Tickling Rats

At the stage reached by the age of three, and after ages four, five and six, play will be necessary. These are games which nature herself suggests at that age; children readily invent these for themselves when  left in one another’s company.

Plato, The Laws VII, 794

When you tickle a rat, it makes 50-kHz ultrasonic sounds or “chirps”. We know this because scientist Jaak Panksepp has tickled a lot of rats. Panksepp is a neurobiologist who, with psychotherapist Lucy Biven, wrote my holiday reading, The Archaeology of Mind. Panksepp doesn’t just tickle rats for fun. He is engaged in serious research. He noticed that rats make the same 50-kHz noise when they play among themselves, especially when that play is characterised by “pins” (think wrestling-style pins) and dorsal contact – the rough-and-tumble play that Panskepp is careful not to call play-fighting. (He is concerned that people misinterpret play as a form of aggression, and that parents may be causing developmental harm when they discourage the more boisterous forms of rough -and-tumble play.) That said, even rats’ rough-and-tumble play can sometimes turn into fighting. When rats actually fight, they make a lower 22-kHz ultrasonic sound and “when this happens, playful signs-the frantic hopping, darting and pouncing – immediately stop.”

So, after two years of observation (and tickling) the team proved that the 50-kHz ultrasonic chirps are rat laughter, and the 22-kHz sounds are “complaints.” His thesis is that all mammals share seven instinctive emotions, even if different species’ higher brain  functions can be very different. He labels the seven core emotions thus:

  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST
  • CARE
  • PLAY

“It is hard to define play,” he says “but you know it when you see it. Perhaps the best general definition has recently (2005) been suggested by Gordon Burghardt, consisting of five criteria:

  1. The adaptive functions of play are not fully evident at the time play occurs;
  2. play is a spontaneous activity, done for its own sake, because it is fun (pleasurable);
  3. play is an exaggerated and incomplete form of adult activities;
  4. play exhibits many repetitive activities, done with abundant variations, unlike serious behaviors that are not as flexible; and
  5. animals must be well fed, comfortable, and healthy for play or occur, and all stressors reduce play.”

Panksepp illustrates this last point with a personal anecdote “if a laboratory researcher has a pet cat at home and he is not careful to change his clothes before going to work, we will have a difficult time studying the play of rats because the odor of cats intrinsically scares rats, and fearful rats simply do not play.”

But why do we and other mammals share this instinctive play emotion? Well, as he says in his TED talk (below) science doesn’t answer the question why, it only answers “how.” But he does have some ideas about how play helps “the young to learn nonsocial physical skills like hunting, foraging and so on. It is also surely important for acquiring many social capacities, especially nascent aggressive, courting, sexual and in some species competitive and perhaps even parenting skills. It may be an essential force for the construction of the many higher functions of our social brains. Playful activities may help young animals learn to identify individuals with whom they can develop cooperative relationships and know who to avoid […] In short, the brain’s PLAY networks may help stitch individuals into the stratified social fabric that will be the staging ground for their lives.”

Though he doesn’t spend much ink on the higher brain function aspects of adult, human, play (games, sports etc) he does draw a comparison between the rough-and-tumble play he studies and the teasing repartee or word-play that can be observed in older humans.

All in all its been a very satisfying read, and I want to read more, especially his chapter on learning and memory. But for this post I’ll leave you with his TED talk which is an effective summary his 50 year career, and benefits it may be producing in the treatment of depression.

Ambient lenses

Struggling with writing up my literature review, I turn to some of the theses I have on file, to see how they have structured theirs. And of course I’m sucked into reading some part of the actual thesis, because something captures my attention. The thing that’s caught my eye this time comes from Mark Eyles‘, who I wrote about … (yikes!) just over two years ago, just before his thesis was released upon the world.

In an effort to distinguish “ambient” from merely “pervasive” Eyles describes six “lenses” (from Schell, J. (2008). The Art of Game Design) that help define what ambient means, in game terms.

  1. Persistent gameplay – Eyles cites MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, as examples of games where things carry on happening even while you aren’t interacting with them.
  2. As an extension of the above,  player initiated game actions occur away from the player’s attention, for example, in Civilization, there are agents at work within cites, producing food and researching technology, but the play has the option of leaving them to get on with it, or zooming down to city scale to direct the work themselves.
  3. Gameplay events occurring simultaneously at different locations within the game world – Eyles says: “In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim there are many ambient background tasks occurring, hidden from the player; skills are increasing, experience points are being won and so on. However, although the world in Skyrim is large, complex and rich it is not functionally ambient, only aesthetically ambient. Events are only occurring in the immediate vicinity of the player, triggered by the player’s presence and the missions the player has started.”
  4. Modelessness (that’s Mode-less-ness) – players have the option to ignore game mechanics. The example Eyles gives is Skyrim again, wherein players don’t level-up automatically, they are told they that can level up, but can choose to ignore it until they are ready. He explains that this sort of philiosphy makes a “range of levels of engagement” available to the player.
  5. Automation – for example, in Civilization you can order an agent to, say, build roads and it will continue to build roads while you are concentrating on something else.
  6. Abstract representation – using another example from Civilization Eyles describes how icons hide deeper levels of complexity “This method of using abstract representation of systems and events not only supports complexity but can also facilitate ambiguity, since players may incorrectly interpret symbols and their implications.”

He only talks about four of these when I met him a couple of years ago, but as my own thoughts have developed away from simply locatative game mechanics and more towards a responsive environment, I only be come more convinced that these lenses (and maybe others like them) might also help me define exactly what I meant by “responsive environment.”

PS Maybe this little thought-journey has helped me with my literature review after all – I’m thinking about breaking it down thus (working titles for all these sections): Digital Storytelling; Interpretive Technologies; Narrative Structure; and, Personalisation. I’ll sleep on that and have another proper crack at it tomorrow.

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.

The Invisible Hand Revealed!

Back in the days of yore (last year) I attended a workshop run by the digital art collective, Blast Theory. This week they released their report, which fills in all the gaps from my two posts worth of notes taken at the event. Seriously, they took better notes that I did – the document even reminds me of stuff I said. (Playing devils advocate, I’d asked why profiling should be considered a bad thing, if it meant people get better service from corporations – and I get the sort of jeans that make me look good. And its all in the report, though some of the typos suggest they used some sort of on-line transcription service.)

Of course, over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been further developing the responsive interpretation experiment I’d like to do, I’ve realized that it is in its own small way, all about visitor profiling. And surveillance of course. When the National Trust were thinking of funding the experiment, I was considering trying it out at Grey’s Court, which as the childhood home of Ian Fleming, seems particularly appropriate for exploring the the idea of spying. I hadn’t got so far then as to explore what the story might be, but as I’ve developed the idea for other funding proposals I’ve thought more and more about making the surveillance aspect of the experiment central to the story too.

Part of the reason I want to run the experiment is to test how visitors feel about having their movements around the site monitored. I’ve been thinking how the revelation of that monitoring packs quite an emotional punch, and suggests a story, or at least a “B-plot” around a mystery wherein the players are cast as spies, or spycatchers, investigating the site, and where the final kernel is the revelation that as the watchmen, they are actually the watched. This has been a necessity of trying to create a generic experiment, which can run at any site that the funding requires, but I like the idea of using it to create a James Bond theme at Greys Court, or finding the spy stories in other cultural heritage sites… like Sutton House’s Wolf Hall connections.

The infuriating thing about this search for funding, is the amount I need isn’t actually that much. Well, its more than a little of course, otherwise I’d fund it myself. But at about £14,000 it’s a bit-player in the world of funding. I can scale it up of course, to get closer the sort of money being offered by many funders, but that seems disingenuous in a way.

The Invisible Hand workshop was inspired by Blast Theory’s research for Karen, “the app that psychologically profiles you as you play.” They went to Kickstarter to bring in the last £15k they’d needed. But that was for an already prototyped concept, and they only just hot their target so, what with Kickstarter’s take, the need for rewards for backers, and the reputation which I haven’t got, I don’t think that’s a method I could use…

Versailles 1685

I ran a session for a group of Masters’ students yesterday, part of the 3D Recording, Modelling and Interpretation module. It was a great afternoon, with a really responsive group of students, who ended up planning  a game around the Mayan city state of Tulum.

I talked for about an hour, beforehand. Riffing off Red Dead Redemption (of course) to discuss Tynan Sylvester’s Engines of Emotion, and look in more detail at Game Narratives, finishing of with the idea of Kernels and Satellites.

On the way, I mentioned Versailles 1685, which I suddenly recalled while pulling my notes together. Twenty years ago, at University, one of my final year projects was a proposal for House of Delight, a game exploring the social and sexual mores of late seventeenth century England. It didn’t get anywhere – well, it got me an interview with a video games company, but not a job. So I was very jealous when this game came out, but never got a chance to play it. That said, the company that didn’t give me a job did go bust a short while afterwards, and the interview led (in a round about way) to meeting my wife, so maybe its all good.

Versailles 1685, also known as A Game of Intrigue, was one of the first games commissioned by a museum authority, in this case Reunion des Musees Nationaux, for the purpose of heritage interpretation. Created in 1996, it sold itself with:

  • 25 hours of gameplay, set in history’s most beautiful palace
  • Featuring OMNI 3D that lets you look and move around freely in an entirely 3D environment
  • Over 30 characters modelled in 3D from period portraits, that bring back to life actual historical figures.
  • A stunning recreation of Versaille in 3D just as it was in 1685
  • Over 200 paintings that you can study close up
  • A soundtrack of 40 minutes of Baroque music, true to the period.

Taking the role of Leland, a junior servant of the King, the player
discovers and eventually foils a plot to burn down the Palace. The
narrative gives the player an opportunity to explore a 3D model of what the palace(possibly) looked like in 1685, and an accompanying encyclopedia detailing Louis VIX’s court and collection.

It was pretty well received, and spawned a sequel, and its almost twenty years old. So looking back, I wonder why we’re not inundated with games from heritage organisations, with specific interpretive objectives.

Ludology vs Narratology Revisited

My previous post on the Ludology vs Narratology debate is one of my most visited, and I note that that the term frequently appears in searches that bring people to this site. So, in the spirit of “give the people what they want”, let me offer up this morsel.

I’ve been reading Espen Aarseth’s paper, A Narrative Theory of Games, and he both offers insight into the debate (as, it seems, a pretty early participant), and, more importantly, does a reasonable job of debunking the whole thing. Along the way, he demonstrates a masterclass in academic rhetoric, but you can’t help but feel its personal too.

In reality this is not one, but two debates conflated: one is the design-oriented discussion of the potential and failings of game-based narratives, and another is the discussion of whether games can be said to be stories.

Aarseth points the finger at Henry Jenkins’ Game Design as Narrative Architecture, for setting up the two sides of Ludologists and Narratologists. (Though in that paper, Jenkins appears to point the finger back at Aarseth for coining the word ludology in the first place.) Aarseth argues that pitting one side against the other was “unfortunate, because it obscured the fact that all the so-called “ludologists” were trained in narratology and used narratology in their studies of games.”

Aarseth argues:

The “ludologist” position was not, as has been claimed, “to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play” (Jenkins 2001) but to emphasize the crucial importance of combining the  mechanical and the semiotic aspects and to caution against and criticize the uncritical and unqualified application of terms such as “narrative” and “story” to games. In other words, the ludologists’ critique was a reaction to sloppy scholarship (in which key terms are not defined), one-sided focus and poor theorizing, and not a
ban against the application of narrative theory to games as such

(This next bit, I love)

That this challenge has been mistaken for a ban on the use of narrative theory in game studies is nothing less than amazing, and perhaps goes to show that humanist academics are often less astute readers, scholars and interpreters than their training gives them occasion to presume.

Oh, but what’s this?

Anyone who echoes Jenkins’ misleading nomenclature of “ludologists” vs “narratologists” simply has not read the literature itself.

That’s me well and truly told.

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.

Narrative Structure and Games – Backstory?

I’ve started writing up my literature review. And that has sent me back to the literature itself, to try and make head or tale of the cryptic comments I made to myself when I read it the fist time. Take for example Barry Ip’s two part article in Games and Culture, Narrative Structures in Computer and Video Games. Ip offers, in part one, his own pretty complete literature review of story in games. Indeed I could quote him extensively and move on, except there are some things he said that obviously prickled me. And now I’ve had to re-read him to find our why.

Overall, its the useful summary of game narrative I thought it was. It saves me having to play games for months, with a stopwatch to hand. And looking at it again, I’m reminded of a particular reference to a now out of print and distribution book I was going to check for in the library, but never did*. It needs a bit of updating, mostly by references to Tynan Sylvester’s work, and Terence Lee’s piece on emergent narrative.

But the thing that gets my goat is his use of the term “back story”. I was obviously annoyed this quote:

Backstories are usually presented just before a game begins or seen written on the back of game packaging or in its instruction manual to capture a player’s attention as well as set the scene for the entire game.

Now to my mind, what he is describing is the “blurb”, or at best a prologue that states “what has gone before” and, maybe sets the scene. Whereas I think of backstory as the background created for a fictional character, which isn’t explained at the start of the narrative (where it really becomes part of the narrative) but may be referred to as the narrative progresses. It is complete (if anywhere) only in the author’s head, but the reader (or player) can construct their own understanding of it from the clues peppered throughout the narrative. This was one aspect of Red Dead Redemption that I liked, the player’s avatar had a backstory (and not a very pleasant one) that the player could only piece together during the game. In contrast the player’s avatar in Skyrim has no-backstory – other than he is a captive at the start of the game.

So this time, rather than tap out a barely understandable note to myself, i went to the dictionary to be proved right. The online Oxford dictionary says:”A history or background created for a fictional character in a film or television programme” Aha! I was right! But then it goes on to give an example: “‘a brief prologue detailing our hero’s backstory'” Curses! That’s more like Ip’s definition … And Merriam-Webster agrees with Ip. On the other hand, Wikipedia backs up my understanding (today at least).

Oh! I don’t know, maybe I should just live with it. It seems I’ve spent more time niggling at the word than actually writing – which may of course have been the point.


*Kernels and Satellites from Cohen and Shire’s 1988 Telling stories: A theoretical analysis of narrative fiction

#GoogleGlass for learning: The National Trust experience

A colleague pointed out this post to me, wherein a Google Glass owner tries a visit to Blickling. Of course he was stymied by a lack of a phone signal – which is common across many of our properties, and by a lack of wifi. Putting public wifi into National Trust buildings, to ensure decent connectivity despite thick stone walls in some places (not at Blickling), and then connecting to a network with enough capacity for tens or hundreds of visitors at a time to have responsive access to the web is a challenge for many, or most National Trust places. But it will become more and more urgent as visitors will expect to learn about places in ways that suit them.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Whilst i enjoy the history, the cream tea is an essential part of the experience. Whether you go jam first, layering your cream on top, or cream first (which, just to be clear, is wrong), there’s nothing quite like sitting in a National Trust cafe, fending off the wasps, to let you know that summer is well and truly here.

Blickling Hall

The National Trust is a charity, set up to preserve landscapes and houses of national importance: originally focused on grand, stately homes, now equally likely to preserve the more humble abodes of writers and musicians. As a member, you can enjoy access to hundreds of properties around the UK, assured of a firmly middle class experience and a nice cup of tea at the end of it. I’m a huge fan.

But it was with some trepidation that, having taken delivery of my GoogleGlass a scant four days earlier, i…

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The CHESS Experience

Why haven’t I discovered this before? Last week an email from the Guardian Cultural network pointed me to a headline reading “Tell me a story: augmented reality technology in museums“. Now augmented reality articles are two a penny, but “tell me a story” had me intrigued. So I clicked through, and got very excited reading the stand-first, which said “Storytelling is key to the museum experience, so what do you get when you add tech? Curator-led, non-linear digital tales.”

“Non-linear”?! that’s a phrase very close to my heart, so I’ve spent all morning reading about the CHESS Experience project.

(Well I spent some of my morning thinking “Oh no, that’s what I wanted to do! How come Southampton University isn’t part of that project? Why didn’t I do my PhD at Nottingham? That’s where all the cool kids hang out, apparently.” But having wallowed in a bit a self-pity, I got back to reading.)

CHESS stands for Cultural Heritage Experiences through Socio-personal interactions and Storytelling, which sounds right up my street. And the project summary says “An approach for cultural heritage institutions (e.g. museums) would be to capitalize on the pervasive use of interactive digital content and systems in order to offer experiences that connect to their visitors’ interests, needs, dreams, familiar faces or places; in other words, to the personal narratives they carry with them and, implicitly or explicitly, build when visiting a cultural site.” This is all good stuff.

But actually the reality of the project so far doesn’t seem quite as exciting as I’d hoped. The “personalised” story in A Digital Look at Physical Museum Exhibits: Designing Personalized Stories with Handheld Augmented Reality in Museums, seems rather to be just two presentations of story, one for children (in which, for example, the eyes of the remnant head of a statue of Medusa glow scarily) and one for adults (wherein the possible shape of the whole statue fills in the gaps between the pieces).  A Life of Their Own: Museum Visitor Personas Penetrating the Design Lifecycle of a Mobile Experience, discusses visitors preparing for their visit by completing a short quiz on the museum’s website. When they arrive their mobile device will offer them a stories design for a limited list of “personas.” This isn’t personalisation, but rather profiling, as we discussed at The Invisible Hand. And the abstract for Controlling and Filtering Information Density with Spatial Interaction Techniques via Handheld Augmented Reality describes “displaying seamless information layers by simply moving around a Greek statue or a miniature model of an Ariane-5 space rocket.” This doesn’t seem to be offering the dynamic, on-the-fly adaptive narrative I was hoping for.

But its good stuff, none-the less, and there’s a great looking list of references which I want to explore. There’s also project participant Professor Steve Benford (who does little to disprove the theory that all the cool kids go to Nottingham). He’s a banjo-pickin’ guitar playin’ musician and Professor of Collaborative Computing, who among many, many other things has published a bunch of papers on pervasive games and performance, which I think my Conspiracy 600 colleagues might want to (need to) read.

Steve also provides the soundtrack for this post, which I hope you enjoy.