The experience is framed in a narrative context. However, it is not defined by it. The focus is not on building environments that achieve complete narrative structures, but on using the power of the story form as a communicative medium. We look at stories as the motivational basis for activity and interaction, to provide construction with a purpose. The reason we choose narrative to be our motivational trigger lies in the indisputable value of storytelling[Applebee, 1978, Briggs & Wagner, 1979, Eagan, 1992] in enhancing the learning process. Stories can stimulate imagination, entertain, and improve communication abilities[Briggs & Wagner, 1979].
The stories in our virtual world take the form of multiple threads. We adopt Lebowitz's approach, where an entire story cannot be planned out[Lebowitz, 1984], since the kinds of stories we envision theoretically do not end. Instead, once a body of events has been planned, that portion of the story is told.
When we say narrative we refer to multiple persistent narratives; various stories have a life beyond the short term interaction with the physical space, they persist in the sense of a longer temporal scope. The virtual world stays extant. It may continue to evolve in the child's absence or remains suspended until their return.
Characters are necessary to maintain coherence and consistency in a story[Lebowitz, 1984]. The user guides the plot structures through character interactions; characters and the environment influence the narrative. Characters consist of children interacting with the virtual environment and computer controlled agents within the environment. We call these simulated agents genies. Genies take the role of ``side-kicks'', companions and acquaintances. The participant begins by choosing a side-kick that serves as a guide and loyal companion that remains with the participant throughout the narrative. The side-kick answers the participant's questions in the environment, suggests possible actions that help drive the narrative, and introduces participants to other companions.
In addition to side-kicks, participants may encounter and invite companions to join them. These companions may each have special knowledge about the environment or possess special abilities to help the child (e.g. the fire-flies provide light in the night time.) Finally, participants interact briefly with casual acquaintances who provide supplementary information about the environment but do not join the entourage (e.g. a talking sign post may point the way to a scenic route, or warn of potential danger in the area.)