Perceivable Determinism in Social Interaction: Why you might want interactive characters to be more predictable than people. (Part 1)
Interactive characters are now familiar friends; from the earliest text based MUDs through to be able to have a digital spouse in modern video games, we’ve been making 1s and 0s laugh, flirt, adventure, and cry with us as long as we’ve known how.
While today’s bots are not yet passable for humans, modern storytelling through interactive stories and games continue to break ground in how people interact with characters. It turns out we’re not very picky clients; anyone who remembers the 128 pixels displaying a hungry, unhappy tomogatchi can tell you that guilt and anguish are easy to electronically instigate. Our inherent tendency toward anthropomorphism allows us to effortlessly slip into digital drama. In short, Scully, we want to believe.
Storytelling, traditionally a deterministic medium, is most prevalent in interactive experiences as sets of options and results that create a tree-structure, like a choose your own adventure book.
Most of the time a player encounters these branches naturally through action, such as deciding to go to the mall over staying at home, which unlocks a distinct plot-line or content. Interaction with characters is a harder issue, and is usually dealt with as a choice presented to the user.
The critically lauded Mass Effect game by Bioware gives the player dialogue choices. Depending on what the player says, the characters will act differently towards the player and the plot modulates. These choices influence everything from coldly deciding to shoot someone at gunpoint to nervously electing to comfort and kiss a companion in hopes you’ll get to bring them to bed. While the choice system looks kludgy and disruptive at first glance, it becomes second nature and has the bonus of granting the storyteller power to shape the player’s character.
While this might be restricting for the most creative of role players, it allows for a true alternative to the silent protagonist that permits shared cultivation of an identity in an alternate world. Is YOUR character a badass cowboy in the story? The storteller is probably not going to give you a choice to open a cupcake shop.
You just don’t look like the cupcake type, anyway.
(The storyteller is also probably not going to let you woo the heroine by talking about your pog collection. Sorry. They’re cool, really.)
Now that we’ve talked a bit about authors and storytelling, stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll be going in to what users, readers, and players get out of controllable social interactions in stories.