Interactive Fiction, Story Authoring, and Edutainment Generators

    We are researching the topic of immersive story worlds, design issues for stealth learning (edutainment) and behavior interventions, how people share stories, how intelligent agents or OPerators in the storyworlds can help to dynamically generate new (emergent) story directions, and how to facilitate an overall story generator and sharing. To date, we have (1) researched story design in terms of the impact of plot, people, place; (2) have created tools that allow authors to rapidly generate story structures; (3) have adapted models from behavioral science into OPerators (OPs) so that story structures can be rapidly populated with people of a given personality and need structure; (4) have created a generator that permits both author- and character-driven (emergent) story worlds; and (5) are assembling two implementations, one as a health care intervention and one for counter terrorism training/analysis.

The Human-Like OPerator (OP) for Emergent, Self-Generated Stories

    An OP is an architecture for a generic agent or character that senses what's occuring in the story world, reasons about its best course of action, and effects the story by pursuing that course as well as it can. Bringing many OPs of different types together within a story structure leads to emergent macro-behaviors not built in by the author. An OP's reasoning is governed by its physiological need status and the stress it's built up. Stress comes from fatigue (due to low energy, nutrition use, high noise, etc), good and bad events it observes, and time pressure. Stress determines which of five coping styles is currently governing a given OP's reasoning (e.g., blind plan adherence, vigilance, or panic). In addition, each OP has a set of three value trees: desires for events/actions, standards for behavior of other OPs, and preferences for material objects in the world. These trees along with the social relationships set up for each OPs are used by its emotion processor to react to the world and to generate up to 22 emotions that it summarizes into utility for choosing a course of action (plan shred). Thus OPs are micro-decision makers who further the plot due to their needs of the moment (physiologic, belonging, materialism, etc), culture (behavior standards), bounded reasoning (stress-regulated and emotion-ruled), and social standing (relationships, neighbor's views, local effects). A more complete description of the reasoning and emergent behavior of an OP is available here.

The Generator: 
Authoring Electronic Stories 
for OPerators (AESOP)

    Beyond merely watching the emergence of macro-results from micro-decisions, many authors have the need to introduce plot structures, lesson and training objectives, specific quests and obstacles to overcome, and, not the least of all, spoken dialog opportunities. In order to create edutainment systems, it is vital to have some authorial control over such structures and to be able to craft the aesethetics to which one wants to expose the player (trainee or analyst). For example, if one is designing a role playing game, one might like to populate it with a few pedagogical characters that urge the player along a path where the important self-discovery, rehearsal, and/or analytical opportunities are richest. Or, one might wish to introduce training vignettes where OPs are dysfunctional and the player grows to care about them and learns by helping them help themselves. Making the player care about the characters of a storyworld is the purview of literature and of the film industry -- or more precisely of narratology. Caring occurs as one learns a given characters' motives, background, desires, and so on. That requires hearing dialogs and, even better, participating in such dialogs, particularly where there is drama, suspense, humor, and relationships. AESOP is our generator that helps the author to create such plot moments, and to provide dialog strings available to the characters in such moments. To assist in this task, AESOP provides a graphical user interface (graph markup language), storyworld templates, and pallets of reusable parts, artifacts, and animation movies.

Heart Sense Game: 
A Hero's Adventure/Soap as a Behavioral Intervention

      Heart Sense Game is a role playing hero's tale in which you try to solve a crime and simultaneously rescue your career and win the girl. However, some of the many characters you might get clues from, need your help to deal with heart attacks before they or others can help you. Since, for their own reasons, they often don't believe they are having a heart attack or don't want to take care of it promptly, there are significant obstacles to helping these OPs to help themselves.  And if you prefer to harm these OPs, you are free to do so, but watch out, your own future will be effected as well!
    Heart Sense Game is an example of a cartoon world videogame being designed as a health behavior intervention with the help of AESOP. Its goal is to help the player to overcome their own symtom recognition and resistive behavior issues before they have a heart attack themselves (or a loved one has one). The hope is that learning about these issues in a story world will help to reduce delay in seeking care if one ever encounters a heart attack in the real world. Heart Sense is being developed in 2002, will undergo clinical trial in 2003, and should be published by the end of 2003.

Some thoughts on what's needed to apply AESOP and HS Game ideas to other health interventions (briefing, videotape, writeup).
Role of Story Sharing in Terrorism Prevention and in Counter-Terrorism Training and Analysis
    Unanticipated, emergent phenomena (asymmetric threats) are the unfortunate calling card of the 21st century. Those interested in reducing and preventing such situations from occuring must take a keen interest in the stories of peoples and individuals both at home and around the world. These are the "stakes characters", those whose minds, affiliation, and support is at stake in this fight. The point of terrorists is to try and sway public opinion through fundamentalist dogmas, inappropriate villainizations, and violent acts -- and then to spin their story in the media. To eliminate the terrorist threat means we must learn the stories of the stakes characters as well as of terrorist groups and militias and portray them in immersive worlds where trainees and analysts can learn from them. If you are interested in security and defense, such immersive storyworlds should provide learning opporutnites (discovery, feedback, rehearsal) about doctrines, tactics, and procedures against such threats. If you are interested in prevention, diplomacy, and world development, such immersive storyworlds can help to foster understanding and story sharing needed to build bridges and spread democratic principles.
    In any event, there is a need for rapid story generation and insight sharing about any of a variety of hot spots around the world, or about any of a large set of potential situations to manage in each of those spots. In particular, one wishes to rapidly and easily craft valid stories about: Doing this fully might involve a grand challenge research program. At present, we believe we are developing the rudaments of supporting such storycrafting for the types of stories depicted in the figure.  We are doing this through AESOP and merging OPs at the local story level (campaigns, missions, events) with cellular automata for the societal levels and for modeling the news being spun by the different groups and its effects on the affiliation and support (membership, $s) for those groups. The following amplify on this concept:

Relevant Links:

International Conference on Virtual Storytelling

Story writers conference

International Game Developer Association

Gamasutra, a great source of game design articles and ideas

Newsletter on e-learning field

Good place for linking into many cyber-therapy topics

Ideas about the aesthetic, cultural and communicative aspects of computer games

Here is an interesting workshop on improving public policy and training through game-based learning and simulation.

Descriptions of games used in DoD and with commercial military video games.

InfoChess is a team-oriented version of chess altered somewhat to be used in teaching military tactics/strategy.   I like this game as a potential vehicle for studying collaboration.   Based on chess, a near cultural universal, but without the visual and auditory razzle dazzle.  

Here are some interesting discussions (1 , 2) about health effects and skill development from videogame play.