Thursday, March 27, 2008

Interactivity Brings Some Surprises

March 13, 2008

Blog vs. Peer Review Update: Interactivity Brings Some Surprises

As we reported last month, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, has been running an unusual experiment with his latest academic book, which is about analyzing video games.

For the past several weeks, the scholar has posted a section of his draft each day to a popular blog he contributes to — called Grand Text Auto — and he has invited readers to praise it or tear it to shreds. They’ve done both. And by early next week, Mr. Wardrip-Fruin will have posted the whole tome, and the first phase of the experiment will be over.

How is it going? Mr. Wardrip-Fruin says that one pleasant surprise has been that some of the designers of the video games he mentions have commented on his book. “From a game-industry AI designer now at MIT (Jeff Orkin) to a UCLA AI researcher now in aerospace (Scott Turner), the original authors of the systems I critiqued came forward to share their thoughts and (sometimes) set the record straight,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It’s definitely going to improve the final book.”

“Also, doing the review in a format that allows discussion turned out to be very valuable,” he said. “Comments I might have brushed aside, not fully understanding their import, instead became the starting points for exchanges that revealed significant issues I must address in my revisions.”

Not all the feedback about the project was entirely positive. Ian Bogost, a game designer and assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he had trouble reading the book online, broken up as it was into so many pieces.

“A book, unlike a blog, is a lengthy, sustained argument with examples and supporting materials,” wrote Mr. Bogost, in a post on his blog. “A book is textual, of course, and it can thus be serialized easily into a set of blog posts. But that doesn’t make the blog posts legible as a book.”

“This isn’t Noah’s fault; he’s written what seems like a terrific book,” he continued. “But a terrific book for print, not for the Web. I’m not sure I’ll be able to read it properly until I get the thing in my hands.”

And Mr. Wardrip-Fruin said that his goal was to respond to every comment, but that recently he “fell seriously behind” in doing so.

“Of course, I may have another surprise when I see the blind peer reviews” that MIT Press has selected, he said. “I suspect they will be completely different — focusing on the broad-strokes argument, while the blog-based review has focused on the specifics of my examples and local arguments. But it could be that, say, the two reviews will say contradictory things. I’m looking forward to finding out.” —Jeffrey R. Young

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