Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Received my PhD today!

Middlesbrough, UK

Teesside University logoToday I got the good news that my PhD has been approved by the School of Computing at the University of Teesside. It has been a long hard road, but I got there in the end. I originally applied to join the program in the fall of 2006, so it took nearly seven years.

The title of my thesis is Resolutions to Some Problems in Interactive Storytelling, and you can download a copy in a ZIP archive here. It's in two volumes, both in PDF format. Volume 1 is the actual text itself. Volume 2 contains the appendices, which consist of articles and lectures I gave over the course of my career.

For those who are interested, this is the abstract:

This thesis addresses a number of related problems that have long been the subject of debate among theorists and practitioners of interactive storytelling. Foremost among them are two, the Problem of Internal Consistency and the Problem of Narrative Flow, that are caused by a perceived tension between a player’s desire for interactive freedom and agency, and an interactive story designer’s ability to offer a coherent story-like experience. The thesis shows how the problems arise from faulty, and often unstated, assumptions about what the ideal interactive storytelling experience should be like. I propose a new schema for understanding the relationship between the player and the designer, and for understanding the player’s role in creating his own experience. According to this schema, the player accepts a degree of responsibility for the coherence of his own experience, which is directly proportional to the degree of freedom that the software offers him. The problems are thus resolved.
The thesis also discusses a variety of other issues related to interactive storytelling that I have considered over the years: the fact that players are often expected to enact a character who knows more about the story world than the player actually does, which I call the Problem of Amnesia; the overloading of the term conflict; a false analogy between dramatic tension and gameplay tension; an idea called a credibility budget, which I suggest as a possible feature of a future automated story-generation system; some emotional consequences for players that attend implementation of agency by various means; and certain challenges that face development of a semiotics for video games. 
The thesis concludes with a template and guide to writing a requirements specification for interactive storytelling experiences. I present arguments for the value of requirements specifications as design tools both for practitioners and for students.