9.431 inappropriate remarks

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 5 Jan 1996 18:43:15 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 431.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Mary Ellen Foley <mef@netcom.com> (71)
Subject: Putting your underpants on your head

[2] From: aca102@utdallas.edu (69)
Subject: Re: 9.430 inappropriateness

[3] From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu> (17)
Subject: Re: 9.430 inappropriateness

Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 17:37:41 -0800
From: Mary Ellen Foley <mef@netcom.com>
Subject: Putting your underpants on your head

Thanks for posting excerpts from Tzvi<?> Freeman's article on

As somebody who played text adventure games on computers before
graphical adventures existed, I remember how much fun it was to
encounter stages in the games when inappropriateness was permitted,
either through a bug in the software, or through inventive game

Anybody out there ever play the text adventure game "Haunt?" Probably
not, as it ran only under some obscure LISP interpreter. But if you
did, I bet you got a chuckle out of the sudden realization that your
character was walking around a haunted house, carrying a Van Gogh and
wearing a wet suit. The game didn't make you put down items that you
couldn't really carry, so why not keep everything? Besides, it was
practical to wear the wetsuit in a world where eating the wrong thing
out of the fridge could transport you instantly to the bottom of the

But aside from that kind of built-in whimsy, there were bugs that let
a player do the equivalent of wearing underpants for a hat, and there
were the treasured times when you'd try something silly like that, and
get a message from the game that let you know the designers
anticipated that move. In the real world that might come off as
limiting, but in the context of the game, it put the player in direct
contact with the playful human beings who wrote the software.

I still mourn the passing of text-only adventure games. Infocom's ads
used to say that their games used the best graphics display equipment
ever made -- then you'd turn the page, and find they meant that they
depended on the player's imagination to provide the pictures.
Progress marches on.

Computer and video games are most often discussed these days in terms
of violence; we've probably all encountered articles about various
ratings systems used to warn purchasers about the content of the box
they're about to buy. This is one more place where kids' chances for
harmless inappropriateness in play is being stamped out. I'm on the
margins of the computer and video game development community (having
until recently been general manager of the biggest professional
conference for game developers) and have heard some very dismaying
stories. I sat at a dinner last year with a fellow who had written a
game for under-6-year-olds that let the player manipulate equipment on
a construction site, in cartoon form, of course. The game allowed for
a certain amount of inappropriate play, and every kid in the test
group immediately found those areas -- they could dump a load of dirt
on the workers who were eating lunch, or on the port-a-john. The game
had been rated safe only for kids of 9 and above, due to "malicious
mischief" of this kind. As it had game play and graphics designed for
tots, no self-respecting 9 year old would touch it. Clearly there are
bugs still to be worked out in the ratings systems.

I disagree with Freeman's statement "Software just doesn't lend itself
to this sort of thing. Programmers don't like users who just muck
about. We like to design controlled environments..." Programmers in
game development companies would like nothing better than to build in
opportunities for creative looniness. But as game companies become
more and more like movie companies, we get more and more games that
are rushed to market to take advantage of the latest "property,"
(movie, sports figure, cartoon character, what have you), more
sequels, more of anything safe. Companies spend too much money per
title these days to take risks, or to add any creative game play for
which development time isn't seen to immediately pay off in sales for
the Christmas market. Cashing in on Pocahontas or Aladdin is more
important than providing good game play. This doesn't mean that kids
don't want to play these games, only that the games aren't as good as
they might be. It's the bean-counters (ain't it always) who don't
want the programmers to take the time to make a game sturdy enough to
stand up to inappropriate play, that is, sturdy enough not to crash
when you try to put your underpants on your head.

For anyone who wants more information or a way to keep up with what's
going on in game development, I suggest sending a request for
information to the Computer Game Developers' Association, at
info@cgdc.com. (Yes, that's CGDC, not CGDA, for historical reasons.
Hey, the industry's already old enough to have some history!)

And is there any way I can get the full text of Freeman's article from
Toronto's "Computer Paper"?

Mary Ellen Foley (mef@netcom.com)

Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 19:44:07 -0600 (CST)
From: aca102@utdallas.edu
Subject: Re: 9.430 inappropriateness

Your comments are well-taken. But I wonder about grouping all software
into this category of dullness. What about software programs that lend
themselves to creativity or problem-solving, like authoring systems/
design programs and electronic games?

What many of us are worried about is the kind of changes that may be
taking place with focusing and reading. That we have to chunk
information into small unreadable bits may create an audience of people
who cannot concentrate for long periods of time. Some postulate that
this difficulty in focusing may result in the loss of creative pursuits
that require extreme concentration and reading (i.e. architecture,

This is of course all conjecture. But as Johan Huizinga argues in _Homo
Ludens_, play is a "civilizing function" in our society. The question is
does working with computer software constitute play and if so does it
differ from previous kinds of play? And of course if it does, then what
will be the end result of this change? Herein lies the problem. We
can't know for sure until the changes have already been made.

Dene Grigar

Date: Fri, 5 Jan 1996 10:49:25 -0600
From: John Slatin <jslatin@mail.utexas.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.430 inappropriateness

I'm all for inappropriateness. One of the sadder things that happened here
at UT Austin when the central administration decided to take the Web
seriously was that some really creative if sometimes outrageous pages done
by students on their own initiative but in the service of real University
interests (including departments, the newspaper, etc.) were mysteriously
unlinked or moved to new directories without warning or consultation. Of
course the University has an interest, and a legitimate one, in maintaining
some semblance of dignity in its public posture; but there would have been
ways to tap into that vital energy and promote that kind of student involvement.

Some of our students do pretty crazy Web projects, or HyperCard things, or
strange things with PhotoShop. How else are we going to find out what the
curriculum for the next century ought to look like?

Professor John M. Slatin
Director, Computer Writing & Research Lab
Div. of Rhetoric and Composition and Dept. of English
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712
jslatin@mail.utexas.edu http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu