Understanding Digital Content Practicums

Demo Mystery House:


Mystery House is a very simple computer game that involves a character moving through an old Victorian Mansion during a murder mystery. It is a classic scene. The player sees graphics of rooms and items  and controls the view and movements by simple word commands like “open door” and “take candle.” It is a bit difficult to use, but fun when you figure out the mechanics.

There is not too much to explain, as the instructions for the game are very simple. You can only enter short phrases, and when it doesn’t understand it will tell you it doesn’t know how. The plot is that there are 7 people in the house, and one of them is a murderer, and you need to somewhat figure it out.

The game is mostly relevant though because of its use as an example in one of the readings. I only partially understand how it works, so I thought it wisest to just quote the section:

“Mystery House, a 1980 game for the Apple II, allows a player to explore an abandoned Victorian mansion. the game presents players with graphics showing different rooms and places in the house and text describing what happens as you move through it. the details of the game aren’t particularly important for this example.

After downloading a copy of a disk image of the game, a bit-for-bit copy of an original 5 1/4 floppy disk on which this game had been saved, it is possible to boot the game up in an Apple II emulator and explore it. You can also take a copy like this one and explore it through a Hex editor. A Hex editor is a computer program that lets you read the actual binary data that is laid out on a disk. At this point the disk is a really a virtual thing. The disk image file is a bit-for-bit copy of how information was laid out on an actual floppy disk, but we have no idea where that original disk is or if it even exists anymore.

When Matthew Kirschenbaum did exactly this–downloaded a copy of a disk image of the game from the web–and started looking around in it with a Hex editor, he found something unexpected. As a reminder, text encoded inside a file is itself interpretable and renderable outside the file. So when exploring sectors of a disk with a Hex editor, the editor can render text as it is actually laid out on the disk. What Kirschenbaum found was text from two completely different games, Dung Beatles from 1982 and Blitzkrieg from 1979. As is the case with digital storage media, the information on a disk is not erased when deleted. Instead, the space is simply marked as empty. As a result, when you poke around in the actual sectors of the disk, or the bit-for-bit copy of those sectors in a disk image, you can find traces of files that were overwritten. The end result is that some decades later, by exploring sectors of this copy of the disk, it is possible to learn what had been on this disk before the Mystery House game was saved on it.

The disk image of the game is entirely informational; it is a sequence of bits that has been copied and shared with many different users. However, in the process of copying this disk, more than the informational content of the intended game was copied. By exploring the contents of seemingly overwritten space on the disk, it becomes possible to learn about previous uses of the physical object on which the game had been encoded. Aspects of that artifactual physical object have been carried forth in the informational world of replication.”-


Glitching, put quite simply, is intentionally messing around with digital files to produce certain artistic results. This can be done a few ways, but one example would be changing a photo file into a text file, removing and moving lines of data, and then turning it back into a photo to see the glitched picture. Another example would be trying to view an audio file as an image, which can get a little weird.


Here is the original image: Fenway.jpg

Now, I will change the extension from .jpg to .txt and open it in a text editor, and just delete some stuff. Here is the new Fenway.jpg:

Pretty weird, I just randomly deleted some of the text in the editor and it only darkened the image a ton, with some gray bars appearing at the very bottom.

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