Game-Based Digitally Mediated Narrative Construction

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

There are various ways of constructing a short story or a novel ranging from detailed planning of characters, back story, and plot before beginning to write to fluid writing. Somewhere in the middle, but near fluid writing, is the approach taken by the late television writer Sydney Sheldon who visualized the flow of the story and narrated what he saw and heard to a secretary. The paper surveys practices in narrative construction both current and speculative, such as a possible future use of advanced functional brain imaging, but emphasizes a particular game-based approach currently being attempted in a pilot project.

 At the Virtual Environments Lab researchers are developing a system that generates a text based on game play. The game has two purposes: entertainment for the player and generation of a work of fiction that describes the experiences of the player. Many of the characters and situations come from Through the Looking Glass. The player character, as Alice, explores an 8x8 grid and interacts with non player characters. The NPCs ask questions, and the PC gives free response answers. The PC can also ask the NPCs questions. The game AI does not parse the entire player response but looks for words and patterns and attempts to infer the intent of the PC. Meanwhile the narrative engine produces text describing what the PC has so far noticed and quoting the conversation between the NPCs and the PC. The NPCs have goals that change based on the state of the game. (The Walrus and the Carpenter run a seafood restaurant on the shore on the west side of the virtual world. When they run short of seafood, one goes fishing. When they run short of produce one travels to the east side of the world to the vegetable garden. If Alice comes to the restaurant when one of the two is absent she is offered a job as a waitress.) Initially Alice doesn't know her goal, to solve problems and acquire artifacts specific to one of the four castles located in the corners of the world. Unknown to her originally, some experiences or artifacts assist her in entering one of the four castles but weaken her ability to enter another one. Entrance to a castle will (eventually) unlock another game level with the potential for generating additional narratives.

The narrative produced during game play is not a transcript of the dialog between the game and PC or a pasting together of pre-written texts as in a "choose you own ending" book; rather it is a story that can be read independently of the game. The component of the game that understands the PC input is written in Snobol4, an old string processing language with string pattern matching capability more sophisticated than the more commonly used regular expression engines.

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Audun Andreassen