Archive: January, 2009

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen

[Readings] (01.16.09, 1:44 pm)

Jan Fergus: The Professional Woman Writer

Jane Austen is important because she is not only a woman writer, but a professional writer. The context of being a woman writer was especially different in Austen’s lifetime, but was better than it had been before. There were still numerous setbacks: the legal challenges regarding women and money were numerous, and the culture suggested that if a woman did write, it was as a leisure activity. The image of Austen being a leisure writer is false, but was persistent, and this led to many criticisms. The “leisure writer”, as a stereotype, was someone who wrote without education or learning, passionless, writing to stave off idleness. Austen was passionate about her work and motivated from childhood to see her writing in print.

One reason why the leisure writer image might be so persistent is that the idea of someone who is able to write during leisure time and achieve wild success is an identifiable image. The image is one which readers, especially over the course of time, might appreciate and idealize. This identifiability might be one of the reasons for the fan culture that surrounds her.

Due to the costs and mechanisms of publishing, generally writers needed to write in addition to some other income. However, Austen shrewdly managed to support herself through writing alone, which was very unusual, and is indicative of a significant professionalism.

Rachel M. Brownstein: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Bennett’s line that we live to make fun of our neighbors is complex and reveals Austen’s irony. Mr. Bennett’s viewpoint is one to be condemned, and it seems insufficient in context of the complex social life played out in the novel. However, this perspective is one supported by the world itself, where characters gossip and are very interested in each others’ fortunes. Following along the lines of class and status, others misfortunes are pleasing to hear, because they elevate the listener in a somewhat “moral” sense.

From the perspective of model building and world design, this leads to an interesting challenge. The content of the world is supported by these mechanics, of traditional social roles and narratives. Within the world, there is a model of correct or proper behavior. This behavior is consistent with Mr. Bennett’s view, that individuals act in self interest, and take what opportunities are presented to them. Unhappy marriages are normal, but they are proper, where the marriage serves a social function in the interest of some concerned parties. Thus, to live a happy life, against all odds, the mechanics of proper behavior must be broken. This is equivalent to placing mechanics in a game world that make the game easier, but make the resolution less satisfying. This is much like Mirror’s Edge with guns, and Geneforge with canisters. Using these mechanics both rewards and punishes the player, but in a way to elicit some authorial commentary on their role in life.

The breaking of rules exhibited in Pride and Prejudice is a form of ironic commentary by Austen on the codes of social expectations and values in her world. The form of these texts (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) is that of a “romantic novel with ironic commentary”. This sounds like a great design idea. There is a delicate relationship between common tropes, conventions, and cliches within romance and common life. The texts operate against these, by breaking rules, but ultimately will come back and support them.

There is an interesting perspective on the intimacy of the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy. While much of the world is public, their interaction is personal and intimate, and the efforts made in the novel to drive the characters apart serve to reinforce their intimacy. The course of the book is essentially anti-gothic. The gothic tradition frequently involves the female protagonist visiting a historical and secret space, and finding depth in herself by responding to some terrifying thing found in there. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberly reveals the depth in Darcy’s character hitherto unseen, Elizabeth being a deep character already.

The first two proposals in Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth rejects are similar because they reinforce the thesis described by the first line of the book. They assume that Elizabeth operates according to the social expectations of the world, expecting only to marry well, not concerned with her own identity and happiness.

Brownstein concludes that even for all fo Elizabeth’s iconoclasty, she enjoys in gossip and delighting in the news of her neighbors as well. Elizabeth claims that the moment of persuasion of her own love for Darcy occurred at seeing Pemberly. We are not so different from our neighbors, but where we are different is of crucial importance.

Juliet McMaster: Class

This chapter discusses class differences in Austen’s books. Austen was well poised to observe the interplay of different classes. Her friends and family gave her access to witness different class interactions, and as an unmarried woman, she was “out of the game”, where married women would adopt the class of their husbands. Social class is predominantly a masculine trait, and used to rank men in terms of their social influence. Class was also universally acknowledged and played a visible role in interactions. While the American class system is important, it attempts to be covert.

The first layer of class (that is present in Austen’s writing anyway) has to do with titles, which should ideally be inherited. Ancestry is the foundation upon which the entire class system is built. It arguably the case that the emphasis on ancestry has to do with proximity to royalty. Personal titles (Sir, from a knighthood) are valuable, but less significant because they are not inherited. Women may also be titled, but this again comes from lineage.

Land and money are important, but not nearly as much as a title. Land is the next most significant class indicator after titles. The value of land depends on primarily how long it has been owned, the size and income of the estate come in at a distant second. This is what separates both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennett, though the difference between them is still significant (more so due to the entailment). This fact is noted in Elizabeth’s rebuttal to Lady Catherine, that Darcy is a gentleman and Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter. This is a flattening of the class landscape that Austen seems to approve of.

There is an implied moral status tied to land ownership. Money from investments and business is good, but not nearly so much as land. The professional class comes next, and there is an implied order from the clergy, navy, army, law, and then medicine. Afterward comes trade, and finally the servants and working class. Most of Austen’s characters come from the gentry class and its many strata, though there are a few notable characters of various reputations in the professional class, and a few others in trade. There is an absence of servants and other workers which seems conspicuous by modern standards. Austen is arguably intrigued by the trading classes, and not inherently prejudiced against it.

Austen is suspicious of those interested in social mobility and looking to move up ranks (the Bingley sisters, for example). This is a trait of character which is considered morally reprehensible. These characters are concerned with elevation, and not with manners or conduct. There is an association between morals and class, which is “universally acknowledged” but revealed to be flawed. Characters look to class first as an indication of character, but only thereafter observe actual moral behavior.

Edward Copeland: Money

There is a review of levels of money here. Money is a crucial element to Austen’s world, and this essay gives a review of the various levels of income and what they mean. I won’t review these here, but note that they are on pages 135-137. There is an interesting relation between women and money. Unmarried women had restricted rights in terms of their ability to own land and manage their income, but the situation was worse for married women, who could not legally own property or have legal title to money at all. Furthermore, married women were considered responsible for management of the household, but (because they had no rights) were unable to exercise control over their income and expenditures. When husbands squander money (Wickham, for example) the wife is held responsible for the mess. The fear of financial loss is an important motive for Austen because of her own particular financial situation.

John F. Burrows: Style

The use of free indirect speech sets up an interaction, a dialogue, between the narrative voice and the storyworld. The authorial voice is ironic and encourages readers to keep up their wits and approach the social world in the texts with a critical perspective. Burrows references Bakhtin in his portrayal of the dialogue between these voices.

Claudia L. Johnson: Austen cults and cultures

There is an interesting criticism by Henry James, that Austen was admired by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Austen is extended and adapted in many forms. Interestingly, she is now incorporated into the self definitions of many diverse groups and individuals, often using opposing perspectives. Austen is incorporated by both escapists and realists, iconoclasts and conventionalists, connoisseurs and common readers. This wide adoption makes it difficult to extract the “real” Austen from those who have adopted her.

The author refers to a short story by Kipling, “The Janeites”, which is about a group of WWI soldiers who are Austen fanatics and treat Jane Austen as a way of life. The interesting thing about the story is that the characters are preoccupied with the world, but not the plots. They use the Austen model of the world, casting other characters in terms of the characters known from the books. They use the atemporal narration, and resist the sense of plot which demands forward movement and temporal causality. Austen is considered intrinsic to the classic English cultural identity before the first World War. And was thus an anchor to hold onto by soldiers whose cultural identity was under threat.

The Janeite manner of reading is presented as a practice, a practice of interpretations. This extends the text beyond the textual boundary, into a world defined by events, characters, and shared meanings. Johnson connects to Henry Jenkins, reinforcing that the culture of Jane Austen is a fan culture, but one whose material is popular as well as high.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorEdward Copeland and Juliet McMaster
TitleThe Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
Tagsfan culture, sociology, specials, settings
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Paul Fussell: Class

[Readings] (01.15.09, 10:40 pm)

It is productive to look at class as another dimension of status and social standing. Fussell’s book is on the role of class in America. It is important to add that the book was published in 1983, so the actual class differences have changed. There is also an omission of issues of race and ethnicity which seems oddly conspicuous at this time. Nonetheless, Fussell does pose a key way of understanding how classes work. The argument, which is strongly reminiscent of Goffman, is that class signs are broadcast based on behavior, dress, and other chosen and visible traits. Class thus has less to do with money than with choices. These choices together can cast a legible code of someone’s social standing.

Like Johnstone’s status, class is performed, and it is performed to everybody. Fussell connects this to a cause which seems uniquely American. A democratic society produces a condition (or an illusion) of uniformity of the citizens. Fussell quotes Alexis de Tocqueville who observed that citizens appear the most insignificant in democratic societies. Thus, in order to attain self respect, individuals must achieve social approval. This makes a lot of sense when compared against the idea of dramatic status. This would suggest that American society has a rule where every actor must try to elevate their status with respect to their co-actors. The idea of approval is somewhat different than status, though. Approval suggests that individuals strive to be good enough, not better, than their colleagues. So maybe the rule is to even out status with respect to colleagues.

Class is meaningful from the perspective of media and semiotics. Objects do not have value in merely functional sense, but in the sense that they say something about their owners. This ranges from the gamut of objects consumed, objects worn, and objects kept in the home. Each of these broadcasts the meaning and desires of their owners. This sort of broadcasting can be compared to the broadcasts of functionality by objects in The Sims, but operating at a different level of meaning. The importance of these objects is not between the owner and the object, (although there is some self-reinforcement that takes place), but between the objects and the others who view those objects, and thus make conclusions about the owner. This reinforces the internal leveling effect within classes by encouraging identification and identity formation. A purchaser might buy an object that he identifies with, and others who view that object may identify with, or admire, or disdain those objects, influencing the relationship between the buyer and the other.

What class actually means though is ambiguous. In its various contexts, class can mean social status, political power, and money. All of these are are factors, and they tend to be strongly correlated. Fussell explains that his sense of class more strongly resembles the idea of a “caste”, which implies that class boundaries are rigid. In terms of defining classes, Fussell explains that there are many ways of partitioning society. It is possible to look at classes as a binary, between some general delimiter. There are haves and have-nots, those who entertain versus those who would never do so, those who have desk jobs versus work with their hands, those who can afford to buy a house versus those who can’t, those who have cars versus those who don’t, those who feel guilt at their possessions versus those who think they deserve more. A poignant way of looking at a two-class division is that work may be either safe or dangerous. In the scope of dangerous work, workers are in danger of work related death, illness, or injury, which are unheard of in the other classes.

Fussell devises his own class system into nine categories, which are further divided into three tiers:

  1. Top out-of-sight
  2. Upper
  3. Upper middle
  4. Middle
  5. High proletarian
  6. Mid-proletarian
  7. Low proletarian
  8. Destitute
  9. Bottom out-of-sight

The differences are primarily due to style and behavior rather than money. The differences also include how the classes generally interpret objects, the behavior of others, and other elements of the world. I’ll review each of the classes briefly. Also: I know that some people read these reading summaries, and occasionally think that they reflect my own views. I feel the need to point out that, no, I am only summarizing Fussell’s breakdown, which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it stands. I may not capture his wit in my transcription, though.

The top out-of-sight class is characterized by purely inherited money, and they dwell in locations that cannot be seen. The top out-of-sight class prefers to be distant and invisible, not desiring or needing to flaunt its status. Those whose houses are big and showy, on landscapes designed to impress rather than obscure, belong to the upper or upper-middle. The key differentiation between the upper and middle classes is that the uppers are secure and do not care about the opinions of others. Fussell compares the top out-of-sight with the bottom out-of-sight which are equally elusive from the sociological perspective.

The upper class is distinguishable from the top out-of-sight by a couple of differences: The upper class works for some of its money by doing attractive and “slight” work, such as managing banks, corporations, and the executive branch of the government. They would feel embarrassed without having earned at least some of its wealth. The upper class has ostentatious houses, designed to be visible and evoke respect and awe. Compliments are very much of a faux pas with the upper class, as of course their things are beautiful, expensive, and impressive. Life is leisurely, focusing on activities that are particularly tasteful.

The upper-middle class is different from the upper two by making almost all of its money, and from professional skills or corporate roles. They do have some inheritance, but suffer from a kind of bourgeois shame from owning inherited possessions. Upper-middles will live in houses with more rooms than they need, costly educations, and a desire to communicate and reinforce messages of success. They are interested in reinforcing others impressions of their own tastefulness. Otherwise they are relatively secure and free of anxiety. Upper-middles abide by social codes, even if those codes may be kind of ridiculous, although they still do have some elements of playful frivolities.

The middle class is characterized by its earnestness and insecurity. Money actually has very little to do with it. Rich people may be middle class because they are very worried of what others think of them. The middle class is affected by a perpetual anxiety and insecurity of falling down a rung, and is terrified of being looked down upon. The middle class is prudish and uses embellishments and euphemisms for fear of alluding to lower subjects. Of the others, the middle class is the most self reflective of its own broadcasting and consumption, valuing extroversion and lack of privacy.  Middles thus develop a kind of salesmanship, which is a form of performance oriented towards selling themselves and their message of importance.

Proles are generally workers, and are emphatic about the professionalism of their own jobs. Generally, they are characterized by being in some sort of bondage, due to monetary policy, debt, and few choices. They too suffer from class insecurity, for fear of falling down a rung, but also have a sort of independence that comes from the consuming paranoia of the middle class. Proles feel pride in their work, and are shrewd in exercising freedom. High proles will spend money on things that are showy and big, buying into advertisers’ claims, rather than fussing about the taste of things which is a preoccupation of the middles. Generally proles will buy literally into the messages put out by advertising. Low proles are characterized by having uncertain employment, and are remote and isolated.

The last two classes, the destitute and the bottom out-of-sight, are given very cursory description. Fussell explains that the destitute are those who live on welfare and are socially visible, while the bottom out-of-sight are perpetually institutionalized, elusive, or on the run. I find this simplification to be problematic and unsatisfactory, but Fussell’s emphasis is focused on the upper, middle, and high-prole classes.

Classes may be differentiated according to appearance, which is largely a matter of choice in personal behavior. The key differences in defining classes in dress are materials (synthetic being low and natural being high), with archaic references being indications of the upper classes. Physical weight is also an indicator, the upper classes are not driven to overeating, while in the prole classes both the message of food indicating stability and the messages of advertisers are soundly received. In England, class has traditionally been indicated by height rather than weight, with taller indicating higher class. The legibility of messages on clothes is an important factor. The more legible the messages, the lower the class. Middle classes will wear things that they consider tasteful or “classy”, and thus are legible with the messages of taste and low key branding. Class signs and indicators are thus broadcast.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorFussell, Paul
TitleClass: A Guide Through the American Status System
Tagsspecials, sociology
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon


[General] (01.13.09, 9:16 pm)

In addition to the reading that I’m doing (I need to read on average 5 books/works a week to take my next set of quals by April), there are a few other things on the burner. I want to give a review of these, primarily for keeping track of myself and for my own records.

  1. Finish the conclusion and post the cognition paper.
  2. Finish and post the Pride and Prejudice mechanics analysis.
  3. Revisit the scene analysis from the perspective of symbolic interaction and situation. I did a scene analysis a while back, of one of the arguably more complex and difficult scenes to express procedurally. Revisiting it now, I can see how it would fit in with a situational account of behavior and interaction.
  4. Devise a system to represent situated action within the scope of character simulation. What I really need here is an architecture, but nothing like this has been built before, so I’m flying somewhat blind. I have lots of ideas, and I want to clarify those ideas and I should post the thoughts that I am having as I progress.

Georges Polti: The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

[Readings] (01.13.09, 6:06 pm)

The ostensible problem being addressed by this work is that there are no new plots in drama. The purpose of the work is not to create new plots, but rather expand the categories of what plots there are, and how they are structured and how they work. The content of this book is not actually about plots as whole objects, but rather it classifies a smaller unit, components of plots, which are situations. The situations are classified into these 36 varieties, but also may be subdivided into classes and sub classes. Together they form a dramatic language for looking at works as wholes. Situations may be chained or combined together in plots. An example given in the preface is that Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind uses two situations: Daring Enterprises (#9), and Obstacles to Love (#28). Polti’s work is an analytic model, which can classify existing works into objects that are well defined within the system. Authors can explore these situations and permute them, exploring the possibilities within the system.

It is important to note that Polti is focusing his analysis on drama, and hence dramatic experience, and thus is less relevant to consideration of “pure” simulation. However it is relevant for examining dramatic structures that come from situations.

Polti presents the 36 situations as integral to the human condition, and asserts that they are universal across cultures. He argues that these thirty six situations illustrate that there must be exactly thirty six emotions.

The actual analysis of situations is remarkable. A situation has a name, a list of participants (elements), and some ritual form for how they interact, forming the basic foundation of the situation itself. There can be several methods by which the interactions take place, and these have symbolic value within the situation. These are fascinating because actors can fill in these roles, and it is possible that when multiple situations are present, the actors may switch between them. The classes and subclasses of situations are presented with dramatic and historical examples. Afterwards, Polti gives a somewhat political analysis of the situation, giving more context, and also providing a discussion of how the situation is used and thought of in contemporary times (meaning in 1916).

It does not seem fruitful to provide a list of the situations, as there are a variety of these lists online: Wikipedia, Changing Minds.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorPolti, Georges
TitleThirty-Six Dramatic Situations
Tagsspecials, media traditions, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Keith Johnstone: Impro

[Readings] (01.13.09, 1:45 pm)

Keith Johnstone is important because his theory of improvisation, especially as pertains to status and spontaneity is extremely useful as a model for character behavior and interaction. My primary interest in locating his book was to develop a computational system that reflected his use of status. In Johnstone’s introduction, he gives a review of himself and the history behind his theories, which all derive from education. He explains that he particularly found his education to be stifling and suppressing of spontaneity. Impro is about theatrical improvisation, but may also be considered a much broader approach to education.

It is useful to compare spontaneous theatrical performance with educational learning. Performance may be used to describe learning and technical proficiency, and that is normally a very different concept. However, to Johnstone, the two can share a common approach. The reason why both are difficult is because of fear and people’s learned expectations of judgment and the ideas of correctness. These are opposing to childrens’ natural spontaneity, and thus they learn to suppress it. The solution that Johnstone proposes is to teach playfulness, relaxation, and openness, in both education and improvisational theatre.

The idea of closed adulthood also emerged in Papert’s Mindstorms, and Papert approaches the problem of learning in a very similar way. From my perspective, I would like to see this as introducing the concept of spontaneity into models and the relation that people have with models and the world. It seems that in a relaxed state, models are open, flexible, and may be easily exchanged. Improvisation is also deeply relevant to the simulation of storyworlds. Brian Magerko and Ben Medler are exploring the problem of digital improvisation as well.


The problem at the onset is that many performances are unrealistic and unconvincing. This usually happens when the director instructs the actors to enter onto a stage without a context for their actions. The actors are unable to discern motivations for their actions. Most drama is based on characters who have the strongest possible motivations, leading to an overblown theatrical effect. The alternative devised here is to come up with the weakest possible motives for action. Johnstone explains the effect of status in interactions in a revealing way that is reminiscent of Goffman.

Suddenly we understood that every inflection and movement implies a status, and that no action is due to chance, or really ‘motiveless’, It was hysterically funny, but at the same time very alarming. All of our secret manoeuvrings were exposed. If someone asked a question we didn’t bother to answer it, we concentrated on why it had been asked. No one could make an ‘innocuous’ remark without everyone instantly grasping what lay behind it. Normally we are ‘forbidden’ to see status transactions except when there’s a conflict. In reality status transactions continue all the time. (p. 33)

Status is posed as an everyday system and works according to transactions, which leads to kind of a currency and economics of power. Status transactions are symbolically and situationally meaningful, but primarily so in the sense that the status exchange forms a complete system. Interactions take on the form of working to raise or lower oneself or others, in attempts to control and manipulate others. Characters who raise themselves become vulnerable to attack, and this creates an entire system of politics.

Status expectations fit into roles, but also relationships. Interactions all must carry some sort of status exchange, they cannot be neutral. “A further discovery was that there was no way to be neutral. The ‘Good morning’ that might be experienced as lowering by the Manager, might be experienced as raising by the bank clerk.” (p. 37) Status is a currency, to be protected and used to have power over others. Friendly interactions often involve status-games, where transactions are pretend.

Comedy and tragedy both operate from status and work via association (sympathy). Comedy works by lowering the status of an individual who we have no sympathy for, or whose sympathy is removed. This elevates the audience because the audience is put on the other end of the see saw. Because the victim is lowered, the audience is raised. Tragedy operates slightly differently, it is the expulsion of a high status member from the pack. The member was a sympathetic and identifiable character, but then falls, and is removed. The result is still that the audience is raised, albeit in a bittersweet sort of way.

The pack metaphor is rather appropriate because humans are social animals. Evolutionarily, status emerges from rituals done by animals to establish their heirarchy and pecking order. All social animals have rituals for working out status differences, and these frequently are structured to avoid real violence and combat. Evolutionarily this makes sense, because if two competing members for the top of a pack fight, and one is wounded while the other is killed, then the fitness of the pack as a whole suffers. It is not to say that these violent conflicts never happen, but status serves a role in avoiding them. Because it is something that is biologically, and possibly even physiologically based (I suspect that in many animals, the alarm areas of the brain are triggered by things such as eye contact, but I don’t know of any real work on it), it is clear that status should be hugely important in human society.

Expressions of status then take the form of ritualized, and in many cases, institutionalized gestures. These are symbolic interactions in the purest sense that each gesture signifies some sort of status exchange. The expressions most frequently come in embodied forms such as eye contact, posture, nervous gestures, speech patterns, and so on. These sorts of things are immensely difficult to capture in procedural form, but to acknowledge them seems very productive.

A discussion of space presents space as a form of territory, something which is kinetic and flows. A character’s space is their zone of freedom of movement. Good actors will “radiate”, and extend their space outward into the audience. High status characters will take up a lot of space, and low status characters will find space to press up against them. Space is kinetic and when altered, will affect everyone in a scene. Territory and space also relate back to Goffman’s work on front stage and back stage areas of interaction. When a character enters or exits a scene, the entire spatial landscape must handle the new character’s presence like a magnetic or electric field.

Johnstone presents “Master and Servant” relationships, which are extreme cases of status inequality. “A master-servant scene is one in which both parties act as if all the space belonged to the master.” (p. 63) The master imposes authority and puts the servants on edge. The servant’s role is to elevate the status of the master at all times. This is reviewed as a kind of status game. An interesting idea with character simulation would be to express these sorts of relationships leading to comedic forms.


This was originally written in 1979 and th epicture of education depicted is horriffic. The educational system Johnstone describes is built around suppressing anything outside conventional social roles. Johnstone lists three categories of spontaneous thought which tend to be supressed: Psychotic thought, obscenity, and originality. Psychotic thought is anything which is deluded or outside the perception of others. What is supressed is the acknowledgement or admission of psychoses, not the actual visions themselves. Obscenity is the cultural supression of taboos and topics which are not supposed to be discussed publicly. However, this supression pushes obscenity to the back of the mind, where it is readily present for spontaneous thought. Johnstone argues that students should not be ‘obscene’, but aware of the ideas that occur to them. Originality has more to do with the fear of unoriginality than anything else. The mind works by association, and when primed with a thought the student’s instinct might be to repeat it, but won’t fearing being considered unoriginal. All of these are cultural pressures which supress spontaneity.

These observations are fascinating, but I am at something of a loss for what to do with them. My concern is generally simulation of characters, and I am not sure if I should think about how to simulate them to be spontaneous, supressed, or what. The kind of spontaneous thought discussed has a great deal to do with human creativity and relates not to one system, but all systems known by the actor. I am loathe to argue that sponteneity is not systematic, but I suspect instead that it has to do with the incredible breadth of systems that people can summon. This of course makes it extremely hard to model or simulate. It does not seem appropriate to simulate it in the first place, because the target for simulation is the representation of social codes, rather than spontaneous thought which escapes the containment of social protocols. At the same time, spontaneous thought can require working with proposed or accepted rules (the improv sketch is a doctor’s office), but will defy other conventions (the patient has pains in a wooden leg).

Working within a spontaneous environment, Johnstone describes a system of transactions: offer, accept, block. These are core elements of any improv sketch. An offer is a proposed element to a scene, which may be vague or specific, small or broad, and confines the space of the scene. I would argue that an offer proposes a rule for the system being simulated within the scene. An offer may be accepted or blocked. An accept confirms the rule by another actor, who will take the offer and extend and react to it. A block rejects the offer. Blocking is an aggressive act, and can lead to hostility because it leaves the offering actor cold. All of these elements are interesting dramatic processes, and work as units for scene construction.

Narrative Skills

This model of storytelling is an interesting counterpoint to Crawford. Interactivity is useful to compare with the story building process. Johnstone treats story construction as a process of repeatedly making offers. A key element though is the pattern of reincorporation and linking elements introduced earlier. Making offers and building elements is storytelling, but does not amount to a whole story alone. The whole story makes sense once the elements have been linked and reincorporated to create a clear whole. The process of doing this should require introducing elements and linking them, but not actually about thinking of the content of the story itself. Described later is a system of play writing which is very similar to roleplaying in essence. Play writing is a joint activity and involves a form of storytelling where one actor makes offers and the other does nothing but accept them.

Masks and Trance

Johnstone makes an interesting discussion of masks and trance states. Masks are extremely relevant in the study of rituals in human history and in anthropology. They are used here in drama. A useful definition is given: “A mask is a device for driving the personality out of a body and allowing a spirit to take possession of it.” (p. 148) The idea is inhabitation, which enables a certain kind of spontaneity. When the mask is donned, the original self may be left aside with all its inhibitions. The idea of masks is also extremely relevant to roleplaying, and especially networked computer culture. Sherry Turkle has explained how people may adopt and try out new identities within a safely anonymous setting. The mask gives the same power by allowing the actor to be “possessed”. A mask is like a role that is totally engrossing, obscuring other systems. The use of masks can also induce a trance state which is much like Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorJohnstone, Keith
TitleImpro: Improvisation and the Theatre
Tagsspecials, performance, visual culture
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon


[Readings] (01.12.09, 1:23 am)

This is my first post/review/analysis of a computational artifact, rather than some sort of purely written thing. Storytron is Chris Crawford’s magnum opus, the fruit of his labor toward the great endeavor of Interactive Storytelling. The project was originally called Erasmatron, after the medieval scholar Erasmus. Crawford has received a lot of challenge toward his project, and this comes from several factors. The first is his outright rejection of games, the second is the sheer time it took him to develop it (13 years, albeit working alone), and the unusual nature of the project itself. I was originally expecting to be much more critical of Storytron, but after examining it closely, I believe that it has a rather sound architecture. The chief challenge to the project is the base unit for the dramatic system, which is the Sentence. This is worthy of criticism not because sentences are low level grammatical structures, but because the textual interaction is problematic. Storytron builds directly from Crawford’s book on Interactive Storytelling, but having experimented with both the authoring tool and the first demo game, I can discuss some of the key differences and interesting conclusions.

It will be useful to juxtapose Storytron against other existing systems, notably Facade and The Sims.


I want to describe the architecture of Storytron first, and examine how it relates to the systems described in Crawford’s book. One of the first things that I noticed is that Storytron uses a planning model for agent behavior. The system includes a drama manager, in the form of a special Actor called Fate. It is difficult to tell whether the flaws with the model of planning emerge strongly in this system, but I suspect that these are held back by the strong personality system. Actors’ personalities have a great influence on their behavior, allowing factors such as mood, emotion, predispositions and the like to affect the Actor’s decisions. Actors do form plans, but these are directed towards the establishment of certain events.

The core elements (and hence data structures) in Storytron are: Actors, Relationships, Props, Sentences, Stages, and Verbs.


Structure is very similar to the form described in Interactive Storytelling, but has some notable differences. The structure however is open for extension, meaning that authors can create their own traits for new storyworlds. The ones given are Quiet_Chatty and Cool_Volatile. Accordance variables may be rendered unnecessary by making some variables hidden versus visible. Characters have “Weight Traits” which represent the core traits that the actor wishes to find in other characters. This involves self perception as well as a sort of desire in others. This is an interesting concept, but I am not sure how it might come into play.

Additionally, there are several state traits which reflect important states to consider when simulating the characters:

  • Active
  • Unconscious
  • DontMoveMe
  • Location
  • SpyingOn
  • OccupiedUntil


The perceived traits described in the Interactive Storytelling book are included here, under relationships. These operate on the hidden traits for actors, props, and stages. Additionally, these have confidence values for each of these, reflecting how accurate the actor considers its perception value.

Storytron contains additional relationship values reflecting scales which were not described in the book. These address some of the points I thought was missing in the book. These particular traits are things that I would originally apply to situations, with more procedural representations, but here they are framed simply as numeric values. The net of these appears to be reasonably effective, however. The organization of actors, props, stages, and events seems very sound.

  • Debt_Grace (Actor to Actor)
  • Stranger_Kin (Actor to Actor)
  • Familiarity (Actor to Actor)
  • Unwelcoming_Homey (Actor to Stage)
  • KnowsMe (Prop to Actor, Stage to Actor)
  • WhoKnows (Event to Actor)

Relationship variables are held by both holders of the relationship. So, actors will have each of these, but the Stage or Prop will also share them as well.


Like actors, these are dynamic elements in stages, and partly form the content of Interactive Storytelling. Props have several attributes, but not very many. I like the concept of props, and I intend on using a model very similar to this one. The model proposed relies heavily on authors creating their own variables denoting the qualities of objects as scalar values– Benign_Harmful, etc.

  • InPlay
  • Owner
  • Carried
  • Visible
  • PropLocation


These represent the core elements that describe places. These are discussed in light detail in the Interactive Storytelling book. Like Props, Stages should have author-defined values denoting the qualities of the stages- Radiated_Clean, for instance. The other parameters listed are:

  • DoorOpen (indicating whether Actors may enter or exit the Stage)
  • DoorLocked
  • Position
  • StageOwner

The Drama Cycle

The actual execution cycle is reasonably sound. There are three phases to a turn. These are described as the “Action Cycle” the “Reaction Cycle” and the “Travel Cycle”. These are executed consecutively, and during each, every actor acts, reacts, and may travel, respectively. The action phase involves planning and execution, so the actor will think and then act. Reaction is performed when actors learn of events. In the reaction phase, each actor will assume a role according to the event’s verb structure, (this is somewhat difficult to understand, I suspect it involves whether the reacting actor is an object, witness, etc of the event). Actors may wish to form plans in response to reactions.

The understanding of role here is somewhat different than the approach that I am used to, but it appears to be an effective way of looking at integrating roles and plans. This may be an approach from which I might like to build.


The actual interaction with the Storytron system is robust, but somewhat difficult. The central issue is that the core mechanic of playing a storyworld is composing sentences. There is a visual builder to construct these sentences, but the representative capacity of the events is diminished. Like all projects that use natural language, (story generators, interactive fiction, Facade) Storytron suffers from the difficulty that the computer has with human language. The space of possible interactions available to the player is extensive, but is still contained by the model of the story world written by the author. When the medium is text, it seems that it should be possible to compose nearly any sentence, and perform any action that would be reasonable, but some of these simply cannot be handled by the logic of the story world. This is a necessity with developing any model, that simplifications must be made. The flaw is that using a textual medium with many possibilities creates an expectation of being able to do much more.

The representative capacity of the interaction is also diminished by sentence based representation, especially in the sense that the story world is complex and updates regularly. This critique comes from playing Balance of Power 21st Century, which is a sequel to a previous Chris Crawford game, but is also a beta and clearly a public policy game. The fact that a public policy story world lacks representative capacity is not necessarily a problem with the technology itself so much as the genre. Nonetheless, flaws do emerge, and it is interesting to compare the visualization of policy in this with, for instance, Civilization. From the perspective of the player, it becomes necessary to navigate through tables describing relationships and attributes in order to deduce the context of possible actions. This is tremendously counter to the sense of the storytelling aesthetic being heralded in the work. The scope of computational representation is very rich, in the sense that nations have a complex balance of power and influence over each other, but these elements are not well presented to the user. In keeping with the metaphor of theatrical drama, it is like going to an opera in a foreign language, and needing to read the history behind everything in order to understand the show.

One feature which is very important is the presence of faces. Story moves and sentence construction come with visual feedback in terms of faces denoting the visible moods of either the player or the NPCs with whom the player is interacting.

Another element to interacting with Storytron that is very difficult is the use of sliders. The point is that numeric and comparative values must enter into the system in order for changes to make sense. Having grown up with games, I am used to slider systems representing variables such as mood and reputation. However, these have a variety of deliberate feedback mechanisms. In Balance of Power, feedback (especially in terms of falling clout) tends to come after it is too late. Part of this is again indicative of the genre of political strategy. However it also is an indication that the numbers are not supported intuitively or tangibly in the system. The values of numbers range from “Extra Huge”, to “Huge”, to “Very Large”, to “Large”, to “Medium Large”, to “Medium”, and so on. The problem with these is that they are not reflected in terms of the language of the story world. It is unclear to the player what it means for a nation to find something desirable at a rate of “Medium Small”, or what it would mean to ask someone to do something with that much emphasis. The reason why other games that use sliding systems are effective is that the reference of the number is strongly supported within the language of the game.


The greatest challenge to Storytron is the authoring environment, SWAT. The application is very complex and requires a great deal of time to learn. This is hardly surprising since other projects (Facade especially) have been extremely intricate, and require a great deal of content to be authored. The authoring tool centrally allows the author to create and modify the building blocks of the system.

Part of the reason for the difficulty in the editor, which is otherwise a really good editor, comes from the reliance on grammatical metaphors, and the exclusion of a programmatic language. The editor provides a tree based structure for composing boolean and other typed expressions. The ability to manipulate these is useful, but the tree based interface forms an obstacle between the author and the actual expressions that they need to write. The interface includes elements that allow the author to have complete access to the available expressions. A good example for comparison is with Facade, which has a scripting language, which is used to author many many events, and also Inform, which has a format for scripting very similar to natural language composition.

The main issue at stake with authoring is ease of use. It must be possible and as easy for authors to add onto a story world the same way that someone might be able to add a paragraph to an existing story. It must be possible to understand a story world, in whatever form, relatively quickly. This area is one of the major challenges with Storytron, but what I choose to do is yet to be determined.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorCrawford, Chris
Tagsdigital media, narrative, ai, social simulation, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Raymond Williams: Television

[Readings] (01.10.09, 11:02 pm)

This text was originally published in 1973, and is one of the first critical works to look at television as a medium. Williams is coming from the perspective of Marxist cultural criticism, and looking at historicization and the forces behind the emergence of technology. It is important to compare the study of television during its emergence to the emergence of the internet. It is also worthwhile because at the time of its publication, the book was one of the first books to examine television as a media tradition. Much of what Williams has to say is outdated, but he does predict many of the future developments in cable and cassette tapes. He offers an important view of how the technology informs the rhetoric and content of television. It is also useful to juxtapose Williams with Postman, who was writing later. Williams still has an optimistic view of the possibilities of television to enable progressive social change. He also encourages an understanding of how a medium may be used, co-opted, and even subverted by its users.

The technology and the society

An opening dilemma is the status of television (and technology in general) as either a cause or an effect. The question is whether it fits the role of technological determinism, or was instigated by someone or some group with a particular motive. Williams gives a set of bullets which provide several possible accounts of the emergence of television: (p. 11-12)

  1. Television was invented as a result of scientific and technical research. Its power as a medium of news and entertainment was then so great that it altered all preceding media of news and entertainment.
  2. Television was invented as a result of scientific and technical research.Its power as a medium of social communication was then so great that it altered many of our institutions and forms of social relationships.
  3. Television was invented as a result of scientific and technical research. Its inherent properties as an electronic medium altered our basic perceptions of reality, and thence our relations with each other and with the world.
  4. Television was invented as a result of scientific and technical research. As a powerful medium of communication and entertainment it took place with other factors – such as greatly increased physical mobility, itself the result of other newly invented technologies – in altering the scale and form of our societies.
  5. Television was invented as a result of scientific and technical research, and developed as a medium of entertainment and news. It then had unforseen consequences, not only on other entertainment and news media, which it reduced in viability and importance, but on some of the central process of family, cultural, and social life.
  6. Television, discovered as a possibility by scientific and technical research, was selected for investment and development to meet the needs of a new kind of society, especially in the provision of centralized entertainment and in the centralized formation of opinions and styles of behavior.
  7. Television, discovered as a possibility by scientific and technical research, was selected for investment and promotion as a new and profitable phase of a domestic consumer economy; it is then one of the characteristic ‘machines of the home’.
  8. Television, discovered as a possibility by scientific and technical research, and in its character and uses exploited and emphasized elements of a passivity, a cultural and psychological inadequacy, which had always been latent in people, but which television now organized and came to represent.
  9. Television, discovered as a possibility by scientific and technical research,and in its character and uses both served and exploited the needs of a new kind of large scale and complex but atomized society.

These bullets convey many different scales and means of interpretation of television. These are all valid accounts of the emergence of television, but represent many gradated positions within the scope of determined technology to technological determinism. The idea Williams brings in is that television was created by intention, but it does not determine the ultimate reception or use of the technology. Williams notes that each of the bullet points assert that technology is isolatable. This is an interesting claim, because according to recent work in anthropology and cognitive science, there is argument that technology is not isolatable from culture.

Williams gives a historicization of the emergence of television. This comes from both technological and social perspectives. Under historical circumstances, needs appeared that would later be met by television. The paradigm of transmission and reception are internally problematic and economic. This led to the contemporary broadcasting model. “Unlike all previous communications technologies, radio and television were systems primarily devised for transmission and reception as abstract processes, with little or no definition of preceding content. When the question of content was raised, it was resolved, in the main, parasitically.” (p. 25)

Institutions of the technology

Discussion is on the federal regulation of communication. There is a conflict and competition between state, corporate, and public interests. Williams discusses reviews the FCC and the institution that network television has become. The concerns are between local and large scale levels. There has been a failure of local and independent broadcasting, which enables global expansion and colonialism in broadcasting. This is interesting in comparison to the internet and digital media, because the authoritative nature of television contrasts sharply with the rampant independence and individualism propagated by the internet. In this perspective, the difference that prevented the internet from reaching the same corporate level as television, is caused by the simple economic cause that independent publishing is less expensive than television broadcasting.

The forms of television

Williams reviews the various kinds of television. These are split into two categories. The first category of content are the forms which existed before television, but are used by television: News, argument and discussion, education, dramatic films, variety, sport, advertising, and passtimes. These are extensions of old media into television, originally developed as forms of remediation. These come with their own political epistemologies. News anchors carry a voice of authority and superiority, discussion shows is presentation of existing views, actual politics are over heard, not heard.

New innovations to forms which are unique to television are: drama-documentary, education by seeing, discussion (talk shows), features, sequences, and the medium of television itself. These forms are indicative of qualitative changes, and are genuine new innovations to media. This is exciting and interesting to Williams, coming with potential to overcome existing political hegemonies.

Effects of technology and its uses

Williams rejects technological determinism, and also the idea of determined technology. When released, technology does take a life of its own. It may be subverted and co-opted by agents acting against authority. However, the emergence is the result of much history, and we cannot disregard or forget that history. Television has a controlled system of publishing and broadcasts. The method of overcoming this that Williams suggests is to develop technology for reform. This is interesting because it comes in opposition to the perspective presented by Postman. Instead of encouraging literacy within the existing technology, Williams suggests that new technology could be developed to enable alternative modes of technology use.

Alternative technology, alternative uses?

Looking ahead in television, Williams predicts the new technologies and institutions that might grow: cable, satellite, “interactive” television. The relative story of these is varied, in terms of how they actually happened. These developments would lead to political issues. Williams predicts a broad political struggle in global communication via television, depending on who controls it, who accepts it, and so on. This again relates to claims regarding the internet.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorWilliams, Raymond
TitleTelevision: Technology and Cultural Form
Tagsmedia traditions, media theory, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling

[Readings] (01.10.09, 9:40 pm)

Chris Crawford is one of the great curmudgeons in the game industry. He is one of the notable pioneers in the early Atari days, and is known for his approach to interaction in games. More recently, he has been interested in expanding interactivity into territory that, in his opinion, reaches out and beyond the scope of games. The new model that he proposes is interactive storytelling, and he has been working in relative isolation for quite some time to develop Storytron, which is an interactive storytelling platform. Crawford’s work is alternately hailed as messianic, derided as unusable, or simply considered impossible. This text describes many of the ideas that would later go into Storytron. My intention in reading it is to relate his findings with my own discoveries on situated models of behavior.

Fundamentally his work on interactive storytelling is very different from my project. My project is on adaptation of narrative worlds into games. While my desire to hang onto the term “game” may be considered unusual, after all, many consider The Sims to not be a game, I do depart from the position of focusing on stories and storytelling. The process of storytelling (or being told a story) is an interesting and rich process, it is not the same as being in a world. This is a small difference, a shift in emphasis, but it is fundamental and informs the disagreements that I have with some of his conclusions.


The opening poses stories as important because of their cognitive role. Crawford poses the idea of cognitive meshes, which are collections of ideas bound together through associations. This is a reduced and somewhat vague portrayal of cognitive science, but it is not inaccurate. These meshes represent an individual’s understanding of the world, what I would call a model. The concern is how learning occurs. Gradually the structure of these meshes is revised and integrated into “cleaner” forms as learning occurs. An “Aha!” moment will occur when new ideas are introduced and suddenly connect to multiple associations within the network. This sort of moment is characteristic of what happens during interaction. Stories are seen as these idea meshes. The act of reading views a mesh (the model of the story world), but does not engage with it. Interaction presents the mesh in many ways in attempts to elicit that moment of integration.

According to Crawford, stories are about: people, conflict, and choices. In these last two elements, stories are very much like games. Stories however are not about puzzles, visual thinking, or spatial thinking. These simply are not relevant. Both stories and games use spectacle, but stories need more than spectacle. Stories occur on stages, not on maps. An interesting thing to note about this set of claims is that the model being presented strongly resembles Aristotelian drama. I think that in general, stories are looser than drama (Aristotelian especially), but this is an interesting point, and relates back to interaction later (via Laurel).


Crawford’s definition of interactivity is a key point: “A cyclic process between two or more active agents in which each agent alternately listens, thinks, and speaks.” (p. 29) This definition is actually somewhat subtle, though. The key is not the extent of any one of these three phases, but rather how integrated they are. Interactivity is powerful because it compares multiple different networks of meaning.

The role of interactivity within artistic products (especially storytelling) leads to a conflict over artistic agency. The matter is who has control over the experience. An artist will want to have lots of agency over the experience and the final product, but that comes directly at the cost of the user to interact with it. This sort of dilemma is expounded in Mateas’s Semiotic Considerations.

In terms of aesthetics of interactivity, Crawford considers three factors: speed, depth, and choice. The first two are not all that interesting. Speed represents the degree of responsiveness. Depth suggests using subject material that is important and meaningful to the user. The real point of fruition in interactivity comes in the matter of choice. This has two elements: the significance of the choices, and the perceived completeness. Essentially, the choices available must satisfy the needs of the user, be meaningful within the story world, and also be seen as complete. The matter of choice is dead on. However, it also applies to the AI controlled agents themselves. They have choices of what to do which fall under the same categories of constraints.

Interactive Storytelling

There are some general but worthwhile observations. Crawford claims that interactive storytelling is not simply games with stories, or interactivized movies. The class of games described is fairly limited: “A form of interactive entertainment involving simple and/or violent themes, relying heavily on cosmetic factors, in which players must exercise precise hand-eye coordination, puzzle solution, and resource management skills.” (p. 46) This description is meant to describe games that are commonly played. This isn’t quite complete, because games such as The Sims, the best selling series of PC titles of all time, does not exactly fall within this category. However, the category does describe the wide range of mainstream games. Games may have stories as what Jesper Juul calls fictions, but the interaction in the game is not interaction with the story itself.

Similarly, with film and other linear media, it does not make sense to overlay interactivity on top. Crawford gives the example of Star Wars, where the hero is presented with six choices (for example, “Rescue Princess Leia?” “Run away from Darth Vader?” “Trust the foce to blow up the Death Star?”), but all of the choices are dramatically required. An experience giving the “player” options to refuse these decisions would not be enriching the possible story outcomes. In order to have stories that are interactive a different approach must be used. There is a conflict between plot and interaction. This conflict is dramatically compared with the conflict between free will and determinism in theology.

The reconciliation in this problem is to abstract out the space of possibilities. Some elements of dramatic structure maybe must be preserved, but other elements may be flexible. The essence of this, although Crawford does not make a big deal of the idea, is that this requires a view of the problem as constructing a story world. The example he gives is of the world of Arthurian myths. This is not a single narrative, but rather, it is a space where many narratives may occur. The Arthurian world has many different dramatic themes, so it may be possible to have one story in this world that focuses on one theme but not another. “This is the key to creating interactive storyworlds: multiple but connected themes. An interactive storyworld must present the possibility of romance, betrayal, battle, spiritual growth, and many other possibilities.” (p. 56) Crawford explicitly advises against considering a specific story as a subject for interactivity, because the themes and possibilities are limited. This is an interesting point in comparison to adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, because it reflects the fact that a storyworld is necessarily underspecified by a single story. One way around this critique is to compare aesthetic goals: story richness versus sense of presence. It may also be argued that the storyworld for Austen extends through the rest of her works, which is consistent with the culture of adaptation.

Two Cultures, No Hits, No Runs

Crawford argues that one problem with the development of interactive storytelling is the cultural divide between those who produce technology and those who would compose stories. There is a problem with the technological culture which is actively hostile to literature, and the artistic community is hostile to procedural thinking. The picture he paints is general and stereotypical, but is indicative of a widespread cultural gap. Gaps exist between theory and practitioners, as well as between artists and programmers. I believe that this difference is artificial, and is created by the values and practices of these communities. Programmers are taught the value of conciseness, correctness, and have the aesthetic of completeness and mastery, this is informed by the entire discipline of practice. Writers and artists develop values of ambiguity, incompleteness, and interconnectedness. These values are oppositional, compounding problems between the cultures. My approach I think reconciles the two: both code and expressive works are systematic, and these systems themselves have properties and embedded values. They may be observed functionally, but also artistically.

Verb Thinking

Crawford is known for his perspective on verbs. Systems may be understood in terms of verbs and nouns. Data and content is a matter of diversity of nouns, but the range of expressivity is dependent on the verbs in the system. The cardinal question of game development is “what does the player do?” and any answer to this question takes the form of verbs. Processes require verb thinking, and interactivity is dependent on processes. Verb thinking when applied to objects perceives them in the context of affordances, rather than properties. At one level, these are isomorphic, but choosing to look through from the perspective of verbs is important in the process of thinking about games.

Above all, try to think about things in terms of what things do, not what they are. A window is not glass;  it’s something that blocks air movement while permitting light to pass freely. A car is not an engine, a body, seats, and so forth. It’s something that moves; everything else is subsidiary. A computer is not a box with a whirring fan; it’s a processing machine. A pill is not a bundle of exotic chemicals; it’s something that alters the biochemistry of your living processes. (p. 101)

Verbs tie into systems of causality. The goal for the player is to understand that system of causality. This connects to the discussion of models discussed earlier. The act of reading allows the reader to witness and observe the model described in the text. This model is witnessed through causal relations, and verbs must be used to elicit these causal processes. The language for understanding these relationships must be mathematical in nature.

Crawford gives an example of pseudocode which would be used to represent how agents might make choices within a storyworld. These are presented only as examples, not as a correct model. I would argue that these sorts of situations require world-based meaning derived from the context, that meaning is situationally derived. However, this model does not preclude that condition, but it seems more awkward.

competingForce1 = Loyalty[Darth, Emperor] + SelfInterest[Darth] – Idealism[Darth]
competingForce2 = Love[Darth, Luke] + Empathy[Darth]
if(competingForce1 > competingForce2)
then WatchLukeDie
else TurnAgainstEmperor
(p. 108)

One reason why I find this problematic is that the magnitude of the competing forces is important to the character. The plot does depend on the final decision, but what is important from the perspective of character is why that decision was made. In the Star Wars example, the moment is also dramatically significant because it is the first visible moment of Darth actually expressing care for Luke. (I am not that familiar with the lore, so that claim may be off) It is a dramatic reversal of what we have come to expect from his character. Eventually, the characters do need to decide, but the moment before that decision, where the audience can see visible signs of anxiety and hesitation are significant as well.

Crawford does address a few arguments about the quantification of characters. There is a somewhat natural reaction in the literary community about the problems with quantization of human characteristics. Crawford puts three counterpoints to this argument. The first is that in drama, simplification is necessary. Dramatic characters are simplified from real characters. The second argument is that characteristic attributes, such as love or loyalty are things that one can have more or less of. These are not normally considered to be numeric, but they are comparable at least at some level. The last argument is that while love and loyalty might me multidimensional concepts, the expression of those concepts must fall under some specific dimensions for the purpose of the story world. The dimensions that are relevant are related to the artistic content of the story world.

Language-Based Strategies

In the preceding chapters, Crawford discusses some approaches to interactive storytelling. These examples are branching structures, environmental strategies, data driven strategies (grammars). Finally, he settles on language based strategies as the ideal solution for these problems. This is the key element where I disagree with Crawford’s approach, but the strategies are particular to his aesthetic goals. Essentially, interaction takes the form of writing- composing sentences within a computer based language. Effective interactivity does require a robust system of communication. The idea is to create a language, a sort of creole which is capable of effectively being constructed and understood on a computer. An early approach was the game Siboot, which uses a visual 2d language. Crawford argues that the primary way for enabling depth of interaction is to provide player’s with access to the language of what they can do. I actually think that games like The Sims, which provide menu and object driven approaches to interaction is quite effective, as an alternative to this.

Personality Models

Crawford’s goal is to create a model of personality which is small and tight. Essentially, if the character is tight, then the plot may be flexible. The important elements in developing character models are completeness, conciseness, orthogonality, and connection to behavior. These depend on the dramatic and expressive structure of the world. The model must be complete to represent everything that needs to be represented, concise enough to keep in mind, orthogonal in the sense that the variables have correct dimensionality.

The personality model that Crawford uses is broken into several variables: intrinsic attributes, mood, volatility, accordances, and relationships. The intrinsic variables are listed as follows: (p. 190-192)

  • Integrity: Characters with high integrity will keep one’s word, not lie or reveal secrets. Low value characters will do the opposite.
  • Virtue: A high virtue character will take others’ needs and desires into account while making decisions. Low virtue characters are selfish.
  • Power: This is the ability of the character to wreak injury upon others in physical, financial, social senses.
  • Intelligence: High intelligence enables characters to make effective and pragmatic choices.
  • Attractiveness: This is an actor’s appearance, and essentially their charisma and desirability.

Mood variables. These seem to be based on basic emotions, which I have found to be problematic. The justification for these binaries is given in behavioral terms, but I disagree with the sense of opposition between anger and fear, for instance. The absolute magnitudes of these is important.

  • Anger/Fear. I disagree with the opposition of these, but Crawford claims that they are sides of the same coin. These are equivalent to “fight or flight” in the sense of behavioral responses. Anger is different from hostility, and is presented here as a global emotional variable (of an individual), rather than something that is directed toward a particular individual.
  • Joy/Sadness
  • Arousal/Disgust. The consideration of arousal and disgust is tricky, since in other models, emotional arousal is associated with all moods. Crawford’s definition of arousal relates more strongly to the sexual dimension of arousal or heightened sensitivity in a positive fashion.

Volatility variables. These affect the rate at which the moods change, high values let characters moods change dramatically, while lower values mean that these values change more slowly. This relates to the stability of moods, so characters with low volatility values will seem to be relatively set in their moods. This does not seem accurate in the case of some fictional characters who are generally predisposed to a particular mood- self disgust, depression, perpetual anger. These characters could reach their alternate extremes, but fictionally they tend to return back to their predispositions. Although, this could be ameliorated and incorporated into the model by inclusion of “predisposition” variables.

  • Adrenaline: Controls the rate of change for anger/fear. I find this problematic because anger is something which dissipates and tends to fluctuate even when it is active.
  • Manic/depressive: Controls the rate of change for joy and sadness.
  • Sensuality: Controls the rate of change for arousal and disgust.

Accordance and relationship variables. These variables control how characters interpret the intrinsic variables of other characters. Accordance variables are used as the default for a character’s impression of a stranger’s intrinsic variables, while the relationship variables control how the character interprets the intrinsic variables of specific other actors. If character A needs to make a decision based on the Integrity of character B, then A’s interpretation of B’s Integrity = A.AccordIntegrity + A.PerIntegrity[B]. These follow the same templates of the intrinsic variables:

  • AccordIntegrity is something like gullibility versus suspiciousness. PerIntegrity[other] is similar to trust. Characters with high values of these will tend to trust and confide in others, believing them to keep their word.
  • AccordVirtue is how well the character might believe others are intrinsically good. Low values would cause the actor to believe the world is full of people who have its worst wishes at heart. PerVirtue[other] is how much the character believes the other is virtuous. Crawford suggests that this has a similar operation to the Virtue variable, and it may be effective to add Virtue and PerVirtue in calculations.
  • AccordPower is how the character believes the rest of the world to be powerful, essentially a measure of timidity. A low value would yield overconfidence, essentially an overestimate of it’s own Power. PerPower[other] is something like awe or fear. Fear is inspired by PerPower minus PerVirtue, which would be how much the agent suspects the other of being both evil and powerful.
  • AccordIntelligence represents how readily a character will defer to other character’s judgements, while low values will yield another sort of overconfidence in decisions. PerIntelligence[other] reflects something like respect, which can be positive or negative accordingly.
  • AccordAttractive causes a character to see the world as either beautiful or disgusting. PerAttractive[other] causes the character to believe another is attractive, which may mutually affect PerVirtue. A character who is attracted to another may overestimate the virtue of the object of affection.

Drama Managers

There are some useful bits here: Crawford supports the idea of drama management. The emphasis is that the process of playing through an interactive story is a dramatic experience. Crawford does not build on theory of performance and drama all that strongly, but raises a few important points. The first is that the drama manager is a solid interactor in the sense that it listens to the actions of the player, thinks of potential responses, and manipulates the world for the phase of speaking. The second is that the drama manager must work to encourage the dramatic flow of the experience, rather than working to thwart the player.

There is a strong impulse in games and artistic works to force the player down the path that the designer thinks is the “best,” rather than allowing the player to interact effectively with the world. The problem with this is that it enables players to behave “unreasonably” within the world, working to thwart the game world. The response Crawford proposes is to allow the player to do any reasonable thing within the game world, but impose consequences (ostracism, death) for irresponsible behavior. An important example of this is in Mateas’s Facade, which will eject the player from the drama (in the form of Trip escorting him or her from the apartment) when not acting according to the dramatic rules.

The final idea proposed is to implement a scoring system to measure the effectiveness of a story. This seems problematic from the literary perspective, in the sense that it involves quantization of narrative value, but it does make sense at some level. There can be good or bad stories, in the sense that a good story might have positive results. The example given is in the Arthurian storyworld, where the score will be damaged if Mordred becomes king, improved if characters have mutual good feelings toward each other, and improved if Excalibur is returned. A legitimate critique of this is that it impedes the player’s ability to make their own meaning from narratives, restricting their openness in the Eco sense. If a story will necessarily be judged, then that means that the player “ought” to reach a good score. That means that there will necessarily be some ideal solutions, and as such, the story world comes pre-evaluated.

A good counterexample for this, though, is that many literary works are tragedies. There is a concern about players committing imaginary suicide, however the dramatic value for tragedy is more significant. This interesting approach turns the normal survival and scoring instinct for gameplay on its head. Most games value self preservation, but tragedy, pre-evaluated though it may be, would value self sacrifice. The means for encouraging the player to commit virtual suicide is to shift the player’s perception of his or her role to that of a dramatic performer.

Verbs and Events

Crawford poses a model of interaction that works by the player constructing sentences. Verbs transform into events when executed. These interactions have a specific structure: It has a name, it has some import-how significant or noteworthy the event is, it requires some time to prepare, some time to execute, and has some sort of audience. Crawford also lists types of audiences that these events may have:

  • MentalState, the action is entirely mental
  • AnyAudience, the action does not have any requirements on the audience
  • RequireWitness, the action must be witnessed by someone
  • SubjectOnly, the action must be carried out in secret
  • SubjectAndDirectObjectOnly, both must have privacy and secrecy
  • AllAudience, the event is global, and when it occurs, everyone knows
  • etc…

HistoryBooks and Gossip

The key issue with the mechanic of these interactive stories is that characters must communicate, and NPCs must communicate with each other. Crawford poses a model of gossiping, where agents will communicate according to some algorithms. The model of communication relies on sharing events. The gossip model provided is dramatically motivated, rather than socially motivated. A key element of this is a mechanism for causing characters to lie and keep and share secrets. This section is somewhat underspecified, though.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorCrawford, Chris
TitleChris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling
Tagsspecials, games, narrative, cybertext
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

[Readings] (01.08.09, 10:17 am)

These notes are adapted from something I wrote earlier, but had not yet moved to the new bibliography system. I am still regularly turning over ideas, so much of what I am writing is only a partial view of my larger set of notes. I do have a very large set of notes, and will be posting those soon. I am posting this now because I want to have a completed entry for P&P in the bibliography.


Pride and Prejudice, as a narrative, is about the extended courtship between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is the second daughter of a well to do (but not wealthy) country family and Darcy is the son of a very wealthy and well established family. The Bennett family has five daughters and its household is entailed, meaning that it must pass to a male heir. Given this, the family is in a very dangerous predicament because the estate will be taken away when Mr. Bennett dies. At the same time, the daughters of the family are an unruly bunch, with the senior two daughters insisting on marrying for love, and the younger daughters being wild and not very well behaved.

Darcy first appears with his friend Mr. Bingley who has bought a house near where the Bennett family lives. Bingley appears to be a very charming and congenial member of the aristocracy, but Darcy comes across to all who meet him as arrogant, aloof, and haughty, looking down on those around him. Similarly, the Bennetts come to pick up this negative impression as well.

To condense matters a bit: Eventually Darcy comes to realize that he was incorrect in his initial judgement of Elizabeth Bennett, and he comes to appreciate her charm and intellect. Elizabeth simultaneously comes to realize that she was rash in her initial dislike of Darcy. The two spar, but later on reunite after Darcy has done much to restore the compassion of his character.

On the surface, much of the play in Pride and Prejudice is about class, and it is true that class is the spur and the staging ground for many of the conflicts and impressions that span the novel. However, the book is much more importantly about pride, forming impressions, and then re-evaluating those impressions. There is focus on changing of character, but the strongest weight is on understanding and judging other characters.

To explore Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of simulation, it would be important to put a lot of value on the subject of impression forming and managing attitudes and complex relationships between characters. To be a participant in Jane Austen’s world, a player must be able to pay attention to how she appears and comes off in the setting, and also be able to form and voice her impressions of other characters.

Literary Style

For a faithful adaptation, it would be important to echo Jane Austen’s literary style. It may not be possible to reflect it entirely, but it would be important for it to come through and be noticeable in some explicit way.

Most notably, Austen has a distinguishable style that uses free indirect speech, where she periodically exposes an internal look into characters thoughts amidst third person description. Every so often, Austen will give a little bit of extra information illuminating for the reader what is taking place inside a character’s head, noting changing opinions, justifications for some actions, and attitudes that are only partially divulged by the character’s actions. These glimpses are not given to only one character, but many, allowing the reader a privileged position to understand the events playing out in the novel.

To adapt the introspective style to a simulation, it may be worthwhile to represent certain events that might be taking place inside of a characters mind or state, and make these visible to the user via icons. One thought would be thought bubbles, but this may provide too deep an insight, given that the player is participating as a character. Another thought would be to produce icons reflecting good or bad opinions, moods, etcetera, as is often done in The Sims.

Austen also has another habit of eliding over many events very quickly. Some conversations will be described abstractly, others will be rendered in dialogue. Sometimes complex and significant events (at least ones complex to do via simulation) will be described briefly, and then the reader will have the chance to get some detail on an interaction. The effect of these is that the reader is positioned like an unnoticed guest or a ghost in the story, occasionally getting distant, long perspective views of the events playing out, and occasionally getting very intimate and close perspectives on the characters. This quality makes the book very hard to adapt to any other narrative medium, and the BBC series often makes some conversations explicit that were glossed over in the text itself.

The occasional omission of explicit dialogue from description, even though dialogue is clearly taking place, is reflective of the fact that speech acts are intended for a purpose, rather than just means of information transition. Given that Austen manages to omit some dialogue in her characters’ interactions in lieu of more abstract symbolic description, a procedural adaptation would not be inaccurate if it used symbolic language in place of some conversational interactions.

Simulation Domain

To describe the simulation domain is to answer the question of what is managed by a simulation of this story setting. That, in turn, provokes a great many other questions: What sorts of characters can players be? What sorts of interactions do characters have? What is important within the world? What states and characteristics do characters have? What conventions and tropes are in the source domain, and how are they carried over?


To be a player within a game world requires being in that world. The player must be a participant and a character in the world like any other character. As such, the player must interact like any other character. In this sense, interaction means both in terms of appearing to others, and in terms of actively performing actions. Within Pride and Prejudice the book, only a little attention is given to given to dress, some is paid to appearance, but most is in terms of manner. A player must be able to control the manner of their character. In terms of action, attention is paid to nearness, gaze, games (especially card games), but most action is dialogue.


Conversation is very important within literary worlds, and it has been a perpetual bane of AI projects since the earliest days of computation. Nonetheless, many conventions have been developed around simplifying conversation so that it works effectively (examples: Sims, Indigo Prophecy, Mass Effect). I think with these in mind, it will be possible to come up with a conversation system that is effective but not too severe.

Conversation is notable in that it is a real time phenomenon. It is highly referential, very loose in structure, transitioning between topics and ideas, and overall very volatile. At the same time, it is a natural pehenomenon. As humans we can easily recognize when something is a conversation as opposed to something that is not. To accomodate this, I pose that this simulation requires a real time conversation mechanic. Furthermore, it should be context dependent, and constructed via a symbolic interface (as opposed to free text). It should be possible to state a large number of things, and it should be restricted so that most of the things it is possible for a player to say be things that might make some sense in the situation.

Conversation speech acts should be built interactively, and be strongly aided in their construction. Essentially, topics that might be relevant for a character’s current situation or might be pertinent to things that the character has been thinking about should appear readily accessible, while more off-topic and tangential speech choices would be harder to access.

Defining character by conversation: Characters should be able to have voices, manners of speech, and particular habits and ways of speaking. A number of these should be accessible to the player. If the player chooses a character to play who has a well established personality and manner, then the types of conversation styles (as well as topics) should be prioritized when the user goes to select them. However, with a more neutrally defined character, it should be possible to choose options that will help define that character’s manner and personality.

Conversation in Pride and Prejudice is fairly complex, with a great many topics and means of going about approaching them. However, it should be possible for many of these to be representable by the conversation system.

Character Actions

While most all of the substance of interaction between characters occurs via dialogue, there are still many more activities that the characters do while speaking. The social caste to which the characters in Pride and Prejudice belong is slightly (and more than slightly) aristocratic, and spends a great deal of time in leisure activities. Characters read, play cards, write letters, play music (one character plays piano, and another might sing), they dance, play outdoor games (which the females ususally do not get involved in), have coffee, tea, breakfast, or dinner, and go for walks in the countryside. Generally, these activities are the locus for certain types of conversations. But the types of activities pursued are telling on the nature of the performing characters.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorAusten, Jane
TitlePride and Prejudice
Tagsspecials, media traditions, fiction, settings
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations

[Readings] (01.07.09, 9:58 pm)

In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein is primarily concerned with language. He is concerned with words and meanings, and describes the mechanisms of the use of language extensively. The core argument appears to be that ostensive definitions are inherently flawed, and that language may only be understood by use. The proposed mechanism for studying language is through language games. Wittgenstein is very influential on many individuals, and it is important to get a ground on that influence. Here I will try to pick out the elements of the text that are relevant, but leave the more thorough summary to Wikipedia.

Philosophical Investigations is about the method and practice of philosophy. It is written in a manner that embodies the practice. Instead of giving an explanation of his perspective, Wittgenstein presents thought experiments and expects reader to simulate or deduce from them, and reach the same conclusions he has. This approach is troubling to me, because I disagree with Wittgenstein’s initial approach to language. His first step is to look at the idea of word definitions, and to perform a logical refutation of the necessity of definitions. I would argue instead that language comes into being because of human practice, that it is a fundamentally human phenomenon, and any formal meaning that may be attributed to words is due to the phenomenon of the word’s use.

The meaning and definition of words are ambiguous and conflicted. To examine why this is the case, he presents models of languages where definitions are clear, which resemble micro-domains used for problem solving in AI and computer science. The first example is of a person who goes to the store to buy five red apples. How does the shopkeeper know how to iterpret that request? The conclusion reached seems to suggests to focus on the manner in which words are used, not their pure definitions. I would go a step further and say that such a request has a special meaning defined by its use and context. A person in a store knows how to respond to customer requests. The broader philosophical question is how the shopkeeper came to learn that in the first place, but it does not seem to be too difficult of a problem.

Wittgenstein extends the ambiguity problem to the idea of a game. Games and play are intrinsically ambiguous, as scholars have known, and Wittgenstein pulls an interesting trick with it. It is impossible to identify common phenomena that are intrinsic to all games, but the game-like qualities that are present in games are more like “family resemblances.” We can either say that games have many definitions, or that those definitions are incomplete, but people nonetheless know what games are, nonetheless. The idea is that we do not have a definition for “game”, but we use the term correctly anyway. It is not impossible to define game, but such a definition may not be productive.

That said about games, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that language use is inherently gamelike. Patterns of use of language are like different types of games. These games are playful, and operate according to some form of rule structure. These rules are culturally and socially instituted, and are also inescapable. To be aware of a rule is to break it. This is similar to the notion of mediation and immersion. Awareness of the medium stymies the process of communication over it. I disagree with the assertion that awareness of rules implies breaking of the rules, though. Some examples of language games are the following: (p. 11-12)

  • Giving orders, and obeying them
  • Describing the appearance of an object,o r giving its measurements
  • Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)
  • Reporting an event
  • Speculating about an event
  • Forming and testing a hypothesis
  • Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams
  • Making up a story; and reading it
  • Play-acting
  • Singing catches
  • Guessing riddles
  • Making a joke; telling it
  • Solving a problem in practical arithmetic
  • Translating form one language into another
  • Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying

Wittgenstein makes a vague analogy of (I think) the practice of philosophy to the understanding of a machine, with both observed and potential processes. Like language, machines have both regular operation, and also cases of fallibility. Parts in a machine may bend, break, melt, and so on. To understand a word is to understand an entire process.

Gradually, the entire argument shifts to the matter of personal experience. Personal experiences are internal, and cannot be shared by their inherent nature. Wittgenstein gives the example of pain. One may experience a pain, and see another exhibit signs of pain, but it is impossible to know if the two are the same. This is seen as a major obstacle. I would argue that this is still possible to communicate about these experiences. It is not necessary to share exactly the same sensation as another to identify and sympathize with them. Experience is located in the body, and we can thus locate it, because the body is there and is referrable. We can point to our own bodies and those of others. Considering pain and experience as though they are isolated is fallacious.

The reason why these are identifiable is because people have a common set of experiences, and a common set of relationships to the world. These commonalities that are physiological are universal across the human condition. However, many experiences, especially those that are rooted in language, are culturally derived. With the differences in cultures, it is possible for individuals from different cultures to have dramatically different reactions to the same words or images. Personal experience too yields a diversity of reactions, but a common foundation is still there.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorWittgenstein, Ludwig
TitlePhilosophical Investigations
Tagsmedia theory, philosophy, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon
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