AboutAs I mentioned before on the main page: I’m Nick Degens. Now for some random personalia: I am thirty-something years old, born in England to an English father and a Dutch mother, and currently live in the Netherlands together with my wife Petra van Berkum. She’s a great illustrator and you should totally hire her for all your art related wishes (www.petpet.nl). I used to have two extremely cute ferrets, but unfortunately they passed away not too long ago. My main interests include playing video games, reading books and thinking about life, the universe and everything (not too much, since there’s only so much you can achieve by thinking). I’ve always found it difficult to categorise, and as such I consider myself to be sort of a jack-of-all-trades, due to my natural curiosity for a wide range of subjects. Using the word ‘generalist’ often leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth, as it’s easy to call yourself thus, so I tend to look at myself as a ‘specialised generalist’. It takes a certain kind of skill, and training, to understand how different parts of the life work together to create a single coherent whole (or mess sometimes). I’ve seen the technical side of life, through my background in artificial intelligence and affinity of technology; the social side of life, by working together with psychologists and sociologists, on concepts like education and culture; and the more ‘artsy’ side of life, through my experiences with creative professionals and game design. It may seem difficult, but all three need to be present when we aim to to be integrated in the design of technology, and I like to understand how (for those more interested in my own perspective, you can check out my inaugural speech for my professorship at the Hanze University here). Links:
ResearchThere are two distinct topics that have drawn my attention in the past few years, namely artificial intelligence, and educational games. These two topics are part of a larger discipline called design science. You can read about my publications here.
There are many interesting theories from psychology and sociology that help us to understand facets of human behaviour. One of the aims of Artificial Intelligence is to incorporate this knowledge into computer systems, so it can be used to help people with daily problems.
Imagine a digital assistant that can understand your needs without having to make them explicit, or a training tool that can help depressed people with their problems. Generally speaking though, it’s very difficult to implement these theoretical concepts. This is because most of these theories don’t come as a set of simple rules. This is logical, as life is all about exceptions, and as they say, nothing is every easy.
Things get even more complex when it comes to culture, as whole new level on top of personality. As part of the FP7 project eCute, I’ve been looking into the design of ‘virtual characters’ that behave differently depending on their ‘cultural background’. To do so, we have defined group level variables, such as moral circles, reputation, and status. These variables are always present in the minds of the virtual characters and help them to make sense of the social world. We have then used so-called synthetic cultures to change the perception and interpretation of these social behaviours. This way we are able to successfully create characters that show believable socio-cultural behaviour. Our goal for the future is to see if we can establish guidelines that make it easier for researchers to design believable cultural characters, without having to reinvent the wheel.
Educational Game Design
There are many important disciplines to consider when designing an educational game. Education and game design are a few obvious ones, but don’t forget about user interaction, programming, and graphics design. The aim of the game is that it becomes more than the sum of its parts, but anyone who has ever created a game knows that this is easier said than done.
I’ve always been particularly interested in the intersection between learning and fun. This is a very difficult balance to find: sometimes the game mechanics might distract from the educational parts, and sometimes the educational parts are just too boring… I’ve looked at this problem particularly from the perspective of intercultural training.
We’ve looked at the effect of different game mechanics, such as narration and interaction, on the perception of people. We found that sometimes even the slightest change can have a significant effect on how people perceive certain social situations. We aim get a greater understanding of the effect of individual game mechanics on the educational effectiveness of games in the future. This way, it becomes easier for researchers and game designers to choose between different designs.
PublicationsYou can find an overview of my publications below. You can also access my Google scholar page.
Deliverable 2.1 eCute – Preliminary cultural learning interdisciplinary framework Aleksandra Swiderska, Eva Krumhuber, Lara Vujovic, Arvid Kappas, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede www.ecute.eu (2011)
Integration and Evaluation of Prototypical Culture-related Differences Birgit Endrass, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Elisabeth André, John Hodgson, Samuel Mascarenhas, Gregor Mehlmann, Ana Paiva, Christopher Ritter, and Aleksandra Swiderska Workshop on Culturally Motivated Virtual Characters (CMVC 2011) held on IVA 2011
“How should I say this?” Agents with culturally-appropriate verbal communication styles Samuel Mascarenhas, Ana Paiva, Nick Degens, John Mc Breen and Gert-Jan Hofstede Workshop on Culturally Motivated Virtual Characters (CMVC 2011) held on IVA 2011
Deliverable 3.2 eCute – Use cases for synthetic cultures – Scenarios for Traveller and MIXER Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Asad Nazir, Christopher Ritter, Ruth Aylett www.ecute.eu (2012)
When agents meet: empathy, moral circle, ritual, and culture Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, John Mc Breen, Samuel Mascarenhas, Ana Paiva, Adrie Beulens Workshop on Emotional and Empathic Agents help on AAMAS 2012
eCute: Difference is good Asad Nazir, Christopher Ritter, Ruth Aylett, Eva Krumhuber, Aleksandra Swiderska, Nick Degens, Birgit Endrass, Colette Hume, John Hodgson, Christopher Ritter, Samuel Mascarenhas Proceedings of the IADIS e-Learning 2012 (EL 2012) Conference
Generating Norm-Related Emotions in Virtual Agents N Ferreira, S Mascarenhas, A Paiva, F Dignum, J Mc Breen, N Degens, GJ Hofstede Intelligent Virtual Agents Conference 2012, 97-104
Incorporating Multi-Modal Evaluation into a Technology Enhanced Learning Experience L Hall, R Aylett, C Hume, E Krumhuber, N Degens Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) 2012
Can I ask you a favour? – A Relational Model of Socio-Cultural Behaviour Samuel Mascarenhas, Rui Prada, Ana Paiva, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on AAMAS 2013 (extended abstract)
Blame on Them, Shame on Us Nuno Ferreira, Samuel Mascarenhas, Ana Paiva, Gennaro Di Tosto, Frank Dignum, John Mc Breen, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Giulia Andrighetto, Rosaria Conte Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on AAMAS 2013 (extended abstract)
The Appraisal of Normative Events Based in In-Group and Out-Group Relations Nuno Ferreira, Samuel Mascarenhas, Ana Paiva, Gennaro Di Tosto, Frank Dignum, John Mc Breen, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Giulia Andrighetto, Rosaria Conte Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh AAAI Conference (AAAI-13)
Traveller: An Intercultural Training System with Intelligent Agents Samuel Mascarenhas, André Silva, Ana Paiva, Ruth Aylett, Felix Kistler, Elisabeth André, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Arvid Kappas Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on AAMAS 2013 (demonstration)
Traveller – Interacting with Agents to Deal with Misunderstandings Due to Culture Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Samuel Mascarenhas, André Silva, Ana Paiva, Felix Kistler, Elisabeth André, Ruth Aylett, Arvid Kappas Proceedings of the Eight International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (demonstration).
Traveller – Intercultural training for young adults Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Samuel Mascarenhas, André Silva, Ana Paiva, Felix Kistler, Elisabeth André, Aleksandra Swiderska, Eva Krumhuber, Arvid Kappas, Colette Hume, Lynne Hall, Ruth Aylett Proceedings of the Eight International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (workshop 1st International Workshop on Intelligent Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion)
‘What I see is not what you get’: Why culture-specific behaviours for virtual characters should be user-tested across cultures Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Adrie Beulens, Birgit Endrass, Elisabeth André (to be published) Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Society 2013
Deliverable 3.3 eCute – Creating Synthetic Cultures Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Samuel Mascarenhas, Ana Paiva (in-progress) www.ecute.eu (2012)
Of cultures and moral circles: Traveller as a tool for intercultural sensitivity training Aleksandra Swiderska, Eva G. Krumhuber, Arvid Kappas, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede Poster Presentation at the 5th International Summer School in Affective Sciences
Traveller: an interactive cultural training system controlled by user-defined body gestures Felix Kistler, Elisabeth André, Samuel Mascarenhas, André Silva, Ana Paiva, Nick Degens, Gert Jan Hofstede, Eva Krumhuber, Arvid Kappas and Ruth Aylett Proceedings of the 14th International Interact Conference 2013
MIXER: Learning about differences Asad Nazir, Ruth Aylett, Lynne Hall, Eva Krumhuber, Nick Degens, Christopher Ritter, Birgit Endrass, Ana Paiva, Mei Yii Lim Proceedings of the eChallenges 2013 Conference
Urbn Chaos← backIn spring 2009 I was a project leader of a team of two designers and programmers to develop an educational game for the Dutch Road Safety Association (VVN). We were the winner of the Dutch Road Safety Association Game Design contest in with this game called ‘UrbnChaos’. It was presented on the 11th edition of the PRI World Congress on road safety.
Hail there weary travellerSome say on the interwebs that it's very common these days to have your own website. Working in the field of technology it seems hardly appropriate for myself not to maintain at least a basic level of 'internet presence'. As such, welcome to my humble little abode on the internet. My name is Nick Degens, as you might have inferred from the web address, and this is, again not very surprising, my website. I am currently working as an Professor of Applied Sciences in User-Centered Design at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. Even though I believe you aren't necessarily defined by what you practice, it may still give some flavour to who I am.
There are a few things on this website. You can read more about my work at the research section or see some interesting things I worked on on the portfolio page.