Publications in Software Studies:: Second Person - Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media

Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media
Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Editors
The MIT Press
February 2007

Games and other playable forms, from interactive fictions to improvisational theater, involve role playing and story--something played and something told. In Second Person, game designers, authors, artists, and scholars examine the different ways in which these two elements work together in tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), computer games, board games, card games, electronic literature, political simulations, locative media, massively multiplayer games, and other forms that invite and structure play.

Second Person--so called because in these games and playable media it is "you" who plays the roles, "you" for whom the story is being told--first considers tabletop games ranging from Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs with an explicit social component to Kim Newman's Choose Your Own Adventure-style novel Life's Lottery and its more traditional author-reader interaction. Contributors then examine computer-based playable structures that are designed for solo interaction--for the singular "you"--including the mainstream hit Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the genre-defining independent production Façade. Finally, contributors look at the intersection of the social spaces of play and the real world, considering, among other topics, the virtual communities of such Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) as World of Warcraft and the political uses of digital gaming and role-playing techniques (as in The Howard Dean for Iowa Game, the first U.S. presidential campaign game).

In engaging essays that range in tone from the informal to the technical, these writers offer a variety of approaches for the examination of an emerging field that includes works as diverse as George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series and the classic Infocom game Planetfall.

Second Person features three complete tabletop role-playing games that demonstrate some of the variations possible in the form: in John Tynes's Puppetland, players take on the roles of puppets in a land ruled by the villainous Punch; Greg Costikyan's Bestial Acts imports the techniques of Bertolt Brecht's theater of alienation into a dark role-playing structure; and in James Wallis's The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the gameplay revolves around spinning elaborate tales in the style of the famous raconteur.



Software Studies Initiative has two labs in New York (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and La Jolla, California (UCSD):

Software Studies NYC location: The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Ave, New York. Built in 1906.

Calit2 Atkinson Hall Engineering Courtyard
Software Studies California location: Calit2, La Jolla, CA. Built in 2005. Our lab is on the 6th floor with great view!

Software Studies Initiative is a research lab and a design studio working on analysis of big cultural datasets. Our work combines methods and technologies from data science, data visualization, media design and humanities. The products include data visualizations, interactive installations, free software tools and research papers and books.

The examples of our recent projects are On Broadway, Selfiecity, The Everyday and Phototrails.

We also working to advance the field of "software studies" - the theoretical analysis of how software systems (including apps, algorithms, machine learning and big data analytics) shape contemporary cultural and social life.

Software Studies Initiative was formed in 2007. We have completed over 30 projects to date. Our clients and collaborators includes Museum of Modern Art in NYC (MoMA), Google Zeitgeist conference, Twitter, New York Public Library, and Austrian Film Museum. We received funding from National Science Foundation, National Institute for Humanities, Andrew Mellon Foundation, Singapore Ministry of Education, and other agencies.

The Team

The lab members and our collaborators have skills in data science, data visualization, web design, media design, art history, media theory, and software studies.


We typically use the standard free APIs of social media companies such as Instagram to download the data for our projects. (The same APIs were already used by tens of thousands of scientists to do quantitative analysis published in hundreds of thousands of paper about social media.) In 2014 we received a grant from Twitter in 2014 that gave us access to all public tweets with images worldwide for 2011-2014. Another 2015 grant from Digital Globe gave us access to their high resolution satellite photography worldwide from the last few years.

You can download high resolution versions of hundreds of our visualizations from Flickr or from project websites.

Work with us

If you are interested in engaging in internships, collaborative research with our group or sponsoring innovative research projects, please contact Dr. Lev Manovich, Director of Software Studies Initiative at

Manga visualization on 287 megapixel HIPerSpace
Working with a visualization of one million images on 287 HIPerSpace display at Calit2.

About Software Studies

Español | Português

Google searches and Amazon recommendations, airline flight paths and traffic lights, email and your phone: our culture runs on software. How does software shape the world? How big data analytics and data mining redefine how knowledge is produced? How interfaces of popular design tools share the aesthetics of contemporary media? These are the kinds of questions we study.

Software Studies is a new research paradigm in the humanities and media studies that emerged in the 2000s. The very first book that has this term in its title was published by The MIT Press in June 2008 (Matthew Fuller, ed., Software Studies: A Lexicon). In August 2008 The MIT Press started Software Studies book series, with Matthew Fuller, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Lev Manovich as editors:

"Software Studies" book series | MIT Press book series

Lev Manovich: Software Takes Command | Bloomsbury Academic, 2013

SoftWhere 2008 | International workshop in Software Studies, UCSD, May 21-22, 5/2008

We work to disseminate the broad vision of software studies. That is, we think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies. Therefore, if we want to understand contemporary techniques of control, communication, representation, simulation, analysis, decision-making, memory, vision, writing, and interaction, our analysis can't be complete until we consider this software layer. This is why we are convinced that “software studies” is necessary and we welcome you to join us in our projects and activities.

Software Studies and Calit2

Software Studies Initiative UC San Diego is housed within the UCSD Division of the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology (Calit2. The technical facilities, research labs and staff support for the research in digital media at Calit2 unmatched anywhere on the West Coast:

Calit2 new media wing

The projects and activities of the Software Studies Initiative are taking full advantage of our unique affiliation with Calit2. Calit2 is developing innovative cyberinfrastructure for the next paradigm of scientific research based on remote collaboration between teams of scientists, working with very large data sets, and access to state-of-the-art computing, storage, networking and display technologies. In our project we are exploring how these cyberinfrastructure tools can be used in humanities and social science research.

Software Studies, Cultural Analytics and Digital Humanities

How can the latest tools in data analysis and visualization be used in relation to cultural data? How can we take advantage of unprecedented amounts of cultural data available on the web to begin analyzing culture in new ways? How does computational analysis of these massive datasets can help us to develop new cultural theory for the 21st century global networked digital culture ?

Cultural Analytics is a new research paradigm (2005-) provoked by these questions. We define cultural analytics as the use of computational methods for the analysis of massive cultural data sets and flows. But rather than simply borrowing existing techniques and software from the sciences and the industry, we also examining their underlying assumptions and conceptual foundations.

Understood in view of these questions, our research at Software Studies Initiative covers two complementary directions:

1) Study of software, algorithms, data analysis methods and cyber-infrastructure and their deployment in modern societies using approaches from humanities, cultural criticism, and social sciences. (Our particular focus currently is analysis of data mining paradigms and methods.)

2) Use software-based research methods and next generation cyber-infrastructure tools and resources for the study of massive sets of visual cultural data, asking theoretical questions which are important for humanities.

While cultural analytics and digital humanities have many things in common, cultural analytics includes analysis of contemporary social media (and not only historical cultural data) and it also places more emphasis on theoretical analysis of computational tools (drawing on the new media studies of the last 25 years as well as latest research in computer science).


The Andrew Mellon Foundation
National Science Foundation (NSF)
NEH Office of Digital Humanities
The Graduate Center, CUNY
University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
National University of Singapore


Faculty researchers

Lev Manovich: Director, Software Studies @ CALIT2; Professor, CUNY
Jeremy Douglass: Assistant Professor, English, UCSB
Cicero Inacio da Silva: Professor, Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), Brazil

Visiting fellows

Photo not available Winter and Spring 2011: Jean-Francois Lucas: PhD candidate in Sociology, European University of Brittany, Rennes
Spring 2009: Tristan Thielmann: Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the Research Center "Media Upheavals", University of Siegen, Germany

Post-doc researchers

Eduardo Navas: Postdoctoral Scholar, Information Science and Media
Studies, University of Bergen, 2010-2012.
Jeremy Douglass: Postdoctoral Researcher, Software Studies, Calit2, 2007-2012.

Graduate researchers, UCSD, 2007-2012

William Huber (Visual Arts)
Photo not available Tara Zepel (Visual Arts)
Photo not available So Yamaoka (Computer Science and Engineering)
Photo not available Sunsern Cheamanunku (Computer Science and Engineering)
Photo not available Chanda L. Carey (Visual Arts)
Photo not available Daniel Rehn (Visual Arts)
Photo not available Laura Hoeger (Visual Arts)
Photo not availableStephen Mandiberg (Communication)
Rachel Cody (Sociology)
Hijoo Son (History, UCLA)

Undergraduate researchers, UCSD, 2007-2012

Devon Merill (Independent Summer Internship -- "Exploring comics and manga through scripted image processing workflows." Summer 2009.)
Jia Gu (Calit2 Summer Undergraduate Researcher, UCSD -- "new software interfaces for image collections". Summer 2008.)
Agatha Man (Calit2 Summer Undergraduate Researcher, UCSD -- "analyses of MMO games". Summer 2008.)
Nichol Bernardo (Undergraduate intern, UCSD -- "Cultural Analytics". Summer 2008.
Bob Li (Undergraduate Graphic Designer. Summer 2008.)
Photo not available Kedar Reddy (Calit2 summer 2009 undergraduate fellow)
Photo not available Christa Lee (Fall 2008 independent study - arthistory.viz)
Photo not available Victoria Azurin (Undergraduate intern, UCSD -- "Cultural Analytics - visual culture applications". Summer 2009; Manga project - summer 2010)
Photo not available Xiaoda Wang (Undergraduate intern, UCSD -- "Cultural Analytics - art history applications". Summer 2009.)
Photo not available Nadia Xiangfei Zeng (Undergraduate researcher, UCSD -- Manga project; gallery@calit2 Software Studies exhibition; visualization software. Summer 2010.)

Faculty Collaborators, UCSD, 2007-2012

  • Noah Wardrip-Fruin:Associte Professor, Computer Science, UCSC (co-founder of Software Studies Initiative)
  • Kay O'Halloran, Multimondal Analysis Lab, NUS (cultural analytics)
  • Cinemetrics: a research group comprising leading film scholars (film analysis)
  • David Kirsh, Cognitive Science, UCSD (dance video analysis)
  • Digital Formalism project: Department for Theatre, Film and Media Studies (TFM), Vienna University; the Austrian Film Museum; Interactive Media Systems Group, Vienna University of Technology (film analysis)
  • Isabel Galhano Rodrigues, University of Porto, Portugald (gesture analysis)
  • Jim Hollan, Cognitive Science, UCSD (UCSD Collaboratory Grant - development of Cultural Analytics software)
  • Falko Kuester, Structural Engineering (UCSD Collaboratory Grant - development of Cultural Analytics software)
  • National University of Singapore (4 faculty from different departments - application of Cultural Analytics methods and techniques to the analysis of Asian cultures)
  • Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths College, University of London (Software Studies)

Global News group reviewing Obama montages
Members of Software Studies Initiative working with a visualization showing 128 short videos.


For 204-2015 press, see

Manovich and Cultural analytics research in The Chronicle for Higher Education

Cultural analytics research in NEH Humanities magazine

About our exhibition SHAPING TIME at Graphic Design Museum (Breda, ND)

Software Studies work with National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center

Expressive Processing by Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Lev Manovich 's workshop @ FILE Labo 2009

Cultural analytics coverage in Singapore and UAE

A Computing Science Approach For Analyzing Culture (

Software Studies in Chronicle of Higher Education

Calit2 article about our Humanities High-Performance Computing grant

Lev Manovich is interviewed about Cultural Analytics for BBC World Service "Digital Planet" show

Visualizing Cultural Patterns in N Art Magazine

Cultural Analytics in article

Cultural Analytics @ ISEA 2008

HPCwire article about Cultural Analytics

Game Libratory featured on NotCot

"Visualizing Cultural Patterns" featured in UCSD/Calit2 article

SoftWhere '08 press release and article in San Diego Business Journal

UC San Diego New-Media Expert Pushes Peer Review into the 21st Century

A era da infoestética

CLOSED | Postdoc Opening in Software Studies @ UCSD

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

UPDATE: This position is now closed. A candidate was selected on 8/17/07 to begin in Fall 2007. Thanks to all applicants for your interest and best wishes in future career pursuits.

We are currently recruiting for a Postdoctoral Researcher to join a new Software Studies initiative at UCSD. The researcher will work with Dr. Lev Manovich (Professor, Visual Arts) and Dr. Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Assistant Professor, Communication) and will play a key role in research and field-building activities.

The goals of Software Studies initiative at UCSD are:
  • to foster research and develop models and tools for the study of software from the perspectives of cultural criticism, humanities, and social sciences
  • to help establish the new field of "software studies" which will complement existing research in cyberculture and new media; and
  • to investigate how next generation cyberinfrastructure technologies can be used by humanists, social scientists, and cultural practitioners


The position is full time (40 hrs/week). The initial appointment is for 1 year, with the possibility for renewal. The position comes with full benefits covered by UCSD ( The starting salary range is USD 38,000 - 42,000. The selected candidate can start immediately.

Required qualifications:
  • a PhD in the humanities, social sciences, information science, or related interdisciplinary area which is completed and defended before starting the position at UCSD;
  • broad understanding of contemporary global culture and familiarity with current debates in one or more cultural fields;
  • familiarity with current IT developments, and understanding of Web 2.0 concepts and social media optimization; and
  • the ability to write engaging and jargon-free texts that are accessible to diverse global audiences

Desired qualifications:
  • experience installing and using research-oriented software tools (e.g., data mining tools, GIS packages, visualization technologies, databases, and/or other software used in digital humanities);
  • understanding of programming language and system integration concepts; some practical experience with computer programming or scripting;
  • previous experience working with computer scientists on joint projects; and
  • previous research projects and/or publications which address software from the perspectives of the humanities, social sciences, or cultural criticism (for example: the history of software forms, work practices shaped by software infrastructures, studies of software operations and/or code).

This position is supported by the UCSD Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), and the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA). Housing over 900 faculty, graduate student, and staff researchers, Calit2 is developing next-generation cyberinfrastructure tools with a particular focus on multidisciplinary collaboration. Calit2 is located on UCSD campus, which is internationally renowned as a place for study and research in digital art, computer music, and digital theory. Between the departments of Visual Arts, Music, and Communication, there are close to 30 full-time faculty working in these areas. The technical facilities and staff support for the research in digital media on the UCSD campus are among the best in the world. They include a number of state-of-the-art research labs and performance spaces which provide both current and next-generation tools for immersive visualization, multi-channel audio spatialization, digital cinema, motion capture, interactive performance, 3-D fabrication, and computer gaming research.

The position is open until filled, but we will begin reviewing applications June 10th, 2007. For priority consideration, candidates are encouraged to apply before this date. Applicants should send a current CV with cover letter to Helena Bristow ( with subject line "Application for Software Studies Postdoc Position."

Manovich and Wardrip-Fruin will be available for preliminary interviews at the 2007 Digital Humanities conference during the first week of June, 2007 ( Please indicate whether you will be attending DH '07 in your application.

For further information, please contact:

Helena Bristow
Administrative Manager
Center for Research in Computing and the Arts

PEOPLE | Software Studies Initiative

Lev Manovich: Director, Software Studies @ UCSD; Professor, Visual Arts
Noah Wardrip-Fruin: Associate Director, Software Studies @UCSD; Assistant Professor, Computer Science, UCSC
Jeremy Douglass: Postdoctoral Researcher, Software Studies @ UCSD

  • Sheldon Brown: Professor, Visual Arts; Director, CRCA; Director, Experimental GameLab
  • Shlomo Dubnov: Associate Professor, Music
  • Amy Alexander: Associate Professor, Visual Arts
  • Jim Hollan: Professor, Cognitive Science; Co-Director, Distributed Cognition & HCI Laboratory
  • Stefan Tanaka: Professor, History
  • Geoff Voelker: Associate Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
  • Kelly A. Gates: Assistant Professor, Communication
  • Barry Brown: Associate Professor, Communication
  • James Fowler Associate Professor, Political Science
  • Kyong Park Associate Professor, Visual Arts
  • Falko Kuester Associate Professor, Structural Engineering

  • Benjamin H. Bratton: Director of the Advanced Strategies Group, Yahoo!, Santa Monica, CA
  • Matthew Fuller: Reader, Convenor of MA Cultural Studies & MA Culture Industry, Goldsmiths College, London University; Editor, ‘Software Studies, a lexicon’ MIT Press, 2007
  • Scott Lash: Professor of Sociology; Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, London University

Cicero Silva, Software Studies Initiative @ FILE Labo, Brazil


Tristan Thielmann: Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the Research Center "Media Upheavals", University of Siegen, Germany


Hijoo Son: Doctoral candidate in Modern Korean History and Culture, UCLA
Jia Gu: Calit2 Summer Undergraduate Researcher, UCSD -- "new software interfaces for image collections"
Agatha Man: Calit2 Summer Undergraduate Researcher, UCSD -- "analyses of MMO games"
Nichol Bernardo: Undergraduate intern, UCSD -- "Cultural Analytics"
Bob Li: Undergraduate Graphic Designer
Rachel Cody: Graduate Researcher, UCSD -- "analyses of MMO games"

Software Studies meeting at CRCA. From left to right: Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Helena Bristow, Jeremy Douglass, Lev Manovich, Tristan Thielmann.

Relevant Links

Software Studies Publications
A History of the Software Industry
Adobe Systems
The Birth of Software Studies
Conference on History of Computing: Software Issues
Essays on the Culture of Software
First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game
The New Media Reader
Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media
Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools
Software History Bibliography
Software Studies
Software Studies Workshop
Unit Operations

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