How CHESS Is Changing Interactive Storytelling at Museums

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

CHESS Augmented Reality

In a recent op-ed “Tell me a story: augmented reality technology in museums” for The Guardian, the authors Yannis Ioannidis, Olivier Balet and Dimitrios Pandermalis make several excellent points about the increasing role of storytelling and digital technology in the museum visitor experience. Particularly, they point to how the introduction of the new technology doctrine to museum studies impacted the field. Essentially, it paved the way for curators to tell non-linear stories and create a whole new kind of museum experience by combining expert curation, storytelling, interactive technology, and a focus on entertainment as well as education.

What began with audio tours and interactive signage has evolved into a much richer, multi-faceted field. As the authors highlight the growth: “Taking this trend further is the emergence of interactive digital storytelling, which combines participation with automatic story generation and narration to focus in on making storytelling more personal and mobile. It’s edutainment – something that both educates and entertains for a more engaging, adaptive and fundamentally enjoyable visitor experience.”

CHESS technology in Greece

They go on to share some exciting insights from the new project, the Cultural Heritage Experiences Through Socio-personal Interactions and Storytelling (CHESS) program. CHESS is a project that’s designed to apply these concepts with an increasing focus on personalization. The project’s main objective is to “to research, implement and evaluate both the experiencing of personalized interactive stories for visitors of cultural sites and their authoring by the cultural content experts.”

In other words, they’re applying interdisciplinary research toward the goal of creating personalized, highly adaptive digital storytelling experiences – through mobile and mixed reality tech – that’s got a sound scientific and pedagogical basis.  What’s even better? The program aims to make this game changing platform available at large to the museum sector.

CHESS in action

The idea hones in on an important aspect of creating a visitor experience: personalizing it enough so that it resonates with your audience. Personalization is becoming an increasingly critical factor when thinking about younger and more digitally inclined audiences. That personalization aims to help museums “capitalize on the pervasive use of interactive digital content and systems in order to offer experiences that connect to their visitors’ interests, needs, dreams, familiar faces or places; in other words, to the personal narratives they carry with them and, implicitly or explicitly, build when visiting a cultural site.”

A beta of the program is currently in trials at the Cite de l’Espace Museum in Toulouse, France, and at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece. Each visitor gets their own unique narrative to follow, guided via a tablet, through a personalized story that connects museum artifacts, exhibits, and external collections based on the interests of the individual. Museums create a range of personas, and then offer a series of different experiences. They vary in content focus, level of details, and depth of interactivity. Tours can range from traditional text and audio to deeply interactive tours where artifacts invite guests to engage with them.

CHESS uses screens to bring museums to life

The tours are personalized based on the use of personas. Museums create these based on typical visitors, using an intuitive “authoring” tool that allows non-IT professionals to create tours. Short surveys are then given to visitors to identify which persona they would connect with most deeply. The stories that are created are multi-path, and then can adapt based on guest behavior. For example, if guests show a deep interest in a particular type of content or skip over something altogether, this information can be used to adapt tour content as the visitor moves through the museum.

CHESS represents the next frontier in interactive storytelling for museums, and potentially for other entertainment venues as well. While interactivity and engagement are key, adding layers of personalization and adaptive technology over storytelling efforts will go a long way toward keeping young and ever increasingly demanding audiences interested in cultural content.

Image source: CHESS project

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