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Selecting an Agent for a Museum Guide
In this scenario, an open-air museum is famous for its high-quality presentation of
everyday life in a small village set in mediaeval times.The museum was started as an
open-air exhibition area with buildings where wax figures of people were installed to
illustrate the work of various craftsmen and some typical rituals. In recent years live
craftsmen and women have been hired to demonstrate how work was done in bygone
days.These professionals are dressed in authentic clothing to match their environment.
Wax figures are still used in the places where public ceremonies are shown, because it
would cost too much to hire real people to populate religious ceremonies, tournaments,
and market places.The local historical re-enactment society is unable to take part in
these festivities at the scale and on the regularity desired by the management team.
The museum managers noticed an increase in visitor numbers and excitement after the
introduction of the live actors and craft specialists, with visitors starting to ask questions
of them.The craftspeople began to find their roles blending with those of the exhibition
guides; however, they were sometimes not able to answer some subsequent visitor questions,
particularly questions on general history, practices, the arts, and the Church. Sometimes
they were asked if they spoke the mediaeval language, which they were unable to do.
Training courses for craftspeople were held several times, but some felt uncomfortable
with taking on a `guide' role, and were unwilling to spend additional time and effort
learning mediaeval phrases.
When the museum decided to set up a virtual exhibition, the question of what its
virtual presence would be like was crucial.The museum already kept detailed records
on typical users and FAQs heard in the exhibition area, but it was clear that the move
to the virtual world could well change the audience and its interests. A team including
HCI designers and museum guides was appointed to define what the agent should be like.
The team discussed three central issues: What is the primary goal in creating a virtual exhibi-
tion; how should different types of visitors be approached; should the user be represented by an
avatar, and what technology will be required for this?
The management suggested creating a virtual version to be made available on the
Internet, and which would serve to raise awareness and promote visits to the real exhibi-
tion, and support preparation for a visit to the open-air museum, or for additional personal
study after a visit.These three activities differ in the first case, the attraction power is
most essential, while in the second and third cases the exhibition guides opined that the
most important factor would be the level of detail of presentation of the historical period,
the exhibition as a whole, and of the various objects shown there. One additional issue
was how to present various skills in case visitors wanted to learn more about a particular
craft.The museum was used to organising workshops for adults and children, but how
could this be transferred into the virtual world? The team decided that action learning
should be used as one of the attraction factors to bring people to learn and practise in
the real museum workshops.
The exhibition guides had good skills in presenting stories to children and adults,
whether the visitor had little knowledge about the subject or was an expert.The team
agreed that, when the user entered the virtual world, her profile (including age, prefer-
ences, level of knowledge) and goal of the visit (just browsing; preparing for a visit;
Cultural Agents
and Avatars
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