AI in serious gaming

What are the opportunities and risks?

With the rise of ChatGPT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has firmly entered the public sphere. However, AI transcends beyond just smart text generation or rapid image creation. What do we mean by AI, how do we apply it in our games, and above all, how do we use AI responsibly? In this article, we’ll discuss the opportunities and dangers of AI for the serious gaming sector. We’ll also showcase examples from our portfolio to demonstrate how AI can improve the impact of games – and how we’ve utilized it in recent years. Lastly, you’ll learn more about our participation in ELSA Lab Noord-Nederland, a consortium focusing on the responsible development and application of AI in healthcare. Enjoy the read!

First things first: What is AI exactly? 

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is a branch of computer science focused on creating machines and systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. This includes learning, logical reasoning, and decision-making. Although the societal debate around AI has only recently gained momentum, particularly with the emergence of ChatGPT in late 2022, AI has been a part of our lives for quite some time. For instance, anyone who has interacted with devices using commands like “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri” has experienced AI. Such widely-used speech recognition technology analyzes, understands, and learns, providing increasingly relevant responses over time. In essence: that’s AI!

AI systems employ various techniques, but fundamentally, they involve the computer swiftly analyzing vast amounts of data, identifying patterns within that data, and generating the most appropriate output as a response to your query. This output could be rapidly generated text, as seen with ChatGPT, or it could be a self-driving car’s braking action, a computer-generated image of your pet in Picasso’s style, or a spot-on recommendation for a new friend on Instagram. In short: AI is everywhere, has been for a while, and its possibilities are endless.

AI and serious gaming: What are the opportunities and risks?

Of course, ChatGPT has myriad ideas regarding the opportunities and risks of AI in serious games. Some are meaningful, while others might be repetitive or nonsensical. We’ve extensively researched, edited, and discussed them before they made it into the lists below. Here lies the crux: tools like ChatGPT (and on the graphic front: MidJourney) are aids, not holy grails. Human intelligence and expertise are necessary to evaluate the output and supplement it where necessary.

Opportunities of AI in serious games

  • Adaptive learning. AI enables games to tailor themselves to the individual needs and skills of players, resulting in a better learning experience. For example, if a certain aspect of the learning experience isn’t going well, the player receives more information and additional exercises on that topic. Conversely, if the player is excelling, the game becomes more challenging. This contributes to the effectiveness of serious games. People learn best when they experience a perfect balance between challenge (“I need to improve!”) and success (“Yes, I did it!”).
  • Data-driven insights. As mentioned earlier, AI excels at analyzing large amounts of gaming data. This presents game developers with the opportunity to enhance a game more quickly and efficiently. Additionally, in the realm of research, this opens up many new possibilities. Gaming is often used as a research tool, such as to understand how people would react in certain situations. With AI, researchers can gain insights more efficiently and rapidly from such gameplay data. Naturally, this underscores the importance for developers to carefully consider what data is being collected, why, and how. We’ll delve deeper into this under “risks.”
  • More content = more impact.. Developing a serious game is costly, not only in terms of technology but also when extensive content (texts, images) and multiple gameplay levels need to be created. Yet, this enhances the gameplay and learning experience: with more content, the serious game remains engaging for a longer period for more players, each needing to practice at their own level. AI can expedite the content creation process. For instance, an initial version of text or character often primarily serves as a talking point – it helps end-users and stakeholders consider what they expect from the game. AI is perfect for swiftly generating diverse options, allowing us to better and more rapidly assess the direction to take. Consequently, more time is available for creating custom content that precisely fulfills its purpose.

Risks in the use of AI in games

  • Dependency. This applies not only to our sector: maintaining a balance between AI utilization and human interaction is crucial, both in game development and in gameplay. If AI dominates the development and gaming experience too much, there’s a risk of insufficient room for nuance and human interaction. Yet, these elements often represent the strength, especially in games designed to raise awareness or initiate personal conversations. Particularly in sectors like healthcare and education, where serious gaming is frequently employed, trust relationships between professionals and end-users are vital. This human factor must not disappear. 
  • Bias and discrimination.. AI algorithms may contain inherent biases that could result in unequal treatment of players based on gender, race, or ethnicity. Alternatively, they might simply lack sufficient exposure to content about certain social groups, potentially making the experience less inclusive or appealing for these groups. Again, during the development of serious games, human minds with a strong ethical compass are indispensable for determining what can be delegated to AI – especially in content creation for games – and where additions and/or nuances are necessary to make the experience inclusive and safe for various target audiences.
  • Privacy and data security.. Always crucial, but even more so now: the advantage of serious games for researchers is the ability to generate data on treatments and learning experiences in a playful manner. With the integration of AI, it becomes even easier to analyze and process large datasets, but it’s crucial to handle this with care. What are we collecting, why, and where does it go? Institutions, educational establishments, and game developers have a greater responsibility than ever to safeguard the privacy of patients and students.

How do we use AI in our games?

Artificial Intelligence isn’t a newcomer, especially not for the serious gaming sector. Our team is always exploring ways to optimize the learning experience within our serious games, both now and in the past, particularly in the realm of AI. Here are a few examples from our portfolio:

  • In 2018, we developed Handlantis, utilizing OpenCV to enhance the learning experience. The goal of the game was to assist players in learning Dutch Sign Language (NmG), thereby expanding communication possibilities for children with hearing impairments. Through the integration of OpenCV, the game could make decisions based on the player’s actions, adapting to the player’s level and providing targeted exercises accordingly.
  • Between 2021 and 2023, in collaboration with Radboud University Nijmegen, we conducted research on the potential of speech technology within games. Could integrating this technology help children learn to read and speak better in a fun, motivating way? The speech technology we developed for a prototype utilized machine learning to adapt effectively to the player’s input. The beauty of it was that the technology was developed by the Center of Language and Speech Technology, a department of Radboud University Nijmegen. Thus, we had complete control over the data collected and how it was processed.

Responsible AI in healthcare

Although we strive to be pioneers in the implementation of new technologies, we also believe that serious gaming companies bear a societal responsibility in the development and application of AI. Especially considering that many serious games are used in sectors such as healthcare and education, where ethical conduct is of paramount importance. That’s why 8D Games is a member of ELSA Lab Noord-Nederland. This consortium focuses on developing knowledge crucial for the responsible development and application of AI within the context of healthcare.

Furthermore, in 2022 8D Games and UMCG’s Data Science Center in Health (DASH) joined forced to create and launch the board game AI+ Hospital. This game brings professionals together to discuss responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. Over the past year, more than two hundred healthcare professionals from twenty countries have played the game – and its impact appears to extend far beyond the walls of the UMCG, which initially had the game printed in a small edition.

One thing is certain: AI in serious gaming will continue to contribute to solutions for healthcare and education. And if we handle this responsibly together, it can lead to very positive changes.

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Giel is our AI-expert!

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