You round the corner, sword held high, ready for whatever lurks in the shadows beyond. In the distance something runs at you shrieking, but from the darkness emerges a woman holding a crying infant in her arms. In her digitally rendered eyes you see the haunting pain of war as she begs for your help. As the intelligence, and often human like nature, of non-playable characters in video games progress, and ultimately that of artificial intelligence in general, we are seeing more and more NPCs with strong, multi-faceted personalities that echo those of classic tragic literary characters, and heroes, that are the product of some expert coders and storytellers. But, how exactly does this emerging trend of beautiful, almost human level emotion in video games effect gamers, the game’s themselves, the artificial intelligence, and how stories will be told in the future?
One of the most compelling tales of this new wave of AI in video games is the sad tale of Horza the Dead, from the recently released Lord of the Rings: Shadow War. In an article by Matthew Gault for Vice’s Motherboard tech coverage, Gault writes of his experiences with Horza and the Shadow War. Gould emphasizes that the orcs in Shadow War aren’t simply throw away characters and that the designers of Shadow War imbued them with a rich, personal, histories and individualized personalities. One of the massive gameplay elements is the orc capturing unit, in which you recruit the creatures for your army in various ways. Ultimately, through constant breaking of wills and resurrections Horza, who had once been a mighty orc warrior, is driven insane by Gault, who felt so troubled by it he left what he describes as a beautiful and powerful game. You can read Gault’s original article here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/motherboard.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/bjve9q/middle-earth-shadow-of-war-orc-slavery-lord-of-the-rings.
This incredibly life like and emerging AI in video games raises many questions for the industry, game designers themselves, and just how games will incorporate artificial intelligences to tell their stories in the future. In the future will the legacies of characters like Horza the Dead be mentioned with the same connotations as we mention those great literary heroes from Tolkien’s original Lord of the Rings work? Finally, as artificial intelligences continue to grow, at what point do we decide that perhaps breaking their will for our own entertainment may not be in our best interests?