Gatekeeper is an online game that simulates the phenomenon of impression management; for instance, players may choose to perform the identity associated with their own clan or pass as a member of another in order to gain admission to a fictional castle.
“Hailing from the Sylvann tribe, you stand before the gate of a keep. You need to enter; the need is dire. You are tall, wearing fine clothes, and articulate. You see a Brushwood guard with sturdy armor.” So begins the interactive narrative short fiction work Gatekeeper. What happens next is up to you. Do you try to fit in based on how you perceive the Hobbit-like Brushwoods? Or do you flaunt your elven-like finery? Do you code-switch based on what seems to be working best – or stay true to one way of expressing yourself throughout?
Gatekeeper models a common role-playing-game scenario—a player trying to gain access to the inside of a castle. While this fantasy scenario may seem far removed from physical-world experiences of managing one’s impression on others in the face of sexism and racism on the job, such experiences are common in the everyday lives of many people. For example, in the U.S., speakers of southern dialects of English have described needing to change their speech patterns to suitably impress an employer; women in business and politics have described pressures to de-emphasize stereotypically “feminine” characteristics to advance and avoid harassment in the workplace. In fact, in one way or another, most people have have had to get past “gatekeepers.”
Gatekeeper uses a patented computational approach implemented by a platform called Chimeria that supports simulating experiences based on social-group membership. Gatekeeper is not just a branching Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style story. Rather, it relies on Chimeria to use a complex algorithm that determines and customizes narrative outcomes based on decisions the users makes that result in subtle changes to how the player character is categorized over time. Figure 1 shows screenshots depicting a player who chose dialogue to try to fit into the accepted category.