Branching, interactive graphic stories –web comics– are a relative of “choose your own adventure” stories. Long a favorite of bored parents, these stories allow a child to make choices on behalf of a character, causing the story to follow a variety of branches that result in different outcomes.
This form of interactive storytelling is best when served in images, sequentially presenting the images in the manner of a comic. A graphic story can be more informative than plain text, and technology now allows us to create and disseminate graphic stories far more efficiently and effectively than drawing by hand and then printing comic books.
As you read a branching web comic, you follow a character’s story. At the end of each scene, you’re presented with a decision and asked to make a choice for the character (“go ahead and click on the link”; “yes, download that attachment!”) that affects what happens in the next scene, and may even change the direction of the storyline. Results may be disastrous in an exaggerated, even comical manner – keeping the reader engaged while showing both positive and negative consequences of their choices.
But this approach isn’t limited to just children: when used as a teaching tool, these stories give any learner an opportunity to make decisions and, more importantly, experience the consequences of those decisions. What better way to cement a lesson in personal responsibility – or cybersecurity? By allowing readers to explore both the positive and negative consequences of decisions in the safe environment of a comic, branching web comics can help learners understand basic cyber concepts and learn strategic thinking about cyber risks and trade-offs. Branching web comics are also great way to present a wide range of complex cyber security concepts, such as strategy, ethics, policy, law, risk management and more. They can also be very cost-effective ways to simulate software and systems.
Branching stories are a popular form of simulation that has been successfully used for training in a variety of areas. They give learners the opportunity to make decisions based on realistic circumstances and immediately see the ramifications of those choices. And perhaps more importantly, comics have broad appeal: they’re not just for kids, look at the popularity of television shows like The Simpsons, or Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming. Branching web comics can address a wide range of ages and abilities, from K-12 to university classrooms and the workforce; from beginner to advanced levels.
Next time, we’ll explore what kinds of cybersecurity stories have been created using Comic-BEE, and where and how those stories have been used.
Comic-BEE is a web application that helps educators and evaluators rapidly create branching web comics that convey valuable lessons, without need for artists, writers, or programmers. Developed with input from instructional design educators and based on research funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Cyber Security Division (DHS S&T/CSD), Comic-BEE simplifies and accelerates the creation and delivery of these interactive, educational materials through a unique system that enables authors to easily develop branching storylines using automation technologies and pre-rendered art assets.