Chi 2001 workshop proposal on narrative techniques
CHI 2001 Workshop Position Paper: Perspective Modulation through Interactive FictionJohn C ThomasManager, Knowledge SocializationIBM T. J. Watson Research CenterPO Box 704Yorktown Heights, New York10598Experience and Perspective.I am currently Manager, Knowledge Socialization at IBMs T. J. Watson Research Center. Theefforts of this team currently focus on developing new tools, techniques, and representations tosupport the capture, creation, analysis, organization, finding and use of stories and scenarios in abusiness context. I received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1971 andmanaged a research project in the psychology of aging for two and a half years at HarvardMedical School before joining IBM Research. I spent 13 years mainly doing research in variousareas of human computer interaction including query languages, natural language processing,design problem solving, audio systems, and speech synthesis. In 1982-1984, I worked for theChief Scientist of IBM focusing on increasing IBM’s commitment to User Centered Design. In1986, I began the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at NYNEX Science and Technology. Thelaboratory did work in expert systems, machine vision, human computer interaction, intelligenttutoring systems, robotics, speech recognition and advanced tools for software design. I wasactive in the formation of ACMs Special Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction andhave served in various capacities including general co-chair of the CHI conference in 1991. Ihave taught at a variety of institutions of higher education including courses in cognitivepsychology, problem solving and creativity, statistics, the psychology of aging, and humanfactors in information systems. I am also a licensed psychologist in New York State. In thepractice of group therapy in the cognitive behavioral practice, we have developed a number ofinteractive narrative and dramatic techniques for change that might be adapted for otherpurposes. I have over 130 publications and invited presentations in computer science andpsychology. I began experimenting with dynamic poetry and interactive fiction in 1984 when Ibought my first PC. Since then, I have been experimenting with a variety of techniques to helpexpand people’s perspectives. In this regard, stories, scenarios, role-playing, and interactivenarrative have played a major role. While directing the NYNEX AI lab, e.g., we developed avariation on heuristic evaluation in which evaluators were asked to assume the perspectives of asequence of various people (e.g., physical therapist, worried mother, cognitive psychologist,human factors expert) while trying to find problems with an interface. Under that condition, theyfound significantly more usability problems and suggested significantly more potentially usefulchanges than when evaluators spent an equal amount of time without those role-playinginstructions.Over time, my interests have generally migrated from using technology to increase theeffectiveness of the individual learner and problem solver toward supporting teams and large-scale organizations. I see the combination of ancient techniques like storytelling with moderntechnologies as promising potential solutions both to tactical and immediate business issues (e.g.,
dealing with the loss of critical expertise and supporting communities of practice) and morestrategic concerns such as helping people worldwide see the necessity of a sustainable economy.My major hobby is writing fiction.Critical Issues.Traditional non-interactive, linear narratives are memorable and motivating. Yet, they alsoprovide a single perspective into what is clearly a complex and ambiguous set of events. Can weuse modern technology to help provide people with educational experiences that may broadenand expand their perspectives; e.g., helping people understand and appreciate differences in age,gender, race, professional orientation? How can this be accomplished?Our society places an emphasis on quantitative measures even when they are arguably lessappropriate than qualitative reasoning procedures. The oil companies in the so-called energycrisis kept to their quantitative prediction models of demand, despite the fact that the underlyingassumptions had changed, for over seven years resulting in tens of billions of dollars in losses.As a reaction, many of these companies now balance quantitative models with scenario basedplanning. Is there a way to incorporate this kind of thinking more pervasively into individual,team, and organizational thinking?In “straight-line” narrative, the author has integrated artistic control over the material. Ideally,interactive narrative could provide personalized experiences. Yet, in practice, it has beendifficult if not impossible to use the power of interactivity to provide experiences as aestheticallycompelling as straight-line (i.e., completely authored) experiences. Is there a fundamentalproblem with interactive narrative or do we simply need to let the technology mature? How canwe provide interactive experiences that are even more effective than an audience receptive,passive experience such as watching Exodus, Hamlet, or Othello?Interactive Narrative Experiences.As a part of our research program, we have developed a patented efficient methodology forgathering groups together and encouraging “natural” stories about a particular topic and thenanalyzing these stories and providing teaching stories constructed to be memorable andmotivating. We have applied this technique to a variety of areas including e-meetings, NOTES5, the patent process, and boundary-spanning skills. Perhaps as a part of the workshop, we couldemploy this technique (1 hour) to having people share experiences about interactive narrativeand related topics.We could also demonstrate, in outline form, the construction of interactive scenario training. Inthis technique, a group of experts is interviewed for stories that illustrate surprising events.These stories are organized and analyzed as a basis for providing a kind of interactive training. Inthis training paradigm (used in on-line IBM management training), users are asked to participatein a role-playing situation and make choices about what to do. Essentially, the learning pivots
around situations where the users naive intuitions are violated.References.Frey, James. How to write a damned good novel II. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.Laurel, Brenda. Computers as theatre. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1993.McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, structure, style, and the principles of screenwriting. NewYork: Harper, 1997.Neuhauser, Peg. Corporate legends and lore: The power of storytelling as a management tool.Austin, TX: PCN, 1993.Schank, Roger. Tell me a story: Narrative and intelligence. Evanston: Northwestern University,1990.Thomas, J. C. Studies in office systems I: The effect of communication medium on personperception. Office Systems Research Journal (2): 75-88, 1983.Thomas, J. C. Narrative technologies for the new millennium, Knowledge Management, 2(9),14-17, 1999.Turner, Mark. The literary mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.