When we think about the difficulty of video games, it usually comes down to one of two things: a computer or “AI” setting (typically Easy, Medium, or Hard, in whatever terms they’re presented), or the skill of opponents in an online multiplayer setting. Gamers are used to being able to choose difficulty and/or gauge their competitive gaming to suit their own levels. But as we move into an era with improving AI and computer performance, might we see video games transformed more dramatically than some expect?

We’ve written before about the potential impact of new technology on blind gamers, so in some ways tech advancements are doing some very good things in the world of gaming. On a lighter note, however, they could also make many of our most popular games both more challenging and more realistic to play. The foundation for this notion is actually in poker, where there have long been experiments conducted to see if a computer can in fact defeat a human player.

For a while, those experiments were more or less fruitless. A relatively basic AI can beat a human in a given hand of poker, but it can’t account for all of the uniquely human aspects of the game that add up over several hands. Results, for many years, weren’t ambiguous – skilled human poker players easily beat increasingly sophisticated programs. That is, until 2017, when computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University finally came up with a program (called Libratus) that could do the job. And now, AI is dominating humans in poker. Basically, the team threw in some learning algorithms to the Libratus supercomputer – and noted that this strategy is not self-contained within poker.

That invites the possibility for other kinds of games to embrace more of an AI approach as well in the future. And while it’s ludicrous to imagine a standard Xbox or PS4 being equipped to run an AI with this level of sophistication, we’re talking about the near future rather than the present. At some point programs like Libratus (or at least lighter versions of it) will be more affordable and less cumbersome, and they could add a new depth of sophistication to ordinary video games.

Consider for instance Far Cry 5, perhaps the hottest game release this spring. The game pits you against a violent cult in rural Montana, and as is typical of Far Cry games, the action takes place in a sprawling, open sandbox in which anything (more or less) goes. Said one reviewer of the experience, “I like games with big possibility spaces.” That’s a comment on how much you can get up to in a game like this. However, one of the knocks on this and similar games tends to be that the roving baddies are a little bit predictable and robotic – so what if they were actually infused with a more sophisticated AI that doesn’t just react to your actions but strategizes about how to thwart human efforts? What if the chief villain – in this case, a man named Joseph Seed – were essentially playing chess or poker against you as the player?

It’s a subtle shift, but this introduces the possibility of traditional games that don’t just present inherent challenges and response mechanisms, but which actively work against you. It’s a new level of a “hard” game setting, and stands to make gaming even more realistic in varied, exciting ways.

And it’s probably just a matter of time.

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