Phd defence Jeroen Linssen

meta matters in interactive storytelling and serious gaming (a play on worlds) 

In this dissertation, I investigate the use of storytelling techniques in the domains of interactive storytelling and serious gaming. The field of interactive storytelling attempts to create and analyse systems that allow users to influence the plots of stories. Serious games provide experiences not solely for entertainment; in this dissertation, I investigate serious games with educational purposes. In both domains, I inspect how both human users and virtual agents (artificial, autonomous entities) can perceive stories.

My main thesis is that the meta matters when interacting with interactive storytelling systems and serious games. All stories and games take place in virtual worlds embedded within the real world. Events and perceptions in the real world influence people's behaviour in the virtual world and vice versa. My research revolves around the use of such meta-information to improve experiences with interactive storytelling systems and serious games.

I first investigated how the meta matters to interactive storytelling systems by analysing interactions between pairs of children and the Interactive Storyteller. We created an annotation scheme to annotate the types of communication used by the children and showed that children actively go meta to reason about their plans and discuss their experience. Secondly, I investigated how the virtual agents of the Virtual Storyteller can improve the generation of stories by going meta to seek out conflicts amongst each other.

For the field of serious games, I researched how virtual agents can support learning objectives of LOITER, a serious game aimed at improving people’s social awareness. To bring about this understanding in players, I designed in-game feedback mechanics that give insight into the thoughts of the virtual juveniles: thought bubbles and flashbacks. These mechanics allow players to briefly go meta while they are playing the game to reflect and learn from their interaction. Secondly, I designed mechanics that allow the virtual agents to make use of meta-information to adapt the game's difficulty to a player’s competence. The virtual agents become less cooperative the more experienced a player is. To maintain coherency of the agents’ behaviour, they give motivations for their behaviour through thought bubbles and flashbacks.