⊗ The New Media Reader

Preface and Guide (to the CD)

Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin

The New Media Reader consists of a book and this CD, which holds video documentation and primary resources, intended both for classroom presentation and individual study. The CD certainly can be seen as a supplement to the printed part of The New Media Reader, an auxiliary resource of the sort one often finds glued inside a book. When considering certain materials on the CD and in the book it is easier to image the opposite relationship. Certain of the texts and illustrations in the book, after all, exist to comment upon and document digital works that are included here. Some of these works are functioning versions of programs (running in emulation, in certain cases); others are digital documents of various sorts, included as they were originally distributed.

A note on browsers: This CD has been designed in compliance with current standards, for maximum availability today and in the future. This and other Web pages on the CD are in XHTML 1.0. Although we have tried to make them as usable as is possible in older browsers, using a current, standards-compliant browser is suggested. Java must be enabled for Spacewar!, Eliza/Doctor, and Jerome B. Weisner to work; JavaScript is required for the ParkBench performances.

The resources presented here are eclectic and definitely not comprehensive, but they do represent many important categories of new media. The earliest works are represented by video documentation of the 1962 Sketchpad and the original Spacewar! from that year, running in PDP-1 emulation. The selections end in the year 1996, when the commercial boom came to the Web. We were constrained in choosing material by the size of a compact disc—still the standard medium for such a digital publication at this point. We also chose to avoid republishing any material that is still being sold commercially. (This the case with many influential works near the end of the CD's timespan, not only the hypertext novels Victory Garden by Stuart Moulthrop and afternoon by Michael Joyce but also games like Myst by Robyn and Rand Miller and SimCity by Will Wright.) Some works on this CD have never before been formally published; others were distributed once but are not accessible online today; some, such as certain video games included here, are available online but without the permission of the copyright holders. (The necessary permissions were granted to us to include these materials on this CD; unless noted, however, the materials here may not be recopied or redistributed.) A few of the works here are now available legally online, but these might require an extensive search or a good bit of downloading and software setup. In general, we have selected works that otherwise would be difficult to access and which are particularly relevant to the other materials on the CD and the book; we have tried to present them here so that they can be experienced with a minimum of effort, whether or not a network connection is available. While there are many important types of new media work not represented at all on the CD (e.g., programs from the demo scene, works in other languages, programs for non-U.S. computers, new media authoring tools) the selections that are included (academic research projects; homebrew programs and files by hobbyists; the first modern video game; the first chatterbot; early commercial console and computer games; hypertext and interactive fiction; documentation of interactive video art; various sorts of digital poetry, drama, and cinema for different platforms) give some idea of the range and texture of new media production so far and constitute a good starting point for those seeking a better understanding of new media through the direct experience of creative works.

The bar at the top of each page can be used to return to the main page or to move up the hierarchy—to a decade index from a page for a specific work, for example. The CD has been designed to provide ready access to all of the resources that are accessible by browser within three clicks of the main page. Programs for Windows and Macintosh are in the folder "Programs." Readers should be able to locate files of any sort by browsing through the directories if they do not wish to use the Web interface. We have tried to adhere to open standards as much as possible in preparing the supporting material and the interface. While many of the resources on the CD (such as Quicktime video) are now usable only on Macintosh and Windows computers, we did what we could to allow users of other operating systems to access as many resources as possible.

The main page only highlights a few of the videos, programs, and documents available—about half of the "chapters" contained on the CD. The full table of contents is divided into four parts, each covering selections beginning in a different decade:

1960s · 1970s · 1980s · 1990s

In an academic context, selections from the CD may be demonstrated in class, assigned for individual or group study outside of class, or connected with readings from the book. Readings in the book that are relevant to CD selections are noted; for instance, "An early publication describing the Web (<>54)" refers to the last article in the book. Other references are given similarly. References to the CD in the book are noted with the symbol ⊗.

One sort of investigation might involve reading a textual description of and discussion of one of the programs included here—such as the discussion of Adventure or Spacewar! by Sherry Turkle (<>34) or the discussion of Eliza/Doctor by its creator Joseph Weizenbaum (<>24)—then interacting with the program itself at some length, and finally reporting on what was most surprising about the interaction itself, given the way the program had been described in writing. Different works included here (documents as well as programs) can be compared to other works from the same era or to more recent works on the Web that have been influenced by them. Group study of programs can be particularly useful, since people interacting in groups with software and bringing their different perspectives to it can often discover things about its workings that are difficult for solitary users to notice. Finally, it can be helpful to simply observe others interacting, noting what may not be visible to those directly involved in the experience.

It is our hope that all courses in which The New Media Reader plays a role will include serious study of the digital objects presented here—or of other artifacts, online and off, that don't lend themselves to being reproduced on the printed page. New media cannot be grasped by only consulting secondary sources and critical writing, however important such perspectives may be. Whether our goals include insightful analysis or meaningful new creation, our work should be grounded in interaction with specific new media creations—as surely as those interested in literature should read literary works, as much as those interested in cinema should watch films. Of course, people have been producing creative works for the computer—working in new media—for only about half as long as people have made films, and for millennia less than people have written. This makes it all the more necessary that those seeking to engage new media do so not only through secondary sources and interacting with existing works, but also by creating new work themselves.

[Back to the main New Media Reader CD page.]