#441: What Dungeons & Dragons Can Teach Storytelling in VR

chrisperkinsDungeons & Dragons is a form of collaborative storytelling that isn’t constrained by time or budget. Because it’s all happening within the theater of the mind, then if you can imagine it, then it can be constructed instantaneously within everyone’s imagination. The end result is that each participant is able to express the full extent of their free will to the dungeon master, who either directly controls their fate or delegates it to a roll of the dice. It’s the ultimate expression of imagination, improvisation, and storytelling that provides a high benchmark and design inspiration for what virtual reality and artificial intelligence can only hope to someday fully replicate within the metaverse.

Chris Perkins is a Dungeons & Dragons story designer as well as the Dungeon Master for the Acquisitions Incorporated podcast. I had a chance to talk with Chris the day after the 3-hour, season finale show for Acq Inc. that took place in front of a live audience of 2500 people in the PAX West Main Theater.


Chris and I talk about what DnD can teach VR storytelling, designing a DnD story within a traditional three-act structure, the expression of free will in DnD, and how to balance out the participation of all of the players and enabling them to do something really cool. Chris sees so much of the dynamics of DnD storytelling as a social experience, and as such most of the biggest open questions for DnD are more shaped by human interactions than by technological limitations.

Some of the hardest open problems with artificial intelligence have to do with understanding stories, disambiguating pronouns, and comprehending inside jokes, cultural references, and different tones of voice. The dungeon master has to track all of these things, observe the mood and body language of all of the participants to keep them engaged while at the same time pacing each character though series of perils. These are all sufficiently complicated enough that having an AI dungeon master successfully guide DnD players through a campaign could be a next-generation Turing test.

Chris also hasn’t been impressed with any of the VR experiences that he’s seen so far because it felt like walking through someone else’s mind. With all of the DnD experiences he’s had, he’d much rather walk though a VR experience of his own mind. There’s TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, but painting or sculpting is 3D is still no where as fast to the instantaneous ability of the mind to construct a scene and story on the fly. Perhaps it will some day be possible if neuroscientists are able to completely code the brain, and unlock the ability to be able to use neural activity to automatically translate our thoughts into virtual objects and full scenes within virtual reality.

Chris is fairly confident that DnD doesn’t have too much to fear from technological competitors. It’s entirely possible that technology may never be able to fully replicate the capabilities of the human mind as we visualize stories with our mind’s eye. So he’s skeptical about the capabilities of VR or AI to be able to accurately and synthetically express your own personal “theater of the mind.” But he also said that it’s inevitable that we’re going to try our hardest to do so because humans and storytelling are inseparable. As history has shown, we’re going to always be looking for new ways to reach people through the latest storytelling techniques.

Here’s the YouTube video of the PAX West 2016 Acquisitions Incorporated campaign discussed in this podcast:

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So over the last couple of years, I've been on this pretty epic journey investigating the unique affordances of this new virtual reality medium. And in that process, I've been asking a lot of people about what they see the ultimate potential of VR is. And a lot of people talk about how it's going to be able to connect us socially in new ways, about how it's going to change storytelling and how we interact in these immersive experiences, as well as how it's the final medium and able to encompass all these other forms of communication that have come before it. So given that, I like to explore topics that really push the boundaries of things that are better to do in real life with real humans versus what might be able to be mediated through virtual reality technologies and artificial intelligence. I think one of those areas is Dungeons & Dragons, which to me is the pinnacle of collaborative storytelling where there's a dungeon master who's the referee and storyteller who's containing the arc of the overall story, but really it's emerging from each of the individual participants. And because it's in the theater of the mind, it has no limitations as to what you might be able to experience. And so there's a lot of aspects of D&D in this type of interactive storytelling that's going to inspire what might be possible in virtual reality. So today I'm going to be talking to Chris Perkins, who is an amazing Dungeon Master for Acquisitions Incorporated and actually works at Wizards of the Coast as a storyteller, creating adventures and experiences for Dungeons and Dragons. So we'll be exploring what Chris thinks of D&D as the ultimate expression of imagination, improvisation, and storytelling on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. This is a paid sponsored ad by the Intel Core i7 processor. VR really forced me to buy my first high-end gaming PC, and so Intel asked me to come talk about my process. So my philosophy was to get the absolute best parts on everything, because I really don't want to have to worry about replacing components once the second gen headsets come out, and the VR min specs will inevitably go up at some point. So I did rigorous research online, looked at all the benchmarks, online reviews, and what I found was that the best CPU was the Intel Core i7 processor. But don't take my word for it, go do your own research, and I think what you'll find is that the i7 really is the best option that's out there. So this interview with Chris happened at PAX West happening in Seattle, Washington on September 5th. And just the night before Chris had given a performance in front of 2,500 people at the PAX West Main Theater with the cast and crew of Acquisitions Incorporated. So in this interview, we talk a bit about a little bit of the live show that had happened. That was kind of like the season finale for the Acquisitions Incorporated podcast produced and published by Dungeons and Dragons and Wizard of the Coast. So with that, Let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:14.719] Chris Perkins: So my name is Chris Perkins. I am the Principal Story Designer at Dungeons & Dragons, and my primary role is to come up with the stories that drive all of our entertainment offerings. And that means characters, locations, conflicts, villains, all that stuff. And we work very closely with our partners to put together design guides that they can use to create great D&D stories.

[00:03:37.630] Kent Bye: So yeah, just looking at Dungeons & Dragons, to me, it's kind of like the pinnacle of interactive narrative, where it's highly interruptible, it's emergent, it's collaborative, and you have to be able to operate within a certain framework of rules, but give a lot of freedom and creativity for both the participants who are going through the campaign, but also the dungeon master who's trying to guide the overall arc of the narrative. And so maybe you could talk about that balance of interactive narrative and lessons you've learned there.

[00:04:06.899] Chris Perkins: Yeah, so with the role-playing game, it very much taps into a human need for storytelling, and it's a shared storytelling experience. There is a dungeon master who kind of guides the story. but the players are as much participants as the DM is. And the whole goal is just to have fun, to let your characters develop, to put them in precarious situations and work together to try to get out of them. It's so immersive. And I think one of the reasons why it's done so well over the years is because people like cooperating to solve common problems and coming up against the unknown and having to improvise. Improvisation is a skill that you develop. as you play more and more of this game. But the best thing about the game is that out of all this storytelling come lasting friendships. People who play D&D form friendships that last for life. And as a consequence, once you play D&D, you kind of love it forever.

[00:05:03.568] Kent Bye: Yeah, there seems to be, like, this highly creative element to it where, you know, if you look at interactive narrative within video games or in virtual reality, it's mostly set. You know, you don't have a lot of global agency. You know, you kind of have a fixed narrative and you have, like, little micro local agencies where you may be able to kind of flavor your story, but it really takes, I think, human intelligence in a lot of ways to be able to take in all of the input and to be able to adapt it, know when to say yes, know when to say no, and if you have an idea of the overall trajectory of where things are going to go, where you can allow for that creativity, but yet keep it constrained and bounded and be able to use probability and chance to say yes or no, but as the Dungeon Master, you also have the freedom to be able to say no in order to guide the larger purpose of the narrative.

[00:05:50.116] Chris Perkins: Yeah, with D&D, our landscape is the human mind, basically. If you can imagine it, you can do it in this game. You won't always succeed, and that's what the dice impose upon you, this sort of random chance of success and failure, but there's nothing you can't try. You know, when you come up to a door, you're not limited to simply opening it or closing it. You can deface it. You can rip it off its hinges. You can smash it to flinders. You can use it to beat a monster over the head. I mean, anything you can imagine is possible in this game. And it really does something that is difficult to capture in other media.

[00:06:28.686] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know you've talked about the theater of the mind, which, you know, I think anytime when I think about, well, how would I try to actually start to translate this process within a technology, then you start to be limited by somebody else's vision and perspective of what the vision is.

[00:06:43.218] Chris Perkins: Yeah, exactly. Are you going to pay a game designer to make a swinging chandelier just on the off chance somebody might want to hang from it? When you're designing a game in a visual platform, you have a budget and you have time to consider and you have to figure out what you're going to do and what you're not going to do. And that's going to put limits on your game. With D&D, because it is all theater of the mind, there is an unlimited budget, effectively.

[00:07:09.368] Kent Bye: Yeah, one thing that I noticed is that you kind of set the general scene, but then you have this period where the participants are really asking questions. So if you were to just make the scene, then they wouldn't be asking as many questions as they were. And that seems like a lot of the creation of the scene happens in that process of asking questions.

[00:07:27.314] Chris Perkins: It does. As a Dungeon Master, I set up situations and I don't know how they're going to play out. because it's really going to depend on how the players react to their surroundings and the characters that they're interacting with. So when I'm planning, I often don't expect a certain outcome. I just kind of roll with the punches. If the players want to try to negotiate with the monster, okay, let's make this a negotiation. If they pull out their swords and just want a spirit to death, okay, let's make it a combat. If they've got some other idea, great, we'll roll with that. But I've DM'd now for many, many decades, and I'm still surprised by the things that players say they want to try to do. You learn to expect the unexpected.

[00:08:09.615] Kent Bye: Well, like last night, there was a three-hour block of period of time that you have to kind of give a performance and a show. And imagine as the Dungeon Master, you have a certain kind of arc and narrative that you want to get through, and yet you're facing all these enemies. And so I can just imagine in the back of your mind, you're like, well, I don't really want to kill off all my characters before we actually get there. Is there a balance as a dungeon master where you're trying to actually kind of serve the purpose of playing the game but yet make it tense enough so that you put them in danger so that they may have to really calculate what choices they're making so they don't kind of die off and everything's over?

[00:08:43.583] Chris Perkins: Yeah, when you have a hard stop, you know you have to be done by a certain time, it does put unusual pressures on you as a dungeon master, and I was very, very mindful of time the whole way through, and just trying to cram as much stuff in as I could. And sometimes that meant taking liberties with the rules, sometimes that meant just sort of trying to accelerate the players and pressure them into making decisions quickly, just so I could get to the parts that I thought were the most essential. But I didn't have any concept at the start exactly how far I was going to be able to get. I just constantly in my mind, I'm thinking, OK, I just want to make sure that it ends at a satisfactory point. I don't know what that point is. I don't know if I'll get total closure, but I want to get as much closure as I can. And the other thing that I'm trying to balance is in that time frame making sure that every character has a chance or a window of opportunity to do something truly amazing and cool. So that every one of those players can say that they contributed to the success of the session. And then the other pressure is just not talking so much that they don't get a chance to talk. You're not one person telling the story. There's all five of us sitting around a table. Everybody needs equal time to shine. And so all of these little juggling acts go into play. And I must admit that there are times I do it when I feel like we didn't quite do it as great as it could have been, and other times where I felt we really just sort of nailed it time-wise. We got in great things. But even this game, which I thought went really, really well, there's stuff that got left on the table. stuff that nobody got a chance to see because we just didn't have time to show it.

[00:10:16.623] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just sort of noticed sometimes there could be a dynamic when people may start dominating or asking a lot of questions and, you know, like as a dungeon master, you want to give them an opportunity to ask their question, but do you, like, in the back of your mind say, okay, you're going to really get it later, like kind of punish them in certain ways?

[00:10:35.256] Chris Perkins: Part of the DM's job is to make sure that everybody has a chance to speak. And if somebody is trying to dominate, I'll usually just, like an editor of a movie, cut away from them and just turn my head to another player and ask them what they're going to do. Or I'll say, you know, hold that thought. I'm going to skip over here now and deal with this other player's thing and then skip back to them later. So that way, just like in a movie, the camera always feels like it's moving. It's not fixating on one character for too long and giving that character too much attention to the detriment of everybody else. A DM is kind of like a film editor that way, but you're cutting live. You're cutting live activity. One of the beautiful things about live games and one of the scariest things about live games is they're live. and you are entertaining people in the moment, and so you've got to keep them engaged minute to minute. That takes a bit of practice. I can't describe what the process I go through in selecting who I focus on at any given time. My only thought is to read the faces of my players, and make sure that they're always engaged. And if one of the players looks like they're wandering off mentally, I'll attack them. Not physically, but I will engage them as a DM and pull them back into the story.

[00:11:55.228] Kent Bye: And there's also kind of a function that you're playing as the overall drama manager. You're trying to see the overall arc of the story. So does this kind of follow like a three-act structure? Or as you're creating stories, how do you create an adventure that has a natural progression and a flow that makes it a good story?

[00:12:13.361] Chris Perkins: That all depends on whether or not the adventure is kind of a standalone thing. If it is, if nothing really came before the adventure and nothing's coming after, it can survive on a three-act structure. The first act is setting things in motion, getting the players ramped up, amped up. The second act is usually when you start rolling dice for combat, confrontation, conflict. You're engaging some villain of some sort. And then the third act is resolution. It's making sure that you've tied everything up things aren't left hanging and there's a nice closure. Now sometimes, like the game we ran this year, it's the continuation of a much larger story that started off earlier and we're just sort of picking up where we left off. There still needs to be a bit of a three-act structure because you have to pull the audience in. And so the first act is low on dice rolls, heavy on role-playing, setting the scene, dispensing with the exposition, and getting the characters in the moment. And then we can move on to the combat stuff later on. But whether or not we have time for a fitting conclusion, or whether or not I want to leave something deliberately hanging, because I know we're going to continue the story beyond, Those are decisions that are sort of made in the moment. In this particular game, I did introduce a little element at the end with this weird night stone thing that they find that I would like to pick up in the future. That was kind of like a little bit of a hook that I can latch on to the next time we get together.

[00:13:41.617] Kent Bye: Yeah, there seems to be a bit of buy-in that has to happen with people that are wanting to go on this adventure. I kind of sensed this tension last night where they were like, I don't know if we want to go to this big castle. You know, it's right there. But I think there's a bit of like, well, is this too dangerous? The players are kind of trying to suss out whether or not it's dangerous, whether or not they're going to die, whether or not it's going to be worth it to go on this for the end goal. So there seems to be like this bait or incentive for them to go on to this adventure that's kind of driving them. almost like saving the princess, or the larger, deeper motivation that you kind of have to set up?

[00:14:15.001] Chris Perkins: So, when I'm running my own games and things, I don't tip my hand quite so much, because I like the idea that they've always got a choice. If I want to guide them in a certain place, I don't want them to see the tracks. I don't want them to feel like they're being railroaded. I want them to make that choice on their own, even though it might be the choice I expected them to make. But when you have a big set, and it's sitting on the tabletop, and you can't really hide it very well, You're kind of tipping your hand. And the players can mess with you and say, oh, we're not going to go there. We're going to go off in a completely other direction. But I think with this particular group of players, I knew they were going to take the bait because they want to be entertained. They want their characters to be put into peril. And they want the audience to have a good time. They're not going to totally derail the entire experience, not go to the castle, and we're just going to sit around for two hours making stuff up. They wouldn't do that to me, I don't think. I think there's a bit of an unspoken contract. for these live games that they're going to play along.

[00:15:13.936] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I look at what's happening with virtual reality, you know, I hear a number of people who have cited Dungeons & Dragons as some of the seeds of the metaverse of being able to have this imaginal world that's kind of connected and you can kind of go explore it. It's like this other reality on top of reality that Dungeons & Dragons players have been doing for a long, long time with their imagination. So I'm just curious to hear some of your thoughts of how Dungeons & Dragons feeds into the future of the metaverse and virtual reality.

[00:15:42.220] Chris Perkins: I think Dungeons & Dragons, one analogy I like to use is the Star Trek warp drive analogy. We know that we don't technologically have the means to travel to other worlds, but it is so tantalizing an idea. that we pursue that dream and we might never achieve the warp drive or anything remotely even similar to that to get to where we want to go. D&D is sort of similar. It's this ultimate expression of imagination and improvisation and storytelling. And technologically, we can't achieve that sort of open-ended, boundless system yet, but we strive to. And virtual reality is one way that we strive to achieve that kind of feeling, to capture that D&D moment. And whether we will ultimately do it through VR or some other technology is sort of irregardless. The pursuit is getting us closer and closer every year, it seems.

[00:16:43.114] Kent Bye: And what do you kind of see as the future of interactive narrative and virtual reality? And there's a bit of limitations, I think, that AI has with the ability to understand context and to do pronoun disambiguation within stories. And there's a lot of issues of just stories in general with artificial intelligence that I think shows the brilliance of how amazing humans are to be able to be a dungeon master. I think it's going to be a long, long time before we have an actual AI dungeon master. Just in the short term, where do you see this kind of going in terms of having these branching narratives, interactive, participatory, emergent stories that could be mediated through artificial intelligence?

[00:17:24.545] Chris Perkins: Oh boy, we are now entering a realm that I know very little about. I think that breakthroughs do happen. People a lot smarter than me are going to make them. And I can't predict when we're going to come to a point where the artificial intelligence can solve on its own or with human assistance these issues that you've identified. I honestly don't know whether or not it's a solvable problem. And I'll be first in line when super smart people solve it. And I think they will eventually because humans and storytelling are inseparable. And we're always looking for ways, new ways to reach people through our storytelling. And that's one way to do it.

[00:18:17.979] Kent Bye: Yeah, I can imagine a time where, you know, once the technology gets good enough to actually read our brainwaves and be able to potentially translate a visual thinking into actual emergent virtual reality experiences, then a time when potentially when you could lower the barrier between your imagination and actually being able to experience a virtual small crime of that. But yet, The thing that I find really interesting in terms of watching the Dungeons and Dragons is how collaborative that process is and how much empty spaces that are not filled in and then the ability for each of the players to somehow cooperate in creating that environment. I think a big thing about virtual reality is that it's all about setting the scene and the environment and once you're immersed into that scene then things kind of emerge from there and so having things kind of open-ended enough where they could add a chandelier if they wanted or to be able to ask a specific question about an area that's not well-defined to be able to have new things come out and so I kind of see this participatory process of people being able to actually contribute to that and then have a cooperative process where once everybody kind of participates then you have a much fuller view of everything that's possible.

[00:19:25.617] Chris Perkins: Yeah, that's sort of a dream realm to me until they plant cortical implants in us and can actually map the human brain well enough to know how it creates images in its own mind's eye. I feel like Dungeons & Dragons has nothing to fear from the competition.

[00:19:48.955] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the other thing that happens when people, you know, because I do podcasting so I'm very familiar with the audio medium and how visual of a medium it is because you're describing a scene and really giving the details of that scene and then people are able to kind of project their own meaning and what they're seeing and so as I was kind of thinking about what D&D can teach VR is almost like it's your own conceptualization of what that is and each individual has their own different viewpoint and instead of a shared viewpoint it's actually the theater of the mind kind of projected out into your own personal virtual reality.

[00:20:21.723] Chris Perkins: Yeah, it's like if I were to describe to you an old house on a hill and only mention a couple features of it, like the door that's kicked in and the nasty word that somebody spray-painted on the side of the house, but I didn't specify what that was, we'd all have different images of what that house looks like. We'd all have different ideas about what that word is, about what the shape of the door is, you know, how many stories is the house? How many details do you have to give? before people start to have a semblance of sameness in what they're seeing. And how much of that actually matters? Does it matter if I don't tell you that the house is two stories? Or does it matter? Is two stories important somehow to the story? These are things that we can do very quickly as humans. I can add one detail after another to the house until everybody around the table pretty much has a very similar idea of what the house looks like. But even then it will never be the same. Not exactly the same for everybody. In D&D I can actually draw you a map and I can show it to you and you can get a very keen idea of what the configuration and shape of the house is. And that's an advantage.

[00:21:34.384] Kent Bye: Yeah, I noticed that the maps that you have shown are kind of simple enough. They're just squares and blocks and spatial relationships that then people can then kind of use that to their own imagination. And I'm curious from your perspective, some of the biggest open problems or questions that you face, or do you feel like it's kind of matured enough that most of the biggest open problems and when it comes to interactive storytelling, collaborative storytelling within D&D is at a certain threshold of maturity or It seems like if people want to participate, they have to go through a learning curve of learning all the rules. And it's not just something that anybody can pick up. So you have to know the bounds of the rules and get trained to a certain point before you can really participate. But just curious from your perspective, some of those open design problems.

[00:22:19.900] Chris Perkins: I wouldn't call it a feature or a bug, but D&D and the type of storytelling that it represents is a social experience. Not only is it shaped by the story itself and the storytellers, but also just the human interactions of the participants. I can run a D&D adventure for seven different groups, and it will be an awesome experience for one, it will be a disappointing experience for another, and the other five will have somewhere in that range between the two extremes, because the people sitting around the table are always different. Every time I run an adventure, it's a different group of people. It's a different experience and different things happen and some of the people sitting at the table are extroverts and some of them are introverts. Some of them know the rules and some of them don't. Some of them have a high comfort level with speaking in character and others don't. just the sheer number of permutations of people around the table and what they bring makes it very impossible to predict or recreate the exact same story over and over and over again. That is a challenge. And I don't know how you solve technologically a social problem or a social divergence. And what I mean by that is the fact that How can technology predict who is participating in the technological experience?

[00:23:48.017] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, and to me the thing that D&D is showing is like this return to living stories or collaborative stories where oral traditions stories were told people were participate and add a song and you know this is to me kind of the pinnacle of being able to have that living story experience rather than with the Gutenberg press and the being able to kind of have a singular perspective or film that kind of becomes the canonical version of that story rather than a version of the story that's co-created and people can start to really take ownership of and I feel like A lot of the trends of technology, what I'm seeing with virtual reality is that moving from that singular perspective into that multiple perspective with having the ability to have multiple people in a social situations participate and interact with each other, then they're able to have a little bit more of like a live immersive theater experience like Sleep No More or be able to co-create a narrative that's not fully fixed yet and then through their improv and collaboration and connection to each other in the virtual technologies be able to create a story that to me looks a lot more like Dungeons and Dragons than

[00:24:46.126] Chris Perkins: traditional film right yeah you you brought up a really interesting point and it made me think like just imagine the story Beowulf it's been captured in print so it's pretty much locked in but I'm just sort of wondering how many versions of that story were told before that version was actually put down on paper and became the definitive version I imagine, you know, hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands of times that story was told and those versions of the story are just gone. They don't exist anymore because the people who told them don't exist anymore. I don't know what that means. It's just fascinating how stories take form and what it took to get that story to that point. Yeah, as a storyteller, I don't know what to do with that.

[00:25:31.393] Kent Bye: Yeah, to me, I think we're moving away from that singular perspective and that we're actually moving back to that oral tradition where it's a little bit more like you're able to actually project and highlight the things that you find the most important and valuable.

[00:25:43.023] Chris Perkins: And one of the cool things I always discover about D&D and talking to people about their experiences with the game is the memories that take away from their playing of that experience. Like, we could publish an adventure and it will be played by tens of thousands of groups, and each of them has their own version of that. that they tell to their friends. My character died fighting this vampire in this throne room, and it was a great fight because this happened, and this happened, and this happened, and this happened. That is their version of that story. And it might never be captured in any written way, shape, or form, unless they blog about it, or unless it's actually taped, or something like that. That's a version of the story that exists only for them. And it is more important than any other version of that story to them, because they went through it. If technology can get to the point where not only are you telling a story, but you are telling one of a billion versions of that story, then we have crossed a major threshold and, like you said, captured this oral storytelling phenomenon in the modern age.

[00:26:51.102] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that Eric Darnell said is that he differentiates the film from VR experience, for a film is the story of one person's experience, whereas in VR you're actually giving them an experience and then they generate their own stories from it, which is very similar to that D&D adventure, you're giving them an experience and from that experience they're able to, each individual that goes through it has their own stories that they have out of that, and I think that's the trend that we're moving from, is from that singular perspective into the multiple perspective and being able to kind of differentiate the difference between an experience and a story so that you're giving people an experience of a story, but yet they have their own version of it. Yeah, wow. And finally, I'm just curious if you have any kind of thoughts on the ultimate potential of virtual reality, interactive, collaborative storytelling.

[00:27:40.463] Chris Perkins: It's a domain that I'm just starting to familiarize myself with. I don't have a tremendous amount of VR experience yet. What I've experienced so far feels like I'm just sort of entering the brain of another person and just kind of wandering around and seeing what images float around in there. My hope is that in my lifetime, I'll be able to see a VR experience that belongs to me.

[00:28:09.957] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. You're welcome. My pleasure. So that was Chris Perkins. He's a Dungeons & Dragons story designer for Wizards of the Coast, as well as the Dungeon Master for Acquisitions Incorporated. So I have a number of different takeaways from this interview is that, first of all, I have to agree with Chris in saying that we're quite a ways away from having any type of technology, whether it be virtual reality or artificial intelligence, to be able to achieve some equivalence of what you're able to do with your imagination and improvisation and collaborative storytelling within a D&D campaign. So the moment that really stood out for when Chris was talking about his experiences of VR is that whenever he actually goes into a VR experience, he kind of feels like he's experiencing somebody else's mind. And ultimately he wants to kind of explore his own mind. So right now we have the capability to do something like a tilt brush or oculus medium but that still takes a lot of time and effort to be able to actually take what you're seeing in your mind and kind of express it within this virtual reality medium. The theater of the mind is basically frictionless. You can basically think of something, the time to create it is essentially instantaneous and the budget is that it's free. So it's going to be hard, I think, to kind of match that capability up to the point when we actually create the technology to be able to somehow decode the neurons in our brain to be able to translate those neurons firing into some sort of visual expression of what we're thinking. I think we're quite a ways away from that happening. I think we'll perhaps eventually get to that point but at this point I think that looking at something like Dungeons and Dragons there's quite a distinct difference of amount of agency that you're able to express within an experience because you can essentially create whatever you want. The sky's the limit with what you can do in D&D, and you're kind of bounded by the rules of the game, the dungeon master who's controlling the arc of the experience, but also the fate of the dice of whatever you happen to roll. So I like to really think about this tension between local agency and global agency as the local agency is kind of the extent of your free will in small ways. The global agency is your effect of your free will in the large ways. Does it actually impact the experience at all? So I think that any experience has the other dimension, which is the fatedness. So either in Dungeons and Dragons, you're rolling the dice and seeing what the fate is, or it's to some extent the Dungeon Master's role to be the referee and to make decisions and to say no and to determine the fate. Within a video game experience, you're essentially having a video game coder type in the rules of the game by coding it. And so there's always going to be some bounded limitation for what's possible in the experience. Perhaps eventually we'll come up with an open enough framework and have some ability to recreate just about anything in VR. But at this point, I think that we're kind of bounded by the technical abilities of the coders to be able to actually implement that within the experience. So one of the biggest discussions that I've heard about this dynamic between local and global agency was from Andrew Stern back in my AI and the future of interactive drama back in episode number 293. And even within Facade, this is an experience where you're going into a room and interacting with a husband and wife, talking to these avatars with natural language input. You're typing in these statements and having these little micro interactions with these two characters. You end up having five different outcomes as to whether or not this couple stays together, whether they split, whether they kick you out, or whether one of them leaves in a fit of anger. Given that, though, Andrew has kind of coded in those five different outcomes. Even though there's an impression that you have some sort of control over the outcome, there's still only five fixed outcomes. Well, in Dungeons & Dragons, there's no boundedness into what the number of outcomes possibly are when you have anybody able to contribute anything at any moment. To me, this is the pinnacle of what you're able to do with everybody's local agency being able to actually have a viable impact of the overall outcome of the entire experience. And I think that Chris is right that D&D doesn't have much to worry about in terms of technology being able to achieve that level of freedom. But I think there's still quite a lot that we can learn from this type of collaborative storytelling, because talking to a lot of people about the unique affordances of VR is that you're able to do this kind of collaborative emergent storytelling. Charlie Melcher in episode 411 talks about this idea of living stories, where instead of just having a singular perspective tell you the story, it's actually incorporating and engaging in audience participation of that story. you're able to kind of have it emerge. I think this is most coming out in immersive theater experiences where in a lot of ways that's still kind of on rails and you don't have much impact of the overall outcome of the story. But sometimes you have these really amazing one-on-one interactions where you do have the capability to really step in and have a lot of control over the experience. So I think that there's a lot that Dungeons & Dragons can teach the future of storytelling within VR. And so I just want to highlight some things that really stuck out for me. So as the mediator of these collaborative emergent storytelling experiences, What Chris is doing as the dungeon master is that he's trying to create this collaborative storytelling experience where all the different participants are cooperating with each other in order to solve common problems and they really want to come up against the unknown. Just in talking about the character motivations, Chris said that he really wants them to take the bait because each of the people participating, they want to be entertained and they want their characters to be put into peril. they realize that the whole nature of drama is that you're kind of put into this challenging situation and you have to be creative in the way that you find your way out of it. So another thing that Chris said is that he is really trying to make sure that every character has a chance and opportunity to do something that's really amazing and cool so that each person at the end of it can feel like that they did something to really contribute to the success of the overall adventure. So as the D&D dungeon master he's the chief storyteller in this experience and he's trying to make sure that each of the participants are equally engaged and that no one's kind of fading out and getting bored and so he has to balance all these different things as to whether or not someone's an introvert or an extrovert and whether or not they know the rules or they don't know the rules, or their level of comfort when it comes to speaking in character with others. And so there's all these different dimensions that he says are really more social problems than technological problems. And so he's kind of skeptical as to the limits as to how much this technology can improve the experience. If anything, it's going to be a goal for what the medium should be striving for. I know that AltSpaceVR has been able to hold Dungeons & Dragons gatherings within a social VR experience and that's a little bit different because it's still theater of the mind. They're not actually acting out the experiences in any way other than to kind of have a board and to have people gathering within a social VR space. I think the future of what I'm kind of imagining is that perhaps we'll kind of have other VR experiences that are really inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. I know in talking to Myst creator Rand Miller, he said that his brother and he played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons growing up and that that was a lot of what inspired him to create Myst and to be able to create these worlds that they could really explore. So that process of discovery and exploration, I think, is a big part of what people want to do when it comes to creating these imaginal worlds within the metaverse. And that even though Chris was pretty skeptical about where things are at at the moment and where they might go in the future, he says that people are going to try to figure this stuff out because humans and storytelling are inseparable, that we're always looking for new ways to reach people through our storytelling. And I think that with virtual reality technologies, as well as with artificial intelligence, there is going to be a lot of effort to try to recreate this type of experience that is mediated through humans in this way. So for example, I talked a little bit about some of the challenges that artificial intelligence faces in trying to recreate what the role of a dungeon master is doing. And so just to elaborate on that just a little bit is that first of all, stories are something that are really difficult for AI to understand at this point. Common sense is really difficult for AI to really understand as well as when you talk about sentences and you start using pronouns Sometimes it's hard for AI to really identify what those pronouns are really referring to so you just have to have a lot of conceptualization and understanding about the world that we haven't really written down because we just kind of get it we don't need to write it down, but Computers, turns out, don't really get it. And so they have a lot of troubles with trying to figure out a lot of these things that, for us, seem pretty simple. So there's a lot of instances that happen within watching this Acquisitions Incorporated campaign where there's a lot of people talking, they're making jokes, they're making inside jokes, they're making cultural references, they're having sarcasm. All these things are super hard for AI to even start to try to comprehend and understand, let alone try to architect within their minds this overall story and then trying to balance all the social interactions of all the different people. You know, I think this in a lot of ways is like a Turing test in terms of if AI is able to kind of replicate what a dungeon master is able to do, then we've really reached a level of intelligence with our computing power that is just beyond any amount of conceptualization that we have at this point. So that's all that I have for today. I'd like to just thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and become a donor at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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