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Expressive Processing, Now Much Softer!

A curved paperback of Expressive Processing Yesterday I held a paperback of Expressive Processing in my hand for the first time.
(This takes its price down to around $13 at places like Amazon.) I’ve also learned a number of interesting things about the book since it was published — learning more about what others think of it, of course, and also more about how the research and thinking behind the book is influencing my own work as a digital media creator. I wrote about the creation-focused set of lessons last month, in a post called Humanities-Based Game Design.

The set of lessons about how others see the book come mostly from reading reviews. A number have been published since my last post on Expressive Processing reviews. In the rest of this post I’ll post my favorite excerpts from reviews (including those behind paywalls) and then offer some thoughts.

While scholars of new media will no doubt find Wardrip-Fruin’s discussion useful, one goal of the text is to reach beyond the relatively small conversations of software studies (an emerging strand of new media scholarship) and digital fictions. Within this broader project, we might locate a promising expansion of the various political projects of open source and free software.

— James J. Brown Jr., from “Open Process Software” in Criticism (an unofficial-looking version is online). This essay looks toward Expressive Processing‘s call for more people to be able to think critically about software operations, and its observations of how some software itself can help develop our understanding of software processes, situating EP relative the goals of the free and open source software movements.

There truly is treasure buried in this land of geekdom, and not just a few nuggets, but enough to lay the foundation of an entirely new scholarly approach for the digital humanities…. If Manovich drew the map, Wardrip-Fruin has opened the mine, and what may be extracted will benefit not only those working in digital humanities or new media but scholars across the curriculum.

— Doug Reside, from a review in Digital Humanities Quarterly (open access!) which also focuses on the issues of understanding software, taking up particularly the question of what kinds of literacies are needed for interpretation and project guidance in the digital humanities.

I believe that the groundbreaking approach this book offers will help humanists and computer scientists alike discover the potential of computational processes and digital media for the advancement of digital humanities. An invitation to embark in this fascinating journey is what Wardrip-Fruin accomplishes with Expressive Processing.

— Carlos Monroy, from a review in Literary and Linguistic Computing which is unfortunately behind a paywall. It is interestingly one that comes from a computer science direction, though written by someone currently working in digital humanities.

In Wardrip-Fruin’s Expressive Processing, the field of “interactive entertainment” comes of age; its theories and methods are native to its medium, rather than borrowed from literature, film, or history…. He provides, then, a way to analyze this new kind of authorship that takes into account the scripting of dynamic and interactive processes.

— Annette Vee, from a thoughtful review essay about EP and Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games titled “Procedural Rhetoric and Expression” for the composition theory journal JAC. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s available except by getting a physical copy of the journal or doing a search through pay-access databases.

[Wardrip-Fruin's] wide interests and expertise, ranging from early computer games to artificial intelligence experiments and the most sophisticated electronic literature works, enable him to demonstrate the general value of the notion of expressive processing throughout various cultural and academic fields. As such, this book is the perfect volume to begin the new publication series in software studies. Rather than building the theory for software studies, it works as a model of how to do software studies.

— Raine Koskimaa, from “Reading Processes: Groundwork for Software Studies,” a detailed, thoughtful review in Game Studies (open access!).

Overall, I feel quite lucky to have had reviews in these five academic journals. Even just readership of the reviews has, I’m sure, helped expose more people to aspects of the Expressive Processing project. At the same time, it’s also interesting to note how the attempt to create a book that connected a number of different areas of concern allows for quite different interpretations. For example, some reviews treat the book’s political project as primary, while others explicitly see it as secondary (one actually says Wardrip-Fruin “buries the idea in the center of the book”). Similarly, some treat the theoretical ideas (e.g., the three “effects”) as the primary contributions, while others explicitly treat the theoretical work as secondary to the individual interpretations. Finally, some see the focus on games and digital fictions as unbearably geeky, while others see the book as primarily of interest in the discussions around those topics.

To me it is exciting to reach people who see the book from so many different perspectives. My hope is that I have also succeeded in at least planting seeds that will help grow an interest in other ways of seeing the subfields I hope to connect through Expressive Processing and future work.

About the author:  Noah Wardrip-Fruin is an Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz and the author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies.

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