Computational Narratives – Evolutionary Journal

I decided to continue with my evolutionary tree idea from earlier in the semester. The concept is that the reader starts as one sea creature, and becomes others by traveling the evolutionary tree’s branches.

I enjoyed getting to spend more time learning about interesting animals, and reminding myself of the major branches of evolution.

You can see my prototype here. This time I was able to add a sense of discourse, or genre, to hold the piece together. For this iteration, I employed the concept of a journal. The narrator is writing entries in their journal as they time travel.

(I don’t like how this looks, but it gets the point across.)



I was also able to flesh out the branching steps more completely. In talking with Allison, my first draft seemed limited by only allowing the reader to go backwards in the evolutionary tree. I decided to let the reader go backwards and forwards.

I did have challenges with a few stretch goals I had for myself. Most disappointing was not being able to debug properly. I found Twine to be intuitive most of the time, but quite unintuitive when I was trying to do something less conventional. I had wanted to create a way for the reader to be given a list of all the animals they transformed into. Perhaps these could become stickers? Or a nice flyer? After meeting with Allison, I had an idea of how to use Sugarcube and Twine to modify plain javascript to create a global variable.  I wasn’t able to debug or finish the code. As for the CSS, I’m pretty sure the CSS code is entered properly but it’s not displaying well. I’m happy to fix these two things.

All in all though, I think the Twine format affords an interaction that matches the form of an evolutionary tree. I think with enough styling and design, a piece like this might be able to stand on its own. There’s an educational component that could be very strong in a museum. Or there could be a more philosophical approach to existence. Either could be accomplished with different tones, design systems, and imagery.



Computational Narratives – Ren’py and Branching Narratives

I decided to wrap a Ren’py dialogue within an in-person conversation between two people.

The premise is two people sit down to talk about the meaning of life, in an open way directed by turning over cards on the table.

You can find a zip file of the project to download and play yourself.

Here is a video link to documentation of the Ren-py game, until I figure out how to get the game online.

Below is the dialogue and interaction flow.


Two people

Put two gold cards face down in front of you.

Image result for gold cards playing

Take turns flipping one up, and discuss the question together.

  • Card 1: At what times in your life have you thought most about the meaning of life?
  • Card 2: In what ways has religion, philosophy or science played a part in your understanding life?

Now turn over one colored card from the separate stack.

Image result for colored playing cards

  • Card A: Where do our moral obligations come from?
  • Card B: Is knowing different than believing?
  • Card C: Can science support religion? Can religion support science?

Discuss for a minute.

Then together choose an advisor to include in your conversation.

[Dalai Lama, Ethics Philosopher, or Brain Scientist are projected on a wall, with a mouse provided to engage with the Ren’py project]

Image result for dalai lamaImage result for brain  researcher womanImage result for ethics philosopher simone

One scenario could be:

Card A: Where do our moral obligations come from?


Choosing Dalai Lama

Seekers: “We’ve come to ask you a few questions about life, and what it all means.”

Dalai Lama: “Yes, there are many questions to ask.”

Dalai Lama: One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? [link]

Dalai Lama: What interests you most in this moment?

  • Option #1: Moral Obligations
  • Believing and Knowing
  • Science, Religion, and Science

Option #1: Moral Obligations

Our inner lives are something we ignore at our own peril, and many of the greatest problems we face in today’s world are the result of such neglect.

  • Question #1A: Do you believe moral obligations are the responsibility of the individual or society?
  • Question #1B: Can science provide the grounds for moral obligations?

Question #1A: Do you believe moral obligations are the responsibility of the individual or society?

Dalai Lama: Ultimately, the source of our problems lies at the level of the individual. If people lack moral values and integrity, no system of laws and regulations will be adequate. So long as people give priority to material values, then injustice, inequity, intolerance and greed — all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values — will persist.

Question #1B: Can science provide the grounds for moral obligations?

Dalai Lama: It’s good to ask where we can turn for help. Science, for all the benefits it has brought to our external world, has not yet provided scientific grounding for the development of the foundations of personal integrity — the basic inner human values that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. …  What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics. [link]


Narrator to end interaction:

“What resonated for you in what the Dalai Lama said? Do you think something is missing in the Dalai Lama’s responses?”

“Try choosing a new card.”


Computational Approaches to Narratives – Inform 7

I created a scene about Rachel Carson, the marine biologist, author, and conservationist. She wrote Silent Spring, a book from 1962 that served as a major milestone for the environmental movement. This is a great recent article about her in The New Yorker.

My scene takes place in the study of Rachel Carson’s Maine cottage which she called “Silverledges”.

I may include Rachel Carson in another project of mine that is virtual reality-based. This assignment helped me imagine her as a character in a scene, rather than a biographical figure.

My source code is below. My online playable version is here (it’s working now).

One note: I attempted to create rules where you can put the sea shell in your pocket on the tray of curiosities, look out the picture windows to see outside, and choose to go with Roger down to the shore. (Roger is her 4-year-old nephew who she adopted.)  I couldn’t successfully do this, but got a sense of how they work from the Inform 7 documentation.


Source code

“Silverledges, Rachel Carson’s Cottage in Maine” by Elizabeth J Ferguson

Study is a room. “This is your study, inside your cottage in Maine which you call Silverledges. You are Rachel Carson.”

The picture windows are east of the study. “To the east, you can look out the picture windows.”

Roger is in the study. “Roger comes up to you asking to go down to the shore again.” The description of Roger is “Roger has sand on his shirt.”

a writing desk is in the study. The writing desk is fixed in place.

a manuscript is on the writing desk. The description is “‘… What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence?'”

a shelf is in the study. On the shelf is a tray of curiosities.

picture windows looking out to the sea are in the study.

[The player carries a sea shell. A sea shell can be examined or unexamined.

After taking sea shell unexamined:
say “You are looking at a pale green sea shell”;
try examining the sea shell.

Carry out examining sea shell:
Now the sea shell is examined.]

[Before taking the tray:
if the player has a sea glass:
now the piece of sea glass is on the tray;
say “Rachel puts down her latest piece of sea glass on the tray.”]

Computational Approaches to Narratives – Using Twine to Tell Hyperlinked Stories

I based my story on the evolutionary tree of life.The prototype is here.

You can choose an animal to begin as, and go back in time to actually become other beings you are distantly related to.

I’m inspired by the game Everything by David OReilly. In this simulation game, you start out as one animal and become others. You can become animals smaller or larger than you (in contrast to mine, in which you change animals based on evolutionary connections). I really love this game because it focuses on a non-human story.

In the future, I would like the story structure to be more complex, in which you get rerouted to be able to become one of the other original animals you could have chosen from.



My thanks to the Open Tree of Life site, which is the first accurate & complete evolutionary tree on the web.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 11.41.26 AM.png



Approaches to Computational Narratives – First Assignment

Here is a link to my sketch that remixes the children’s book “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”.

I’m interested to see how others divided story from discourse, as I found it challenging to do within Tracery! But I liked working in Tracery and the idea of dividing the two narrative components of story and discourse from each other.

My notes before writing up the code.

Sylvester (Fanny, Joanna, Roger)

donkey (chef, librarian, junior associate)

Oaksdale (D.C., Paris, New York City)

parents (peers, enemies, pool hall buddies)

father (restaurant owner, university dean, boss)

rocks (spices, rare books, watches)

pebble (saffron, Guttenberg Bible, Rolex)

magic (delicious cooking, irreplaceable value, stock market profits)

home (desert, river, office)

lion (food safety expert, budget cuts, greed)

badrock (soup pot, paperback mystery, jail time)

picnic (restaurant family meal, book club escapade, trip up the Hudson River)


Sylvester was a donkey who liked to collect rocks.

One day when on a walk he found a flaming red pebble in the shape of a marble.

It turned out to be magic.

The pebble could make any wish come true.

Sylvester started to take the pebble home.

But a lion crossed his way, and out of fright, Sylvester wished he was a rock.

Sylvester was stuck as a rock for a year, unable to hold the pebble and make another wish.

One day, his parents – who dearly missed him – went out for a picnic and sat on the rock. By coincidence, the father put the pebble on the rock.

Sylvester, out of desperation and not knowing whether it would work, wished to become Sylvester again.

It worked!

His parents locked the pebble in a safe. Because what else could they wish for, now that they had Sylvester back?





Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Sylvester Duncan

Mother and Father

Acorn Road in Oaksdale

Collecting pebbles unusual shape and color

Rainy Saturday during vacation

Found flaming red, round, like a marble

Shiver from excitement, rain cold on back

“Wish it would stop raining”

To his surprise, it stopped!

Description of rain stopping

Never had a wish gratified so quickly

Magic must be at work

Magic must be in red pebble

To make a test, put pebble on ground. Wished. Nothing happened.

But if he held it, the magic worked.

“What a lucky day, now I can have anything I want. Parents. Relatives. Friends. Anyone”

Wished sun back. Wished wart away.

Started home. Could hardly wait to see parents.

Maybe they woudn’t believe him

Crossing STrawberry Hill

Crossed a mean hungry lion

Frightened – so made a bad wish. Could have wished for many things. But panicked. Couldn’t think clearly.

Wished he’d be a rock. Lion came over, left confused.

“I saw that donkey! Maybe I’m going crazy”

And there was Sylvester, a rock. Unable to touch the pebble.

Would have to have someone wish while putting pebble on him as a rock.

Fell asleep. Saw stars.

Parents worried.

“Won’t ever scold him again” said mother.

Asked all neighbors, animals, children.

Went to police (pigs). Could not find child.

All dogs went searching.

Even smelled rock, but smelled like a rock, not Sylvester.

A year passed.

Parents tried to be happy. But always reminded of Sylvester. No meaning in life.

Sylvester slept all the time. Endless sleep.

One day, a wolf sat on him and he howled.

Seasons passed. Spring came.

Parents went on a picnic. To try to live again and be happy.

They sat on the rock! Sylvester woke up. He wanted to shout, but couldn’t!

Set up picnic. Lots of great picnic items for donkeys.

Father saw pebble, said Sylvester would have liked it. Put on the rock.

Mother could feel Sylvester’s energy. But Sylvester couldn’t feel the pebble on his rock.

Sylvester wished out of desperation!

They embraced, questioned, answered, exclaimed.

Father put pebble in iron lock.

They might want to use it later, but now they had all they wanted.