Friday, April 06, 2007

Teaching communication skills with interactive-fiction games

Sketching...

We can use simulations and games to give people the practise at tasks required to develop skills. Here's a way that 'interactive-fiction' games could be used to help people learn communication skills.

I'll illustrate by talking about a particular communication skill - the ability to negotiate effectively. There are principles behind effective negotiation, and to be good at this form of communication you need to have a mastery of them.

It's not that important what these specific principles are (see this article if you're interested in a discussion of some negotation skills), just that there are different principles, and you can master each of them to various degrees.

Here's the sort of interactive-fiction game I'm thinking of. It probably wouldn't matter if it was textual or graphical, just that it involved a converstaion between your character and another (or others), where you are negotiating with them, and at each point in the conversation you have a selection of options for what to say next[1]. At each point there might be five different possibilities, and you have to choose one. Each choice is of the actual text that the character will say (as opposed to something more abstract such as "Ask about the red book").

The idea is that you are playing not simply yourself, but a character who had a certain level of skills. And you can run through the same scenerio multiple times, but each time that character's skills improve -- either they have learnt new principles or have further developed the ones they have. And these improved skills are reflected in the converstation choices you are presented with.

Here are the ways I think would help people to learn those skills:

  • It gives you practice. The converstaion options at each point would cover a range of degrees of effectiveness. Would give you a chance to see how effective your choice was.
  • You get to see the differences between different levels of skills. If you don't have the particular skill, it's hard to know what would have been the better way of handling the situation. But if you've already tried one way, and then you are shown what a better way is, then that might make it easier to appreciate the principle involved.




[1] The best examples of these sorts of conversations that I'm aware of are the first two of the 'Secret of Monkey Island' graphical adventure games (there is a third and a fourth game in the series, but they weren't done by the same person and aren't as good)

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