[Humanist] 24.841 literature brought virtually to life (continued)

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Apr 2 09:30:12 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 841.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 1 Apr 2011 14:02:12 +0000
        From: Jon Saklofske <jon.saklofske at acadiau.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.819 literature brought virtually to life

Dear all,

On 3/28/2011 1:16 AM, Daniel Allington wrote:

> Having a research interest in what Bradley Bleck calls 'text-based
> virtual realities' (below), I was wondering whether anyone else on the
> list has tried using MOOs and related forms of programming (eg.
> Inform 7 or its multi-user offshoot, Guncho) for teaching in the
> humanities.

Thanks to a bit of internal funding, I've used a heavily modified version of the enCore Xpress MOO for 5 years now in my upper level undergraduate Romantic Period literature course .  Students are given the chance to be players and builders and I use the platform to expose them to ideas related to rhetorical composition, argumentation and performance.

I now have two versions up and running, and use both in my teaching every year.  The first installation (based on a v4 enCore install) includes a hard-coded interactive game based on Mary Robinson's late 18th-c. novel "The Natural Daughter."

The second installation (which I'm most excited about), based on an enCore v5 install, has been modified (by myself and student assistants) to allow anyone the opportunity to build and edit interactive fiction experiences like "The Natural Daughter" without programming knowledge (it includes a GUI-based interface.)  Although there are still a few bugs to iron out, my literature students collaboratively build rhetorical gamespaces (i.e. creating a game that functions like a persuasive essay) in the second term of the course-and things have been going great!  Most importantly, we've replaced a reliance on the default chatterbot NPC's in favour of a conversation-tree based bot.

You can access the earlier version (with the hardcoded natural daughter game) at:


(make sure to register for my English 2386 class during the user registration process to access the game, and just make up a false Acadia email account.) (Also, after you play the game once, you need to type "@reset" (without quotes)to play again because the game's characters remember you!)

Here's a related link to an animated tutorial that my programmer and I made to introduce students to the first version of Golgonooza:

The newer version (with the story builder toolkit) is here:


Register as a new user and when logging in, select a location to log in to (other than The Learning Commons) from the drop down menu to see my in-progress Frankenstein  world and collaborative student projects from the last two years.  Just recently, students finished building interactive worlds related to some of Keats' 1819 Odes.  The purpose of the assignment is not to translate the poem or narrative into an interactive digital fiction, but to use the virtual world to stage a rhetorical argument about the poem. In other words, I want the students to create a persuasive game.  Their levels of success vary-sometimes because of collaborative differences, procrastination and/or conceptual limits.  However, the ones that come together are quite interesting.  The students, collectively and individually, also contribute written documents that allow them to self-reflexively and metacritically discuss the project.

I've written about this in the following book chapter:
"Plays well with Others: The Value of developing Multiplayer Digital Gamespaces for Literary Education"  In Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies (Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier and Vander Viana, eds.) IGI Global, 2010. 130-156.

I've also been collaborating with a colleague in the School of Education here at Acadia University to try to assess the learning impact of using this in the classroom.  Our research is still in the preliminary stage, but here's a link to the blurb of an article we've published: http://ijq.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.186/prod.70

I've been fairly immersed in the development of this stuff over the last 5 years...  I'm currently trying to figure out a way to package up my modded enCore database (with the Storybuilder tools) into distributable form...

Feel free to get in touch with me with any questions.  I can also provide further information and documentation, or give interested colleagues "storybuilder" access to the second MOO.
Dr. Jon Saklofske
Department of English and Theatre
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada   B4P 2R6
Phone: (902) 585-1442
Fax: (902) 585-1070
Email: jon.saklofske at acadiau.ca
Homepage: http://socrates.acadiau.ca/courses/engl/saklofske

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