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Nick Montfort: “Line of Inquiry: Many Authors Explore Creative Computing Through a Short Program”

January 10, 2011 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm  |  Engineering 2 Room 506


The following one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program:

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10

continually generates a pleasing random maze pattern. In this talk, I argue that this tiny program can serve as a Rosetta Stone to help us understand the interconnected cultural and technical aspects of creative computing, practices of using the computer expressively and recreationally in innovative ways. These began in the late 1950s and include the making of computer games as well as other types of amusing and aesthetic programs. By analyzing this short program from multiple viewpoints, I, along with a group of authors who are collaborating with me on this project, aim to show that there are several specific methods that are useful in reading code deeply and insightfully. In my talk, I will discuss how different printed variants of this program exist, how it is written in a particular programming language with a history, and how it executes on a particular platform with a history. I will describe how writing ports to other platforms and creating other variants of this program has helped us understand which of its qualities are most significant and why. Finally, I will describe how the program engages randomness, iteration, visualization, and other wider topics, such as our changing perception of mazes, helping us to understand computing as it relates to culture.

Nick Montfort writes computational and constrained poetry, develops computer games, and is a critic, theorist, and scholar of computational art and media. He is associate professor of digital media in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is now serving as president of the Electronic Literature Organization. He earned a Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania. 

He collaborated on the blog Grand Text Auto, the sticker novel Implementation, and 2002: A Palindrome Story. He writes poems, text generators, and interactive fiction. Montfort has co-edited The Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 (ELO, 2006) and The New Media Reader (MIT Press, 2003) and written Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (MIT Press, 2003), Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, (with Ian Bogost, MIT Press, 2009) and Riddle & Bind (Spineless Books, 2010).


January 10, 2011
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Engineering 2 Room 506
Engineering 2, 1156 High St‎ University of California Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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