This article may provoke some responses..
Defining Cultural Agents for Virtual Heritage Environments
Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments-Special Issue on “Immersive and Living Virtual Heritage: Agents and Enhanced Environments”
Cultural agents, virtual heritage, computational archaeology, visualization, virtual environments, immersion.
This article describes the primary ways in which intelligent agents have been employed in virtual heritage projects and explains how the special requirements of virtual heritage environments necessitate the development of cultural agents. How do we distinguish between social agents and cultural agents? Can cultural agents meet these specific heritage objectives?
As the call to papers for this special issue has noted, “Most heritage applications lacked a sense of immersion in terms of ‘livingness’, life, behaviour and intelligent agents in the virtual environments, and there has not been any progression in such developments since a decade ago. This criticism of “lifeless” and “sterile” digital environments (and virtual heritage environments in particular) is shared by various scholars (Papagiannakis et al., 2002; Roussou, 2008) but a simple directive to ‘populate’ a virtual environment with intelligent agents masquerading as walk-on characters will not necessarily communicate cultural significance (Bogdanovych, Rodriguez, Simoff, & Cohen, 2009). And communicating cultural significance is an objective of virtual heritage environments even if it is not a requirement of all virtual environments.
Virtual heritage environments have special needs that create more criteria than those required by mainstream digital environments and too many agent-virtual heritage projects have not communicated the significance and value of the heritage content) due to their focus on perfecting the technology. In their attempt to create more engagement, virtual environment researchers and designers have conflated social presence with cultural presence (Champion, 2005, 2011; Flynn, 2007). A solution is to develop agents who help interpret cultural cues and transmit to the human participant a sense of situated cultural presence and an awareness through place-specific and time-specific interaction of the cultural local significance of the simulated sites, artefacts and events. Such agents would be cultural agents, not merely social agents, as they would convey accummulated and place-specific cultural knowledge that would outlast or extend beyond their own individual ‘lives’