What PhD supervisors are for

I had a great chat with my supervisor on Thursday, after helping out with a Masters seminar. As regular readers may have worked out, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a coherent testable design to test out of my half-formed ideas and lofty ideals.

The problem was trying to think of a cheap way to test some of the theory I’ve come up with. I’d got hung up on trying to think of a way to track visitors round a site and test their reactions to that. Until I solved that I was handwaving the issues of breaking the story into natoms, and balancing the conflicting needs of multiple visits in the same space. Those two problems both felt more within my comfort zone. The problem is that I’m not a technologist, that bit is so far out of my comfort zone that I’d need to enlist (or pay for) one. On top of that, the tech itself isn’t that cheap – getting a wifi network into some of the heritage places I know, with their thick stone walls and sheer scale, isn’t about buying just one wifi router.

I’d mentioned the other problems (particularly in the one of negotiating conflicting needs) in the seminar. (The students had been reading about a variety of museum interpretation experiments for their “homework” and we discussed the common issue that many of the experiments focussed on the issue of a visitor in isolation, and hadn’t thought enough about multiple users in the same space). Afterwards I spent twenty minutes with Graeme, my supervisor, in his office. I felt he’d finally got what I’d been trying to say about a “responsive” environment, and his interest was particularly focused on the two issues I’d handwaved. We talked about low-tech ways or exploring both of those, and of course THAT’S what I should be doing, not worrying about the tech. These are both things I can do (I think!) rather than something I can’t .

So by the end of our chat, when Graeme had to return to his students we’d worked out the rudiments of a simple experiment.

  • What I need is a relatively small heritage site, but the possibility of lots of choices about routes, lots of intersections between spaces. What Hiller calls a low depth configuration (that last link is to a fancy new on-line edition of the book, by the way. It’s worth a read).
  • I need to work with the experts/curators of that site to “break” the stories. Break is a script-writing term, but it feels particularly appropriate when thinking about cutting the stories up into the smallest possible narrative atoms. (Although maybe “natomise” is better!)
  • Then I need to set up the site to simulate some of responsiveness that a more complex system might offer. Concealed Bluetooth speakers for example, or  switches like these that can be controlled by Bluetooth.
  • Finally, rather than try and create the digital system that tracks visitors and serves them ephemeral natoms, I can do a limited experiment with two or more humans following visitors around and remotely throwing the switches that might light particular areas of the room, play sounds or what ever other interventions we can come up with. The humans take the place of the server, and when they come together, negotiate which of their visitors gets the priority. Graeme suggested a system of tokens that the human followers could show each other – but the beauty of this concept is that the methods of negotiating could become part of the results of the experiment! The key thing is to explain to the participants that the person following them around isn’t giving them a guided tour, they can ask questions of him/her, but s/he isn’t going to lead their experience.

So, now I have a a thing that it is possible to do, with minimal help and with a minimal budget. And its a thing that I can clearly see has aims that come of the research I’ve done, and results that inform platonic ideal responsive environment I have in my head. If it works, it will hopefully inspire someone else to think about automating it.

That’s what supervisors are for!


Cultural Agents

I’ve been reading Eric Champion’s Critical Gaming: Interactive history and virtual heritage. Eric asked his publishers to send me a review copy, but none was forthcoming, and I can’t wait for the library to get hold of a copy – I think I was to quote it in a paper I’m proposing –  so I splashed out on the Kindle edition. I think of it as a late birthday present to myself, and I’m not disappointed.

One thing that has struck me so far is a little thing (its a word Champion uses only three times) but it seems so useful I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely, especially in the heritage interpretation context. That word is “multimodality”. As Wikipedia says (today at least) “Multimodality describes communication practices in terms of the textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual resources – or modes – used to compose messages.” But its not just about multimedia, “mode” involves social and cultural making of meaning as well. Champion says:

Multimodality can help to provide multiple narratives and different types of evidence. Narrative fragments can be threaded and buried through an environment, coaxing people to explore, reflect and integrate their personal exploration into what they have uncovered.

Which is surely what all curated cultural heritage spaces are trying to achieve, isn’t it? (Some with more success than others, I’ll admit.) Champion is referring to the multimodality of games and virtual environments, but it strikes me that museums and heritage sites are inherently multi-modal.

It sent me off looking for specific references to multimodality in museums and heritage sites, and indeed, I found a few, this working paper for example, and this blog, but there are not many.

But I digress. I’ve started Eric’s book with Chapter 8 (all the best readers start in the middle) Intelligent Agents, Drama and Cinematic Narrative, in which he examines various pre-digital theories of drama (Aristotle’s Poetics, Propp’s Formalism (with a nod in the direction of Bartle and Yee) and Campbell’s monomyth), before crunching the gears to explore decidedly-digital intelligent agents as dramatic characters. Along the way, he touches upon “storyspaces” – the virtual worlds of games which are by necessity incomplete, yet create an illusion of completeness.

His argument is that there is a need for what he calls “Cultural Agents” representing, recognising, adding to, or transmitting cultural behaviours. Such agents would be programmed to demonstrate the “correct cultural behaviors given specific event or situations” and recognise correct (and incorrect!) cultural behaviours. For example, I’m imagining here characters in an Elizabethan game that greet you or other agents in the game with a bow of the correct depth for each other’s relative ranks, and admonishes you if (in a virtual reality sim) you don’t bow low enough when the Queen walks by.

Which leads on to what he calls the “Cultural Turing Test […] in order to satisfy the NPCs [non-player characters] that the players is a ‘local’, the player has to satisfy questions and perform like the actual local characters (the scripted NPCs). Hence, the player has to observe and mimic these artificial agents for fear of being discovered.” (As he points out, this is in fact a reversal of the Turing test.)

Then he shifts gear again to look at Machinema (the creation of short films using game engines, which I learned about back in Rochester) as a method for users to reflect on their experience in-game, and edit it into an interpretation of the culture the game was designed to explore. Its a worthy suggestion, and could be excellent practice in formal learning, but I fear it undermines the game-play itself, if it becomes a requirement of the player to edit their virtual experiences before comprehending them as a coherent narrative.

Also in all though, I can already see that the book will be an enjoyable and rewarding read.


Creating a design document: part 2

More time than I’d like has passed since I started creating my design document. In my last post on the subject, I described how a recital I’d seen could be broken down into “Natoms” or Narrative Atoms. The recital itself was constructed to create a story by putting these natoms into an emotionally engaging order.

Now imagine that we want to use the same research to create an exhibition in a museum, or tell a similar story to people visiting a country house.  Last time I introduced the idea that the natoms could be all sorts of different media: “documents (which could be original or images); portraits (ditto); text (spoken in this case, but it could be printed); sound (live music in this case, but it could be recordings); and even original instruments.” This list can be divided into two types: physical media – objects, and maybe in an historic environment (rather than a museum gallery) the spaces themselves; and, “ephemeral” media – video, audio, text etc, which can be delivered to the access points on demand. I use the word ephemeral because the physical stuff is by definition in a located in a particular place and (generally) doesn’t move around. By the other media can be delivered to visitors wherever the visitors are. A fundamental difference between this concept and traditional interpretation design, is that text panels cease to be permanent objects in the gallery, letting the collection take pride of place. But the ephemeral stuff is not necessarily less important than the physical stuff, as Cohen and Shires pointed out, the only thing that distinguishes kernels from satellites is that the kernals have come in a certain order.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

In the diagram (above) I’ve separated out the physical natoms (spaces and objects) from the ephemeral ones (indicated by the cloud box), but I think I may have been mistaken by making all the kernels ephemeral natoms. There could well be “wow” objects, that curators place at the very start of an exhibition, to make sure that everyone sees it at they enter. This would obviously be  the first Kernel, and maybe a should redo the diagram to show that possibility. Alternatively, curators can put a wow object at the end of an exhibition, for example at the brilliant Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum,  but in fact this is more difficult to do in many free-flow historical environments, so maybe I won’t show that case in the diagram (or maybe I’ll create different diagrams for different curatorial audiences).

What I’m trying to show in the diagram is that there is at least one ephemeral natom for each physical one, for example a catalogue entry, but there may be more – maybe a recording of music being played on an instrument on display, for example. That piece of music may have a specific place in the narrative, making it a kernal. Giving a very simple, broad-brush example, it may in be a minor key, a “sad song” if you will, and works very well in the narrative when we’d like the audience to reflect on the death of protagonist. The object itself may, or may not have a specific place in the narrative. Lets assume it doesn’t.

Now imagine our visitor wonders over to look at the object. The system knows what natoms have been delivered to the visitor at this point, and has a choice: it can let the instrument stand on its own, as a thing of beauty, remember, it is in itself a natom; or it can measure the time the visitor pauses by the object, which indicates a particular interested in it, and deliver (via an e-ink panel say) the catalogue entry; OR it can note that the visitor has recently been told about the death of the protagonist, and so the plays the “sad song”, which, for another visitor who has not yet heard the death story, it holds in reserve until later in the experience.

This isn’t meant to remove all control from the the visitor, who may well have the ability to trigger the music (or another piece) even if the system chooses not to deliver it until later. Indeed, if the visitor goes around triggering every bit of music, a sophisticated version of this system should be able to background the social story, in favour of a more musicological one. Rather, its an acknowledgement that the visitor already takes control of the experience by moving around the spaces, and offers a more flexible way for the curator to tell an emotionally engaging narrative by defining the kernels of the story.

Does that make sense?

Lauren Child at Mottisfont

Last week, I took my family to the opening night of The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends. It’s the first time this author/illustrator, who stormed to the top of the picture book charts while my first child was in her infancy, has shared the original artwork behind her creations. Most of the pieces are from  her collection – she doesn’t sell her originals artwork. She is so established in the psyche of the modern child, what with Charlie and Lola on the TV and her books owned by children of every age (and quite a few adults), that its hard to believe she only published her first book (about Clarice Bean) seventeen years ago. The collection on display shows the variety of techniques she uses to create her illustrations, and hints at the iteration that each page goes through before it is committed to print.

Now, obviously You might want to see an example of Child’s work illustrating this post. But you are not going to get that. Instead you are going to get a picture of a label. These are brilliant labels. How brilliant? Well my ten year old isn’t as much of fan of Lauren Child as his sister or his Mum. He didn’t really want to be there. But half-way round the gallery, he told his Mum how interesting the labels were. And he was right. My extremely creative colleague, Louise, who curated the exhibition, carefully chose as much as she could of Child’s own writing about her work. And Child, being an author of children’s books, writes very engagingly, and accessibly for children.

 These labels are informative, funny, easy to read but never patronising, and I don’t think I’ve voluntarily read such a high proportion of labels in any other exhibition. Together they give readers insights into technique, biography, and the stories behind the stories.

Child also contributed some new captions for the gaps in the story the Louise was trying to tell. Given that my last couple of posts have been about the layout of exhibitions, its worth complimenting Louise and her colleagues on that as well. They deal with the historical Y shaped gallery layout very well, broadly following a chronological track: the first room deals with Child’s first published works – Clarice Bean. Charlie and Lola come next, with more more recent works divided between traditional two dimensional illustration (mostly from Who wants to be a Poodle? I don’t) and three-dimensional media work, including some of the sets and photos from her version of The Princess and the Pea

And the original glass of Pink Milk!

All in all a MUST SEE. Click on the link at the top for details. 


Whose history?

New Museum Theory and Practice, published in 2006, is more theory (and by that I mean Theory, in an academic sense) than practice, and so not really what I’m looking for to fill the gaps in my literature review. But one piece in particular struck a chord. Eric Gable wrote a chapter entitled How we Study History Museums: Or Cultural Studies at Monticello. It sells itself as an ethnography, studying the social culture in and around the historic home of Thomas Jefferson, and a time when it was in transition from telling a story that was exclusively about Jefferson as author of the Declaration of Independence, to a more inclusive story telling that spoke of a working, slave-owning estate and (in particular) Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings, a mulatto slave.

The piece speaks of the conflict between museums’ implicit role as creators and communicators of state ideology, and the new (though not so new, now) “bottom up” history. A lot of what I read resonates with my experiences in the National Trust.

But it was the very last sentence that really hit home, because it reflects the current arguments and discussion around the Confederate Flag after the white supremacist attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

As a result Monticello, perhaps because of its desire for consensus, ends up producing two parallel landscapes that together add up to the terrain of modern democracy: a visible landscape of shared knowledge without controversy or conflict, and an invisible landscape of suspicion, mistrust and paranoia.

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary

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I spent Monday at Runnymede, on the 800th Anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta on that meadow. (Though personally, I like to think that it took place just the other side of the river in the Priory that used to sit beside the Ankerwick Yew.) Four thousand people came to celebrate the anniversary, including the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of course the Queen (for one moment I was this far away from her!). I was there as part of the army of volunteers who helped run the event.

My role was part of the team of interpreters there to introduce people to the new artwork which has been commissioned by Surrey County Council and the National Trust to mark the anniversary. There’s a lot more about the piece, called The Jurors, at the end of this link. Its a great piece, by Hew Locke – twelve bronze chairs in the middle of the meadow. It proved a big hit with the crowds, who lost no time in sitting down on the chairs, and making connections between the stories the chairs told and their own lives.

Each chair is decorated with two reliefs, and I’ve chosen just a few of my favourites for the slideshow at the top of the post. Most of these photos were taken a few days before the event, when we volunteer interpreters got our first look at the piece, and they were taken more as a reminder as I revised some of the stories each relief reveals, so forgive the less than artistic photographs. There’s  a lot more details on the stories in the link above, as well as a personal audio guided tour from Hew himself, and, from that site, this is a great YouTube video of how Hew was inspired by the site and how it was made:

Everybody loved The Jurors, and I’ve heard reports from the team at Runnymede that it has attracted little crowds every day since the event. In fact they’ve asked us interpreters to return on a few predicated busy days to help interpret the piece. I think I might, once I’ve checked my diary. It was such a pleasure to work with.

Finally let me close with my picture of the Red Arrows flypast. I only took it on my phone, so its not a brilliant image of the Arrows themselves, but there’s something about the sky that I like.

Stories and places – Highgate Cemetery and Dick Wittington’s cat

Yesterday, a few colleagues and I joined a guided tour of Highgate Cemetery. The oldest, Western, half of the plot is only accessible by guided tour (unless you are visiting a dead relative,  or attending a funeral, or, I guess, you are actually dead and being interred.

It rained persistently for the walk up from Archway tube station and through Waterlow Park (where there is a lovely little cafe in what looks like an old Assembly Rooms building, suggesting a previous life for Waterlow as a nineteenth century Pleasure Grounds). It continued to rain throughout the tour, which soaked us all through (finally defeating both my waxed cotton hat and my Driz-a-bone) but only added to the Atmosphere of the place.

Atmosphere is something that the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust carefully nutures, repairing and restoring only a few crypts, and keeping the weeds and wild garlic back only just enough to clear the paths, balancing conservation and, as they put it, “romantic decay.”

The tour itself was given by an enthusiastic volunteer, who only let the rain get to him by the very end of the route. It was an anecdotal tour with a route that, after explaining the origins  of the cemetery, took us past bomb sites and graves old and new, explaining a little bit about some of  the families that had bought the spaces. I hadn’t realized that the cemetery was still accepting new “tenants” until I spotted Alexander Litvinyenko’s grave nearby. The guide also explained some of the symbolism of Victorian funerary, pointing out Egyptian lotus flowers, angels holding trumpets and wreaths (the latter apparently adapted from the ancient Greek winged victory, Nike), upturned torches and Ouroboros. Towards the end, he took us into the Terrace crypt, where coffins with ostentatious furniture still occupied some of the niches.

I think this experience was meant to be the emotional climax of the tour, but it was somewhat underlined by a slightly irritable rush back down the hill, past the very first grave to be dug on the site, with a guide who was, by this time, mostly muttering about a dawdling “American photographer.”

I left feeling somewhat frustrated by imagining what the tour might have been, with all those stories, symbols and revelations to play with. I’m sure I could have paced the tour better, taking a group like ours on a journey that could really have connected us with the place.

In fact, I think I had a better “guided tour” experience when we went across to road to visit the slightly newer Eastern half of the cemetery. Here we had a quick look at Karl Marx’s grave before my colleague Sam offered, with a glint in her eye, to take us to Patrick Caulfield’s grave. This her micro-short “my favourite graves” tour ended with a better climax (or in this case, maybe punchline is more appropiate) than the hour we’d spent with the official guide.


On our way back down the hill, we stopped by the statue of Dock Wittington’s cat. A little plaque prompted us to use NFC equipped phones, a QR code, or (thankfully!) a simple sort web address to type in, to hear the cat tell her tale. Thank fully the content behind the link was worth listening too, unlike on the south downs, and responsive, in 4G equipped London. It’s one of a number of Talking Statues dotted around London and other cities. You don’t have to download an app in advance, its nothing more complex than a website, and its free.

At a little over three minutes, its overlong (at least on a rainy Thursday) but at one magical moment, it encourages you to turn around and look (as Wittington himself said he had done) down across London from this vantage point, connecting the listener emotionally with the place and the story.

Job done.

Plot, Character and Genre

I am across an interesting article the other day which, I fear, has little to do with my thesis, but I was captivated and intrigued by it. It recorded and experiment exploring storytelling genres, run by sociologists.

So, why are sociologists looking at story? Well, I’ll let them explain:

Preachers, advertising executives and politicians have long attested to the power of a good story to change people’s minds. Communication scholars recently have shown why. People cognitively process stories differently than they process other kinds of messages… people process stories by immersing themselves in the story, striving to experience vicariously the events and emotions that the protagonists do.

I can’t argue with that, its one of the reasons why story is such a powerful interpretive tool, when done well.The authors (Francesca Polletta, Monica Trigoso, Britni Adams and Amanda Ebner) argue that the reader’s interpretation of a story will change depending on the ideology dominant at the time the story is being read.

Two hundred years ago, a story about a woman whose quiet forbearance allowed her to suffer the indignities of poverty, abuse and injustice without complaint might have been heard as a story of heroism. Today, ‘Patient Griselda’ is likely to be interpreted as a story of abject and pathetic victimhood. This suggests that stories are interpreted in terms of contemporary beliefs.

But they also argue that readers also bring their understanding of the genre into their interpretation of the narrative.

It suggests that we can hear stories in line, not with contemporary ideological beliefs, but with expectations that are intrinsic to the genre.

Thus, as readers, when we’ve twigged what sort of genre the story, we expect the characters to behave in certain ways.

In particular, the moral evaluation that audiences make of the story’s main characters will depend less on characters’‘objective’ behavior than on audiences’ genre-based expectations. Audiences will fill in missing causal links in the story in line with what usually happens in stories of this genre. For example, in a tragic story, the main character’s assertiveness may be blamed for her downfall. The same assertiveness will be appreciated and endorsed when it appears in a heroic story. Indeed, that assertiveness may be cited by audiences as the reason for liking or identifying with the character.

Dealing with the sensitive issue of acquaintance or “date”-rape, and narratives intended to encourage victims to report incidents, the authors were interested in whether genre would trump dominant ideology or vice versa:

Books, articles and other materials that are aimed at preventing rape, encouraging women to report their rape and helping victims to recover from their rape routinely include victims’ stories of their experiences. But do these stories do what they are supposed to do?

Their analysis of stories used in existing rape counselling literature, showed two genres being used. The first is “gothic” stories, “in which an innocent woman is destroyed by an evil man”, which they say is often criticized by feminists because victims struggle to identify with the woman in the story. The alternative that has appeared in response is what the authors call a “classic tragedy” in which “the protagonist is in a sense responsible for his or her fate.”

In their experiment, they presented the same plot  in four different genres, tragic and gothic, as per the existing counselling literature, and two alternatives: “heroic” and “rebirth.” Then, in a series of both closed and open questions and also in focus groups, asked readers “how they judged the protagonist of the story; whether and why they identified with the protagonist of the story and whether and why they could imagine being friends with her; whether they believed that the story was credible; and, what they would do after they left the rapist’s room if they were the woman in the story.”

I won’t do into depth on their results here, but this quote summarizes the dilemma they uncovered:

Tell a story of a young woman who is sheltered, shy and insecure – unlike the tragic protagonist, blameless – and an audience of college women will like the woman in the story and identify with her but will find it hard to imagine her reporting her rape. Tell a story of a woman who is confident and assertive and the audience will imagine her reporting her rape to police but will not identify with or like her. As researchers have shown that identifying with characters is essential to stories’ achieving their behavioral effects, this presents a real problem.

So their are no easy answers, and not much learning for me, in my research, but I was intrigued by their approach.


A couple of weeks back, I read about “the rise of emotional agents” in the Guardian. One of the games mentioned was Blood and Laurels, a work of interactive fiction (or if you like) a text-based adventure set in ancient Rome. Which seems appropriate as the Portus Project MOOC is running again. That’s said, I’m not convinced its a Rome historians will recognise, the Emperor is “Princeps” which is a pretty generic term, and his predecessor is a fellow called Corretius. Princeps is I think meant to be Nero, which would make Corretius, Claudius. I think I understand reason for the changes – this way, you won’t be tempted to think the the outcome of the interactive fiction is pre-determined by actual history.

I’ve played it through a couple of times now. The first time, as I would any adventure, putting myself into the role and turning out to be a slightly cowardly poet, who just wants everyone to be his friend and not to kill him. Turns out I’m not the only one. I’ve just finished a second playthrough, wherein I tried to be more brash, braver, and a bit of flirt. I should stick to what I know, because this time the story ended prematurely with my character scared in bed. Not quite the satisfying ending of the previous attempt, in which I became Emperor. I’ll try again, and this time, try to make enemies and see how long I survive.

It’s something more than a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA). For a start it isn’t as location based as many such stories. The interaction is less based on where you choose to go than on how you choose to interact with other characters.  It’s based on the Versu engine, which is an engine to model social interactions, in interactive fiction. It defines not just what characters (agents) can do, but what they should do, in particular social situations. (Versu’s designer Richard Evans, who worked on The Sims, describes being inspired partly by a situation in The Sims when a Sim invited his boss to dinner, but after letting the boss in, went off to have a bath.)

There’s a lot to read on the Versu site, including this paper, which is the clearest description of how the whole thing works. I’m wondering whether this or possibly Inform 7, from another member of the Versu team, might have an application in cultural heritage sites.


Kernels and Satellites

Last week I reminded myself that I hadn’t sought out Cohen and Shires’ Telling Stories: A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction, which had been referenced in an article on game narrative. It was low down my list of priorities, mainly because it was written in 1988 – which feels like ancient history in citation terms. That shows in chapter one, where defining “narrative” as recounting “a story, a series of events in a temporal sequence,” the authors explain that:

our culture depends upon numerous types of narrative: novels, short stories, films, television shows myths, anecdotes, songs, music videos, comics, paintings, advertisements, essays, biographies, and news accounts.

Games aren’t mentioned, and I guess that’s no surprise, given that in 1988 computer games were still a relatively youthful medium, and the audience for games were relatively youthful too. The investment of Hollywood amounts of money in game narratives was still a twinkle in programmers eyes. If they looked at games at all back then, the authors might well have consciously excluded them from their analysis, because, the central premise of their book is “the events making up a story are only available to us through telling”, which might (arguably) exclude the procedurally generated narratives that most games provide.

But one of their ideas does have some relevance to game narratives. The article I looked at last week made reference to this passage (page 54):

From the vantage point of a completed sequence, events function either as kernels or as satellites. Kernel events raise possibilities of succeeding or alternative events – what we can call, taking the term rather literally, “eventuality.” They initiate, increase, or conclude an uncertainty, so they advance or outline a sequence of transformations. Satellite events, on the other hand, amplify or fill in the outline of a sequence by maintaining, retarding, or prolonging the kernel events they accompany or surround.

In game narrative terms this is a neat summary of how games work as a storytelling medium. In more scripted games such as Red Dead Redemption, the sequence of Kernals is quite rigid, and the satellites are optional or even (in the case of games like Skyrim) procedurally generated. I remember nearing the end of RDR: I’d helped John Marston, the character the game had been following, to track down and (mostly) kill his old buddies from the gang he had run with, and confront his old boss, who throw himself off a mountain. Marston had been given back his farm, and wife and child, and the game challenges had become less about death and destruction, and more about production and family life – rounding up cattle and and the like. Then a blicking icon had appeared on the game map, telling me that I was ready to play the nest kernel event.

I didn’t want to, I knew the game was nearing the end, and having discovered Marston’s life story, I knew it wouldn’t end well. I wanted to prolong the rural idyll of farming, hearth and home. So I found satellite quests to prolong the current kernel. I became obsessed with beaver hunting, promising myself I wouldn’t play on to the next kernal event until I’d found the five beaverskins a crazy glider pilot Marston had met in Mexico needed for his glue. I spent days and days hunting beaver. It became a running joke with my wife.

But after shooting the first two, it seemed the beavers had gone into hiding. There was beaver drought, it seemed, by every river in the gameworld – and yes I did try every one. So with a heavy heart, I turned John Marston back towards his fate. Damn, was I emotionally engaged.

But even in purely procedural games, the idea of kernels and satellites works. As Tynan Sylvester points out, in a game like The Sims, the narrative is reliant on the interpretation of the player:

This story was co-authored between the player and the game. The game simulated some simple event (attraction between redhead and roommate), and the player ascribed meaning to it (jealousy and frustration) the same way he might have for the Michotte balls, even though that emotion was not actually in the simulation. The next part of the story was cued by him when he orchestrated the murder. The game simulated the logistics of firey deaths, but the sense of sorrow and revenge was, again, ascribed completely by the player. Most of this story is apophenia – present of the Player Model, absent from the Game Model.

While not talking about games, Cohen and Shires manage to predict how the random calculations of a procedural game can become an emotionally engaging story:

While kernels may appear to function as primary events and satellites as secondary ones, satellites are as important as kernels to a story sequence. Furthermore, an event’s status as a kernel or satellite depends entirely upon a particular sequence and not on the event itself, which does not possess the ability to advance or amplify a transformation on its own. An event acquires its kernel or satellite function for a given sequence through its placement in the sequence, because the sequence is what sets the events in relation to each other.

I like to play Civilization, which is an example of unscripted, procedural game. Some games are more satisfying than others, when the random generation of events becomes, in my mind, the thrilling story a plucky little nation that could. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to manage my nascent state “events, dear boy, events” conspire to make the game boring – but the advantage of procedural games is that if its boring, you can start again. Well designed procedural games are the ones that keep you restarting because of the all the great narratives you’ve discovered on previous plays. Ones that are consistently boring don’t get restarted, they get turned off.

The challenge for cultural heritage sites is that they can’t be restarted, so a purely procedural approach of interactive narrative would not be constructive. Some degree of scripting – the selection and ordering of narrative kernals is required.