Hyperrhiz 11

Introduction: Netprov

Mark C. Marino

Rob Wittig

Citation: Marino, Mark C. and Rob Wittig. “Introduction: Netprov.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 11, 2015. doi:10.20415/hyp/011.i01

Abstract: As Guest Editors of Hyperrhiz 11, we present an issue of critical and creative work of a most fascinating variety with a special spotlight on netprov. First, a little on that term...

Section I

Netprov, as a term, has only been around for a few years, but the practice it names dates back to some of the earliest uses of networked machines and, of course, much older literary and performative traditions that no doubt date back to Neanderthals playing Pictionary on cave walls. In his thesis, Rob Wittig, one of the guest editors of this issue, defined netprov as Networked Improv Narrative . The term describes a burgeoning genre of emergent performance narratives that have grown with the explosion of the Interwebs and proliferation of platforms for content publication, and social media. A netprov is a story that is transmedia, collaborative and improvised (or partially so) in real time. A true Frankenstein's monster or Patchwork Girl, Netprov draws upon the fields of theatrical performance as well as game studies and electronic literature, combining aesthetic values from each: dramatic interaction, goal seeking and play, and rich signification through words and symbols.

The special section of this issue highlights essays and creative projects from the fertile field of netprov. With papers covering alternate reality games (ARGs) in which players' real-world actions are coordinated digitally, chatbots, poet and poetry generators, and Twitter fictions, these articles demonstrate the diversity of this emerging art form. At the same time, the articles represent some of the earliest essays to treat upon netprov since its formulation, developing theoretical approaches to the field with new case studies.

At stake are the aesthetic criteria for evaluating these forms as well as the logistics of preserving them. Questions arise about the ethics of netprov performance and production as well as the ethos of their collaborative creation. Articles in this issue ask not just what is netprov, but what are its goals, its social relevance, and its human costs and contributions. Scholars explore the way netprovs engage and entangle its audience of collaborators (or Riders, as Davin Heckman would have it). Netprov is a highly mutable form, made all the more mutable by both its brief history as well as its tendency to appear in unexpected places or in disguise — in places and on platforms that are not commonly thought of as literary venues.

The articles collected in this special section of Hyperrhiz offer a glimpse at this emerging form and will, we hope, spark further critical inquiry as well as the next round of netprovs.

Section II

Lauren Burr asks what are the ethical stakes for netprovs that emerge as transmedia games that do not always announce their intentions. For her discussion, she explores several case studies, including @OccupyMLA, focusing on The Torch Institute and "Bonfire of the Humanities."

Kathi Inman Berens examines the incomplete archives of @OccupyMLA, a two-year netprov revolving around a fictional Occupy branch fighting for adjunct rights. Berens argues that OMLA's "data contrails" create digital traces that distort the remembered experience of the live netprov. The ephemeral and collaborative nature of netprovs means that their entirety cannot be preserved, nor can their entire authorship be credited.

"Sootfall," created and orchestrated by Reed Gaines and Arianna Gass, was a powerful and haunting netprov about a mysterious substance dropping from the sky on a college town in New York. In Reed Gaines' critical reflection on archiving the piece, he offers an artist's perspective on many of the challenges that Berens responds to as a critic in her essay on @occupymla. Together the two pieces demonstrate the challenges to capturing Tweeted lightning in a database bottle for future aesthetic and critical reflection after the #hashtag and magical soot of a live online experience have blown away.

Peggy Weil, author of MrMind, a conversation agent, details the ways in which chatbots draw upon the guiding principles of improvisational theatre as well as the art of the con. Her analysis of the legacy of chatbots from Joseph Weizenbaum's ELIZA through Siri demonstrates the ways bot authors have dealt with the challenges of the unknown interactor.

Amongst the creative pieces is a new work by Deena Larsen and Maje Larsen, who has since passed away. Their Modern Moral Fairy Tale offers a meditation on the temptations that drive us deeper into the Web and the terror of losing that connection. In his introductory essay, Leonardo Flores presents a review of Deena Larsen's previous work, demonstrating the power of her interface metaphors.

Based on his experiences participating in netprovs, Davin Heckman offers a novel formulation for participating in these experiences. Heckman updates Barthes' theory of the readerly and writerly with a new formulation, the Riderly text, which captures some of the spirit of leaping on the bucking bronco of an unpredictable form.

Jean-Pierre Balpe is one of the fathers of poetry generation, and for this issue he shares some of his progeny, examples of his generated poets and their generated characters and poems. Just like their human peers, these artificial artists not only create works they disseminate their works via social media, exemplified here by a few blogs and a variety of linked Facebook accounts. Balpe's automated poets and their automated self-promotion accounts play with the notion of the contemporary networked author and the infinity of artists and art that our networked computers have unleashed. They are the embodiment (without bodies) of the synthetic artists of the digital age.

Netwurker Mez Breeze offers two pieces for this issue. In the first, #OutsideUrDoor, she offers a Twitter-centered netprov featuring a variety of ghoulish characters and performed in online and real-life venues. The second, feralC, brought together five characters, who may or not have been organic-based, under the oversight of a Pupa Mistress (PM) in a netprov or as Mez calls it a "Socumentary."

Peter McDonald and Patrick Jagoda's The Project is a work that combines ARGs and netprovs in a playful, puzzle-driven game. Their follow-up work The Portal | The Sandbox explores the complexities and possibilities inherent in archiving ephemeral transmedia works. Their innovative use of a group of actors as "Documentarians" offers a practical model for dealing with the challenges of archiving these projects even as it underscores the centrality of this problem in netprov.

Talan Memmott offers a compilation of video interviews with 17 seminal figures in the world of electronic literature, featuring Mark Amerika, Simon Biggs, Serge Bouchardon, J. R. Carpenter, John Cayley, Cris Cheek, Maria Engberg, Jerome Fletcher, Maria Mencia, Nick Montfort, Jörg Piringer, Jill Walker Rettberg, Scott Rettberg, Alexandra Saemmer, Roberto Simanowski, Christine Wilks, and Jaka Železnikar. In the video, Memmott explores questions of the future of electronic literature, digital aesthetics, and its countercultural potential, surveying artists and scholars in the eye of the hurricane.

Glen Gatin's creative appropriation of speed reading software offers a meditation in the key of a jazz solo, a textual improvisation delivered at a blistering pace. The piece, which harkens back to Young Hae Chang Heavy Industry's Dakota and William Poundstone's Project of Tachistoscope {Bottomless Pit} while looking forward to the future of speedy reading on the Web.

For our part, we offer documentation of SpeidiShow, our 2013 netprov, in which player/writers live-tweeted an imaginary Reality TV show, featuring MTV's legendary "The Hills" alums Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, who authorized us to use their social media likenesses to their great amusement. The show's format changed each week to send up another Reality TV staple as the personal lives of Speidi became entangled in various off-screen (of-imaginary-screen?) dramas. Conducted over the course of a month and a half this netprov allowed us to explore the realm of reality celebrity and fandom under the cultural practice of live tweeting a show, in this case, which did not exist beyond its hashtag.

Two reviews round out this issue, offering insightful reflections on new important works in the field. Kathi Inman Berens reviews Reading Writing Interfaces by Lori Emerson, and Eddie Lohmeyer reviews Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito's Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory.

This issue marks a signal moment in the development of netprov, as scholars take up the initial theorization and make it their own. We are grateful to Helen Burgess and the Hyperrhiz team for allowing us the pleasure and privilege of developing this issue, giving us the opportunity to share the creative and scholarly works of so many.


  1. Wittig, Rob. "Networked Improv Narrative (Netprov) and the Story of Grace, Wit & Charm." Master's Thesis and Creative Project. University of Bergen, Norway. 2011. «http://robwit.net/?project=114»