Interactive Storytelling Systems for Children:

Using Technology to Explore Language and Identity

Marina Umaschi Bers and Justine Cassell
MIT Media Laboratory
20 Ames St., Room E15-320A
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA
617-253-6215 [fax]
{marinau, justine}

Storytelling is a good medium for learning about identity and communication as it enables exploration of one’s inner world and requires flexing one’s language skills. This paper presents a new approach to interactive storytelling: SAGE (Storytelling Agent Generation Environment), an authoring environment for children to create their own wise storytellers to interact with by telling and listening to stories. In order to encourage children’s emotional engagement in the SAGE environment, the storytellers are embodied in an interactive stuffed animal, also programmable by the children.

This paper presents technical aspects of SAGE’s design and implementation as well as results from pilot studies done with fourth and fifth graders. Results show that children had a tendency to share their personal stories with the soft interactive interface. Exploration of identity and communication happened in several ways: First, storytellers built by the children were projections of their fears, feelings, interests, and role models; they allowed them to explore their own identity as well as present themselves to others.  Second, through designing and testing the conversational structures of their storytelling characters, children observed and repaired breakdowns in conversational interaction.  This process engaged them in the exploration of communication and decentering, or taking the point of view of others.