The Automatist Storytelling System
Putting the Editor's Knowledge in Software

Michael Murtaugh
Masters Thesis, MIT Media Lab
(C) 1996 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This thesis presents the Automatist Storytelling System -- an "editor in software" or "narrative engine" -- a system that produces dynamic and responsive presentations from an extensible collection of keyword-annotated materials. Sequencing decisions are made on the basis of association, and the overall structure and meaning of an experience emerges from the interactions of individual material presentations. In this highly decentralized model, viewers are consistently integrated participants, who exert varying degrees of influence or control over the construction of the experience. The viewers' role is considered primarily extradiegetic; viewers' actions influence the process of the storytelling rather than altering actual events in the story world. By making both the viewing experience and authoring process variable and extensible, the Automatist Storytelling System supports new story forms such as the "Evolving Documentary."

This thesis presents two systems, ConTour and Dexter, as examples of Automatist Storytelling Systems. These systems were developed and are described in terms of, respectively, the stories: Boston: Renewed Vistas and Jerome B. Wiesner: A Random Walk through the Twentieth Century.

0 Introduction

1 Interactive Narrative
This section presents a theoretical framework for discussing interactive narrative, provides a critique of "branch-structure" narrative, and establishes a set of five Fundamental Properties of Interactive Narrative.

2 Approach

This section describes the approach of the Automatist Storytelling System by discussing related and influential research. This section also introduces the keyword-based knowledge representation scheme common to both the ConTour and Dexter systems.

3 ConTour

This section describes the design and implementation of ConTour, a graphical demonstration of a simple Automatist Storytelling System. The system represents a potential "back-end" or "narrative engine" for an end-user storytelling system. In addition, the application is a kind of "digital editing assistant" capable of producing "steerable" presentations of keyword-annotated materials.

4 Dexter

This section describes the design and implementation of Dexter, a generalized system for browsing collections of documents on the World Wide Web. Dexter represents an application of the principles of the Automatist Storytelling System to the problem of supporting "true browsing" on the web.

5 Extensions

Extensions, concludes the thesis by discussing possible extensions of the Automatist Storytelling System. This section also presents scenarios for future applications.