Lessons Learned from Designing Children’s Interactive Narratives

Abstract (in English): 

Abstract Designing interactive narrative for children requires awareness of the cognitive abilities of young readers. In this paper, we present the lessons learned from two example interactive narrative systems, Baby Duck Takes a Bath and A Little Quiz for the Little Hare. Baby Duck is a multi-sequential narrative where the user can explore how a duckling can become dirty or clean by interacting with its habitat. The agency of the characters (including a mother duck and duck friends) result from manipulating elements within the small story world. The narrative changes according to the user's interactions, allowing for change in perspective, agency and attitude in real-time. The Little Quiz system aims to teach young children the concepts of measurement and comparison through the conversation between two characters. It explores the design space of enhancing interactive narrative using a commonsense knowledge database to understand players' intention and generate relevant narration. Both works target children from 1st to 3rd grade in the early stage of learning story construction. Our approach to designing children’s interactive narrative is based on considering how children can manipulate interactive content. The basic principles of this approach are to provide:

1) a small interactive world that involves simple spatial relationships and story elements. A small story world eases the cognitive load of navigating a virtual space. Instead of building multiple story spaces to explore, we propose that having one or few spaces populated with interactive elements (such as actors and objects) supports children's cognitive understanding and learning through real-time interaction, rather than focusing on memory and spatial skills;

2) Contextual interactive content allows players to communicate by means of short questions and answers. To engage children in the interrogative process, our systems prompt content for children to interact with using simple dialogue. The systems raise contextappropriate questions and show supportive information to both arouse children's interests and further assist them in thinking logically to achieve a task.

3) Simple flexible inputs allow freedom of exploration on the content level. Real-time reactions to a wide array of inputs create a supportive environment for exploration. For example, multisequential opportunities for interaction and suggesting a variety of commands encourage exploration by the user. In our systems, even when the input is out of the boundary of author’s story model, we use commonsense computing or graceful error handling to fill the gap between the authors’ story model and players’ model. Our research aims to make interactive narrative more accessible to young children by supporting learning, creativity and logical development. We provide a brief review of children's cognitive psychology research supporting the proposed design principles. Our principles demonstrate how a children's interactive narrative can allow for creative play and avoid frustration. Furthermore, our interaction design strategy is aimed to reduce memory load and focus on story understanding rather than puzzle solving. By using simple and encouraging discourse through short interactive prompts, electronic fiction can be used to craft delightful and interesting literature for children.

(Source: Authors' abstract for ELO_AI)

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Audun Andreassen