One of the things I want my students to engage with in my ‘cities and countryside in antiquity’ class is the idea that in antiquity, one navigates space not with a two dimensional top-down mental map, but rather as a series of what-comes-next. That navigating required socializing, asking directions, paying attention to landmarks. I’m in part inspired by R. Ling’s 1990 article, Stranger in Town, and in part by Elijah Meek’s and Walter Scheidel’s ORBIS project. Elijah and I have in fact been talking about marrying a text-based interface for Orbis for this very reason.
But I’m also interested in gaming, simulation and storytelling for their own merits, so I’m trying my hand at an interactive fiction written using Inform 7 along the same lines. Instead of interfacing directly with the model represented in Orbis, I’ve queried Orbis for travel data, and have begun to write a bit of a narrative around it. (One could’ve composed this in Latin, in which case you’d get not just the spatial ideas, but also the language learning too!).
Anyway, I present to you version 0.1, a beta (perhaps ‘alpha’ is more appropriate) for ‘Stranger in These Parts‘, by Shawn Graham. I’m using Playfic to host it. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. (And a hint to get going: check to see what you’ve got on you, and ‘ask Eros’ about things…)
Obviously, some things are lacking at the moment. I’ll want the player to be able to select different modes of transport sometimes (and thus to skip settings). There’s a point system, but it’s meant more to signal to the students that there is more to find. Depending on which NPCs a student talks with, different kinds of routes should become available. Time passes within the IF, and so night time matters – no travel then. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as multi-player IF or head-to-head IF, but that’d be fun if it were possible: can you get to Pompeii before your classmates?
In terms of the learning exercise, the students will play through this, and then explore the same territory in Orbis. In the light of their readings and experiences, I’ll be asking them to reflect on the Roman experience of space. Once we’ve done that, now being suitably disabused of 21st century views of how to navigate space, we’ll start looking at the landscape archaeology of other ancient cultures.
I just realized. I’ve been intermittently blogging now for three years, as of this December past. In that time, I think I’ve remained more or less true to the ‘mission’ of Electric Archaeology – to try out new techs, recount experiments, disseminate my research, in new media for archaeology and history. There have been times when I could post thoughtful, in-depth pieces; and times when I’ve merely passed on the interesting things that have turned up in my inbox. As of this morning according to WordPress, Electric Archaeology has had over 85,000 views, spread across 394 posts. There have been 329 comments made. I have 62 categories – clearly I need some rationalization there.
I sometimes toy with the idea of moving Electric Archaeology to my own space, so I can put some better analytics on it, but for whatever reason, that just doesn’t happen…
The all time most viewed posts on Electric Archaeology (the most recent posts of course are at the bottom, having had less chance to be viewed):
The following is a list of Master’s and Doctoral theses that have been completed that have to do with serious games (and in some cases more broadly with digital games). Doctoral Theses are marked in bold. You can get more info on each thesis by clicking on the associated ‘details’ link.
Note: I am just starting to develop this list. So far, almost all the theses are Canadian ones. If anyone has a thesis they would like me to add, please let me know the following:
Name, Title, Year, Degree, Country, Institution, Department, Abstract, URL to the thesis (If you are willing, I’d like your nationality too).
Please send info on theses that are about DIGITAL GAMES ONLY (I am not interested in theses about Game Theory (i.e. math), ELearning, Virtual Spaces, Social Websites, Blogging, Graphics, AI, … UNLESS they specifically focus on applications to or for digital games)
Interactive entertainment, including novel forms of edutainment, therapy, and serious games, promises to become an ever more important market. Interactive Digital Storytelling provides access to social and human themes through stories, and promises to foster considerably the possibilities of interactive entertainment, computer games, and other interactive digital applications. ICIDS also identifies opportunities and addressess challenges for redefining the experience of narrative through interactive simulations of computer-generated story worlds.
Interactive Storytelling thus promises a huge step forward for games, training, and learning, through the aims to enrich virtual characters with intelligent behavior, to allow collaboration of humans and machines in the creative process, and to combine narrative knowledge and user activity in interactive artifacts. In order to create novel applications, in which users play a significant role together with digital characters and other autonomous elements, new concepts for Human-Computer Interaction have to be developed. Knowledge for interface design and technology has to be garnered and integrated. Interactive Storytelling involves concepts from many aspects of Computer Science, above all from Artificial Intelligence, with topics such as narrative intelligence, automatic dialogue- and drama management, cognitive robotics and smart graphics. In order to process stories in real time, traditional storytelling needs to be formalized into computable models, by drawing from narratological studies, and by taking into account the characteristics of programming. Consequently, due to its technological complexity, it is currently hardly accessible for creators and end-users. There is a need for new authoring concepts and tools supporting the creation of dynamic story models, allowing for rich and meaningful interaction with the content. Finally, there is a need for theoretical foundations considering the integration of so far disjunctive approaches and cultures.
Before ICIDS, two European conference series had been serving as main platforms for these topics:
ICVS (International Conference on Virtual Storytelling)
TIDSE (Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment)
While the venues of these events were traditionally bound to France and Germany, ICIDS is set to overcome also this geographical limitation.
ICIDS 2009 will be held in the Centro Cultural Vila Flor, in Guimarães, Portugal, EU. It is organized by the University of Minho and the CCG Centro de Computação Gráfica, supported by several partners.
The second edition of Brock’s Interacting with Immersive Worlds Conference is taking place this summer. Registration is now open. I was able to attend last year, and it was the highlight of my conference season. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this year, so I’m going to miss out on some brilliant sessions.
Interacting with Immersive Worlds
An International Conference presented at
Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario
JUNE 15-16, 2009
Focusing on the growing cultural significance of interactive media, IWIW will feature academic papers organized along four streams:
-Challenges at the Boundaries of Immersive Worlds features creative exploration and innovation in immersive media including ubiquitous computing, telepresence, interactive art and fiction, and alternate reality.
-Critical Approaches to Immersion looks at analyses of the cultural and/or psychological impact of immersive worlds, as well as theories of interactivity.
-Immersive Worlds in Education examines educational applications of immersive technologies.
-Immersive Worlds in Entertainment examines entertainment applications of immersive technologies, such as computer games.
The IWIW conference also features 4 keynote speakers:
-Janet Murray, Director of Graduate Studies, School of Literature, Communication and Culture, Georgia Institute of Technology
-Espen Aarseth, Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communication, IT University of Denmark
-Geoffrey Rockwell, Professor, Department of Philosophy and Humanities Computing, University of Alberta
-Deborah Todd, Game Designer, Writer and Producer, and Author of Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light
Jean Bridge, Centre for Digital Humanities, Brock University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Danahay, Department of English Language and Literature, Brock University,
Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights, Catharines, Ontario, email@example.com
Barry Grant, Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Hutchison, Faculty of Education, Brock University, email@example.com
Kevin Kee, Department of History, Brock University, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Mitterer, Department of Psychology, Brock University, email@example.com
Michael Winter, Department of Computer Science, Brock University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Wright, Information Technology Services, Brock University, email@example.com
I and some collaborators have a paper on using Interactive Fiction in the classroom, for promoting straight-up literacy (not to mention computer literacy) skills. Hopefully, it’ll be coming out soon (ish). In the meantime, Jim Aikin has been using Inform 7 in his teaching: one to watch!
My first three-month adventure teaching interactive fiction to kids has come to an end, and a new class is scheduled to start next week. It’s tricky to generalize on the basis of one group of eight students; maybe these kids (ages 11-14) are unusually intelligent or motivated. But my impressions so far are completely positive. And I think maybe I understand why they enjoyed the process.
With interactive fiction (IF), it’s not just the end product — the text-based computer game — that’s interactive. The process of game development is also extremely interactive. That may be the key ingredient. If you’re, say, 12 years old, writing a conventional story may very easily look like drudgery. You may have some neat ideas. You may write a few paragraphs, or even a few pages. But then the stuff you’ve written will just lie there, on the paper or on the screen, staring at you. It’s static. It doesn’t come alive.
When writing IF, you can create a few rooms and a few objects and then take your work for a test drive. You can walk around in the little world you’ve imagined and experience it as a participant. The computer responds to you, and what you’ve written also responds to you. All this makes the process of creativity more involving.
If there are bugs in your code (and there will be…), you have a little puzzle to solve. You can make changes in what you’ve written until it works as you intended. You’ll go through this cycle over and over. This fosters a feeling of mastery and control that isn’t readily available to the author of static fiction. With static fiction, the question of whether it works is not just subjective but altogether murky [...more...]
Jim’s thoughts mirror many of my own, when it comes to the value of Interactive Fiction for teaching. IF for historical literacy – now that’s my longer-term goal…
Denis Jerz writes of IF, “Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much”
I like IF. I’m crap at solving puzzles, but I like it all the same.
For the bibliophiles amongst us, some bibliography from the academic literature on Interactive Fiction – you’ll note that most of the academic interest in IF waxed and waned in the late 80s, early 90s. But, there has been a resurgence in interest lately, mostly due to the literary qualities of IF. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, check out:
Douglass, J. (2007). Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media. Dissertation, U. California Santa Barbara. link
The latest IF competition is underway. Emily Short reports on the works she’s played so far this year here. As a historian or humanist, you should really take a look at what is being accomplished in this particular medium. A decent work of IF is as immersive as any whiz-bang 3d online world, but far more intimate in that it is your own experience generating the fireworks (like the old Infocom add had it, the brain is the fastest graphics card there is…). Note the different approaches of the various works. I’ve tried my hand here or there writing IF that seeks to immerse the student in the process of doing history – sifting through, evaluating, etc, various real documents – in order to progress through the game. Reading Emily’s review, I’m inspired to take it up again, to learn from these works to try different approaches.
For instance, the work below might suggest a great way to incorporate scanned historical materials into a work:
Everybody Dies. A short story with good writing, easy but effective puzzles, and quality illustrations. Speaking of those illustrations, I found them to be a fantastic solution to the question of how to present subjective material in the context of IF: these weren’t a mere add-on or embellishment but an absolutely essential part of the story. This was, by a nose, my favorite game of the comp. But it had strong competition.
And one that suggests a way to use historical biographical materials to resurrect the dead -
Violet. Polished and bursting with personality; though in form it’s a one-room puzzle game, in content it’s a romance with a memorable NPC. Other games have played with divisions between the parser and viewpoint character, or the player and the protagonist, but most often they’ve used those divisions to subvert expectations or produce unexpected surprises. Violet goes another direction, by making the whole content of the game into an effective conversation with the narrator, on the subject of your relationship and its prospects. It’s a fabulous idea and it worked very well.
I know I’ve said it time and again, but if time/money/energy allows, I’d love to enter a piece in the competition that had educational/historical aims. Could writing effective IF be considered an academic publication? (It’d certainly be all postmoderny)
An interesting feature of Pmog ‘missions’ is the way that so many of them are really guided tours of specialty websites (e.g. this one). This is a handy approach if, say, you teach via distance and you want to show your students what constitutes ‘good’ research sites.
Yet, that’s really nothing a powerpoint couldn’t already do. An interesting variant on these missions is the ‘puzzle’ mission, where creators exploit a glitch in the game to create breaks in the flow of the mission. The only way to progress is to solve the riddle to learn what website to go to next – whereupon the mission resumes. Some of these, like ‘The Mystery Machine‘, require you to read the page to fill in the blanks: each word represents a letter in an ultimate URL. If you’ve got the right letters and you complete the last URL, the resulting webpage represents the ‘Victory!’ screen. Others are more complex, more devious. My own mission, ‘The Case of the Missing … Something” depends on anagrams of URLs (which is mean, I know). I can’t solve ‘The Lost Gold of Dr. Nes‘, since it depends on a gamer’s knowledge of nintendo, but the principle is good. ‘Meet Felix Klein‘ takes the player on a tour through various flickr photographs to create a kind of visual story. No puzzle, but it certainly *feels* like an old-style text adventure.
All of these represent a new twist on “interactive fiction”, with the fiction layered on top of the day-to-day internet (perhaps a riff on augment reality, too?). In a way, they are like the ‘Prisoner Escape from the Tower of London‘ game created by mscape: the fiction intersects with daily life to create the game, with events being triggered by your physical or virtual location in the game space. Unlike regular interactive fiction, the game creator does not control that game space – other people intrude (in Pmog, other players might lay, for reasons unrelated to the mission you happen to be on, mines or portals on pages within a mission, which could -perhaps- prevent you from completing it).
The archaeological angle: simple show and tell of vetted sites is good, for starters. Using Pmog (or other AR) to create layers of information/meaning on top of the information is even better. You could imagine a student creating a pmog mission on curse-tablets. This might begin as simple show and tell. Other students could then play the mission, leaving mines on pages they think are ‘bad’ (poor information, bad research, whatever) or portals to ‘good’ sites… the game records the play, and the meta-analysis afterwards with the prof would spark a deeper discussion. Inserting puzzles into the mission would force a deeper engagement still, and completing a puzzle mission would constitute a formative assessment exercise. Creating missions could also be exercises in public archaeology for the students, if built around a decent resource (say the British Museum, or Chaco Canyon).
What I’m arguing for is that we, as educators, need to be using things like Pmog to get our students to engage with online materials in a deeper fashion. They are too often uncritical users of what they find. They need to interact passively.
The first piece of interactive fiction that I wrote (and continue to work on) puts far too many words into the mouth of Major Boulton. I need to make the conversation there far more natural – a menu system has been suggested, so I’m slowly learning how to implement that. The general idea of the piece is for it to be a one or two room rambling conversation, over the course of which, the player discovers truths about the Northwest Rebellion.
In the interests of overloading my work schedule, I’ve started working on a second piece, that isn’t quite so literal. In ‘Canadians on the Nile’, I’m taking my inspiration from the expedition to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum by using logdrivers and river men from the Ottawa Valley to Manitoba to navigate the Nile (living in the Ottawa Valley as I do, this is one of my favourite historical episodes). This one is less ‘faithful’ that the Northwest Rebellion, since I’m putting words into my characters’ mouths that they didn’t actually say… Right now, there are two non-player characters, in the opening scene which ends with the player’s enlistment. Ideally, there’d be several npcs for the player to interact with, learning the historical background, etc… and then self-contained episodes reflecting the real historical course of the expedition. Eventually.
Here‘s what I’ve got so far. (…the though occurs: I’m a Romanist, by training… why am I not trying Roman themes…?)