eDrama project

Drama, especially improvised drama and role play, is widely used as a tool in education, training, counselling and conflict resolution. There has been a substantial amount of work which has explored the use of computer technology to build upon that success. This has led to "e-drama" systems aimed at allowing human users to cause avatars (virtual characters displayed electronically) to move about and engage in dialogue. This mediation by computers helps ordinary users to be comfortable participants in drama. The anonymity that participants achieve because they are not physically present on a stage releases them from their usual inhibitions about engaging in drama improvisation. In particular, the anonymity releases the creative and educational potential of shy people, people constrained by peer-pressure, and people separated by cultural and physical barriers. Also, e-drama is an appealing way of delivering collaborative education within schools and across schools.

The springboard for our project is edrama, an existing e-drama system created by Hi8us Projects Limited, a charitable company based in Birmingham. This system has been used, for instance, as an educational tool in schools and to provide careers advice. The system (patent being applied for) is also being used by Hi8us and Maverick Television Ltd as a way of generating story ideas for television dramas and animations.

The main aim of our project is to develop the edrama system into a yet more powerful and flexible tool by the introduction of more advanced avatar display technology and various advanced computational techniques, notably ones in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Distributed Simulation. For example, we plan to introduce automated characters of particular types, making automatically generated, enmotionally-nuanced utterances, and to partially automate the functions of the human director (or facilitator) who oversees the unfolding drama. The applications focus of our project will be on allowing large numbers of users of e-drama--who may be at home, at a school or in a public place--to engage within small groups in improvisations and creative re-enactments in citizenship areas: careers advice-giving, historical episodes, everyday interactions between characters from different races, or interviews between authority figures or social workers and ordinary people (especially people at a disadvantage such as asylum seekers, crime victims and crime suspects). Such sessions can be made entertaining as well as seriously educational, advisory and inspirational, by optionally casting them as games loosely based on realistic scenarios.

The proposed project is an exciting combination of pioneering basic research and the practical extension of IT systems into non-traditional uses and to non-traditional users. It will contribute to the socialization and integration of deprived, underprivileged and disabled users. The industrial partners on the project (Hi8us, Maverick, and BT Exact) operate in the media and communications sector and intend to ensure that the e-drama research will lead to projects that can reach computer interfaces of the future.