There has been little debate about the effects of AI controlled non-playable characters (NPCs) in video games, with some people suggesting we are on the cusp of an impending new-dawn in how we interact with secondary gaming characters. Yet, the few examples circulating at this time are impressive, (or not in the case of Nvidia’s ACE AI NPC showcase), but what are the implications of allowing AI to control the narrative when interacting with NPCs in video-games. In the Skyrim mod which allows for AI conversations via Chat GPT, it basically searches Skyrim specific Wiki pages for info. On the surface this looks like a positive step-in-the-right-direction from a gameplay perspective. It allows for a free-form interaction with NPCs, who in the past would just spout scripted dialogue over-and-over, creating an accepted disconnect between the player and the character. A speech-to-text mod for Skyrim added an additional level of immersion that was pretty decent, and at heart, allowed for greater role-playing. But NPC interactions are evolving at a greater pace due to the fact that AI can significantly impact conversational evolution in video-games.
Cue a post-covid pandemic and lock-downed 2023, and it appears AI chat is becoming more prevalent. We use Bing AI chat to search for Internet goodness, and even challenge it at times with variable, yet entertaining results. Whilst this is quite simply a search engine AI at work, it is quite impressive how it attempts to humanize the search process where previously it rested on a one-sided interaction. Then we arrive at a more creative AI such as the one used in the adult-themed VR HOT game (the developers are not divulging what chat AI they are using here). It’s not the first time we’ve discussed this particular AI, but on this occasion we decided to role-play a little to see how the AI would react to a murder interrogation scene. The results are quite striking, and perhaps highlight what happens when you allow the AI to have a free reign over NPC interactions .
In the video, you will have to excuse the delay in responses which make it feel like the character interviewed is high on substances or has a reduced mental age. But, the reality is, the AI does come up with responses on its own accord without our suggestion. In this murder case, there isn’t a dead body, but the AI naturally plays along with the premise in its reactionary state. It’s designed to react to player questions and at times even attempts to reverse the questioning. We are constantly surprised by its responses which often are not coherent and somewhat scary at the same time.
All that said though, this is pretty fun to play with. The NPC becomes far more interesting than its scripted counterpart who just repeats the same lines of dialogue over-and-over. If you skipped the video, here are some highlights from the conversation:
We find it interesting that Alice didn’t simply say at any time, “stop being silly, there isn’t a dead body lying here”. Instead, she went along with the role-play. However, what we found more interesting was her garbled reasoning and motive for killing the victim. She adopted being a killer for some reason despite claiming innocence in other moments. She started off being homophobic, but that was due to her having a bad time with what she would refer to as “perverts” in the past. Even though at the start of the interview she stated she was Bi. She couldn’t make her mind up as to what happened at the party, or what she did before she killed the victim. We found it quite nefarious when she said the victim was a good friend of hers, and that she discovered him in the room already dead. The proverbial icing-on-the-cake occurred when she proclaimed that the victim had been raped before death. It didn’t stop there though, when you might think mentally as a player this specific storyline was enough and already crossed several boundaries. However, the AI decided to delve deeper when Alice revealed that she was pregnant by the deceased and after taking the morning after pill. What? It got darker when she suggested she wasn’t sure if the victim was actually the father of her unborn child. So we asked, you killed the wrong person then? Events became hazy after that when she went on to say, the father (of her unborn child) was killed years earlier by his wife who he was cheating on. What a mess.
I think if the AI could piece together its ideas and reactions a bit more coherently, then the above scenario as a back-story for an NPC would have made a decent story. As for an NPC in relation to what is scripted for them today, this level of detail could revolutionize their role in video-games. Imagine if every side character had a back-story that you could delve into and get lost in their madness/plight. It would certainly humanize those characters and make them more believable, but…is this the path (as gamers) we really want to go down? Imagine feeling an affinity with characters that we are asked to kill. What if there is discussion with NPCs and the AI pleads with you to not kill them. Some games already explore this dilemma in a rudimentary fashion. One such moment we had in Cyberpunk 2077 where we were sent to kill a convict in police custody who had murdered the quest giver’s wife (it’s a well known mission called Sinnerman). It plays out in many ways, where you have the option to leave at any time. However, if you opt to get to learn about what is actually happening, you’re treated to one of the best and most disturbing missions in the entire game (no spoilers here). So, imagine if an AI created NPC story offered a similar amount of depth and what this means for the player. Sure, you can dismiss their plight as an illusion that isn’t real, surely anyone can see that, but when an AI begins to justify its actions based on having a “bad hand in life” or it committed its actions due to instinct or survival for its family , are you going to put the gun away and feel sorry for them? It can present quite a powerful message that could be used to subconsciously shape player perceptions. Going further down the rabbit-hole, could this type of AI nuance be used to subconsciously attempt to influence how players are supposed to act and behave in real life?
Societies have adapted as human interactions evolved as documented throughout history. Today, when individuals with specific ideologies secure positions of influence through social media and via traditional means, it allows their values and ideals to project onto others, resulting in potentially accepted norms. Speaking specifically from a Generation X or Boomer perspective, the changes we see in our society today compared to the 70s,80,90s (when we were growing up) has changed dramatically through technological advances and mass-media influence. In our modern times, this is seen as societal progression, but in terms of video-games where many use it as an escape from reality, AI interference could make games too similar to what most people are escaping from. How does having realistic NPCs play on the player’s mind if the player is in-game to murder and kill. Do we remain or become desensitized to death, or accept that “it’s just a game” therefore it doesn’t matter there is no consequence. To be honest, we found some of the AI chat in VR HOT to be quite disturbing which did influence our behaviour towards it, but at the same time we loved how it offered a more thought-provoking experience compared to traditional NPC scripted behaviour. Therefore, we can only speculate that in the coming years from now, how interesting it will be when developers decide to adopt AI into their systems or not, based on the grounds of saying in control of the narrative. AI interactions seem to suggest developers lose control of the narrative as a by-product of making NPCs more human-like. What we find more interesting and up for debate is what of the mental effect these interactions have on those playing? We’re in new territory here as an untapped area that whilst probably heavily curated initially, could open up a massive can-of-worms and an entirely new way we approach video gaming. Is the future bright or grey, is the future AI controlled NPCs? Depending on how Ai is programmed could mean the difference between life or death. Or in the case of the video, love or hatred.
Disclaimer: This article may or may not have been constructed by AI. You decide.