Thursday, December 28, 2006

Game Friday: Interactive Conversation

Remember "You Don't Know Jack"? First released in 1995 by an educational films company, the game has grown into the Obama of the trivia world. It's sassy, smart, and successful. The company that created it, now called Jellyvision, Inc., has gone on to build other games and tutorials, but their bread and butter is the crafting of honest, successful "interactive conversation interfaces."

What's an "interactive conversation interface"? At its worst, it's the automated voice from your bank that you'd like to shove back into whatever mechanized hellbox she came from. At its best, it's a lively, clear, trustworthy AI program that responds to your inputs appropriately and usefully. It reacts when you move. It goes at your pace. It gives you the suggestions you want. In short, it's a killer interactive.

Jellyvision has now released a list of Jack Principles on Interactive Conversation Interface design. You may want to skim them and then try one of their simple games, like Dis or Dat, or check out one of their more serious applications in the iCi showroom. They seem pithy at first, but after seen in practice, you'll go back for more.

There's nothing too shocking in this design list, but it's a great alternate view into the window of interactive exhibit design. So often people bemoan the limitations of unfacilitated exhibits--the phenomena that goes unnoticed, the deep learning overlooked. Folks like Jellyvision are creating interactive educational experiences that are totally computer-facilitated, and yet they look, sound, and feel like you are interacting with a human--or, if not a human, something infinitely more pleasant and interesting than the automated phone demon.

The guidelines start with pacing--pretty well-trod territory--but then move to creating and maintaining the illusion of awareness (of the user). Game designers try as hard as they can to make you feel like the game is a responsive thing created solely to serve the player, your own private butler handing you machetes or poker chips as needed. The guidelines talk about responding to users' inactions as well as actions, taking into account their real time and place, creating a sense of intimacy. In short, creating a consistent, positive environment for user interaction.

Everyone who walks up to a museum kiosk knows it isn't "alive". But the Jellyvision demos convince me that people's engagement with museum content could increase significantly if people feel that the exhibits are there not as conversation pieces, but "interactive conversation" partners. That's right, Calder mobile. Talk to me. Tell me something good.

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