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Melanie Dickinson

designer-programmer, specializing in procedural narrative & expressive simulation


I'm an interaction designer, systems designer, tools programmer, and maker of expressive, playful computational models. I've designed and built storyworld simulations, story sifting systems, procedural storytelling frameworks, and procedural narrative authoring tools. I'm interested in making games that recognize and respond to player action, intention, and stories in deeper, more storyful ways.

I'm currently on the Applied AI team at Zynga led by Luke Dicken, where I've been working on level generation, PCG design tools, and lite procedural narrative systems design and writing on mobile games.

I was previously a Computational Media PhD student in the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz, advised by Michael Mateas and Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

In my free time I'm also interested in personal meaning play — using system mechanics to creatively model and reflect on aspects of one's real life. I also have a deep love of sculpture, graphic design, woodcarving, and physical craft of all kinds.

Selected Projects

Why Are We Like This?

An AI-augmented digital story construction and collaborative, improvisational writing game in which two players write a story in a pastiche of the cozy mystery genre, with support from a simulation-based AI system that operationalizes character subjectivity. It uses Felt and was formerly called the Cozy Mystery Construction Kit. Designed and developed with frequent collaborator Max Kreminski.


A JavaScript story sifting and simulation engine for emergent narrative play experiences. It allows narrative system developers to define story sifting patterns that match narratively potent sequences of events, and to build simulations in which characters make use of story sifting to reason about the world. Designed and developed with frequent collaborator Max Kreminski.


A weird game about crafting diary entries about your real life using a symbolic action library, and having the described experiences imaginatively reflected back at you by a creative AI, simulationist storytelling system, to facilitate self-reflection and positive self-image. It uses the Felt library for story sifting.


Gemini is an abstract game generator that takes statements of design intents (about potential play experience and rhetoric) as input and generates games that satisfy those intents. I joined this project at the Expressive Intelligence Studio after Gemini was largely complete in order to build a generative design tool around it, which eventually became Germinate. I've also contributed to the main Gemini codebase, documentation, and a human subjects evaluation of Gemini.


An open-source, rules-based JavaScript library for social simulation. The generalization and JavaScript port of Comme il Faut (CIF), the social AI engine that powered Prom Week.


Germinate: A Mixed-Initiative Casual Creator for Rhetorical Games

Max Kreminski, Melanie Dickinson, Joseph Osborn, Adam Summerville, Michael Mateas, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Artificial Intelligence in Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE), 2020

Playable Experiences at the 16th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment

Melanie Dickinson, Max Kreminski, Michael Mateas, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Sabine Wieluch

Artificial Intelligence in Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE), 2020

Playable experience paper

Why Are We Like This?: The AI Architecture of a Co-Creative Storytelling Game

Max Kreminski, Melanie Dickinson, Michael Mateas, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Foundations of Digital Games (FDG), 2020

Why Are We Like This?: Exploring Writing Mechanics for an AI-Augmented Storytelling Game

Max Kreminski, Melanie Dickinson, Michael Mateas, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), 2020

Is Your Game Generator Working? Evaluating Gemini, an Intentional Game Generator

Joseph C. Osborn, Melanie Dickinson, Barrett Anderson, Adam Summerville, Jill Denner, David Torres, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Michael Mateas

Artificial Intelligence in Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE), 2019

Nominated for best paper

Felt: A Simple Story Sifter

Max Kreminski, Melanie Dickinson, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS), 2019

Cozy Mystery Construction Kit: Prototyping Toward an AI-Assisted Collaborative Storytelling Mystery Game

Max Kreminski, Devi Acharya, Nick Junius, Elisabeth Oliver, Kate Compton, Melanie Dickinson, Cyril Focht, Stacey Mason, Stella Mazeika, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Procedural Content Generation Workshop (PCG Workshop), 2019

Social Simulation for Social Justice

Melanie Dickinson, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Michael Mateas

Experimental AI in Games Workshop (EXAG), 2017

Crafting in Games

April Grow, Melanie Dickinson, Johnathan Pagnutti, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Michael Mateas

Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ), 2017

Crafting in games visualization demo

Author Assistance Visualizations for Ice-Bound, a Combinatorial Narrative

Jacob Garbe, Aaron A. Reed, Melanie Dickinson, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Michael Mateas

Foundations of Digital Games (FDG), 2014

Selected as an exemplary full paper

Ice-Bound visualization demo