NWN offers many opportunities for the development of storytelling skills. Setting, plot, character and dialogue all have a role to play in the creation of a successful game, and with carefully planned interventions these aspects of storytelling can be honed and enhanced through the game design experience. In addition, NWN can be viewed as a text in itself, as well as a text in which pupils can intervene to make a text of their own, offering further storytelling experiences.
Here is just a selection of story and language opportunities that we have encountered in our work to date:
· Children can create a setting then run the game and experience it in 3-D as the player. They can experiment with lighting and sound as well as the visual layout then go into role to consider what they might feel and smell as well as see and hear in their world.
· As they create each new area they can design it to suit the tone of the story, or even develop the story to suit the features they uncover as they experiment with the toolset.
· They can develop the “map” of the area to support the plot, setting significant plot items in key locations and adding helpful features such as paths and signposts and speaking characters to help the player follow the “route” of the story.
· The plot is often quest-based, and pupils can use plot items, conditional conversations and transitions to help the plot to have a secure structure.
· They can develop the player’s personality through dialogue, thinking about their “back-story” and reasons for being in the game, as well as customising their appearance and name.
· Speaking characters will play important part in the game, too, and through the development of their dialogue with the player these characters can be brought to life and take the story forward.
· Pupils can also explore the fantasy genre by drawing on the typical features of fantasy adventure stories such as The Hobbit, Eregon, The Wizard of Earthsea, Northern Lights, The Dark is Rising, etc, as they develop their plot and dialogue.
· Pupils can undertake functional writing such as instructions for making a transition, or personal writing, e.g. a diary entry for a character.
Field studies to date have shown that pupils tend to rush to the special features of the software that are triggered by dialogue, and the dialogue generated has often been minimal, simply serving as a vehicle for the actions. The interfaces that we are developing to support conversation have gone a long way towards alleviating this problem, but there is still a need for careful teacher-intervention to ensure dialogue is purposeful and powerful, taking the plot forward or bringing the characters to life, or both!