Origin Stories

Nick Laiacona

My first career was in the computer game industry as a programmer, producer, and then designer. After working in the game business for a decade, I needed a break. At first I thought I’d take a stab at indy game development. I was inspired by the scene at the time – the nascent roots of the modern indy game movement. I wanted to be a part of that. I quit my industry job and started making my first indy game. That was when I got distracted by this field called “digital humanities.”

My friend, Lou Foster, was working at University of Virginia in a lab called Applied Research in Patacriticism (ARP). We were at Austin Game Dev when I first heard of this. He was making a game that taught a sort of physics of text. Players moved through this strange zone called a “discourse field.” I was totally into this concept. Plus, making money would be super nice after a year spent on my still in progress 3D dinosaur fossil digging game. So I applied.

This was a very good time in my professional life. ARP created some pretty cool pieces of software including: Juxta, Ivanhoe, and Collex. However, all good things must come to an end, even grant money. So when the project started to conclude, I got on the next big thing, which for me was Ruby on Rails freelancing. I started a user group for rubyists called the “Ruby Code Jam”. I was occasionally called upon to do this or that for Juxta, but was mostly out of DH for a couple of years before I was tapped once again to help NINES bring Collex out of beta. Around this time, I met many of the scholars who would become my first clients.

Today, I’m still pretty involved in the Digital Humanities. My firm, Performant Software Solutions, builds websites and applications that help forward the production of on scholarly editions, crowdsource and OCR 18th century text, and compare poetry and prose. To me, digital humanities feels a lot like the early days of the game industry, wide open and full of possibilities. This is a moment where culture crystalizes and I’m glad to see a conscious effort to make that culture and open and inclusive one.