable Texts," which I guest-edited. Poetry, proceeding at speed, meets programmatology, headed in an arguably different direction; after the catastrophe, the poem tells you what it thinks. Under Language was co-winner of the 2007 Ciutat de Vinarós Prize for Digital Poetry. If there were a prize for most bizarre use of ActionScript it might have been in contention there, too. Under Language is another Flash-based game, though one in which play consists of changing the game code. Once again, there's a lot to be said for the dwell state.

Title image from <em>Radio Salience</em>

Title image from Radio Salience.

Radio Salience (New River 2007)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

For SWF File Player: download component files |here| (37.3 MB). Start with starter.swf.

Radio Salience came from the same failed attempt at academic writing that produced Deep Surface and Under Language. This one is more than not-not a game, using actual matching logic to trigger transitions from a dwell state, in which slices of imagery flicker in and out, accompanied by a surreal collage of radio scanning, and a lock-in state in which a privileged text appears. An earlier draft, called "Human Voices," had the poetry in my own voice. I couldn't stand this and called in the robots. Except for Nick Montfort, who doesn't like robot voices, the world is happier.

The work has inspired enough interest to prompt a French translation, Empreinte radio, from Stefan Sobanski and Bleu Orange. The first time I showed this project, on a sneaky reappearance at an ELO gathering in 2006, it occurred to me that that dwell state may be a lot more fun than any of the resolutions. Truth dawns slowly for some. See End of the White Subway a few years later.


Screen capture from <em>Marginal Effects</em>

Screen capture from Marginal Effects.

Marginal Effects: A Disorder of Attention (Tekka 2004)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

For SWF File Player: download component files |here| (4 MB). Start with mfx01.swf.

Marginal Effects was created before Pax, somewhere between 1998 and 2001. It appeared in the brief run of Mark Bernstein's online publication Tekka. Called "a disorder of attention," the work is about fragmentation and concealment, using a curious exploit in Flash to simulate portals into stacked layers of image and text. There are two of these peepholes, one cycling aimlessly around the screen, the other under player control. If in moving the controlled portal the player mouses over a link, a page transition results. Lots of fictive interruption in this one.


Title graphic of <em>Pax</em>

Title graphic of Pax.

Pax, an Instrument (Iowa Review Web 2003)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

For SWF File Player: download component files |here| (8.65 MB). Start with main.swf.

Pax was published in Iowa Review Web and featured in +Game Engines+, the software exhibit at the 6th Digital Arts and Culture Conference. The work extends the 3D, multimedia aesthetic of Reagan Library in more ambitious directions, using human figures as animated sprites. Somehow clothes were optional (Nick Montfort said I should provide them as downloadable content).

As the date will indicate, Pax also reflects the spirit of the times after September 11, 2001. It is called "an instrument," in that sense of the other thing that can be played, besides games -- an insight I credit to John Cayley, though I am not sure he welcomes it. See Markku Eskelinen's Cybertext Poetics for an actual theory of textual instruments. I was just trying to build something that would behave unpredictably while following an overall deterministic path. Among other things, Pax was my first cybertext project with a defined runtime.

Pax was also an attempt to build an object-oriented multimedia work in a scripting language (ActionScript 2) not set up for object orientation. It can probably be rebuilt in HTML5, though Unity is also tempting.


Screen capture from <em>Reagan Library</em>

Screen capture from Reagan Library.

Reagan Library (Gravitational Intrigue CD-ROM 1999)

See the Note about Adobe Flash. Project available |here|.

Reagan Library is a bimodal multimedia fiction that is (as N.K. Hayles likes to quote me saying) "not not a game." Which is to say, its visual/spatial aesthetic is heavily inspired by mid-90s adventure games, especially the Miller Brothers' MYST and Riven, and by my continuing love affair with 3D modeling software. The world of this text was made in an early version of Bryce. The clickable panoramas were originally created with Quicktime VR, converted to Flash when that technology was abandoned by Apple. Also notable here is an early use of randomized, replaceable text: the first time I had used this technique in published work.


Screen capture from <em>The Color of Television</em>

Screen capture from The Color of Television.

The Color of Television (Media Ecology 1996)

HTML/Java. Available |here|.

I created this multi-threaded, verbal/graphic web fiction in collaboration with the writer and graphic designer Sean Cohen. It was published in the "Lab" section of an early on-line journal called Media Ecology. Gigantic background images (a Sean signature). Animated GIFs. A Java-based eraser puzzle from me. O that HTMLian rag. Color of Television underwent a technical overhaul in September, 2013 to correct broken links. The HTML remains anything but standard, but it should be readable.


<em>Hegirascope 2</em> Title Graphic

Hegirascope 2 title graphic (animated GIF teaser).

Hegirascope (World 3 1995; New River 1997)

HTML. Available |here|.

What if the word will not be still? Or worse: What's in the trunk?. This was the next long-form project after Victory Garden, written in Sanibel, Florida in the summer of 1995. See remarks in the biographical sketch about "big, dumb riffs." This may have been my very first disruptive fiction. The second version was written after the original venue, World 3, went offline. Version 2 adds a few storylines (e.g., The Man Who Hates SUVs) and grants readers an additional 12 seconds to deal with them. For those who care (Mr. Kirschenbaum), the original version is |here|.


Dreamtime (Perforations 1992)

Dreamtime is a fugitive piece from my abortive multimedia fiction Chaos, which I started in 1988 when I first got hold of a Macintosh and HyperCard. It was published on diskette in Perforations, an Atlanta-based multimedia zine. The project is a HyperCard stack, and as such useable only to those with vintage hardware and software.


Screen capture of map from <em>Victory Garden</em>

Screen capture of map from Victory Garden.

Victory Garden (Eastgate Systems, 1991)

This is a long-form hypertext fiction inspired partly by the homefront of the first Gulf War, and the Culture War that continues. Written in late beta versions of the Storyspace platform developed by Jay David Bolter, Michael Joyce, and John B. Smith, the work was published by Eastgate Systems and distributed initially on diskette and later CD-ROM. There appears to be no version that will run on contemporary computers. An excerpt made by the author in 1994 is on the Eastgate website (interesting perhaps in its own Web 1.0 way). A preservationist peformance or "traversal" of Victory Garden on a 1990s Macintosh can be viewed at the Pathfinders Project. Everlasting thanks to Dene Grigar.


A NOTE ABOUT ADOBE FLASH.

Five of my projects -- Marginal Effects (2001), Pax (2003), Radio Salience (2007), Under Language (2008), and Deep Surface (2010) -- were built in Adobe Flash and use the Shockwave Flash browser plugin. Flash was a commercial product used to develop Web-based presentations popular in the first decades of the century. Browser support for the Shockwave Flash plugin officially ended in 2020. Flash works are still accessible in browsers and emulators, though additional effort is required. Here are five methods for accessing Flash files:

Method 1: Re-install or re-activate the plugin

This is the simplest short-term solution. Though Google has announced the plugin will not be allowed to operate in the Chrome browser after 12-31-2020, this threat appears to be unrealized as of early January, 2021. If you were running Flash before the cutoff date, just navigate to the desired page and click "Allow" when you see the dialog about Flash content.

  1. If you were not using Flash prior to 12-31-2020, or if you removed the plugin at some point, you may need to re-install. Go to Adobe.
  2. If you do not already have it, install the Chrome Plugins extension from Google. Follow the instructions to add the extension to Chrome.
  3. In Chrome, activate the extension from its icon, view existing plugins, and toggle the setting for Adobe Flash from "ban" to "ask."

WARNING: Obsolete, non-maintained code does pose a risk of exposure to malicious software. Using the plugin in conventional browsers could be hazardous.

Method 2: Puffin

The Puffin web browser (technically a front end to the Puffin browsing service) fully and proudly supports Shockwave Flash productions. Puffin uses a cloud-based relay system to mediate between client and server. Its creators say this technique permits them to intercept malware attacks. If this is true, Puffin could be a safe way to access Flash projects.

However, it is not cost-free. After an initial trial you must subscribe to Puffin's cloud service. At this writing a personal subscription costs USD $20 per year. More information about Puffin is available at www.puffin.com.

Method 3: SWF File Player

SWF File Player is a free, stand-alone player for Shockwave Flash object files (.swf). You can download it at swffileplayer.com. You can use SWF File Player to view all five of my Flash projects, with a few complications:

  1. You must download the component files for each project and run them on your computer. For some reason, SWF File Player cannot coordinate multiple files or play sounds from a web address. All my projects use multiple SWFs and most use sound. A link to a zip archive is provided for each project. Download the archive and extract the files to your computer. After the link to the zip file, I indicate the SWF that should be opened to run the project. Launch SWF File Player, open this file, and off you go.
  2. SWF File Player works beautifully but it is not a browser. It opens only Flash object files, not the Web pages where they originally appeared. For full context, you may want to view the relevant pages from this site using a browser.

Method 4: Legacy browsers

This method (and maybe the preceding as well) are probably of more interest to researchers than casual readers. Browser makers usually maintain links to earlier versions of their software. If browser makers eventually ban the Flash plugin completely in current versions, you may be able to install an older copy of Chrome, Mozilla, Safari, or whatever, then add the SWF plugin to this installation. Be careful to configure this version of the browser so that it does not automatically update itself. A legacy browser should be able to play all the Flash projects listed here, using the standard links provided. (No need to download anything from this site.)

Method 5: Emulation

The Electronic Literature Laboratory at Washington State University Vancouver has plans to deploy emulated versions of Flash-based works. This effort should be complete by about 2023. When emulated versions are available I will post links on this site.


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