Stories of Stigma and Acceptance

Critical Writing
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

People categorize each other in many avenues of our lives; these categories also play out in our
fictions and games. For example, within role-playing games (RPGs), racial categorization is
often used to trigger reactions when conversing with non-player characters (NPCs). However, in
most such narratives, category membership is determined in a simplistic fashion in which
members are slotted into boxes with no possibility for identities moving between the center or
the margins social groups. These deficiencies are particularly visible when trying to create
expressive stories that can evoke nuanced phenomena such as social stigma. This paper
presents our steps toward enabling interactive narratives more aligned with the social critiques
by writers such as Octavia Butler or Samuel R. Delany than the uncritical play of identity in
many mainstream computer role-playing games.
We implemented the Chimeria1 platform to model social categorization phenomena including
the movement of members within and across social categories [1]. By implementing a system
based on a theoretical framework encompassing sociology [2-4], cognitive science [5, 6], and
computing [7-9], we provide a platform for modeling social group membership with greater
critical awareness.
Here, we focus on two Chimeria-built applications called Chimeria:Gatekeeper and

The Chimeria:Gatekeeper scenario is designed as follows. The player wants to gain access to
the inside of a castle. To do so, it is necessary to convince a guard NPC that she or he can
“pass” as a member an accepted social category. The PC is a “stigmatized” category member
and the guard is an “accepted” category member. The stigmatized category is defined as a race
stereotyped as tall, well-spoken, and wearers of fine clothing. The accepted category is defined
as a race stereotyped as short, plain-spoken, wearers of rough-spun clothing. Player choices
within the conversation shift the NPCs internal model of the PCs membership with respect to the
two categories, bringing the player closer to or further from gaining access. However, rather
than simply encouraging players to “pass” as accepted in order to win, the game narrates the
internal thoughts of the PC to emphasize trade-offs between gaining access and the loss of self
that can occur in trying to pass. Chimeria:Music-Social-Network narrates a similar tale of
movement between social groups, however rather than a fantasy setting, the story takes place
on a social network for music sharing. The system is tied into Facebook, Youtube, and
RoviCorp Services (the All Music Guide engine,) drawing upon real user preferences, musical
clips, and descriptors of musical genres, themes, and mood at runtime.

The narratives above demonstrate ways that Chimeria enables more expressive and socially
nuanced conversations related to social identity in games. We do so seeking to develop more
expressive forms of computational narrative capable of evoking pleasures and pains associated
with social identity and all of its associated illusions.

(Source: Authors Abstract.)

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Record posted by: 
Marius Ulvund