Regime Change

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, David Durand, Brion Moss, and Elaine Froehlich

Regime Change

Playing games is a common use for computers, but one can play instruments as well as games. Regime Change (like its more general counterpart, News Reader) explores the concept of the textual instrument as a way of encountering and interrogating political language. It is not necessary to be a virtuoso to enjoy Regime Change, but the process of playing it does demand a different sort of engagement: the reader should come to this piece prepared to read closely, to choose, to remember, and to cut up.

To Begin ...

Mac: Download, install, and run Regime Change.

Windows: Download and run regimechange.exe.

Author description: Textual instruments make text playable in a new way. At first, as one encounters their workings, they are toys for exploring language — more flexible than link-node hypertext, more responsive than batch-mode natural language generators. With growing experience, these instruments can also become tools for textual performance. Regime Change begins with a news article from April 2003, following the bombardment that began the U.S. invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush cites "eyewitness" intelligence that Saddam Hussein was assassinated by targeted U.S. bombing and clings to the contention that the Iraqi president was hiding "weapons of mass destruction." Playing Regime Change brings forth texts generated from a document that records a different U.S. attitude toward presidential assassination and eyewitness intelligence — the report of the Warren Commission. This instrument operates using the statistics of n-grams, a technique used for textual games for more than 50 years, beginning in Claude Shannon's 1948 A Mathematical Theory of Communication. These n-grams are chains of words, and this instrument uses shared chains between documents as "bridges," allowing movement from the text of one document into a body of text created from another and back.

Instructions: Run the Regime Change application to begin. Regime Change presents text in several windows, which will open and close on their own, as needed. Try the following steps to see the basic way that Regime Change expands one text using another: (1) Once the first window with the news story "Saddam Hussein 'May' Be Dead or Severely Injured, Bush Says" has fully loaded, click on the blue words "that the same." Clicking on colored words opens a new window, offering ways to expand the text. (2) Texts from the Warren Commission's report appear in a new window — different ones each time. From this window, it would be possible to click on red words to expand further. Instead, click on any black word in the middle of the paragraph. (3) The window closes and the text from the Warren Commission's report, up to the selected point, is incorporated into the original news story. Play with the text can continue from here. Clicking on a colored word (blue or red) provides new possibilities from the other text, opening a new window. Clicking on a black text makes a selection, closing the current window and placing that selection in the one before it. After spending some time playing with this instrument, the user can learn which words are most interesting points for expansion and can determine how best to end each selection so that the text remains coherent.

Previous publication: Regime Change is a 2003 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence site, and was made possible with funding from the LEF Foundation. It was published in September 2004 on the Turbulence site,

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.