In the Future, Video Games Will Care About You
Developers are experimenting with A.I. to learn from your moves and personalize your gaming experience
Eight years ago, game developer Bethesda attempted a radical experiment with its epic role-playing adventure Skyrim — and it went horribly, beautifully wrong. To make players feel like they were a part of a living, breathing world, the designers created an artificial intelligence system named Radiant, which gave computer-controlled characters (nonplayer characters, or NPCs) a range of needs, ambitions, and personality quirks and allowed them to act on those elements dynamically. Players were meant to be delighted when they encountered characters filled with life and emotion and who seemed to really react to the things you did.
Instead, the A.I. characters went rogue. To meet their needs, they started slaying merchants, shopkeepers, and each other. Even worse, characters addicted to an in-game narcotic named skooma would do anything to get a fix. By the time a human player showed up at a tavern or a meeting place, everyone was already dead — slain by artificially intelligent drug addicts who had figured out that killing was a more effective way of meeting their needs than buying stuff.
Video games are like those charming, boorish guys you meet in bars at tech events: They tell entertaining stories and drop names, but your role is just to nod appreciatively even though they keep calling you Brian.
Bethesda scaled back Radiant, effectively lobotomizing its drug-crazed A.I. agents. Yet despite the glitch, the aim of this system was admirable. In the 40 years I’ve been playing video games, it still bothers me that games don’t really get to know me, don’t listen to me, and don’t remember me. In these respects, video games are like those charming, boorish guys you meet in bars at tech industry events: They tell entertaining stories and impressively drop names, but your role is just to nod appreciatively even though they keep calling you Brian.
Even in an epic interactive narrative game like Mass Effect or Witcher 3, the player rarely…