Playfully Reading Play the Past

Let’s get meta!

I’m inspired by Mark Sample‘s playful remixing of ‘Hacking the Academy‘ along procedural lines, ‘Hacking the Accident‘:

Known as N+7, this mode of procedural writing was popularized by the Oulipo group, an attempt to divest creative expression of two hobgoblins that haunt the modern age: the myth of the muse-touched creative genius, and the equally debilitating reductivism of the Freudian unconscious. N+7 circumvents these fictions, these stories, these—what “stories” under N+7 become—straightjackets. N+7 celebrates the random, valorizing the lack of what artists, writers, and intellectuals often seek in their work: control. It is a yielding, a submission—not to the muses, not to genius, not to dreams and desires, but to the world beyond us. It is pure engagement with the outside world.

The results of N+7 would seem absolutely nonsensical, if not for the disruptive juxtapositions, startling evocations, and unexpected revelations that ruthless application of the algorithm draws out from the original work. Consider the opening substitution of Hacking the Academy, sustained throughout the entire book: every instance of academy is literally an accident.

I’m no literary scholar. But what I am interested in are the ways deeper patterns can sometimes be seen through machine lenses (and in particular, topic modeling), and I think that the Oulipo group might’ve been on to something (just ahead of their time). So, I scraped every paragraph from the last 10 posts of Play the Past, via its RSS feed (which took me back to November 29 2011). I searched for 15 topics, and then mapped the interconnections between paragraphs by topics:

Oh what a tangled web... topics connected to paragraphs in Play the Past - topic 12 seems to be central... (generated using

So: it’s time to choose your own adventure. If you click on you can follow the tangled web of ideas and text. What happens when you playfully read Play the Past?

List of Topics, generated using Mallet

1. creed series end time day forward work concerns rifts brought
2. kind season digital university bit familiar compared constructed audio representation
3. games change studies point time character produce tells content action
4. historical form content videogames understanding structures create approach videogame discourse
5. book back civilization causal skyrim alternate late alter models develop
6. history film analysis evidence basis work written information histories narratives
7. narrative holiday don identity ve thing sense entry mmo genre
8. story meaning life mcgonigal read played understood isn herodotus working
9. playing assassin children set make scholars faction development characters ways
10. world player defiant guardians defiants time enter machine guardian death
11. people years factories phone bunny half android china intel existence
12. play platform means break ve short media players culture framework
13. experience rift great terms year ll find good feel specific
14. past present post visual thinking pastwatch individual explore decide press
15. game part understand production today give forgotten apple living produced