Chatbots as Narrative Platform

Recently I’ve been running into a fair amount of news/discussion about “conversation as a platform” and “bots as the new apps” — specifically, that people spend so much time texting that chatbots are a viable way to do advertising and storytelling and personal assistant functions all at once.

This means taking in natural language input (as opposed to the Lifeline-style experience, where the user is still pressing buttons to navigate a choice-based conversation). Historically,  I’ve tended to be skeptical about this because the error rate on chatbot output is high enough to make for a frustrating game experience.

All the same, there have recently been some developments on this front, partly because there’s now stronger AI for classifying natural language input, and partly because app discoverability problems make it appealing to embed content within chat platforms. Meanwhile, streaming means that there’s a greater audience for games that produce amusing results and accept idiosyncratic player input: here’s PewDiePie making Facade produce weird results.

What follows is a summary of some existing work I know about in this area. I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a lot more come along.

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IF Comp 2015: Two Encounters in the Woods

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games.

Crossroads is a Twine game about meeting a witch in the woods. It branches very broadly and is extremely open-ended about what ultimately comes of the encounter, as well as the protagonist’s backstory in reaching that point.

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood is a Twine game about meeting a fortune-teller in the woods. It is quite linear, and makes a point of undercutting expectations about replay.

In neither case does a single playthrough occupy more than 10-15 minutes, I would guess. (Maybe closer to 5.)

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