The future of gaming

Tim Parsons
May 25, 2023

Rocket League is a game where teams of 1 - 3 play “football”with rocket propelled cars. If that sounds a bit silly, it may surprise you to learn that it can be a highly lucrative pursuit. Total prize money from official tournaments fell just short of $228 million in 2022, with the top 5 players taking home just short of $2 million each.

The vast majority are playing just for fun of course, although the learning curve can be a little intimidating. Most new players will start by playing the computer, moving up through the difficulty levels until beating the allegedly Unfair bots becomes fairly pedestrian. It’s only then you enter into the wild world of online multiplayer, where a small army of Korean teenagers are waiting to trample allover your self-esteem.

I was struck by the strangeness of this when I was learning to play. Why was it so much harder to beat actual children than the best AI the developers could muster?

Failing the Turing Test

A similar dynamic holds for most video games that involve some degree of complexity. Traditional bots run off pre-defined scripts. Over time a human player will start to recognise their gameplay patterns and adapt to them. The script never changes, so it becomes easy to beat.

Human players on the other hand are much harder to predict. They can vary their play style; if you find a way to get the better of them, or their preferred tactic stops working, they will change things up. Skilled players will have a whole framework of pattern recognition to lean on, spotting and exploiting weaknesses in an opponent’s play style, often subconsciously.

Basic bots cannot do this; even at 5-0 down they will never return to the drawing board. Your brain is in many ways a prediction-making machine, andPvP pits two such machines against one another. PvAI on the other hand more closely resembles solving the same puzzle over and over again. This is the reason PvP has far more longevity. Whatever version of the Turing test applies here, the bots are failing it.

Game changer

Recent advances in neural networks are producing bots that represent a huge step up from these static, predictable drones. Instead, players can look forward to facing dynamic opponents that learn and adapt to their playstyle, making for a much more challenging experience.

The revolution has already begun in fact, with company’s like, Ready Player Me,, and Fable Studios, leading the charge.

In Runescape, the game’s combat AI uses neural networks to analyse player behaviour, recognising a player’s preferred attacks and weapons, and adjusting its own tactics in response.

The latest Call of Duty game deploys similar techniques to close loopholes in bot behaviour. By analysing the way human players navigate the map, and the angles they tend to use when shooting, bots can adapt their play style and make it much harder for human players to score easy kills.

Last year Meta AI created a bot called CICERO to play Diplomacy online. By integrating strategic reasoning with natural language processing, CICERO was able to reason and strategise around the motivations of the human players, then communicate with them, reach agreements to achieve shared objectives, form alliances and coordinate plans. Impressively, CICERO achieved more than double the average score of the human players, and ranked in the top 10% of participants who played more than one game.

Man's new best friend

You don’t want the bots to perform too well of course. Games are only fun when the level of challenge is appropriate and balanced. Essentially what we’re looking for in any arena is a close shoot out, rather than
an annihilation in either direction. Advanced bots can be geared to zero in on that level of challenge, rather than perfect gameplay.

This potential of these bots however extends far beyond optimising competitive dynamics. In an RPG context, neural networks can offer players something potentially even more powerful; companionship.

Imagine a Zelda play through whereLink’s interactions with Navi are not simply a series of preset responses, but something completely unique to the player; something resembling an actual friendship.

In RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, players actively gather parties of bots to adventure alongside. If these bots are sophisticated enough to pass theTuring Test, it’s easy to imagine how powerful bonds could be forged with these virtual companions, just as they are in online multiplayer hubs today.The emerging dynamic could closely resemble a real group of friends, with all the associated camaraderie and acrimony.

Or how about the Witcher, with its variety of potential love interests? It’s hard not to think of the movie, Her. If you’re a little concerned, or even creeped out at that, you’re not alone. The implications of immersion on that magnitude area little scary, and the risk that these virtual relationships could start to replace real-world interactions seems hard to avoid.

The potential for a more immersive experience facilitated by deeper connection is certainly exciting, however tapping deeper into our instinctive need to build meaningful relationships may be a dangerous thread to pull.

A game theory of everything

The various foundational models emerging around text, image, and bot creation are exciting in isolation, but it’s the culmination and interplay of these models that has the potential to be truly transformative. Though still in their infancy, world generating models are becoming increasingly sophisticated, offering practical applications comparable to tools like Chat GPT and Midjourney.

Similar to human-led game design practices today (in essence, structured dopamine hits), game mechanic generators could tailor the type and level of challenge offered by these worlds as a player explores them, while bots that are indistinguishable from human players provide a rich variety of companions to share the experience with.

As these technologies advance, every aspect of the gaming experience could be designed by complementary AIs, with foundational models rooted in a deep understanding of a player’s cognitive reward mechanisms. It’s an exciting prospect, but one that should be approached with due caution. The personal and social implications of that level of immersion are difficult to comprehend.It’s important that developers realise they are standing at an ethical frontier as well as a technological one.

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