The problem with player-focused virtual heritage

In February 2016, Mathew Tyler-Jones wrote (about my Critical Gaming book):

There’s only one point I take issue with. Drawing from this blog, he says:

Playing in a digitally simulated world can leave the feeling that the virtual world’s entire causal mechanics rotate around the player

…as thought that’s a Bad Thing. Which I guess it might be if you are primarily seeking immersion or presence, as the VR guys call it. But in fact I’m coming to the conclusion that that feeling (which I’ve dubbed in a couple of presentations “the Apotheosis Moment”) is something special about games, which in a way, I’m trying to recreate in physical cultural heritage environments.

Yes I think it is a problem for virtual heritage, and especially for agent-based virtual heritage (VH with bots/AI)..why should a world, especially a past world re-visited to explain past cultural significance, revolve around a current-world player?

So how does this relate to BDI agents? (Belief Desire Intention Agents)..

A virtual heritage project should convey

  • cultural significance
  • cultural loss
  • the issue of recovering/re-interpreting the past
  • intangible heritage (not only the materiality of 3D objects)
  • sociability and community related to cultural values
  • the relative values of culture, society and what was treasured

In many if not most past societies, this trumps the value of the individual (perhaps unless you were the Supreme leader..)

And in AI ,well AI based on BDI, the above are not usually directly considered.

I would add specific components should be:

  1. agent-aware feelings of community and strangeness (belonging and exclusion)
  2. relative values of tangible and intangible cultural processes, products and assets
  3. specifically situated embodiment (especially important for ritual and helping with both #1 and #3).

These are just brief notes to ponder on in more detail at a later time (but before the end of November!)






Intangible and Invisible, Canberra 20.10.2017

Intangible and Invisible, Canberra 2017

Recognising intangible cultural heritage in place

Friday 20 October, 1.30pm-4.15pm
Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra

old parl house slv

The Australia ICOMOS National Scientific Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage invites you to join us for the launch of our new Practice Note and for our Workshop which will explore some of the challenges in making intangible cultural heritage more visible in place-based heritage practice. Register below: $20 (to cover costs).

The workshop will be followed by our NSC-ICH Annual General Meeting (4.15-4.50pm). Then join us and the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians Inc for drinks and a guided walk at West Basin on the north side of Lake Burley Griffin to look at some of the heritage values and threats to those values.

After the walk we look forward to seeing NSC-ICH members for dinner.

Register now

Information on visiting the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

And stay tuned for details of the program and speakers!

Source: Intangible and Invisible, Canberra 2017

Digital Humanities 2017 tech talk

I was one of 3 presenters to give a talk at the below (today)

2017 Tech Talk in October: Data Computing in Humanities

Digital Humanities

Researchers in humanities are increasingly using computational approaches to analyse data objects such as text, painting, film and other artefacts. Example applications include text analysis, investigation of cultural changes, detection of origin of species and many more. In this October event, three speakers will show us a glimpse of this area by introducing their fascinating projects or application.

Venue was live meeting hubs in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane..Vote on topics for future tech talks!

This month’s speakers:

– Dr. Julia Miller (Australia National University) – PARADISEC: Visualising the past, present, and future of digital archiving

Dr. Julia Miller is the Senior Data Manager for the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language and runs the ANU unit of The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC). She received a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Washington, investigating acoustic properties of tone in the endangered Athabaskan language of Dane-zaa.

– Prof. Erik Champion (Curtin University), Computing, 3D Models and Intangible Heritage

Professor Erik Champion is UNESCO Chair of Cultural Visualisation and Heritage at Curtin University and Visualisation theme leader at the Curtin Institute of Computation ( He researches issues in the area of virtual heritage as well as game design, interactive media, and architectural computing. Before joining Curtin University, he was Project leader of DIGHUMLAB in Denmark, a consortium of four Danish universities, hosted at Aarhus University. His publications include Critical Gaming: Interactive History and Virtual Heritage (Routledge, 2015), Playing with the Past (Springer, 2011), and he edited Game Mods: Design, Theory and Criticism (ETC Press, 2012). His next book (out in October) is Cultural Heritage Infrastructures in Digital Humanities, (Routledge, 2017), with co-editors Agiati Benardou, Costis Dallas and Lorna Hughes.

– Prof. Hugh Craig (University of Newcastle), Three Shakespeare questions you can only answer through Computation


Many scholars react to the idea that quantitative analysis has anything to offer in literary studies with indignation. Yet computational stylistics has been quietly solving Shakespearean problems for some years now, starting with questions of who wrote what, and recently broadening to wider questions of style. In this talk I will discuss three questions I argue have been answered by computation, and could only be answered by computation — whether or not Shakespeare collaborated with his rival Christopher Marlowe in playwriting, how up to date or otherwise his dialogue was, and whether his vocabulary was indeed prodigiously large.


Prof. Hugh Craig works at the University of Newcastle, Australia, where he directs the Centre for 21st Century Humanities and the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing. He has been publishing in computational stylistics since 1991. With Arthur F. Kinney, he edited Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship (2009). Many of the new findings about Shakespeare authorship in this book are now enshrined in the New Oxford Shakespeare, which came out last year. He has publications with colleagues from bioinformatics and speech pathology, and on language and ageing and nineteenth century journalism, as well as on literary writings of the Shakespearean period. Style, Computers, and Early Modern Drama: Beyond Authorship, co-authored with Brett Greatley-Hirsch, is due to appear in late 2017.

Cybermaps in 3D heritage

A journal asked that I respond to a paper that briefly mentions the above. Notes to self include these general questions that I seldom find answers to in virtual heritage papers and not mentioned in my response (the journal has a strict word limit):

  1. Interpretation: It is very hard to extrapolate from VH papers how various interpretations are fostered.
  2. Beginnings: Where do you place a visitor in a virtual site?
  3. Dynamic alterity: How should or could they navigate time, space and interpretation?
  4. Art Versus Scientific Imagination: How should they separate artistic from current reality from interpreted virtuality? What if the artistry is impressive but speculative?
  5. Projects: Where can the projects (that apparently relate to the questions posed in the text), be experienced or otherwise accessed? How will they be preserved?
  6. Interactive Navigation: How do we navigate time, space, interpretation, and task/goal?
  7.  Authenticity, accuracy and artistry: How does one balance all three?

Updated UK/France/QATAR itinerary

Still being planned (Newcastle is still a tbc):

The 3 talks:

UCL Qatar: (tbc), 20 or 21 November 2017:

Talk, workshop and debate on Historical narratives and digital spaces (place tbc)

Salford, 29 November 2017:

Rethinking Virtual Places

This talk will cover my recent thoughts on what is a virtual place and a virtual world, and why we seem to have shifting, even varying notions of virtual reality. For example, what are virtual environments and virtual museums? Do they open our minds up to the possibility of digital space and virtual culture? In my opinion, they typically fail to do so, virtual museums lack contestation and imagined defensive capacity, they are not cultural worlds.  Many philosophers and cultural studies thinkers have given us some hints as to cultural places, but not to virtual cultural places. And architects are also not as well placed as one might think, to design, critique and review virtual places.  Nor is it clear to many how we learn through virtual placeAugmented reality will begin to dominate virtual reality, and consumer-friendly component-based VR technology has great promise, but new and emerging devices displays and peripherals may have long-term detrimental cognitive, physical and social effects.

Research Digital Cultural Heritage conference, University of Manchester, 30 November-1 December 2017:

Inside Out: Avatars, Agents, Cultural Agents

If conveying cultural significance is a central aim of virtual heritage projects, can they convey cultural significance effectively without an understanding of the contextual role of cultural knowledge? In this talk I will argue this is very difficult, but even populating virtual environments with others (human-guided or computer-scripted), there are still vital, missing ingredients.

In virtual heritage projects with enough computational power and sophistication to feature intelligent agents, they are primarily used as guides (Bogdanovych et al. 2009). They lead players to important landmarks, or perhaps act as historical guides (revealing past events, conveying situationally appropriate behavior). Intelligent agents are usually designed for limited forms of conversation and typically help convey social presence rather than cultural presence. For an enhanced “sense of inhabited place”, engaging narrative- related elements, or embodiment, a cultural agent recognizes, adds to, or transmits physically embedded and embodied aspects of culture. They could provide a sense of cultural presence, becoming Aware-Of-Not-Quite-Being-‘There’.

Cultural agents would not be mere conversational agents if they were able to:

  1. Automatically select correct cultural behaviors given specific events or situations.
  2. Recognize in/correct cultural behaviors given specific events, locations, or situations.
  3. Transmit cultural knowledge.
  4. Modify, create, or command artifacts that become cultural knowledge.

To fulfil the above criteria, cultural agents would be culturally constrained. Not just socially constrained; their actions and beliefs would be dependent on role, space, and time. They could understand and point out right from wrong in terms of culturally specific behavior and understand the history and possibly also the future trajectory of specific cultural movements. In this talk I will discuss three scenarios for cultural agents, their relationship to roles and rituals, and two more missing ingredients. The result? A more situated, reflexive appreciation of cultural significance via virtual heritage.