Creating a Natural, Engaging Conversation in Your Simulation or Game

Research indicates that a conversational style is much more effective for conveying content to learners than a more formal style. In the book, “e-Learning and the Science of Instruction,” Ruth Clark and co-author Richard Mayer report on a number of studies that reinforce the fact that conversational style is the way to go for interactions. They report; in a set of five experimental studies involving a computer-based educational game on botany and multimedia lesson on lightning formation, researchers (Moreno and Mayer, 2000) compared versions in which the words were in formal style with version in which the words were in conversational style where the content was presented in a personalized way so it seemed as if the computer was talking directly to the learner rather and formal third-person language. It turns out that participants in the conversational group produced between 20% and 46% more solutions to transfer problems than the group who was presented content with formal language. [1]

One company that has capitalized on this idea is Jellyvision the makers of the popular trivia game You Don’t Know Jack which was first released in 1995. In the game, the announcer interacts with the players of the game as if they were all in the same room or studio. The announcer uses a combination of humor and direct-response interactivity. He remembers whether or not you got the last answer correct and encourages to you “hurry up and pick an answer” if you hesitate too long. He talks to you as if he were standing right in front of you watching what you are doing.

Jellyvison, the developers of the game purposefully set out to create a computer-human interface that is realistic and fun. They call their interface the “Interactive Conversation Interface” or iCi for short and pronounce it “icky” (No, really, they do.)

Using the “iCi interface, Jellyvision seeks to give every digital device the ability to communicate information and ideas with such seamless pacing and awareness, such personality and wit, that it feels like a real person is just behind the machine.” When you play the game, you know they’ve succeeded.

An enabler of the iCi interface is a set of guidelines known as the Jack Principles. These principles need to be in any software program trying to create the illusion of conversation or interaction with the person sitting in front of the computer.

Here is a link to a PDF of the Jack Principles.

The three main principles are:
1. Maintaining Pacing
2. Creating the Illusion of Awareness
3. Maintaining the Illusion of Awareness

Maintaining Pacing

Pacing is the flow of the program, how closely the program follows what the learner is doing. It means paying attention to the timing of events. There are eight ideas contained in the principle of pacing;

1. Give the user only one task to accomplish at a time.
2. Limit the number of choices the user has at any one time.
3. Give the user only meaningful choices.
4. Make sure the user knows what to do at every moment.
5. Focus the user’s attention on the task at hand.
6. Use the most efficient manner of user input.
7. Make the user aware that the program is waiting.
8. Pause, quit or move on without the user’s response if it doesn’t come soon enough.

Creating the Illusion of Awareness

The goal of the interaction between the person and computer is to provide the illusion to the person that the computer is aware of the person sitting in front of it. This illusion of awareness can be created by responding to the person’s actions with human intelligence and emotion. Specifically respond to:

1. The user’s actions.
2. The user’s inactions.
3. The user’s past actions.
4. A series of the user’s actions.
5. The actual time and space that the user is in.
6. The comparison of different user’s situations and actions.

Maintaining the Illusion of Awareness

The final main principle is to maintain the illusion of awareness. It is one thing to create the illusion up front; the goal is to continue the illusion throughout the interaction with the person. This can be accomplished through the following:

1. Use dialogue that conveys a sense of intimacy.
2. Make sure characters act appropriately while the user is interacting.
3. Make sure dialogue never seems to repeat.
4. Be aware of the number of simultaneous users.
5. Be aware of the gender of the users.
6. Make sure the performance of dialogue is seamless.
7. Avoid the presence of characters when user input cannot be evaluated.

These principles have been applied to many types of interfaces. The folks at Jellyvision have used the concept of iCi design to create programs to help a person choose the right computer, learn about investing and participate in a virtual tour guided by a friendly voice via your cell phone.

Clark and Mayer go on to indicate that, research supports the fact that under certain circumstances, people “treat computers like real people” and that part of treating computers like real people is to try harder to understand their communications.[2]

Also, in an experiment where learners were seated at a computer workstation received a narrated animation about lightning formation. Then, they took a retention test, took a transfer test, and rated the speaker. There was a voice effect, in which students performed better on the transfer test and rated the speaker more positively if the voice was human rather than machine synthesized. The retention test results were mixed. [3]

References:

[1] Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2003) e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. Pfeiffer: New York, pp. 136.

[2] Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2003) e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. Pfeiffer: New York, pp. 136.

[3] Mayer, R., Sobko, K., Mautone, P. (June 2003) Social cues in multimedia learning: Role of speaker’s voice. Journal of Educational Pscyhology, Vol. 95(2). Pp 419-425.

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