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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book and Volume

Posted by Jonathan Goodwin on 12/21/05 at 10:19 AM

Nick Montfort, who wrote the (or at least “a") book on interactive fiction, has recently released Book and Volume, which is set in nTopia, has allusions ranging from Pynchon to Gygax, and feels very PKD--I mean that neutrally. My discussion is going to include some mild spoilers.

I should begin by noting that I’m not sure that I’ve finished the game in terms of achieving the optimal or at least all of the potential outcomes. You are a resident of a community apparently created by a large corporation on a desert plateau. The city exists roughly on a five-by-seven grid and has apartment complexes, a museum, hospitals, police stations, a Starbucks on just about every corner (including three surrounding the “independent” coffee shop) and lots of retail. You work as a sysadmin, sort of. The computers have buttons you can either push or hold. You interact with your laptop by “USE"ing it. Everything that you buy is deducted from your banking account via a chip in your pager, where you receive the periodic instructions that tell you what to do for the day.

As you go about your infantilizing tasks, you receive furtive notices that things are not what they seem. How many of these are actual revelations is open to question. (A character’s prior knowledge is one of the most difficult theoretical problems in interactive fiction, particularly in assessing motivation. Sam Barlow’s Aisle and Adam Cadre’s 9:05 are both inventive explorations of the motivation and prior knowledge problems.)

Though I wrote above that Book and Volume seems Dickian, I think that it’s better described as a criticism of the paranoid tendency in politics in general. You learn about a very sinister-sounding corporate conspiracy--some information coming from a literal tinfoilist--and you manage to escape, at least in one ending, with the use of a “magic helmet,” located in a “Colossal Cave.” The other likely ending, where you accomplish most of your tasks but fail to escape, is a deliberate cliché, to the point of invoking the most famous moment in the (literally) institutional imagination (Question: how does “imagination” instead of “imaginary” work for you there?)

As I read ("play") it, Book and Volume advises you to reject the ghost whispering to you from your machine. If you replace all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past from what observation has copied there with the pleasures of simplicity, with one villain or one idea (particularly if it came from Slashdot), then that’s nTopia.


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