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Understanding Bullying

Inside Out

Psychology students: Alexander Hart, Lucas Heinz, Nadine Schlicker
Computer science students: Baris Sonmez, Manuel Anglet, Zhenqiang GUO
Inside out was one of three projects in the seminar “How to Make Computers Social?” which was held from 04/19/17 to 07/26/17 and supervised by Dr. Patrick Gebhard. During the project, three computer science students worked together with three psychology students in order to develop an interactive training method of handling bullying in various domains. The source code of the current project implementation is available in the implementation section. Conceptual work and most of the core features are implemented during the course, but many quality features (e.g. final character design, emotions while talking), as well as most of the scenes, are not yet implemented.

  1. Project outlines
  2. Design choices
  3. Storyline & characters
  4. Implementation
  5. Videos of bullying project
  6. References

Project outlines

Intended trainees
Target audience of the training are pupils, especially juveniles and young adults. This group was chosen, because bullying is a widespread problem in secondary school level and becomes more complex in form and social background compared to elementary schools. Yet, reasons are not as diverse as in the working context, so the setting could be well-defined and the training has more general applicability.
Training goal
The training follows a multidimensional approach. On the one hand, the goal is raising empathy towards the victim, since a lack of empathy is a major reason for omitting intervention in a bullying scenario. On the other, this should be achieved, while maintaining understanding for the reasons of the bully. The project adressed this issue by showing a violent but permissive parenting style in the bully’s family, that is often identified as a source of bullying behavior. So instead of turning
the bully into an unwanted outsider (thereby enforcing the negative attitude), trainees are encouraged to seek an integrative and sustainable solution for the whole peergroup.
The project comprises a randomized sample evaluation plan, which can either be used as processual diagnostics for a single training group or for comparison with other training concepts. Due to a lack of appropriate measurements, a “Probability of Intervention”-questionnaire was designed for this project. Additionally, a scoring system allows monitoring of the individual learning progress and is tied to a comprehensive feedback option for the trainee.

Design choices (selection)

Bystander focus
Bystanders are the largest group in a bullying situation with the smalles emotional stake, consequently effective intervention trainings should focus on this group.
User-peer relations
The trainee is introduced as one of the peers, so the user can not easily dissociate from the characters.
Adaptive dialogue system
The progress is mainly controlled by talking to ingame characters. Choices within the dialogues influence future reactions and options. This should increase reponsibility for the own actions and decrease the inhibitions towards talking about difficult subjects.
Different endings
The fate of the victim depends on the individual choices of the trainee.
Speech recognition
Speech recognition is used for all voice commands to improve immersion and thus self-identification with the actions taken thoughout the game and increase memorability.
Indirect empathy approach
The user should build up empathy in a way it could be done in a real situation. Often this means that feelings and situations can only be assessed indirectly because of the shame bullys and victims share alike regarding their emotional issues.

Example: Victor’s Diary

Through Victor’s diary, the user discovers the emotional space of the victim, focussing on feelings of anxiety, abiguity, despair and the wish for relief.

Storyline & Characters

The storyline follows a “five act” pattern that introduces the characters and the situation implicitly. Each act consists of several scenes that can be explored sequentially, yet freedom of choices is maintained by different dialogue options and actions.

Act 1 – Exposition

The user gets to know Billy and his family, which consists of a permissive, apathetic mother and a stepfather that shows arbitrary violence. There is a chance to gather more information afterwards.

Scenes: At Billy’s Place, Way to Bus Stop

Act 2 – Complication

The user meets the peer group and discovers that they make fun of the new kid at school. The trainee has the opportunity
to talk to every character in this scene about different topics.

Scenes: Bus Stop

Act 3 – Climax

The user witnesses Billy bullying the victim (Victor) and discovers the social role of the other peers. Unwillingly, the trainee becomes the co-perpetrator by receiving Victor’s backpack from Billy.

Scenes: First Bullying

Act 4 – Delay

The user becomes aware of Victor’s feelings by discovering his diary in the backpack. The trainee now can choose to use the diary to lead the situation to a prosocial or antisocial ending. This scene is crucial, since the user has the possibility to form alliances with peers and to learn how to intervene bullying.

Scenes: After school

Act 5 – Solution

Another day with a new bullying situation approaches. The user can make a final attempt to convince the peers to help with the intervention. Afterwards, Billy can be confronted and the trainee witnesses the results of the prior actions.

Scenes: Second Bullying, Ending

The character personalities are designed around typical behavior patterns that can be found in a bullying scenario.

Billy – the bully
Billy is introduced as a friend of the user. He has an unstable relationship to his mother and his stepfather. Lacking a proper role model, he seeks to gain status in his peer group by bullying others. He is not very self-reflective and bothered with his own insecurities masked by agression.
Victor – the victim
Victor is new at the local school. Nobody does really know him, yet he became the target of Billy’s aggression. Without a protective social network, he’s become more and more isolated. The user has no opportunity to talk to the victim directly, since shame and fear prevents him from sharing his feelings with others. His characteristics are derived from empirical and qualitative research on victims of bullying.
Chris – the bully-assistant
Chris likes sports and is an absolute team player. Therefore, he assists his friend Billy in most situations, which makes him an important factor that preserves the bullying. Primarily, he is interested in having a good time with his friends and lacks awareness of the pain he is causing.
Paula – the bully-reinforcer
Paula is in love and tries to get his attention by verbally reinforcing his actions. She does not fully endorse the idea of bullying Victor, she is much more afraid of becoming an outsider herself if she acts against Billy.
Marie – the bystander
Marie is a calm and peaceful person. She feels mercy for Victor, but doesn’t know how to convince the group to stop the bullying. Therefore, she only seeks responsibility for stopping Billy in the other witnesses of the bullying but fails to do so, staying as an inactive bystander alone.

Please note: Due to the strict project timeline, only the scenes “Bus Stop” and “First Bullying” are implemented for now.

Tools Required
Visual SceneMaker(VSM)

Model verbal and non-verbal behaviors of Virtual Characters and Robots.

The current version of VSM is available on GitHub:


Create Stickman2D and generating various actions and emotions of Stickman2D.

The current version of Stickman is available on GitHub:


Record, analyze and recognize human behaviors in real-time.
OpenSSI used in this project. (runs only on Windows PC).

More information is available here:
OpenSSI from Augsburg


Generate text-to-speech voice.

More information is available here:

Tutorial:   Steps to run bullying project
  1. Download VSM(including Stickman) from GitHub. Install OpenSSI and get CereProc Voice file.
  2. Run OpenSSI voice function.
  3. Launch VSM with netbeans. Click “Open a Project”.
  4. Choose “BusStopBully” (in bullying folder in the project) and open it. Then you will get the following scene:
  5. Choose “preference button” to modify CereProc settings
  6. Choose stickmantts, change the path of “license” and “cereproc_library_path”.
  7. Choose Paula, change the path of “en” to your cereproc voice file path. And do the same change for Marie, Chris, Billy and Victor.
  8. If you use SSI, change the value of “useVoice” to “true”, otherwise, change it to “false”.
  9. Press start button to run the project.
  10. Enter your name, age and gender.
  11. Follow the instructions at the left side to experience the project!


Visual SceneMaker(VSM) works as the central controller. When it receives voice signals or mouse/keyboard input from OpenSSI and Stickman, it controls Stickman2D to move and Cereproc to generate TTS voices.
After OpenSSI receives voices from users, it classifies the voices into different functions and then sends the function names to VSM.
When we can’t use OpenSSI (e.g. running the project on MAC), Stickman offers some buttons to replace OpenSSI’s functionality. Different Stickman2D characters are also available on click.

Videos of Bullying Project

Introducing some functions of the project, especially speech recognition (OpenSSI):

An early demo of the project:


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3. Patrick Gebhard, Gregor Mehlmann, Michael Kipp. (2011)
Visual SceneMaker — A tool for authoring interactive virtual characters.
Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces July 2012, Volume 6, Issue 1-2, pp 3-11
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