8 reads for ACM’s SIGGRAPH conference

Books on computer graphics, games, design, and more

The Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) annual SIGGRAPH conference kicks off this week. Beginning in 1974 as a small group of specialists in a previously unknown discipline, ACM SIGGRAPH has evolved to become an international community of researchers, artists, developers, filmmakers, scientists, and business professionals who share an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. The annual conference, taking place virtually this year, offers attendees a forum to discuss their latest work, inspiring progress through education, excellence, and interaction.

We’re pleased to showcase a few recently published books in these areas, from Alvy Rae Smith’s engaging and authoritative biography of the pixel, to Katy Börner’s visually stunning Atlas of Forecasts, which demonstrates how computational models can inform effective decision-making in education, science, technology, and policymaking. Explore these and other books below.

Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics by Jacob Gaboury

"Image Objects"

Most of us think of computer graphics as a relatively recent invention, enabling the spectacular visual effects and lifelike simulations we see in current films, television shows, and digital games. In fact, computer graphics have been around as long as the modern computer itself, and played a fundamental role in the development of our contemporary culture of computing. In Image Objects, Jacob Gaboury offers a prehistory of computer graphics through an examination of five technical objects—an algorithm, an interface, an object standard, a programming paradigm, and a hardware platform—arguing that computer graphics transformed the computer from a calculating machine into an interactive medium.

“Gaboury’s brilliant archaeology of computer graphics explores the ways in which computational media have come to act as sensory prostheses that mediate practice and experience.” —Timothy Lenoir, Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Cinema & Digital Media and Science & Technology Studies at the University of California, Davis

Art in the Age of Machine Learning by Sofian Audry

Over the past decade, an artistic movement has emerged that draws on machine learning as both inspiration and medium. In this book, transdisciplinary artist-researcher Sofian Audry examines artistic practices at the intersection of machine learning and new media art, providing conceptual tools and historical perspectives for new media artists, musicians, composers, writers, curators, and theorists. Audry looks at works from a broad range of practices, including new media installation, robotic art, visual art, electronic music and sound, and electronic literature, connecting machine learning art to such earlier artistic practices as cybernetics art, artificial life art, and evolutionary art.

“Sofian Audry powerfully demonstrates that artists’ imagination, labor, and acute social-political awareness is alive and well in our age of machine learning.” —Chris Salter, Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, Montreal; author of Entangled

Biography of a Pixel by Alvy Rae Smith

"A Biography of the Pixel"

The Great Digital Convergence of all media types into one universal digital medium occurred, with little fanfare, at the recent turn of the millennium. The bit became the universal medium, and the pixel—a particular packaging of bits—conquered the world. Henceforward, nearly every picture in the world would be composed of pixels—cell phone pictures, app interfaces, Mars Rover transmissions, book illustrations, videogames. In A Biography of the Pixel, Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith argues that the pixel is the organizing principle of most modern media, and he presents a few simple but profound ideas that unify the dazzling varieties of digital image making.

“Alvy Ray Smith is a magician who overturns the visible world and reenvisions everything that happens on a screen. His innovative history of the pixel is remarkable: there are brilliant insights on every page.” —Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired Magazine; author of The Inevitable

Atlas of Forecasts: Modeling and Mapping Desirable Futures by Katy Börner

"Atlas Futures"

To envision and create the futures we want, society needs an appropriate understanding of the likely impact of alternative actions. Data models and visualizations offer a way to understand and intelligently manage complex, interlinked systems in science and technology, education, and policymaking. Atlas of Forecasts, from the creator of Atlas of Science and Atlas of Knowledge, shows how we can use data to predict, communicate, and ultimately attain desirable futures.

Atlas of Forecasts is an amazing and incredibly important resource. To understand its power, just consider how modern weather reports merge complex models and immense data into understandable forecasts that mobilize the entire citizenry to take coordinated action—and now imagine that power applied to all of societies’ grand challenges!” —Alex “Sandy” Pentland, MIT; coauthor of Building the New Economy: Data as Capital

Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities by Nick Montfort

"Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities"

This book introduces programming to readers involved with the arts and humanities; there are no prerequisites, and no previous knowledge of programming is assumed. Nick Montfort reveals programming to be not merely a technical exercise within given constraints but a tool for sketching, brainstorming, and inquiry. He emphasizes programming’s exploratory potential—its facility to create new kinds of artworks and to probe data for new ideas. The book is designed to be read alongside the computer, allowing readers to program while making their way through the chapters. It offers practical exercises in writing and modifying code and outlines “free projects” that allow learners to pursue their own interests.

“An optimal place to begin your journey into coding. Clear, concise, and of consequence.” —Wasalu Jaco, pka Lupe Fiasco IT

Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts by Gascia Ouzounian


The relationship between sound and space has become central to both creative practices in music and sound art and contemporary scholarship on sound. Entire subfields have emerged in connection to the spatial aspects of sound, from spatial audio and sound installation to acoustic ecology and soundscape studies. But how did our understanding of sound become spatial? In Stereophonica, Gascia Ouzounian examines a series of historical episodes that transformed ideas of sound and space, from the advent of stereo technologies in the nineteenth century to visual representations of sonic environments today.

“Ambitious and engaging in its account of stereophony, sonic warfare, contemporary sonic urbanism, and more, this book is an inspiring treat for academics, sound practitioners, and the general reader.” —Aura Satzartist, lecturer at the Royal College of Art

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson

"Game Wizards"

When Dungeons & Dragons was first released to a small hobby community, it hardly seemed destined for mainstream success—and yet this arcane tabletop role-playing game became an unlikely pop culture phenomenon. In Game Wizards, Jon Peterson chronicles the rise of Dungeons & Dragons from hobbyist pastime to mass-market sensation, from the initial collaboration to the later feud of its creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. As the game’s fiftieth anniversary approaches, Peterson—a noted authority on role-playing games—explains how D&D and its creators navigated their successes, setbacks, and controversies.

“Jon sets straight the ‘canon’ of the tragic history of how Dungeons & Dragons and TSR were ripped from the very grasp of the man who dreamed them up.” —Joe Manganiello, actor, producer, Dungeons & Dragons ambassador, and writer/game designer for Wizards of the Coast from Hasbro

Making Games: The Politics and Poetics of Game Creation Tools by Stefan Werning

"Making Games"

In Making Games, Stefan Werning considers the role of tools (primarily but not exclusively software), their design affordances, and the role they play as sociotechnical actors. Drawing on a wide variety of case studies, Werning argues that production tools shape the aesthetics and political economy of games as an expressive medium. He frames game-making as a (meta)game in itself and shows that tools, like games, have their own “procedural rhetoric” and should not always be conceived simply in terms of optimization and best practices.

Explore all of the MIT Press’s books on digital humanities