At Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California, beginning in 1993, I worked
with words in LambdaMoo, a text based social virtual reality
site, created at PARC by Pavel Curtis, that runs LambdaMoo
code and is publicly accessible on the Internet. Investigating
the narrative variety inherent in Moos, (MUD's object oriented) I
created the exploratory new media narrative, Brown House Kitchen.
BROWN HOUSE KITCHEN
MUDs (Multi-user Dungeons) are text-based virtual communities, traditionally (but not always) set in imaginary environments.
In these people-centered places, a wide variety of public literature can be created. Originating with a multi-user "adventuring" program written in 1979
by students at the University of Essex in England and expanded by the Social Virtual Reality project at Xerox PARC, headed by Pavel Curtis
-- whose theatrical and computer science background merged fortuitously in MUD/MOO environments -- LambdaMOO
and similar sites based on LambdaCode are malleable code- based structures. Although general MUD usage has centered on
creative social interaction, the flexible programming system that Curtis created also has the potential for complex information delivery
and for an infinite variety of narrative structures. MUD's were more central to Internet recreation in the pre-Web era.
However, they continue to offer the potential to create complex narratives that can be explored simultaneously by many reader players.
Beginning in 1993, as part of my residency (as a writer and designer of
experimental computer mediated narratives) at Xerox PARC, I worked in
LambdaMOO, a MOO that uses an object oriented programming language (a
cross between C++ and LISP) developed by Pavel Curtis. The term
"LambdaMOO" refers both to this software and to the server Curtis ran at
Xerox PARC that used this software and was open to the Internet public.
LambdaMoo was already a well defined richly embroidered virtual environment when
I began to work on Brown House Kitchen. A user who opened the door to the closet
(the standard entry way to this environment) entered
a well defined room that was based on Pavel Curtis' real-life living room at that time:
"It is very bright, open, and airy here, with large plate-glass windows
looking southward over the pool to the gardens beyond. On the north
wall, there is a rough stonework fireplace. The east and west walls are
almost completely covered with large, well-stocked bookcases."
When I began working in LambdaMoo at Xerox PARC in November 1993, I had a SPARC
workstation and an office in the legendary Computer Science Lab (CSL) across from the office of Rich Gold,
the Director of PARC Artists in Residence. (PAIR) I also had the LambdaMOO Programmer's Manual
by Pavel Curtis and an informal LambdaMOO tutorial created by yudj Anderson.
Soon I was spending my days on familiar territory - the Internet.
In November 1993, Pavel and I met to discuss what I would create in LambdaMOO.
Also present was ethnographer Cynthia Duval who recorded and transcribed the conversation.
I had envisioned the narrative as a kind of hypertext, but Pavel pointed out the three
dimensional qualities of the medium and spoke about "creating a space
that was itself literature in that by walking through the space and
manipulating the objects that I might see there or taking different paths
through the space encounter this work of literature." 
Pavel also suggested that objects in this space could disclose text.
Additionally we discussed the public art possibilities inherent in
During my residency I had been studying CSL research projects, discussing them with Rich Gold,
talking with other researchers at lunch, and attending talks in the Bean Bag room.
Then, in the course of a walk across the fields that bordered the
PARC building, down Page Mill Road, past the Wall Street Journal, past
Hewlett Packard, down to a Motel on El Camino Real (where I
was staying with not much but a 286 IBM computer, a modem, a black cat, and a few items
of clothing) I conceived of the basic structure for Brown House Kitchen.
Influenced by the ubiquitous computing research (the creation of an
environment where many invisible to the user computers are available)
being undertaken in CSL,  the kitchen was conceived of as a future
communal eating space where interrelated devices integral to its
functioning would record events in various ways. In Rashoman fashion,
these devices would be capable of relating the details of things that
occurred in a previous November in separate but related ways.
The story began -- for the participant who enters the environment -- in this way.
"An Early Ubicomp Era kitchen
The sun, coming through white lace curtains that frame
a small irregularly watered yard, falls invitingly on a
round oak table, surrounded by chairs. In the Northeast
corner, an old man sits in a bluegreen rocking chair,
reading a newspaper. He looks like your grandfather.
To your left, you see what appears to be a sculpture of
a kitchen drawer mounted on a pedestal. Near the
Northwest wall, there is a kitchen sink, decorated with
blue tiles. An orange cat stands on the edge of the
sink, drinking water from a slow faucet drip."
At the core of the work was a series of text disclosing objects
based on PARC research at the time. Players who entered Brown House Kitchen
unfolded the story in various (unpredictable) ways by examining the things they
found in the environment. Although the command and response language of LambdaMoo
is somewhat similar to that of Interactive Fiction, (IF) Brown House Kitchen
differed from traditional IF in that the objects were deeply programmed.
For instance, the narranoter disclosed pseudo-randomly generated text using the UNIX
date and was based on the authoring system I used to create Terminals, File III of
Uncle Roger. Two of the other devices, Ralph Will Clean Up After You and GoodFood
were time-based in a somewhat different manner. The information they disclosed varied
according to the day of the month and the time of day that the reader entered the story.
Additionally, there was a garden outside the kitchen where text was disclosed in a polyphonic way using
"fork". (a feature of LambdaMOO code that allows time delays in the production of text)
The group nature of the experience meant that many players could be in the same "room" at the same time,
and in some cases what they were doing was visible to the other players. Thus the guessing game
experience of IF was augmented in this work by readers being able to see (in real time) what
other readers in the virtual environment were doing. Some of the devices I created
(simulated video, simulated audio) disclosed information that was seen (when activated) by everyone
in the room. Other devices (electronic book, diary) disclosed text visible only to the player
who activated them. I used this strategy based on what the player would see in a real situation
-- ie you would hear a radio or a TV that someone else turned on,
but you probably would not see what a person in the same room was reading.
In summary, the devices were a mobile, audio equipped robot, (Ralph Will Clean Up After You)
a database food dispensing table, (GoodFood), a pre-narrative video device,
(Barbie-Q) and two electronic books. (Sarah's Diary and the narranoter)
The social nature of LambdaMoo was also incorporated into Brown House Kitchen.
Players could sit at the table, order meals, and as is usual in LambdaMOO, talk with other players.
In addition to five programmed text disclosing devices, the environment included hypertextual
"tiny scenery". (descriptions activated by the word "look".
As a whole, Brown House Kitchen, was structured with parallel intersecting data
streams that were contained in and disclosed by this collection of
objects. The idea of parallel data streams was one that I had worked
with in Wasting Time -- a narrative data structure where the words
and thoughts of three characters are treated as parallel intertwining
data streams.  Brown House Kitchen, a work that exists in a time warp in virtual
space, is a more complex narrative. It not only challenges readers to
discover less obvious streams of text but also locates them within the
To structure the work, I used food as an integrating device and
started by writing the menus for the 93 meals that were to be served by
GoodFood over the course of a month. The chart integrated what was
eaten at the meals with what the video device recorded, what the gossip
Ralph disclosed, and the words written in the narranoter.
As noted, Brown House Kitchen integrates narrative
disclosing devices that both relate to each other and respond
interactively to investigation. It is communal in that it works best
when several people are in the room. In November 1994, I invited Tim Collin's and Reiko Goto's Carnegie
Mellon "Art Systems" class to virtually enter the work. Sitting at separate terminals
in the computer room, the students jointly explored Brown House
Kitchen. Although the narrative is difficult to comprehend if only
one person is exploring it in a solitary manner, as I had envisioned, the
environment worked very well in this group situation. Its rich detail was
apparent, and the students were enthusiastic.
The work I did to create Brown House Kitchen would not have been possible without
the presence of Pavel Curtis and other knowledgeable, helpful CSL researchers including Rich Gold,
Ron Frederick, Berry Kercheval and David Nichols.
Notes and References
1. Cynthia Duval, "The Use of Artifacts as Tools for Thinking: a
Sociocultural Study of Creative Work," unpublished manuscript, 1996.
2. Mark Weisner, "Some Computer Science Issues in Ubiquitous Computing,"
Communications of the ACM July 1993 36:7 75-84
3. Judy Malloy, "Wasting Time, A Narrative Data Structure" In: After
The Book (Perforations 3) summer, 1992.