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SYFY WIRE video games

Playing video games too much work? Sony's new AI patent will play them for you

By Benjamin Bullard

Players who didn’t warm to Final Fantasy XII’s gambit system will positively hate this: an artificial intelligence that learns how you play video games — and then takes over the job for you, while you put the controller down and watch (or go grab a sandwich).

With an eye toward automating the onerous task of kicking back and playing a video game firsthand, Sony’s patent application describes an artificial intelligence that observes how you play over time, and then forms a “profile” of your unique playstyle that, when activated, “simulates human game play.”

Why would anyone want to let an AI bot accomplish gaming greatness for them? Aren’t games all about giving people (and not machines) a unique form of escapism? Well, for one thing, your AI avatar might just be able to make it through that tough boss fight that’s been giving the real you endless fits. Sony cites just such a use case in its application: “For example, the AI character can proceed in automatic mode to complete specific game tasks that are difficult for the user.”

We can already see the potential there. Don’t have the mental (or finger) stamina for Kratos’ epic confrontation with Sigrun in God of War? With an AI stand-in waiting in the wings, you could theoretically switch on your computerized companion and watch as the Valkyrie Queen falls, probably none the wiser, to a bot-managed version of Kratos whose divine concentration never falters. There’s nothing in the patent application that says the developing tech is meant to be backward-compatible for existing games, but hey — we can dream.

Enormous games with many moving parts already have tried handing players the keys to automating some tasks themselves, with FFXII’s gambit system being one of the highest-profile examples that directly affects moment-by-moment gameplay (and not, y’know, just gathering resources or crafting time-consuming item builds in the background). That system, a sort of light action scripting that let players set instructions on how each character would behave under certain conditions, was divisive for some (we, for the record, absolutely loved it, and here's a pretty good example of it in action) — but it’s still child’s play compared to what Sony appears to be going for here.

“The method includes generating a user game play profile of a user, wherein the user game play profile defines a user game play style that simulates the game play of the user,” Sony explains in its patent filing. “The method includes receiving a request to stand-in for the user playing a first gaming application. The method includes controlling an instance of the first gaming application based on the user game play style of the user game play profile.”

That’s a wordy way of saying that Sony’s aiming for an AI that can do a digitally dexterous job of pretending to be you. The patent application says the system is meant to be used for “specific parts” of a game (i.e., the parts that have you stumped), so we’re not sure if Sony has its sights set on letting a bot “win” a complete game for you. Call us crazy, but we’re somehow doubtful that the goal here is to watch your AI alter-ego play through an entire game from start to finish…while you jet off for a beach vacation.