Research areas and approaches

The overall goal of my research is to investigate ways in which we can create deeply meaningful and personalized play experiences. The main areas for my research are:

  • interactive storytelling in games,
  • believable agents for games,
  • affective game mechanics,
  • AI-Based game design,
  • co-creation in games, and
  • methods for game design research.

I apply methods from different scientific traditions. For overall study, analysis and interpretations of artifacts and in pre-stages to design I apply perspectives from the humanities. In the design and production phases methods and knowledge from engineering and design traditions are necessary, when aiming to create better ways to do something, or to innovate. Once a prototype is produced it is, necessary to evaluate and study what happens when it is played. In this phase empirical methods from social sciences are useful.

In the beginning of my research career my main focus was on interactive storytelling (IS) in games, especially story logic (the causal connections between narrative elements and events), stemming from my design work in the game industry along with my first main education, which was literary studies. IS has been a continuous thread in my work over the years. My dissertation focused on how to orchestrate player- and non-player video game characters in ways that enable the creation of vast narratives with a large cast of players and individual meaningful stories, where no character is merely a supporting part. More recently, I have taken an interest in the emerging genre of story-making games, where the main activity for players is co-narrating aided by game rules (see paper). In 2016 I was working on this topic as a designer at Franzén & Falk, where we developed a location-based game prototype where professional authors, amateur writers, and players created location-based story layers for actual cities. The same year I collaborated with the authors of the highly acclaimed interactive narrative game “Prom Week”. My role was to define the rules for character interaction.

Another continuous line of my work is concerned with personality, moods and affect in believable agent architectures and how these notions can be used in the deep structures of game mechanics. For my dissertation I developed the agent architecture Mind Module that I used experimentally in five digital prototypes, all approaching these aspects in different ways (see dissertation). This work led to the realization that game mechanics using affect (which I term affective game mechanics) are very rewarding for players when allowing them to co-create, to put something of their own emotional reality into a game experience, as such a personalized experience is meaningful, and sometimes even transformative (see article). I am continuing this line of work within the framework of my own studio Otter Play (founded 2015) by making board games. Most recently, I created a game where small groups of players deconstruct real-world emotional issues, and through cooperation and mutual support-actions in play can find novel coping strategies (see paper and game). This work is an important line of inquiry for me; eg to explore how board games can be designed as aids for psychotherapy.

A further strand of my work is to understand the intersection between artificial intelligence (AI) and game design, which I have discussed using the term of AI-Based Game Design (see paper). The term is adopted by the academic community, which is evident through further publications on the subject (see report), workshops and invitations to game and AI related conferences. The notion has proved useful not only for researchers, but for also teaching, especially for supporting student’s process of innovation (see talk).

I am also concerned with the concept of co-creation. Players and computational processes each have roles in the creation of in-game objects, events and overall experience. While at the university of Malta (2012-2015), I further explored this notion in the role as lead designer in the EU 7th Framework project C2Learn, a work that resulted in several games that all have the purpose to support co-creativity in educational setting for youth and children (available for play at

Finally, investigating how methods for game design research can be improved is part of my everyday teaching practice at Södertörn University, where I cooperate with colleagues to document and share the knowledge across our field. The method I prefer for exploring the design space of games is through iterative development, through evaluation, and by assessment of experimental research prototypes. In my experience, the creation of tangible, demonstrable prototypes have a major impact on the understanding and analysis of digital artefacts. Together with Dr Elina Ollila (formerly at Nokia Research Center), I described the approach in Design for Results: Considerations for experimental prototyping and play testing using iterative game design. Most recently, I have started to consider the development and design process of making game systems as an artistic practice, an analytical perspective that is still in its nascence.

My background

Before I went into research (2003) I was lead game programmer at Liquid Media in Stockholm. My first brush with game research was in the applied research studio Zero-Game of the Interactive Institute in Sweden where I was technical lead (2004).

My dissertation work (2009) explored characterization and story construction in MMO’s focusing semi-autonomous avatars. For my dissertation I built a semi‐ autonomous agent architecture, the Mind Module. I applied it in various game prototypes that I designed and took part in developing. I found that the action potential of avatars in virtual game worlds is crucial for the characterization of avatars, and that careful design of this action potential can aid players in role‐playing.

I have led game design work in two EU projects, IPeRG (2004-5) and C2Learn (2013-14). For IPerG we made an MMO prototype that was mirrored to the geography of Stockholm where players using clients on personal computers could play in real-time with players using clients on their cellphones. For C2Learn we designed a suite of games where players co-create with players and machines. These are currently (winter 2015) in alpha.


Senior Lecturer at Södertörn University in Sweden.


Mirjam P Eladhari