Scripts and Flowcharts

The EGBG Telemarketing Counterscript is a conversational diagram (or script) for use by a person receiving a telemarketing call. It neatly turns the process of anonymous information collection around on the telemarketer, and in so doing performs a parody of the practice of scripting telephone market surveys.

EGBG is a ???research office??? founded by Martijn Englebregt in 1996. The main body of EGBG artwork focuses on parodies of infographics, decision flowcharts, and forms that collect personal information. The theme in many of these pieces and performances is invasion of privacy, whether by marketing or by government forces.

The Direct Marketing sector regards the telephone as one of its most successful tools. Consumers experience telemarketing from a completely different point of view: more than 92% perceive commercial telephone calls as a violation of privacy. Telemarketers make use of a telescript - a guideline for a telephone conversation. This script creates an imbalance in the conversation between the marketer and the consumer. It is this imbalance, most of all, that makes telemarketing successful. The EGBG Counterscript attempts to redress that balance.

Looking at the Counterscript, I have two experiences. One experience is of the script as a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) or treefiction structure, in which the script plays ???the call recipient??? and I play ???the telemarketer.??? My eyes make choices for my telemarketer persona as they move along the plots of potential conversations, pausing at times to undo a move by retracing and then exploring a different outcome.
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My second experience is of encountering an interface from the inside of the mask. The Counterscript is like software, designed to interact with a user (???the telemarketer???). As the reader, I am not that user, but rather, I (???the call recipient???) am the hardware on which that software will be run. In this view of the script as interactive dialog (some of which is stored as you fill in the blanks), the job of the program is to anticipate behavior, drive the experience, and anticipate or discipline the kind of ???bad behavior??? that causes an exception and moves you to the bottom of the chart. Especially interesting is that this scripted human is not responding to an impromptu caller - it is the very fact that the telemarketing user is already a scripted human that has made the Counterscript necessary to ???redress the balance.???

The metaphor of the scripted human as a generator of Interactive Fiction (IF) has always appealed to me, both in considering the potential of artificial intelligence to IF, and in contrasting IF software with the role of the Game Master in story-centric role playing games.

In both text-only IF and graphics-hybrid ???Adventure genre??? games, implementing conversation through CYOA-style conversation trees are common. This is particularly interesting in a genre which otherwise emphasizes modeling objects and simulating situations over either/other decision making. The contents of your pockets and the route to the city gates may be amazingly variable, but the conversation with the guard takes a limited and specified flowchart form.

A related practice in IF is the tradition of mapping, in which the reader draws a flowchart-like model of locations and the actions needed to navigate them. The IF map is an interesting hybrid of modeling both space and action. Compass direction and action are often related (GO NORTH), but not always, and map stylistics vary based on content.

In role playing games (RPGs) as well, flowcharts are used by game masters (GMs) to assist in controlling and ordering awkward transitions. Some examples: On the macro end, the concept of Action Flowcharts is to create a map of the events of a role playing session that depicts some events in which players may intervene and others which are immutable. Flowcharts may be used more generally to block out scenes. On the micro-end, the RPG Theatrix (1993) has the GM (or ???Director???) use a short question flowchart to resolve individual dramatic situations.

Although flowcharts can be specific or quite general, the word ???flow??? evokes the loose constraints that make flowcharts an appropriate protocol for interactive designs being performed by people rather than machines. Design documentation from hypertext novels, first person shooters, interactive fiction and role playing sessions often include scripts or flowcharts as a kind of pre-implementation guide. It is interesting to consider whether a practice of flowcharting on the part of new media critics and reviewers would be a useful addition to the practice of reviewing… disclaiming, of course, the ever-present danger of spoilers.

2 Responses to “Scripts and Flowcharts”

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Flowchart Art and Comics
  2. 2 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Flowchart Photography

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