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Lyra: Simulating Believable Opinionated Virtual Characters


Abstract and Figures

Creating believable simulations of large populations of characters in virtual worlds represents a grand challenge for narrative intelligence, requiring reasoning about social interaction, cultural norms, and human decision-making. In this paper, we focus on one aspect of this challenge: the dynamics of opinion change for virtual characters and their relationship with social affinity. We present a preliminary computational investigation into modeling opinion change in virtual characters with this goal in mind. We developed a simulated population of characters that debate politically-charged topics, called Lyra. Char-acters' knowledge, opinions, and biases spread through this society based on existing cognitive models and social science theories. We conducted a human-subjects study to evaluate the generated conversations and affinity groups for their believability and to inform future iterations of the simulation. The conversations were found to be moderately believable, rating 3.3 out of 5 on a Likert Scale. Additionally, survey respondents ascribed humanity to the actions of the virtual agents, associating them with competitiveness, persuasive-ness, and intention. We believe this further adds to the believability of our system. In the long run, successful simulation of opinion change in social dynamics provides a foundation for computational recognition, prediction, and interfacing with human social behaviour. This document was submitted to the NC State University as part of the requirements for the Ph.D. Written Qualifier Examination. It contains a more in-depth discussion of the qualitative methods and analysis results from prior work published about the Lyra System. Consolidates and expands on the findings of the AAAI AIIDE poster paper, and the AAAI EXAG paper published prior to this.
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Lyra: Simulating Believable Opinionated Virtual Characters
Sasha Azad
Principles of Expressive Machines (POEM) Lab
NC State University
Creating believable simulations of large populations of char-
acters in virtual worlds represents a grand challenge for narra-
tive intelligence, requiring reasoning about social interaction,
cultural norms, and human decision-making. In this paper, we
focus on one aspect of this challenge: the dynamics of opinion
change for virtual characters and its relationship with social
affinity. We present a preliminary computational investigation
into modelling opinion change in virtual characters with this
goal in mind. We developed a simulated population of charac-
ters that debate politically-charged topics, called Lyra. Char-
acters’ knowledge, opinions, and biases spread through this
society based on existing cognitive models and social science
theories. We conducted a human-subjects study to evaluate
the generated conversations and affinity groups for their be-
lievability and to inform future iterations of the simulation.
The conversations were found to be moderately believable,
rating 3.3 out of 5 on a Likert Scale. Additionally, survey
respondents ascribed humanity to the actions of the virtual
agents, associating them with competitiveness, persuasive-
ness, and intention. We believe this further adds to the believ-
ability of our system. In the long run, successful simulation of
opinion change in social dynamics provides a foundation for
computational recognition, prediction, and interfacing with
human social behaviour.
Atticus: “You never really understand a person until
you consider things from his point of view–”
Scout: “Sir?”
Atticus: “–until you climb inside of his skin and walk
around in it.
Humans are rational and emotional beings. Their social
systems are complex and contextual. The quote above from
Lee’s fictional yet well-beloved lawyer, Atticus Finch, is a
familiar one (Lee 1960). Atticus believes that the prevalent
bias and anti-social behaviour against members of their town
is a consequence of not understanding different perspectives,
leading to townsfolk being discriminated against or shunned.
Understanding such behaviour and simulating it with virtual
Submitted to the Department of Computer Science at North Car-
olina State University in partial fulfillment for the Doctoral Written
Preliminary Qualifier Exam
characters requires reasoning not just about observable so-
cial network graphs or social interactions, but also about ge-
ography, economics, and increasingly, online participation
and discourse. Riedl (2016) describes machine enculturation
as the act of instilling social norms, values and etiquette into
computers so that they more readily relate to us, and avoid
harming us. When instilling these norms into virtual charac-
ters by applying artificial intelligence, social intelligence is
a critical form of reasoning. Wang et al. (2007) discuss how
the move to social intelligence can be achieved by modelling
and analyzing social behaviour, by capturing human social
dynamics and creating artificial social agents that generate
and manage actionable social knowledge.
Models to simulate such social intelligence with artifi-
cial intelligence have been used in the past to create so-
cial training environments (Morrison and Martens 2018;
Fowler and Pusch 2010). In digital games with large popula-
tions of autonomous non-player characters (NPCs), players
find interactions between characters to be more believable
if they adhere to recognizable social practices and plausible
enculturated (Riedl and Harrison 2016) responses to social
situations (Warpefelt 2016). However, these simulated mod-
els typically do not account for some of the most important
features of social networks, namely that of the social dynam-
ics of opinion change and its cause and effect relationship
with social relationships.
One key part of social interaction is the dynamics of opin-
ion change and its cause and effect relationship with social
relationships. This form of interaction among humans has
recently captured the interest of the public with our increas-
ing understanding of the feedback loops created by social
networks and political influence (Brichacek 2016). While
one approach to studying this phenomenon could be to an-
alyze data generated by real user interactions on social net-
works, we posit that modelling and simulation based on cog-
nitive and social theories can produce good explanatory re-
sults of the mechanisms at play during the sharing and sway-
ing of opinions. Correspondingly, we argue that the simula-
tion of opinion change and the causes and effects of bias will
positively affect the believability of virtual characters.
This project investigates how to believably simulate the
spread of political ideologies and biases through a virtual
population and how to present the effects of this simulation
in a legible way to human users. We present Lyra, a simula-
tion of a virtual town of characters that have varying degrees
of political affiliations and ideologies modelled on the US
political system. Through a series of interactions with one
another, the characters engage in conversations about current
news articles on the topics of gun control and immigration.
Characters attempt to sway one another towards their dispo-
sitions, they learn what topics of discussion are considered
sensitive, or could add to growing antagonism or acceptance
for themselves and their views among their fellow conversa-
We evaluate the believability of the simulation’s depic-
tion of the change in the characters’ opinions with a human-
subjects study deployed online. Our study has two sections,
the first summative, evaluating the conversations and the
virtual conversationalists themselves; the second formative,
evaluating how such conflicts in opinions could affect fu-
ture relationships and interactions the characters conduct.
We evaluated the simulated conversations on a Likert scale
ranging from 1-Not Believable at all to 5-Very Believable.
We discovered the discussions had a mean believability rat-
ing of 3.3. Additionally, the human participants in the study
were found to ascribe humanity to the actions of the vir-
tual characters, describing agents that seemed to them to be
“competitive” or that felt “marginalized”, or discussing how
“persuasive” characters seemed to be. We believe that these
results support our hypothesis that Lyra can produce believ-
able social conversation simulations (Togelius et al. 2013)
with good explanatory results of the social mechanisms at
Our work represents a step towards a better understand-
ing of the mechanisms behind social influence and opin-
ion dynamics, enabling more robust social intelligence and
more believable social simulations. In summary, this work
(1) overviews the previously established Lyra system (2)
describes the design process and generation of conversa-
tional metadata (3) evaluates the generated conversations
with a human subject study for their believability (4) ex-
tracts insights from the study to inform future research on
how contentious discussions could affect social relationships
amongst NPCs to more believably simulate the spread of
Related Work
In this section, we first describe related work from the nar-
rative domain on believable virtual characters. Next, we dis-
cuss group formation from the perspective of social scien-
tists, and psychologists to understand how believable virtual
characters could be modelled to respond to group (or soci-
etal) archetypes and opinions.
Believable Non-Player Characters (NPCs)
There is no generally agreed-upon definition of believabil-
ity. Instead within the narrative field, believability is used
linguistically to describe that which is believable by some-
one. In terms of virtual characters, this could imply some
aspect of their viewed interactions (either with the player
or with each other) is believable. Togelius et al. (2013) de-
scribe how games that incorporate believable elements can
elicit particular emotional responses to a player. They dis-
cuss how the generation of believable, human-like oppo-
nents lead to increased player enjoyment. Additionally, rich
social interactions among NPCs have been found to improve
the believability of interactive narratives and the player ex-
perience (Afonso and Prada 2008; Swartout et al. 2006).
With the wide-scale availability of mobile devices, and
more recently the adoption of augmented reality (AR) tech-
nologies, researchers have manually authored narratives to
document cultural heritage and community-based narratives
or goals (Speiginer et al. 2015) as well as procedurally-
generated narratives for various geo-locations populated
with NPCs (Macvean et al. 2011; Dow et al. 2006; Leino,
Wirman, and Fernandez 2008). We posit that NPCs in real-
world locations must be able to learn cultural, and so-
cietal values of the location they populate. Leeper and
Slothuus (2014) build on prior work by Kunda (1990) dis-
cuss reasoning under partisanship (or motivated reasoning)
stating a world devoid of partisan conflict is a dystopia. They
argue that the novel contribution of motivated reasoning is
the idea that individuals vary in the extent to which making
accurate decisions is satisfying versus the extent to which
they choose to reinforce their prior biases, attitudes or be-
liefs. Many traditional narrative planning systems allow for
the former, with virtual characters able to create robust plans
to achieve their goals (Cavazza, Charles, and Mead 2002;
Young 2000). Towards this goal, our simulation allows for
an NPC to evaluate their convictions over time, attempting
to reconcile the disparities in their attitudes and beliefs with
those of the other NPCs they interact with via conversation.
A key challenge posed by characters in a game is
their ability to reflect their goals, personalities, and beliefs
through dialogue or expositions. Rowe, Ha, and Lester de-
scribe how a requirement of the dialogue from a character
must be that it is appropriate for the character personalities
and preference while taking into account the narrative con-
text and history (Rowe, Ha, and Lester 2008). With this pa-
per, we do not directly address the natural language content
generation of the conversation. Our system instead produces
modifiers and keywords that state the intention of the charac-
ters and could be used to produce natural language dialogue
Bias, in algorithms or decision making, can impact govern-
ment, businesses and personal lives. Studying the impact of
bias has recently become an emerging trend to study in com-
puter science (Budak, Goel, and Rao 2016; Entman 2007;
IBM Research 2018). Entman describes how the term can
apply to news that distorts or falsifies reality (distortion
bias), or news that favours one side rather than provid-
ing equivalent treatment to both sides in a political argu-
ment (content bias), or even with respect to the motivations
and judgment behind decision-making processes (decision-
making bias) (Entman 2007). Entman describes how study-
ing media bias can provide insight into how the media influ-
ences the distribution of power. However, the bias in the me-
dia is not necessarily all bad. AllSides notes on those media
outlets ranked with Center biases may leave out valid argu-
ments from the left or right perspectives (AllSides 2018).
Our work aids these efforts by endeavouring to use ex-
isting computational social psychology models to simulate
how humans respond to and make decisions when faced with
authority bias, or even how they respond to the cheerleader
effect in conjunction with our social simulation.
Social Simulation
We argue that our research is a step towards machine en-
culturation (Riedl 2016) by simulating a society of virtual
characters that have a predisposition towards learning new
knowledge, cultures, and values based on their past interac-
tions with both family (nature) and other societal influences
Extensive research has been conducted on social rules and
interactions between virtual characters. Versu (Evans and
Short 2014) shows characters interacting with one another
using pre-constructed social practices templates. These tem-
plates are constructed manually, can be time-intensive and
require domain knowledge. Similarly with CiF, in Prom
Week (McCoy et al. 2011) the authors describe a social
physics architecture model that constrains how NPCs be-
have. With their Actor-Network Theory (ANT) Latour dis-
cusses how individuals relating to one group or another is
an ongoing process made up of uncertain, fragile, contro-
versial and ever-shifting ties (Latour 2005). Our simulation
Figure 1: An evolution of agent attitude dynamics repre-
sented by cellular automata (Wang, Huang, and Sun 2014).
The left graph shows initial variation in opinion and the right
graph shows the more homogeneous opinions after 100 iter-
consolidates these two approaches, that of ANT and the tra-
ditional narrative intelligence approach. Virtual characters’
group membership changes over time based on their recog-
nition of their internal attitudes and the opinions of char-
acters around them. With this approach, rather than man-
ually authoring social rules and beliefs (as in systems like
Versu (Evans and Short 2014)), social rules emerge organ-
ically over time as beliefs and attitudes that go against the
group’s values would be looked upon unfavourably by its
Finally, our prior work extends current theories of dy-
namic opinion modelling research (Wang, Huang, and Sun
2014; Asch 1955) with the goal of being able to model so-
cieties with NPCs capable of exploring complex issues of
politics, religion, making decisions, and forming social rela-
tionships based on their views.
Background: Lyra
We briefly review the Lyra social simulation system upon
which our experiment is built. Due to space restrictions, we
refer readers to Azad and Martens (2018) for a more detailed
overview of the system.
Knowledge Model
Our knowledge model describes how information in the sim-
ulation world is structured. This can be overviewed as fol-
lows. For a single discussion, the participants in the discus-
sion choose an Object of Discussion to converse on, obtained
from a Source. The Source and the Object of Discussion are
associated with a Rating. Multiple objects of discussion can
be clustered to form a Topic.
Our model of the knowledge base can be used for a large
variety of datasets while affording the same discussion and
opinion modelling. For instance, simulating debates among
NPCs about current news articles clustered by political is-
sues and ranked by their bias. Similarly, we could use our
model to discuss the merits of various journal articles clus-
tered together by research topics and ranked by journal
rankings or have audience members discuss their movie pref-
erences clustered by movie genres and ranked by their Rot-
ten Tomatoes rankings. Some datasets considered during the
design phase of this model have been highlighted in Table 1.
Our simulation uses a corpus of news articles from All-
Sides.com (AllSides 2018) that use a combination of blind
bias surveys, editorial reviews, third-party research, inde-
pendent research, and community votes to calculate media
bias of the information.
Ratings are defined as the value of the information learned
by the NPC in the system. This rating could represent either
(1) the personal judgment or favour associated with the pre-
sentation of the information, or (2) a measure of the impar-
tiality of the unit of information.
Topics are a clustering of information regarding a specific
subject, or field of information. A specific information unit
can be a part of multiple topics at the same time. For in-
stance, a discussion of procedural content generation could
belong to the topics of both artificial intelligence or game
Objects of Discussion This single unit of information
forms the basis of our discussion model. While interact-
ing with one another, virtual characters search through their
knowledge base and conversational repertoire, choosing a
single object of discussion to debate. An NPC that adds a
new object of discussion to his knowledge base will note
the original authorial rating intended to be affiliated with the
information, and associate with it their own opinions on the
topic. These views could be based on prior discussions of the
Topics Objects of Discussion Source Rating
Political Issues e.g. Immigration, Gun Control Individual news articles Online or Print Media Political Bias or Affiliation
Political Issues e.g. Immigration, Gun Control Political candidates Articles, Interviews, Candidate Rally Approval Rating
Research Topics e.g. AI, Games Conference Papers Journals, Conference Proceedings Journal or Conference Rankings
Film Genres e.g. Horror, Sci-Fi Movies Movie Studios Rotten Tomatoes ratings
Table 1: Examples showing how the Lyra (Azad and Martens 2018) knowledge model can simulate discussions in various
conversational domains
information with conversationalists that introduce the char-
acter to the information, as well as on the character’s current
view of the topic to which the information belongs.
Sources may create information covering a wide variety of
objects of discussions and topics. Sources may also have as-
sociated with them a rating, representing the expected rating
of the information they produce. NPCs may use this rating to
choose to subscribe or unsubscribe to these over time based
on their current inclinations.
Virtual Character’s Views
Every participant in the discussion has their own Bias and
View on the information and can express their opinions on
the object of discussion at hand. These elements and our
dataset have been described in further detail below. The at-
tributes of an agent’s view are modelled based on those by
Wang, Huang, and Sun (2014).
We represent these NPC views as consisting of an Atti-
tude, an agent’s private views on a specific object of discus-
sion, an Opinion, an agent’s outwardly expressed or shared
views, and a Uncertainty about their views. Additionally, we
use two thresholds, a Public Compliance Threshold which
describes when the agent chooses to comply with the public
opinion to feel accepted within the community, and a Pri-
vate Acceptance Threshold which describes when an agent
will choose to stand by their views. Finally, we define a Bias
to be the agent’s predisposition to adopt a particular leaning
(left/right) on a topic in a discussion.
Bias is the agent’s predisposition to adopt a particular view
on a topic in a discussion. This bias is informed by either
(1) the agent’s views inherited from their parents or (2) a
mean of their views on all objects of discussion under the
said topic or (3) the initial bias they learn from the conversa-
tionalists when the topic was added to their knowledge base
during a discussion.
Attitude (att)is the agent’s private views on a specific is-
sue. Attitude is a real number in the range [1,1] and repre-
sents an evaluation of the object of discussion.
Opinion (op)is an agent’s outwardly expressed or shared
views on a specific issue. Like attitude, opinion is a real
number in the range [1,1] and reveals the agent’s opin-
ion on the object of discussion to the other dialogists. There
may be a discrepancy in the attitudes and opinions of the
character since a character may not represent their attitudes
accurately to participants. A human example of the situation
where this is apparent can be seen in examples of an em-
ployee in conversation with his managers who choose not to
express his disagreement to avoid being punished.
Uncertainty (unc)is a measure of an agent’s confidence
in their view. The higher the uncertainty, the more likely the
agent is to change his mind or be accepting of other per-
spectives. As an example, an NPC may express opinions
about the legality of abortion in their town. However, the
agent may have lower confidence in their attitude if (1) infor-
mation in their existing knowledge base inadequately back
them, (2) if contradictory opinions are presented to the agent
with high certainty, or (3) if the agent is surrounded by a so-
ciety a majority of whom disagrees with him. unc is a real
number in the range [0,1].
Public Compliance Threshold (pub thr): When the
strength of the public opinion exceeds this value, the agent
will choose to comply with the public opinion to feel ac-
cepted within the community.
Private Acceptance Threshold (pri thr): When the
strength of the public opinion is below this value, the agent
will choose to stand by their views. The pri thr is a real
number in the range [0,1]. Professors or experts on a par-
ticular topic in our simulation have higher values to indicate
their expertise.
Simulation of Discussion
Our model accounts for the fact that the same participants
could have different opinions (and therefore social relation-
ships) based on their shared interests in other discussion top-
ics, such as computer science, or hiking. This allows for re-
lationships where characters that agree over a few views but
disagree over others to change their affinity for one another
throughout multiple discussions.
We begin by clustering similar expressed opinions of
all participants of the conversation using the Jenks Natu-
ral Breaks Optimization method (Jenks 1967). This mirrors
how humans interact. For instance, a group of fans may con-
gregate at a water cooler at work, forming coalitions of peo-
ple that argue about who should rule Westeros (Benioff and
Weiss 2019). The number of opinion groups formed indi-
cates whether a public opinion on the matter has developed
and the presence of normative social influence (or peer pres-
sure). The fewer the number of clusters that form, the more
likely it is that an agent who maintains their views contrary
to public opinion will feel rejected (Wang, Huang, and Sun
Public Opinion formed We calculate each agent’s change
in views based on their certainty and the strength of others’
views. Agent’s with high uncertainty in their views are more
likely to accept the public opinion and their views are mod-
ified accordingly. If the agent has low uncertainty, we find
the largest clustered opinion group with views closest to that
of the agent. We then calculate the public opinion strength
for the selected group and decide if an agent’s attitudes or
opinions are affected. The strength of the public opinion as
perceived by each agent is affected by:
The size (fa) of the group. The larger the group, the
stronger the public opinion.
0,if xa1
xa/10,if 1< xa10
1,if xa>10
The homogeneity (fb) in the opinion of the group defining
if the group come to a consensus
fb= 1/(1 + e24xb6)
The discrepancies (fc) in the agent’s opinion and attitude.
fc= 1/(1 + e12xc+6)
Next, the agent measures their own uncertainty with the
strength of the public opinion by calculating two threshold
values, th1= 1 agent.unc and th2=max(0.6, th1).
Low Opinion Strength (op str < th1): If the opinion
strength is too weak, the conversationalist does not change
their mind, recognizing the discrepancy between their in-
ternal attitudes and ideas and those of the group.
Moderate Opinion Strength (th1op str < th2):
Members with a low uncertainty find the opinion
strength of their group strong enough to modify their
opinions to the mean of the group. Agents then find
their internal attitudes, and their expressed behaviours
are inconsistent, and so change their attitudes to match.
In this case, agents believe that the change in their
views is a natural and expected evolution, and do not
realize they are bending to public opinion.
Agents with large uncertainty realize that they are con-
ceding the discussion, and bending to public opinion.
They change their external opinions and internal atti-
tudes to match.
High Opinion Strength (op str th2): The agent realizes
the strength of the opinion. In this case, the agent may
choose to conform to the public opinion with their out-
wardly expressed views and change their opinion to the
mean of the group. However, they do not change their in-
ner attitudes, and in the absence of external pressure will
revert to their attitudes.
No Public Opinion formed The agent finds the cluster of
opinions with the opinions most similar to theirs. The NPC
modifies their opinion to the mean of the cluster and their
internal attitudes on the information being discussed.
Due to space restrictions, we refer readers to our prior
work(Azad and Martens 2018) for further details of the al-
gorithm and simulation described above.
This work builds on a simulation of opinion dynamics pre-
sented in previous work (Azad and Martens 2018). This
work established the Lyra system (described briefly above)
and our model of world knowledge that can take into ac-
count biases associated with the knowledge and its source.
Additionally, we discussed a model of the characters internal
attitude and expressed an opinion on the topic based on prior
work that models self-perception agents (Wang, Huang, and
Sun 2014). Finally, our simulated characters were able to
form ad-hoc groups to discuss their views and closer rela-
tionships with characters that had similar perspectives.
Described briefly in the earlier section, prior work estab-
lished the Lyra system and our model of world knowledge,
taking into account biases associated with the knowledge
and its source (Azad and Martens 2018). This work builds
on Lyra, simulating opinion dynamics in the context of indi-
vidual interactions amongst NPCs in a virtual town.
We expand on our earlier work by adopting the following
G1: To generate descriptions of the change in opinions of
the conversationalist NPCs that allow readers to follow an
NPC’s reasoning.
G2: To evaluate these generated conversations with a hu-
man subject study for their believability.
G3: To extract insights from the study that can inform
future research on how contentious discussions with po-
larizing views could impact NPC social intelligence, and
more believably simulate the spread of opinions.
These goals describe the remaining structure of this paper.
We describe steps to achieve G1 in our section, Designing
Legible Simulation Output. Likewise, the study design and
approach for G2 can be found in our Study Design section.
Finally, for G3 we described the results from our study in the
Analysis and Discussion sections where we analyze study
results to answer four research questions that can help guide
future research on character believability.
Designing Legible Simulation Output
We redesigned the simulation output to be presented to the
reader in discrete rounds. A critique of our earlier system lay
in readers having difficulty understanding and producing ex-
planatory descriptions of how and why characters changed
their mind over time. A sample output from our earlier sys-
tem can be seen in Fig. 2. In this section, we describe our
design process for creating legible simulation output to hu-
man readers.
Figure 2: Simulation output from an earlier version of Lyra.
Problem: Choice of Conversational Domain The Lyra
knowledge model can be used to simulate conversations in a
variety of domains while affording the same discussion and
opinion modelling (see Table 1). With this study, we needed
to choose a familiar domain where our target demographics
could imagine accompanying dialogues and be able to re-
late to the forming of clusters and coalitions of like-minded
NPCs. Additionally, respondents should be able to judge the
NPCs in swaying others to their perspectives for their be-
Solution: Political Domain Chosen Our reasons for se-
lecting the US Political System as our chosen domain were
threefold. Firstly, this subject matter was considered to be
familiar and relatable for our target survey demographics.
Next, the range of political stances on the topic have famil-
iar, quantifiable metric (see Fig. 4). Finally, the topic could
elicit inferences of plausible dialogue occurring amongst
characters based on the respondent’s own experiences of
past politically charged conversations. This would enable
respondents to better judge our generated conversations for
believability. For this study, we limited the topics of discus-
sion in the domain to Immigration, and Gun Control and
Gun Rights.
Problem: Authoring Bias for Dialogues Authoring ac-
companying dialogue to match the views of the characters
per conversation round was found to be untenable. It was
not our intention to author the natural language content of
the opinions proffered by the characters during the rounds.
Given the thesis of this paper, any human authoring of con-
tent would need to be rated for the bias of its author and the
(a) Round 1 of discussions
(b) Round 2 of discussions
Figure 3: Excerpts from a generated conversation
Solution: Designing Textual Descriptions To circumvent
the authoring bias problem, we generated descriptions of
these conversation choices that would allow the virtual char-
acters to explain their internal state, actions taken, and any
changes in their attitude without the content of the opinions
being shared. We a sample conversation excerpt in Fig. 3 de-
picting a round of a conversation among 4 NPCs at a school.
In the excerpt, Ada realized they were experiencing cogni-
tive dissonance, and chose to reconcile the perceived dif-
ference between their internal attitude and the opinion they
expressed to other characters.
Problem: Following the Change in Character Views A
critique of the earlier version of Lyra was that it was hard to
follow the change in a character’s views over time. While the
final political affiliations and opinions can be seen in Fig. 2,
it was hard for readers to understand what a conversation be-
tween these characters could look like, or evaluate whether
these changes were believable.
Solution: Our Simplified Political Rating Scale To make
the change in the character’s opinions more visual, and easy
to relate to we used a simplified rating system for the po-
litical affiliation of the virtual participants. All Graphs sum-
marizing the conversation for the participants used this scale
going from -1, representing ”left” on the political spectrum,
to 1, representing ”right” on the political spectrum.
Figure 4: Simplified political scale for each topic discussed
Further, we described both the Media Bias and the Char-
acter Attitudes on topics on the spectrum using descriptions
for the positions from Allsides.com (AllSides 2018). These
descriptions, provided to the survey respondents, have been
added to the Appendix at the end.
Problem: Lengthy Textual Descriptions Initial practice
runs of the survey made it apparent that our subjects found
it difficult to track all the variables mentioned (for instance,
attitude, opinion, uncertainty, familiarity with the topic, etc)
described in the conversation text.
Solution: Graphical Descriptions We supplemented our
textual descriptions of the conversation with two summary
graphs that showed the swing in the opinions and the swing
in the uncertainty for the characters throughout the conver-
sation rounds (see Fig. 5).
Figure 5: Summary of the change in the opinions of the char-
acters over 3 rounds of discussion.
Study Design
To understand Lyra’s effectiveness at believably simulat-
ing opinion propagation and the social dynamics of politi-
cally charged conversations, we conducted a human subjects
study asking readers to read simulation output and answer
questions in a survey. In this section, we describe our survey
procedures and analysis process.
Our survey asked questions to determine participants’ polit-
ical affiliations and biases, the news media sources they sub-
scribed to, and how differing opinions affected their social
relationships. Next, they read 4 computers generated con-
versations between groups of virtual characters with differ-
ent political ideologies and biases (see Fig. 3) and looked at
charts summarizing the rounds (see Fig. 5). They were then
asked questions regarding the believability of the conversa-
tions, and the intentions of the virtual characters participat-
ing in said conversations. They were also asked to rank the
persuasiveness, and feelings of membership or inclusiveness
with the group for each character. Participants were given
the option to enter open text for the conversations for addi-
tional feedback or take-aways. Finally, they were asked to
fill out a short demographic form.
The survey was distributed online via email lists and so-
cial media. The first 25 participants that completed the sur-
vey were offered to be paid with an Amazon Gift card. The
survey took about one hour to complete.
Response Demographics
Our survey had a total of 21 respondents. Of the respon-
dents, 11 identified as male, 8 identified as female, 1 par-
ticipant chose to describe their gender differently, and 1 de-
clined to respond. When asked about their education, 11 had
completed their Master’s degree, 4 had completed their Doc-
toral Degree, and 4 had completed their Bachelor’s degree,
a participant had an associate degree and another had some
college credit but no degree. Of the surveyed, 17 were be-
tween the ages of 25-34, and 4 were above the age of 35.
16 of the 21 participants identified with the Liberal political
descriptor, 4 identified as Conservative, and one declined to
state a political affiliation.
Method: Qualitative Analysis
With this section, we detail our method for the qualitative
analysis of the survey results.
Constructing Queries We chose to use a directed ap-
proach to content analysis in both phrasing and analysis of
open text queries asked during the survey (Mayring 2004).
Our goal was to be able to validate and extend conceptu-
ally our theoretical framework and model for opinion dy-
namics amongst NPCs. Thus, our queries were framed to
probe participant predictions and expectations of the conver-
sation, and explore their understanding of the relationships
about our variables of interest. Primarily these included the
believability of the conversation, the change in the opinions
and attitudes of the participant NPCs, the relationship be-
tween uncertainty and change in opinions. Keeping this in
mind, we asked participants for open text responses to four
questions as detailed below:
What was the most believable part about the conversation
described above?
What was the least believable part about the conversation
described above?
One reasoning question about an NPC per conversation:
Why do you think Ashley was so uncertain of their
Why do you think Ada’s uncertainty reduced?
Why do you think James’s uncertainty increased?
What does Juan’s change in opinion tell you of their
private attitude of the conversation?
Why do you think Amy’s uncertainty increased after
Round 2?
Any thoughts of take-aways from this conversation that
you would like to share
With the reasoning question, we hoped to incite responses
to indicate to us the mental model of the respondent, and
whether their interpretation and expectations of the change
in an NPC’s views matched those of our algorithm.
Directed Content Analysis After the survey ended, the
open text responses to the question described above were
transferred to a Google Sheets document.
The authors of this paper performed initial open cod-
ing used content analysis to analyze the data. Both coders
were familiar with the underlying theory of the discus-
sion model, and the formulated research questions. This al-
lowed the initial codes noted to have a more structured, di-
rected approach (Hickey and Kipping 1996) described by
Mayring (2004) as deductive category development and ap-
plication. The step model for this analysis has been depicted
in Fig. 6 as shown below.
The data was read from start to end to obtain a sense of the
whole. First impressions, and thoughts were noted down to
capture key concepts based on the variables of interest (Pot-
ter and Levine-Donnerstein 1999). Both authors were aware
of the variables of interest for the study, namely, to better un-
derstand the uncertainty, attitude, opinions and believability
of the conversations. This allowed the authors to create two
independent codebooks with explicit definitions, examples
and coding rules for each deductive category discovered.
A few codes from this initial coding scheme (or codebook)
have been described below in Table 2.
The authors performed open-coding analysis indepen-
dently, reading the responses to derive codes (Miles et al.
1994; Morgan 1993). An initial discussion was conducted to
discuss, negotiate and merge the codebooks as a formative
check for reliability. For instance, the phenomenon coded as
“Influence by personal bias of participant” by Coder 1 and
“Liberal Open Minded” by Coder 2 were found to be linked
and were merged and renamed to “Used Political Stereo-
type” for the initial coding scheme formed. Additionally,
during the discussion, other codes were organized into more
meaningful clusters. For instance, the label “Increasing Cer-
tainty Expected” was decomposed into two sets of codes, the
Coder Code Description Sample quote matching open code
1 Influence by a Group Identification of a group influence on NPC
She was swayed by the rest of the group
1 Influence by personal
bias of participant
The comment seems to have been influ-
enced by the participant’s own personal
The centrists didn’t change at all; which
doesn’t seem characteristic of the topic
2 Decreasing Certainty Observation of characters’ decrease in cer-
The fluctuation from high certainty back to
uncertainty in a seemingly short time period.
2 Liberal Open
Stating the belief that liberal people are
more open minded or right-wingers are
less likely to change their minds
That the most liberal person would be the
person most open to changing their mind
Table 2: A few codes from the Initial Coding Scheme
Tag Definition
#NPCMentionedUnprompted The behavior of a character was noted when they were not mentioned in the question
#ChangedOpinion Noting that an NPC or a group of NPCs had a change in their opinions
#StandingGround No change in opinion. The NPC stood their ground.
#SimilarViewsConverge Noting that NPCs with similar views eventually converge their views
#GroupInfluence Noting when an NPC is swayed by a group.
#UsedPoliticalAffiliationStereotype Respondent made a stereotypical judgement about a political affiliation.
#IndividualInfluence Noting when a character is swayed by other individuals (but the individuals are not
identified as a group)
#DecreasingCertainty Noting that an NPC’s certainty in views decreased / uncertainty increased.
#InferFactsFrom Infer facts (or make assumptions) that are not given to them by us
#CertaintyConvinces Noting when a character who is more certain in their views has more influence
Table 3: High frequency codes and definitions obtained after qualitative analysis
first, “Increasing Certainty”, and “Decreasing Certainty”,
the second, “Expected” and “Unexpected”. This allowed for
the second set to be used in conjunction with other tags, to
capture the survey respondents expectations, and allow for
more in-depth frequency analysis at a later point. Finally,
this initial discussion allowed for the discovery of new codes
that only one or the other coder had noticed without being
biased. For instance, one author noted that several respon-
dents discussed the existence of an “Overton Window”, or
that respondents noticed that NPCs with higher “Certainty
Convinced Others”, while the other author was interested in
how respondents displayed an “Emotional Response” to the
conversations they read, or that responses could be tagged
to indicate whether the “Clustering” of NPCs during the dis-
cussion phase was found to be “Believable”. This resulted
in the creation of an initial coding scheme with 34 codes
identified and described with their usage and examples.
Validating Initial Coding Scheme To further establish
rigour, reliability, reduce the coding scheme’s discriminant
capability that is, reducing coding errors and to validate
this initial codebook, two more independent coders were re-
cruited. These new coders were unfamiliar with the project
and were given a description of the research to explain the
purpose of the same. Next, we discussed the Initial Coding
Scheme developed, examples of the discovered codes, and
what each one meant. Based on this discussion some defini-
tions and examples were further clarified. Next, we selected
15% of the survey data at random from the Google Sheets.
This was paired with the discussions and questions that the
text was in response to and given to the new coders.
Measure Agreement Value
Fleiss kappa 0.9099
Cohen kappa 0.9121
alpha 0.9012
Table 4: Table 2 Interrater agreement
Each of the new coders coded the subset of data given
to them using the codes in the Initial Coding Scheme de-
veloped. They were encouraged to create new codes if they
felt that the existing scheme did not fully represent the
data. One of the authors also re-coded the same segment
using the Codebook provided. Next, we compared results
and discussed problems where there were discrepancies in
the codes used by the authors and the coders. Adjustments
were made after negotiations, and some new codes were
discovered, and old codes modified. For instance, the ad-
dition of “Opinion Changed Despite Certainty” to depict
situations where survey respondents found that an NPC’s
opinion changed despite their certainty and “Meta Discus-
sion” to capture discussions and feedback about the study
design or survey were added. The final Thematic Coding in-
cluded 44 codes. The Intercoder reliability was calculated
using NLTK’s Fleiss’ Kappa and Krippendorffs alpha statis-
tical measures to assess the reliability of agreement amongst
the three coders (Fleiss 1971; Loper and Bird 2002). Addi-
Figure 6: Step model of deductive category application
(Mayring 2004)
tionally, Cohen’s Kappa was calculated amongst the raters
and the author (Cohen 1960) for the random 15% of the
data analyzed. The results have been shown in Table 4. The
coders were found to have Almost Perfect Agreement. Thus,
the coding scheme was finalized, and used by the author to
code the rest of the data before further frequency analysis
was performed.
Thematic Codes Some of the thematic codes that oc-
curred with higher frequency in our analysis have been de-
scribed in Table 3 above. The remaining codes with their de-
scriptions and sample survey respondent quotes tagged with
the thematic codes can be accessed in the appendix to this
Analysis of Results
In this section, we detail our research questions along with
relevant insights produced by our analysis.
RQ1: Does the measure of the believability of the
generated conversations depend on the personal
political biases of the respondent?
We asked participants to rate their political bias on a left
to right scale as well as to provide their result from the
Pew Research Political Typology quiz (Pew Research 2017).
Fig. 7 shows how liberal and conservative respondents rated
the believability of the conversations. We found that the re-
sponses from Conservatives and Liberals were not signifi-
cant (p > 0.05) in the believability rating of Discussion 4.
We hypothesized that the personal biases of the partic-
ipants on the topics discussed by the NPCs would impact
their believability ratings in the groups where those is-
sues were discussed. To test this, we asked participants to
Figure 7: Perceived believability rating of the 4 generated
discussions by Liberals and Conservatives (per Pew Re-
search Political Typology results)
“Rate their views on a 5 point Likert Scale ranging from 1
(Strongly Left-wing) to 5 (Strongly Right-wing)” on the top-
ics of Gun Control, Legal Immigration and Illegal Immigra-
tion. These were topics discussed by the NPCs to see if their
perspectives on a particular topic affected their suspension
of disbelief in the generated discussions.
Since our data as not normally distributed, we used
the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test to compare the
groups. However, the difference between the groups was not
significant (p > 0.05). This implies the respondents’ polit-
ical preferences on a particular topic did not impact their
rating. Interestingly, 3 of 21 participants’ familiarity with
the topic discussed influenced their experience and interpre-
tation of the conversation. In a discussion generated with
smaller variations in the views of the NPCs, one participant
mentioned that “[the fact that] people [would be] swayed
by the other participants [wasn’t] likely [to happen] with
[discussions on] gun-control. Another participant pointed
out that the NPC, Juan’s “views on gun-control aligned with
liberal views.
Finally, we asked respondents to select all the political de-
scriptors from a hand-generated list that they identified with.
We ran a linear regression model and found that the political
identifiers were not significant (p > 0.05). We found partic-
ipants tended to project their own bias and experiences on
to the agent while explaining why an agent made decisions,
with statements such as “Ada is a typical right-winger and is
looking for viewpoints to confirm her own bias; rather than
be convinced by others. Participants mentioned how “peo-
ple tended to cluster into ideological groups, and stated that
“group formations seemed coherent with each member’s af-
filiation. Another discussed how they found it very believ-
able that “people would group up when views were similar;
but not the same.
RQ2: Does the measure of believability in the
generated conversations vary across conversations?
The discussions were generated by varying two parameters
in the generator: Group Size (Small and Medium) and Dis-
cussion Duration (Short, Medium). After every discussion
was described (both textually, and graphically), participants
were asked “How believable was the change in the opinions
of the conversationalists through the discussion rounds?”
The results of this rating has been summarized in Fig. 8
Figure 8: Four box plots showing the perceived believabil-
ity rating across all 4 conversations as well as the overall
We ran the Friedman test to see if there were any dif-
ferences in perceived believability between the four discus-
sions. We chose the Friedman test since we did not have
independent observations among the 4 discussions analyzed
since all survey participants analyzed all 4 conversations. We
found there were no statistically significant differences in the
perceived believability of the four conversations (p > 0.05).
When asked what the least believable part of the conversa-
tion was, 4 of our 21 respondents mentioned they expected
a more drastic shift in the opinions of the characters during
the lengthier conversations, with one participant describing
this as “expected Mary’s rightward shift to be a bit stronger
(possibly getting to Moderately Right by Round 6)” with an-
other surprised that “Shirley was not influenced by the other
two in any way.
RQ3: How similar is Lyra’s clustering to how
humans define and group like-minded NPCs?
For our discussion algorithm, we used Jenks Natural Breaks
to group NPCs that expressed similar opinions to each
other (Jenks 1967) and then evaluated for the goodness of
variance fit (GVF) to select the optimum number of clus-
ters. Survey participants were shown a chart depicting the
opinions of the NPCs on our political scale, and asked (a)
How many groups of like-minded conversationalists would
form? (b) What groupings of like-minded conversationalists
did they expect to see? Respondents used information about
an NPC’s opinion provided (both textually and depicted on
our simplified political scale) to answer these questions.
Table 5: Describes respondents’ agreement with Lyra’s clus-
tering results and the highest rated clusters.
Discussions Model Clustering Best Respondent Clustering
Discussion 1 0.1428 0.666
Discussion 2 0.5714 0.5714
Discussion 3 0 0.238 (tie for best cluster)
Discussion 4 0 0.333
For the second question, participants were free to choose
from a list of groupings that the algorithm evaluated as the
highest score for each possible value for number of clusters,
or they could enter their own clustering if they disagreed
with the choices given to them.
Figure 9: 57.14% of respondents agreed with our algorithm,
and clustered the NPCs depicted here into 3 clusters (shown
by the dashed red circles), one per NPC, with each NPC
disagreeing with the other opinions proffered.
On the whole, only 27% of respondents agreed with the
number of opinion clusters generated by our algorithm. Ad-
ditionally, only 17.8% of respondents agreed with the choice
of clustering made by our clustering algorithm. We have
summarized the clustering agreement across discussions in
Table 5. While the Jenks Natural Breaks Optimization al-
gorithm tries to reduce the sum of the squared deviations
from the cluster’s mean, this optimization created a greater
number of clusters than the numbers suggested by our par-
ticipants 70.23% of the time. This can be seen in Fig. 10.
The respondents chose to create their own clustering, with
50% of the total respondents in agreement on two similarly
ranked alternatives. We have shown one of these groupings
in Fig. 10. In contrast, our algorithm generated 7 clusters
for the 9 NPCs during the start of the discussions. How-
ever, after the second round, our algorithm’s clustering re-
sults agreed with that of the majority of the respondents.
The change in the views of the NPCs during those rounds
can be seen in Fig. 5 in the Study Design section of this pa-
per. During the feedback for the conversations, survey takers
talked about the clustering of NPCs into coalitions through
the conversation favourably.
RQ4: Does using the Lyra model impact the
believability of the virtual characters?
Respondents were asked to rate how believable the change
in the opinions of the conversationalists was through all the
rounds of discussion for each conversation. They were pro-
vided with a Likert scale ranging from 1-Not believable at
all, to 5-Very believable. Overall, the four conversations had
a mean believability rating of 3.3 out of 5. We then qualita-
tively analyzed their open-text responses to our discussion
questions. We report some of the more interesting responses
and results from our qualitative analysis below.
Figure 10: Respondents clustered the opinions depicted here
into 3 clusters (shown by the dashed red circles).
Most Believable When asked what the most believable
part about the conversation was, respondents had varied re-
sponses. The most frequently mentioned themes from their
responses have been summarized in Table 6 below.
Theme Frequency
NPC mentioned unprompted 23
NPCs standing ground 18
Similar views converging 12
Influence from groups 10
Used political affiliation stereotype 9
Influence by an individual 8
Polarization 8
Table 6: Frequently occurring codes in response to what re-
spondents found most believable
Breaking down the #NPCMentionedUnprompted tag fur-
ther by the discussion we find that survey respondents in-
terpreted the change in the characters views in the way
our algorithm performs it finding that to be the most be-
lievable part of the conversation. For instance, in Discus-
sion 1, noting an NPC sticking to their convictions (with
a prevalent #StandingGround tag), “Helga started at Left;
moved to centrist and then closed at left. In Discussion
1 and 4, we also see that influence exerted by other NPCs
was accurately recognized (i.e. coded by the #IndividualIn-
fluence tag) with statements such as “Amy was swayed by
William” or “Ada and Johnnie matching their views, being
the most believable part of the conversations. Next, in Dis-
cussions 2 and 3 the #GroupInfluence exerted on NPCs was
noted, with respondents pointing out it seemed as though an
NPC changed their mind only because they seemed outnum-
bered or due to peer pressure stating, “The fact that James
had not changed drastically on his political opinion but has
opened up his opinion to uncertainty seems believable since
he is outnumbered in the group, or that “Lashawna swaying
slightly more conservative because she had a very convinc-
ing and large group and this would easily move her to sim-
ilar opinion. Additionally, respondents discussed the #Po-
larization of views in Discussion 1 with statements such as,
“That over time and rounds of arguments consensus devel-
ops around two poles of thought; even though within the
poles there’s a range of opinion/degree of certainty, and
that #SimilarViewsConverge stating, “No drastic changes in
views but groups did come closer to same opinion on both
Finally, an interesting observation was that a lot of
times people allowed their bias to affect their judgement
and #UsedPoliticalAffiliationStereotypes while discussing
the most believable part of the discussion summary they
had just read. This despite the fact that our analysis of RQ1
found these biases did not affect their rating of the believ-
ability of the conversation. Respondents described how in
Discussion 1 “The consistency with which the Right Opined
people stuck to their stand. With Discussion 2, participants
thought it was to be expected that “that the most liberal per-
son would be the person most open to changing their mind,
while with Discussion 3 they found “that the centrists didn’t
change their opinion much” was very believable as was the
fact that “the five on the right [were] sticking together.” Sim-
ilarly, with Discussion 4 they expected and found believable
that “Lefts found common ground and reached equilibrium.
Least Believable When asked what the least believable
part about the conversation was, respondents had varied re-
sponses. The most frequently mentioned themes from their
responses have been summarized in Table 7 below.
Theme Frequency
NPC mentioned unprompted 44
Changed Opinion 19
Decreasing Certainty 11
NPCs standing ground 10
Believable 6
Influenced by Article 6
Table 7: Frequently occurring codes in response to what re-
spondents found least believable
It is heartening to note that 5 of the 21 respondents found
Discussion 2 to be entirely #Believable and could not de-
scribe the least believable part of the conversation stating,“I
find it believable” as their responses.
Analysing Table 7, and the #NPCMentionedUnprompted
tag, we initially find it was of almost double the frequency
as it’s an occurrence in Table 6 with 44 of the 68 re-
sponses in this section specifically calling out individual
NPC behaviours as not believable or unexpected. Of Dis-
cussion 1, respondents discussed how they did not believe
Helga should not have been influenced by the article (i.e.
#ArticleInfluence) as much as they were, further trigger-
ing the change in the views of Ashley and Ada. In Dis-
cussion 2, they brought up that they found it unbelievable
that “James (someone who was extreme left) was swayed
by [the Centrist] article” as much as they were. Two par-
ticipants pointed out that it was the most believable and
the least believable fact that Shirley #StandingGround was
unbelievable stating, “Shirley had no uncertainty in their
views” and “not influenced by the other two in any way.
Of Discussion 3 modelled in Fig. 5, the #ChangedOpinion
of Juan was pointed out as showing similarities to human
conversations with one respondent stating that “the unex-
pected move of Juan towards the Left and Patrice’s position
feels like the kind of strange turn that might happen in a real
conversation - in a large enough conversation you will see
some people’s opinions change.. However, this participant
listed the same fact as both the most and least believable
part of the conversation, wondering why Juan would change
their views. Finally with Discussion 4, participants found
Kenneth’s #ChangedOpinion unbelievable, stating that they
didn’t think that “Kenneth wasn’t persuaded much at all;
and shifting to the right seemed weird, or that “William
would be so persuasive [towards Kenneth] with such fluc-
tuating levels of uncertainty” was unexpected. While the
#DecreasingCertainty tag was found to be frequent, there
was no consensus amongst respondents on how this affected
the least believable part of the discussions with the tag oc-
currence being sparsely distributed.
Reasoning Queries When asked to reason about an NPCs
change in opinion, certainty or attitudes, respondents had
varied responses. The most frequently mentioned themes
from their responses have been summarized in Table 8 be-
Theme Frequency
Individual Influence 19
NPC mentioned unprompted 15
Opinion Attitude Difference 12
Infer Facts not provided 11
Group Influence 10
Certainty Convinces 10
Lacking Support 8
Emotions Attributed 7
Table 8: Frequently occurring codes in response to the rea-
soning questions asked
#IndividualInfluence by a fellow conversationalist NPC
was denoted as the major factor influencing the change in
the uncertainty of Ada (in Discussion 1) and Amy (in Dis-
cussion 4), with quotes such as “She was uncertain to begin
with and her groupmate; who was the most knowledgeable
(ie if no of prior articles read is an indicator of knowledge
); was also wavering her convictions, or “The influence
of William’s arguments [swayed her]. 7 of 21 respondents
blamed William (#NPCMentionedUnprompted) in Discus-
sion 4 for Amy’s uncertainty with statements such as, “I
think they were aware of their drift in position and how con-
vinced they were by William’s arguments.
Respondents in Discussion 3 concurred that it was an
awareness of an #OpinionAttitudeDifference that caused
Juan’s change in opinion. They quoted, “He didn’t want
to seem biased externally so wanted to be portrayed as a
centrist; but was privately left-leaning, and concurring that
“their view was probably more left-leaning than they ini-
tially realized.
Additionally, for Discussions 1 and 2, both discussions
with a smaller group of conversationalists, respondents
pointed out that the certainty of the other NPCs helped sway
opinions (i.e. #CertaintyConvinces stating, “You must as-
sume this is because of Johnnie’s certainty” or “The oppo-
sition members confidence and articulation was strong. We
believe this smaller number of conversationalists is what in-
fluenced both discussions’ NPCs to be tagged as #Lacking-
Support. Respondents discussed NPCs having the “feeling
of being marginalized, and that they seemed to be a “lack
of support from like-minded people.
In discussions 2 and 4, both discussions of a longer du-
ration, respondents pointed out that #GroupInfluence was a
factor in changing the NPCs views. Respondents stated how
the “opposition had convincing arguments or [that there
was a] tendency to want to agree with the majority, and
that there was a tendency for an NPC to cave on their views
since they would associate them with “temporary bias be-
cause of peer-pressure in a group of majority conflicting
opinions. Interestingly, in discussions of shorter duration
(i.e. Discussions 1 and 3) respondents were more likely to
#InferFactsFrom the study that was not initially provided
to them. They made statements about how the NPC must
“support for innovation and reform strongly”, or seemed
to “value [the] Rights and Interests” of the other conver-
sationalists more. These conversations also tended to have
stronger #EmotionsAttributed to the constituent NPCs with
respondents attempting to articulate the emotional distress
of the conversationalists saying, “Changing one’s political
identity on an issue isn’t an easy task and can result in much
internal conflict and therefore high uncertainty” or blaming
the “feeling of being marginalized”, or that an NPCs “com-
petitiveness seemed to be declining” or that an NPC didn’t
seem to “care for the well-being” of the rest of the popula-
With this section, we revisit the goals of our paper and dis-
cuss each. We also discuss our major findings, along with
our future work plans.
G1: To generate descriptions of the change in the
opinions of the conversationalist NPCs that allowed
readers to follow the NPC’s reasoning
Our design process for these generated conversations as de-
scribed in our section, Designing Legible Simulation Output.
Of the 21 respondents, 17 were able to interpret the con-
versations and use them to reason about NPC behaviour. 4
participants stated that they had difficulty following the con-
versation description. One participant mentioned that the de-
scriptive text provided by us made it “difficult to align with
[their] own mental model of the dynamic. The graphs help;
but the textual description is pretty poor [and] too abstract.
Overall, we believe that these responses satisfy our goal. Our
system can produce modifiers and keywords that state the
intention of the characters in a manner that meets the ex-
pectations and match the mental model of the reader. In the
future, these could be used to produce natural language dia-
logue utterances.
G2: To evaluate these generated conversations with
a human subject study for their believability
We describe the design and method of our study in the Study
Design section. One limitation of our study was the small
number of respondents and the fact that they were mostly
on the left of the political spectrum. Our population sam-
ple was not normally distributed, making it difficult to test
for statistical significance in our analysis. Overall, the four
conversations had a mean believability rating of 3.3.
G3: To extract insights from the study to inform
future research
We see these insights in our section on Analysis of Results.
With our four research questions we conducted a summa-
tive evaluation of our simulation. With our qualitative anal-
ysis, we learned how respondents felt NPCs believably form
coalitions. Our reasoning questions showed that most re-
spondents were able to interpret and expect the change in
NPC opinions in the way our algorithm performed it. An in-
teresting point to note is that readers expected NPCs to stand
ground and not change their mind in many cases, claiming
that this added to the believability of the discussions. Ad-
ditionally, some respondents displayed emotional responses
to the conversations they read (for instance, stating that they
found it “believable but depressing that [none of the NPCs]
ultimately changed their minds [on Immigration] at the end
of Round 3”), while others attributed emotions to the NPCs
involved discussing NPC competitiveness, or caring for the
well-being of the population, or the NPCs support for re-
Togelius et al. (2013) discuss how game believability is
a critical subcomponent of the player experience. It can be
linked to a stream of player emotions triggered by events
occurring during interaction but also related to cognitive
and behavioural process during gameplay. They continue
to describe how games with believable elements can elicit
emotions in the player. Additionally, several authors argue
that the appearance of human intelligence or human-likeness
adds value to a computer-controlled character and thus to
the quality of gameplay (Togelius et al. 2013; Champandard
2003; Bateman and Boon 2005). We believe that evidence
described above of these emotional responses elicited in the
player, and the emotions and humanity ascribed to our NPCs
can be taken as further evidence of the believability of our
system. We suggest this shows that despite the simplicity of
our chosen discussion template readers are primed to imag-
ine complex layers of interactions between the NPCs. Our
simulation was able to invite users to use their imagination
and provide to them a more immersive and compelling nar-
rative effect.
Modeling Social Influence and Simulation
In their responses, respondents pointed out some interest-
ing features of social dynamics that we did not intention-
ally simulate, attributing changes to these social phenom-
ena. One of those was the existence of an Overton Window
in some of the discussions. They pointed out when an NPC
changed their mind “because she was an outlier, and had
the most extreme view” or in another case how “everyone
else expressed a more rightward view; making Ashley’s view
appear more extreme left that it actually was.
The participants also pointed out when #Polarization
seemed to be occurring with the groups clustering away
from the centre. One participant stated that “no substan-
tial agreement was reached; which is what you might expect
from an argument where people’s views start out very highly
separated from each other, while another pointed out that
this type of polarization could lead to the feeling that NPCs
were #LackingSupport, feeling marginalized or as though
they were outliers with the participants tending to “cluster
away from centrism.
Most interestingly, with our analysis of the most believ-
able part of the conversation, we noticed an interesting pat-
tern of how readers discussed #GroupInfluence,#Polariza-
tion and how #SimilarViewsConverge. Survey respondents
spoke of this as a matter of fact, pointing out how individual
members ceded to peer pressure or conformed stating they
were “outnumbered”, or that an NPC “was in the minority
so probably felt uncertain”, or how “deliberation within a
group is important and with the right convincing you can
change someone’s mind” and that “there is some power in
group mentality”. We believe these observed patterns further
strengthen and support our hypothesis on social rules. Be-
liefs and attitudes that go against a group’s values are looked
down upon unfavourably by the members of the group. This
would allow with our approach, for the group and cultural
rules to emerge organically through the course of interaction
with their members.
While these findings were unexpected, we are heartened
that our simulation can model and generate these recogniz-
able social phenomena. We believe this further adds to the
immersion and believability of the characters.
Conclusion and Future Work
We believe that this research can be an interesting tool not
only to increase agent believability but also to evaluate inter-
character relationships. Accounting for co-location of the
characters in the discussion model allows us to contextualize
the interaction and the cultural significance of the conver-
sations. For instance, NPCs of Indian origin, congregating
together during a social event can be modelled to discuss
views on cricket or rating the latest Bollywood movie they
saw. Similarly, NPCs at an office party may share opinions
on the work ethics of a colleague leading to a manager being
swayed to promote the same.
With future work, we aim to use our results to inform how
discussions with conflicting opinions could influence social
relationships in a more extensive, geographically-situated
population simulation. We imagine our simulation to work
in conjunction with one such as PromWeek (McCoy et al.
2011), where modifiers reflecting the intentions of the par-
ticipants could be inferred from their expressed opinion and
used to generate a dialogue. For instance, [Moderately Left,
Gun Control, Legislation] could produce a statement from
a virtual character regarding increasing legislation to com-
bat gun violence or implementing strict background checks.
Similarly, [Right, Gun Control, Arming] could produce a
statement regarding arming teachers in schools or bolstering
security in public spaces. and ascribe to the NPCs human-
like characteristics of emotion, competitiveness, and inten-
tion. Additionally, the discussion mechanic could be used to
see how these views of the characters themselves can con-
vince or persuade other NPCs.
In conclusion, we believe our evaluation shows that Lyra
can simulate believable NPCs with the ability to model so-
cial influence and opinion dynamics, enabling more robust
social intelligence for virtual populations and models of hu-
man social dynamics. Agents with the Lyra model would
be able to simulate and model opinions on any aspect of
the virtual world they inhabit and then sway one another’s
mind on the same. We believe our system affords agents the
opportunity to reflect on not just their knowledge, but also
the certainty of their views. The qualitative analysis of our
results shows that Lyra is able to replicate social mechan-
ics such as individual or group influence, feelings of being
marginalized, and conformity. We believe reproducing these
behaviours in NPCs would improve a player’s interactive ex-
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Thematic Codes
Name Description Sample respondent quote tagged with code
#AgreeWithMajority The respondent tries to infer why a partic-
ular change/trend is seen
Left-leaning with centrist views; hence more prone to
go with the dominant public opinions
#ArticleInfluence Noting when a character is swayed by the
Amy’s uncertainty dropping after reading the centrist
article and the first round of arguments
#Believable What they found believable or realistic That people tended to cluster into ideological groups
[was the most believable]
#CausalInference The respondent causally linked events to
explain something
Lashawna swaying slightly more conservative be-
cause she had a very convincing and large group and
this would easily move her to similar opinion.
#CertaintyConvinces Noting when a character who is more cer-
tain in their views has more influence
That the right leaning group - one of whose members
was very certain about his opinion - did budge in their
Noting that an NPC opinion changed even
though they were certain of their views
I think people get stronger/ more confident in
their views after discussing/arguing about them; not
#ChangedOpinion Noting that an NPC or a group of NPCs
had a change in their opinion(s).
James was swayed by Mary or Shirley
#ClusteringBelievable Noting that the groups formed in a believ-
able/expected manner
People tended to cluster into ideological groups.
#ClusteringNotBelievable Noting that the group formation or cluster-
ing of opinions was not believable
Mary thinking the group’s opinion didn’t match their
internal attitude was not believable
#DecreasingCertainty NPC certainty in views decreased / uncer-
tainty increased
The fluctuation from high certainty back to uncer-
tainty in a seemingly short time period
#Disagreement NPCs disagreeing with each other Nobody found consensus
#EmotionalResponse The respondent had an emotional response
to the information
It was believable but depressing that nobody ulti-
mately changed their mind at the end of Round 3.
#EmotionsAttributed Attributing emotions to the NPCs as the
reason for an observed behaviour
His competitiveness is declining
#Expected Was expected. Can be used with other tags.
For instance, #IncreasingCertainty #Unex-
People changing their opinions [was expected]
Noting that an NPC had an extreme change
in opinion. This tag implies the #Change-
dOpinion tag
The extreme left/right fluctuating opinions
#GroupInfluence Noting when a character is swayed by a
The fact that James had not changed drastically on
his political opinion but has opened up his opinion to
uncertainty seems believable since he is out numbered
in the group.
#GroupsStandGround Noting that it’s harder to convince groups
than individuals, or that groups did not
change their mind. #GroupsStandGround
The unchanging minds of majority
Identifying a group of people with similar
People tended to cluster into ideological groups.
#IncreasingCertainty Noting that an NPC’s certainty in views in-
creased or that their uncertainty decreased
Amy’s uncertainty dropping after reading the centrist
article and the first round of arguments
#IndividualInfluence Noting when a character is swayed by 1 or
2 individuals (but the individuals are not
identified as a group)
Norma and Edward swayed each other
#InferFactsFrom Infer facts (or make assumptions) that are
not given to them by us
The centrists didn’t change at all; which doesn’t seem
characteristic of the topic
Name Description Sample respondent quote tagged with code
#LackingSupport Noting a character is alone/lacking vocal
support from other participants
Ashley doesn’t fit well with leftist views
#LimitedKnowledge Explaining/assuming that the effects are
related to not knowing enough about a
Due to limited knowledge and reading of the matter
#Meta Talked about the study design; #NotE-
noughInfo =>#Meta; #InferFactsFrom
There are too many variables here for me to get a good
read on my feelings about these metrics
#MiddleGround Groups finding a middle ground. Discus-
sion of agreement, or consensus
The other two participants were closer together; so he
tried to form consensus in the middle; further from his
certain attitude.
#NoAnswer Participant did not respond or had no
meaningful response
I have no idea........
#NotBelievable What they found not believable or unreal-
The change in Johnnie stand
#NotEnoughInfo Noting that the respondent doesn’t have
enough information to answer a question
...there’s also a level of speculation here with limited
information on specifics.
The behavior of a character was noted
when they were not mentioned in the ques-
Helga started at Left; moved to centrist and then
closed at left
Noting that an NPC opinion must have
changed since it must not have been
aligned with their internal attitude
That he was open to reasoning and reaffirmed his
slight left bias
Noting the difference between outwardly
expressed opinion and internally held atti-
... temporary bias because of peer-pressure in a group
of majority conflicting opinions
#OvertonWindow Noting that a character’s views seem more
extreme in contrast to others
Because she was an outlier/had the most ”extreme”
view to the left.
#Polarization Discussion of groups clustering away from
the center
The participants tended to cluster away from cen-
#PoliticalIdentity Noting when a character’s politics seems to
be a part of their identity
Group formations seems coherent with each mem-
ber’s affiliation
#ReceivingSupport Noting when a character’s views are sup-
ported by others in the group
Because of the support she saw
#ReinforcedViews The NPC reinforced their own views The right-leaning opinions solidified and remained
#SimilarViewsConverge Stating that characters with similar views
initially will converge toward one another
People seemed to be swayed by people who were po-
litically similar to themselves
#StandingGround No change in opinion. The NPC stood their
The centrist not changing their opinion
#UncertainMindsChange Noting when someone who is uncertain
changes their mind more readily.
His high level of uncertainty coupled with his moder-
ate stance indicates that Juan felt under informed on
the topic.
#UncertaintyStatic Uncertainty Did Not Change Shirley’s uncertainty [remaining the same]
#Unexpected Was unexpected. Can be used with other
tags. For instance, #IncreasingCertainty
Even though I didn’t expect it; Kenneth’s rightward
turn is believable.
Respondent made a stereotypical judge-
ment about a political affiliation.
Ada is a typical right-winger and is looking for view-
points to confirm her own bias; rather than be con-
vinced by others
Political Scale - Survey Definitions
We wanted to ensure each respondent had a familiarity with the US Political system, and various perspectives associated with
different topics in the generated discussions. We provided them each survey respondent with definitions for various terminology
on bias and attitudes that they might encounter in the survey. All definitions were taken from AllSides (AllSides 2018) to ensure
that the author’s bias did was not taken into account
Additionally, respondents were asked to rate their familiarity and positions on the same in order for us to analyse this data
for Research Question 1, namely, does the measure of the believability of the generated conversations depend on the personal
political biases of the respondents?
Media Bias
This section includes definitions of the concepts of media bias, and media bias.
Media Bias: Media bias is the bias or perceived bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection
of many events and stories that are reported and how they are covered.
Bias: (1) the personal judgment or favor associated with the presentation of the information, or (2) a measure of the impar-
tiality of the unit of information.
Media Bias Ratings: Media bias ratings allow us to easily look at a news story or issue from different perspectives. The bias
ratings in our dataset are obtained from AllSides.com using a combination of blind bias surveys, editorial reviews, third-party
research, independent research, and community votes to calculate media bias of the information.
Left Bias: Left bias is the most liberal media bias rating on the political spectrum. Views with a Left media bias rating
are most likely to show favor for government services (food stamps, social security, Medicare, student-loans, unemployment
benefits, healthcare, education, etc.), federal laws to protect consumers, the environment, and equal rights. To read more we
recommend the following site: https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/left
Center Bias: The view does not predictably show opinions favoring either end of the political spectrum conservative or
liberal. A Center view either doesn’t show much bias at all, or its bias leans to the left and right equally at different times. It may
also mean the author does a good job of portraying both sides equally. It’s important to note that sometimes, a conversationalist
with a Center rating may miss important perspectives leaving out valid arguments from the left or right. To read more we
recommend the following site: https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/center
Right Bias: A Right bias is the most conservative rating on the political spectrum. Some of these sources may be considered
”right-wing news. Views with a Right media bias rating are most likely to show favor for decreasing government involvement
in economic issues, decreasing federal regulations in general, giving more power to state laws, decreasing government spending,
except for defense spending, etc. To read more we recommend the following site: https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/right
NPC views on Topics of Discussion
This section includes descriptions of what typical left-wing and right-wing perspectives on gun control, gun rights, illegal
immigration and legal immigration could be.
Left-wing Gun Control and Gun Rights Views - Left-wing views typically argue for more legislation to combat gun vio-
lence. Some of these measures include increased background checks, closing the gun show loophole, as well as banning assault
weapons and bump stocks.
Right-wing Gun Control and Gun Rights Views - Right-wing advocates typically argue against increasing government
regulation and focus on rigorously enforcing current legislation, improving mental health awareness, and bolstering security in
public spaces, such as arming teachers in schools.
Left-wing Illegal Immigration Views: - Left-wing views on illegal immigration typically argue that offering a path to cit-
izenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. would lead to higher wages, job growth, and increased tax revenue.
They argue it is morally unacceptable to deport undocumented immigrants, particularly since the U.S. was founded by a nation
of immigrants, and that they add to the countrys diverse culture.
Right-wing Illegal Immigration Views: - Right-wing views on Illegal Immigration typically argue that these immigrants
take jobs from native workers and unlawfully take advantage of government assistance programs, offsetting the taxes they pay.
They emphasize the order of law, saying that anyone who wants to come to the U.S. must apply via the pathways we currently
have in place.
Left-wing Legal Immigration Views: - Left-wing views on legal immigration typically argue that low-skilled immigration
individuals are taking jobs that native-born Americans do not want, filling a major gap in the workforce
Right-wing Legal Immigration Views: - Right-wing views on Legal Immigration Right-wing views generally argue that
low-skilled immigrants decrease opportunity for American citizens and depress wages. Many also emphasize that lower educa-
tion levels and language barriers prevent these individuals from effectively assimilating.
... Inspired at least in part by the success of these games, social intelligence research aims to advance the ability of virtual characters to make believable decisions in social situations, such as conversation. This work has arisen in contexts including procedural storytelling [46,53,73], narrative planning [15,94], knowledge and belief propagation [7,74], social relationship dynamics [18,71,72], group behavior [7], and more. Collectively, this set of approaches for computationally enacting intercharacter behaviour, intended to model some aspects of human interaction, is known as social simulation. ...
... Inspired at least in part by the success of these games, social intelligence research aims to advance the ability of virtual characters to make believable decisions in social situations, such as conversation. This work has arisen in contexts including procedural storytelling [46,53,73], narrative planning [15,94], knowledge and belief propagation [7,74], social relationship dynamics [18,71,72], group behavior [7], and more. Collectively, this set of approaches for computationally enacting intercharacter behaviour, intended to model some aspects of human interaction, is known as social simulation. ...
... For others, social simulation refers to the minute intricacies of conversation between a small, fixed cast of characters, whose lines of dialogue and range of possible behaviours are manually authored and differ for each specific character [19,46,58]. Still, others model the social dynamics of interchangeable sets of characters who can form and break alliances or trust [7,49]. ...
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A number of recent models for empirically-grounded social simulation have emerged recently from games and interactive narrative research, generally exploring models of trust, emotion, and social graph changes that occur in the process of inter-character interactions. However, these models so far failed to provide realistic models of opinion change and predisposition to new knowledge. Equipped with such a notion, these emergent social simulations can express both real and fictionalized depictions of modern phenomena like adverse media influence, the spread of "fake news," and the polarization of ideological sects. We present a preliminary computational investigation into modeling opinion change in virtual characters with this goal in mind.
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Over the last few decades there has been immense growth in the video game industry, and we have seen great improvements in both graphics and audio. Unfortunately, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and non-player characters (NPCs) has not proceeded at the same pace. Although there have undoubtedly been improvements, the field as a whole has lagged behind its siblings. Many of the problems with NPCs stem from the fact that they do not achieve a sufficient level of believability, particularly in the social arena. This is primarily related to the fact that the NPCs do not behave in ways that align with the expectations of the player. This can lead to the player misunderstanding the role and purpose of the NPC, which damages the believability of the game. By extension, this lessens the enjoyment the player can derive from the game. Hence, it is imperative that the design of the NPC be in line with player expectations. This thesis takes a holistic view of NPCs, encompassing their design, evaluation, and player perceptions. It uses a design science methodology, and primarily uses qualitative and interpretative methods. It will provide a description of the various types of NPCs found in games, what their design elements are, and how they are interpreted by players.
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The Argon project was started to explore the creation of Augmented Reality applications with web technology. We have found this approach to be particularly useful for community-based applications. The Argon web browser has gone through two versions, informed by the work of our students and collaborators on these kinds of applications. In this paper, we highlight a number of the applications we and others have created, what we learned from them, and how our experiences creating these applications informed the design of Argon2 and the requirements for the next version, Argon3.
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Narrative intelligence is the ability to craft, tell, understand, and respond affectively to stories. We argue that instilling artificial intelligences with computational narrative intelligence affords a number of applications beneficial to humans. We lay out some of the machine learning challenges necessary to solve to achieve computational narrative intelligence. Finally, we argue that computational narrative is a practical step towards machine enculturation, the teaching of sociocultural values to machines.
It is widely thought that news organizations exhibit ideological bias, but rigorously quantifying such slant has proven methodologically challenging. Through a combination of machine-learning and crowdsourcing techniques, we investigate the selection and framing of political issues in fifteen major US news outlets. Starting with 803,146 news stories published over twelve months, we first used supervised learning algorithms to identify the 14 percent of articles pertaining to political events. We then recruited 749 online human judges to classify a random subset of 10,502 of these political articles according to topic and ideological position. Our analysis yields an ideological ordering of outlets consistent with prior work. However, news outlets are considerably more similar than generally believed. Specifically, with the exception of political scandals, major news organizations present topics in a largely nonpartisan manner, casting neither Democrats nor Republicans in a particularly favorable or unfavorable light. Moreover, again with the exception of political scandals, little evidence exists of systematic differences in story selection, with all major news outlets covering a wide variety of topics with frequency largely unrelated to the outlet’s ideological position. Finally, news organizations express their ideological bias not by directly advocating for a preferred political party, but rather by disproportionately criticizing one side, a convention that further moderates overall differences.
A key characteristic of democratic politics is competition between groups, first of all political parties. Yet, the unavoidably partisan nature of political conflict has had too little influence on scholarship on political psychology. Despite more than 50 years of research on political parties and citizens, we continue to lack a systematic understanding of when and how political parties influence public opinion. We suggest that alternative approaches to political parties and public opinion can be best reconciled and examined through a richer theoretical perspective grounded in motivated reasoning theory. Clearly, parties shape citizens' opinions by mobilizing, influencing, and structuring choices among political alternatives. But the answer to when and how parties influence citizens' reasoning and political opinions depends on an interaction between citizens' motivations, effort, and information generated from the political environment (particularly through competition between parties). The contribution of motivated reasoning, as we describe it, is to provide a coherent theoretical framework for understanding partisan influence on citizens' political opinions. We review recent empirical work consistent with this framework. We also point out puzzles ripe for future research and discuss how partisan‐motivated reasoning provides a useful point of departure for such work.