Will artificial intelligence suck us into a never-ending game? Michał Rolecki talks to Michał Wardaszko from the Center for Simulation Games and Gamification at the Kozminski University
Michał Rolecki: What do adults need computer games for? What is gamification?
Marcin Wardaszko*: Serious game is the application of patterns and game mechanisms to serious matters, not just for entertainment. Of course, the entertainment element stays. The difference is in the aim. A game can be an additional interface between a difficult and complex reality – and people. For example, motivating them to analyze difficult problems to undertake action.
Games create separate realities in their own way in which we can train our decision-making strategies without the physical consequences, analyze problems, build experimental worlds which do not really exist yet.
Gamification, on the other hand, is based on a real-world organism, organization, people and motivations. It is an additional layer which helps people to undertake a particular action.
For example, it is about programs in which an employer assigns points for walking on foot or riding a bicycle to work?
There is such a gamification model which is called BLARP, each letter representing an English word: badges, levels, achievements, rankings and points. Designing these systems is really easy, as well as incorporating into the existing systems.
Short-term, it causes a really positive result – and the really negative effect in a long period of time. If I give someone a carrot for what they do, it is subjected to a rapid inflation. It means that, for them to stay motivated, I would have to keep giving them more carrots. The situation becomes impossible or it gets boring really fast. When a person is demotivated by this kind of a reward system, they start doing the opposite of what is expected of them; often, they do these things out of spite. To motivate them again, I will need more time, energy and real motivators.
Then how do you encourage people to play?
The real motivation comes from within. One of the best ways is interpersonal histories and relations. We all love wonderful stories. The ability to build an intriguing narrative which will attract is a powerful motivator. Besides, we will remember it for a long time. We want to be part of a community, to be valued and perceived as important and smart.
The first bones for games, the first symbolism pertaining to games we came across was in graves – people were buried with items used for games. The first tablet resembling a chessboard, 64 fields, was found in a grave in India. It dated back six thousand years. Some archaeologists believe these items had a symbolic dimension to them which means they also belonged to a cult. Studies show games have an enormous impact on culture. 97 percent of individuals between 13 and 20 years old admit to being active players. Not just digital games but also board games, quizzes, card games, as it is a fantastic form of spending free time with friends.
What else can the games be used for, apart from building social relations and entertainment?
We are getting closer to what my thesis I work on is about: simulation games which are a form of a tool. They can be used in virtually any field. People from different fields of science work in our group.
We can present any system or behavior in the form of a game. It does not have to be a physical system, it can also be a system of values, for example. We create negotiation games, such as a role play or a free game in which we do not even tell you what your aim is – we simply observe your interaction with the other players. We also have a huge research department linked to public health and medicine.
Of course. Simulation games exist – the computer ones, as well as the avatar ones – helping train doctors or qualified nurses. Doctors are also trained to perform operations with the use of robots. These are the games with a high level of realism. There is no living, breathing human on the other side, but an avatar or a computer simulation so if you make a mistake, nothing bad will happen.
We train doctors too so they can better manage their hospitals or their medical practice. We have simulations pertaining to the first aid, healthcare logistics, ambulance traffic optimalization in virtual cities. We have VR games which let us test the behavior of people in crisis situations, for example – in a building fire.
Simulation games are the only area which can show highly complex systems in a user-friendly way.
How are the games used besides medicine?
We have a pretty poor tradition in using games and simulations in public life, while in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Japan, to give an example, it is the norm. Huge research institutes which collaborate with public institutions, are working on it. Disaster mitigation training programs, i.e. how to react in crises situations, collaboration between various institutions, urbanization, are based in these countries on tests using the simulation games.
We want to move their experiences onto Polish ground. I collaborate with the Department of Welfare and Social Projects in Warsaw. We already have the first projects focusing on social care and telemedicine. They focus not on healing people per se but on the betterment of their life quality, particularly for the lonely and the elderly.
How did technology change gaming?
The video game industry is one of the most powerful hubs designing new solutions in IT fields. Technologies such as game engines, graphic engines, become available to the masses eventually. This means we do not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a simulator mimicking the operation of a system.
What does artificial intelligence change in games?
A lot. For a long time, it was used in building the behavior engines of NPCs (non-playable characters) – the behavioral simulation of all the characters that are not the player. This kind of artificial intelligence was created in a traditional way: a team built an engine, and then optimized it to perform specific tasks.
Today the scope of applications, mainly thanks to machine learning and deep learning, has expanded dramatically. We are talking about games automatically generated by artificial intelligence.
Can you program an algorithm so that it invents games on its own?
Yes. Or, at least, it would program parts of the game. There is a lot of talk about bots these days. Bot is just an object that we call an agent, having a specified set of behaviors. Thanks to machine learning, this set of behavior changes.
Additionally, it is easier for us than before build systems, buildings, maps, entire continents.. actually, everything that is in the game. Heck, in the game ‘’No Man’s Sky’’ there are entire galaxies. It is all generated by artificial intelligence.
Are we in danger of having worlds generated by artificial intelligence which will imitate reality so well that we will want to stay in them for good? I am a fan of Stanislaw Lem’s work so I must ask about the phantomatics…
I love Lem too, I grew up with him. Well, Lem also touched on what reality actually is.
Do we live inside a perfect simulation?
I do laugh there is such a possibility, besides, we will soon be able to see the fourth part of the Matrix.
I was in Australia several years ago. Aboriginal Australians, indigenous Australians, believed our world is just a dream of a divine dolphin sleeping under the ocean waves. This is an apt metaphor of our situation. Reality is what we want it to be. If I function better in the virtual world, then it is the real one for me.
We started making our own games in the virtual reality. This technology is still in its infancy, but its potential is huge. The sums allocated for research and development in this field reach billions of dollars. Sooner or later, we are going to create systems which will be impossible to differentiate from reality. Maybe it could happen in 10 years, although 20 or 30 years is more likely. But it will happen, for sure.
*Marcin Wardaszko, Ph.D., the Director of Center for Simulation Games and Gamification at the Kozminski University and the R&D Director at DaftMobile Sp. z.o.o. Since 2003, trainer and creator of decision-making simulation games and gamification for education and consulting. Author of several dozen publications about learning by gaming and designing, creating serious games. The creator of simulation games. An honorary member of Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning and the president of International Simulation and Gaming Association. He implements and uses simulation and games in learning, scientific research and business consulting.
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