Individual Work

@ROM_TXT is a Twitter bot, produced by Zach Whalen in 2013. The bot scrapes ROM data related to a large corpus of historical video games on a variety of platforms, attempting to detect and tweet strings of English text. @ROM_TEXT also periodically tweets random strings which are not believed to contain English words. New tweets are posted every three hours, tagged with filenames (usually derived from game titles) and platform of origin. This bot highlights the porous relationship between multiple linguistic systems, including English and various computer languages. It also helps to provide a glimpse of the low-level textual data undergirding all video games and computer software.

@ROM_TEXT unfolds at a slow, steady pace. Over time, the bot's timeline resembles a live stream of digital information that has been rendered in slow motion and annotated with hashtags. The hashtags frequently cross-reference tweets with other posts that discuss the video games under analysis. The vertical orientation of Twitter timelines, paired with the specialized formatting pulled from ROM files, lends a poetic quality to the content which plays with and expands traditional notions of scansion.

Author statement: 
"@ROM_TXT is a Twitter bot I started working on in 2013 that started with the output of an aborted research project. The essence of the bot is a scraper, written in Perl, that parses ROM data looking for words in English. When it finds what it thinks is a word, it stores that output in text file. There are many, many false positives, which created lots and lots and lots of interesting noise. Another script finds a random chunk of text from that output and tweets it. That was the initial form. Over time, I improved the text-finding algorithm to reduce the number of false positives, I added hashtags for the game and platform represented in each tweet (using naming conventions from the MAME/MESS project), and I wrote scrapers for other platforms. Originally, @ROM_TXT updated every 5 minutes, but over time that has reduced in frequency. Currently (February 2016), it tweets every 3 hours. The content @ROM_TXT shares can be nostalgic, ironic, chaotic, or just concretely interesting. I've called it "poetry," and it often is, but perhaps it's most compelling simply as a sideways peak into an otherwise inaccessible layer of game data."