Game-Based Elements to Upgrade Bots to Non-Player Characters in Support of Educators
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Research in virtual worlds has sought to distance itself from the perception that it is about games and appears to have achieved this distinction. However, in the process, valuable contributions and concepts from game-based research have been incorporated into virtual world research. We seek to outline how various game-based elements can improve the role of bots in a way to increase their utility so they become non-player characters (NPC), increasing the utility of virtual worlds even further in education. Bots are a valuable addition within virtual worlds and distinguish these simulations from other simulated environments. However, their use is still limited, allowing them only a small role to play within the educational use of virtual worlds. We link this to the technology and lack of game-based elements within virtual worlds in education and highlight how bots may be better incorporated in the future. We discuss the use of bots and examine some of their key characteristics and how they have been employed. Next, we examine the literature on game-based design and attempt to overlay these concepts on a virtual world framework. This allows us to extrapolate the changing role of bots and the requirement of more non-player characters in virtual worlds. We propose a framework for the incorporation of advanced NPC in virtual worlds in a way that can support educational processes. Our review of the role of bots and NPC and the advances in technology indicate that this is an important step forward. We present a five-stage model of different phases of bots and NPC development, allowing instructional designers to appropriately engineer bots and NPC to support their needs. Low-level bots may be appropriate for certain uses, allowing resources to be invested; the different categorisation allows sensible allocation of resources to achieve desired system-wide outcomes.
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