Electric Dreams, Part 2: Optimists At Heart

“There’s an undiscovered country of possibilities out there that we need to explore and create.”

It’s Monday morning on the first day of Dagstuhl Seminar 15051: “Artificial and Computational Intelligence in Games: Integration” and Michael Mateas is talking about impossible games. You might remember Mateas from the first Electric Dreams article – he was one of the scientific researchers behind Facade, a groundbreaking games experiment in interactive drama and artificial intelligence. Nowadays he runs the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz, a nexus of the world’s best and soon-to-be-best games researchers. This January around fifty games researchers, including Michael and myself, came together in Germany for a week to talk about the future of our field and to work together to discuss some of the biggest research questions we’re facing right now.

Last time on Electric Dreams we talked about the history of artificial intelligence in the games industry. In this second part I want to talk about the present day, and what scientific research has to do with all of this. I’m going to try to shed some light on why I think games research is broken and not benefitting games as well as it could be – but I also want to end on a positive note, and introduce you to the wonderful people and research that is going on right now around the world.

What did Mateas mean when he talked about an ‘undiscovered country’ of games? He was talking about narrative-driven games and how AI might be used to create games at a scale that humans simply cannot work at, but his words could have applied to any one of us and our research. When we talked about ‘AI in games’ last week, a lot of commenters’ minds immediately went to classic examples of AI adversaries in games: real-time strategy greats like AI War, or leaps forward in first-person AI like Halo and FEAR. There are a lot of other ways AI can impact the future of games design, development and even game playing, though, and a lot of the people trying to make this happen found themselves at Dagstuhl.

Mirjam Eladhari is one such person. Mirjam has seen many sides of games and AI: in 2000 she started out programming mystery games at a company called Liquid Media. From there she gained a Masters and a PhD, and became a researcher. Up until recently she worked at the University of Malta, but at Dagstuhl she was talking excitedly about something new: a chance to go it alone for a few years as an independent researcher/developer hybrid under the label Otter Play. Mirjam has always tried working on small projects in her spare time that combine her research and game ideas, but it’s hard to balance with teaching, paper-writing, conferences and the search for funding. “At some point you have to realise you’re not superhuman,” she tells me in the canteen, “I’ve worked in this area for many years, I feel like I’ve earned this.”

Mirjam wasn’t alone in contemplating a different career at Dagstuhl. To name just a few: Adam Smith, a brilliant young postdoc who uses AI to invent puzzles and educational games, has begun trying out freelance consultancy; Ian Horswill is secretly developing an AI-powered roleplaying puzzle game in his spare time; Tommy Thompson is running a Patreon to fund his inventive and entertaining videos and lectures about AI; even one of the Dagstuhl organisers recently released his own Android game). Many of the people following more traditional career routes seemed pressured and exhausted by the demands put on them by the university system, but didn’t see a clear alternative either. Everywhere I looked it seemed I found people who were looking for something a little different from the standard academic career path.

What is it that makes that path so bad for games researchers? Clearly for some researchers it’s not bad at all – lots of people have terrific careers balancing teaching, administrative duties, supervision and even a little bit of research on the side. In general, though, academic careers are a bit of a mess, and a big part of this is that as people get better at doing research, we encourage them to do it less often. Lectureships and tenure track jobs at universities are the only way to get reliable and secure employment in public research, but they pile pressure on academics and pull them towards teaching, student supervision and service duties. They also prioritise certain kinds of academic activity over others – writing for particular journals, hitting particular targets. The people who we spent ten years and hundreds of thousands of pounds training are slowly moved into roles where they have less and less opportunity to do what we trained them to do.

On top of these problems with competing demands on researchers’ time, the way academic funding works skews research in very specific directions. Researchers apply for funding wherever they can, and for those whose fields are not fashionable at the time this can mean you end up doing research you don’t really want to do, or write grants applications you don’t really intend to fulfil. Some researchers will tell you this is just how the system works: you apply for money in such a way that your plan overlaps both your research goals and whatever the funding agencies want that particular year. In reality, though, funding does guide and influence what researchers do and how they do it. Economic impact is valued above cultural impact. The social problems identified by funding agencies are more important than the opportunities for benefitting society that researchers may identify. Industry applicability is held up as a holy grail, a grand achievement for engineers and scientists – which leads to the feverish rush to mainstream we talked about in the previous article.

Good research does get through. Tommy Thompson’s outreach work runs alongside his exciting work on a Spelunky bot API his students have been working on – paving the way for bot competitions, procedural level generators and more. Noor Shaker is spearheading work on procedural content generation that understands player preferences. Jon Tremblay and his colleagues are repurposing ideas from robotics to analyse and generate levels for stealth games. Gillian Smith is performing digital archaeology on the history of content generation, in order to help us better understand where to go next. Every conference I go to, I am reminded of how vibrant and energetic the world of game research is – and I only see the small sliver of it that intersects with artificial intelligence. But it’s a struggle, and it comes at a cost. People are leaving for other industries, or settling down for quieter lives. Those that stay tell jokes over beers in hotel bars about their sleep schedules and travel itineraries, but no-one’s laughing, really.

In the middle of the week at Dagstuhl the group went for a walk through the surrounding snowy forests. I spent the hour trek talking to a few researchers about some of the issues I’ve brought up to you today. The question that hung in the air between myself and one other researcher in particular was what the next step should be. They were positive that research can be changed from within, and that these systems can be improved if we fight and pressure the right organisations. I’m not so sure. Later on in Electric Dreams, I’m going to argue that the changing face of the games industry means that there might be other options, and that it might be possible to create spaces between the games industry and university life where new, exciting research can be done, and new, exciting games can be made. Like every other part of the games industry, games researchers have a contribution to make to the future of games. If we don’t make spaces where we can do this work, Michael Mateas’ “country of possibilities” may remain undiscovered forever.

For now, let’s do something simple: if you’re reading this and you identify as a games researcher, whether you’re in game studies, AI and technologies, the social impact of games, design, or anything else – please do me a favour and leave a comment below introducing yourself to RPS readers. Even if it’s a one-liner with your name and research interests. Let’s make the comments section a little meet-and-greet for everyone, and show off the amazing variety of work that’s going on out there. In the next part of Electric Dreams we’ll be leaving research behind us for a while and looking at the games that stood out lately as particularly good uses of artificial intelligence. What do they do different and what can that tell us about how good technology can lead to great games? We’ll find out in two weeks’ time.


  1. Mike says:

    So, in the spirit of introductions and kicking things off… I’m Mike! I’m writing this series for RPS. I’m about to complete a PhD in Computational Creativity and Automated Game Design. For the last four years, I have been working on a piece of software called ANGELINA which can design simple games all on its own, which you can read about at http://www.gamesbyangelina.org. I make games, I make things that make games, and last November I organised PROCJAM, thus making a thing which invited people to make things which made things.

  2. Flo says:

    No way, I am the first to comment after Mike?
    Anyway, my name is Flo, I am an associate professor at the Université de Nantes, France. I obtained my Ph.D. in theoretical computer science and then started to work on AI, but not on Game AI. Game AI was a hobby that I have initiated with the annual StarCraft AI tournament I first participated in 2011. Since last year, I finally started to get seriously involved in Game AI, and I am about to turn this into my main research field. I plan to start/continue to work on decision-making problems and opponent modeling for RTS, as well as other kind of games. My code is always open source and available on my github page: link to github.com

    • Mike says:

      Hey! Thanks for saying hi. Actually the Starcraft AI competition is a good idea to link: link to webdocs.cs.ualberta.ca Always a fun part of AIIDE, watching the bots compete and learning a bit about what’s changed. The pro scene doesn’t have to worry for some time of course >_>

  3. Vie_S says:

    Hi Mike and all! I’m Stephanie Vie, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. You can find me on Twitter at @digirhet and on Academia.edu, where you can read most of my research. I study socially networked games and also discuss the use of games in teaching, particularly writing.

    I’ve talked in First Person Scholar about why we should pay attention to Candy Crush Saga and similarly socially networked games, and I most recently have a piece in Syllabus Journal about using game walkthroughs in professional and technical communication.

    Looking forward to hearing about what others do and research.

  4. GET TUDA CHOPPA says:

    Hello all! This is my first post on RPS! I’m Tommy Thompson and Mike said nice things about me earlier in the article (thanks Mike!). I’m a Computer Science lecturer at the University of Derby and run the BSc in Computer Games Programming.

    I’m an AI researcher with interests in automated planning, machine learning and more recently procedural content generation. I work on a variety of different things – let’s pick from some recent publications and projects – looking at how we can use AI to improve controls in mobile games, testing whether people can identify differences in human and procedurally crafted content in a game and an effort to turn Spelunky into the latest AI benchmark for intelligent agents.

    As Mike mentioned I also blog and make YouTube videos. Some of these pieces summarise game research projects and others deconstruct AI in AAA games. I also dedicate a Let’s Play series to looking at AI in games.

    If you fancy reading or watching my stuffs, here are some links:
    My Website: http://www.t2thompson.com
    The AI and Games series: link to patreon.com
    Also feel free to hit me up at @GET_TUDA_CHOPPA on twitter!

    If you fancy being kept up to date on what I do, you can also check out the (newly made) Facebook page: link to facebook.com.

    Oh and for those interested in trying out the new Spelunky API my students and I have been working on, we are currently putting the final touches to our new website. Any feedback or input is greatly appreciated!

    • SuicideKing says:

      “Whack a dollar down” is the best thing I’ve heard all day. :D

    • scutajar says:

      Well, I buggered up that comment :P Here it is without magic links:

      Hi! I’m Simon (http://www.simon.com.mt) , a gamedev from Malta. I completed a MSc in Games at the IT University of Copenhagen, and I’m particularly interested in procedural content generation, computational creativity and music as research interests, particularly their application to games. I’m currently working on a digital game with Kvasir Games (http://www.kvasirgames.com) while keeping up with a day job, as well as lots of other stuff!

  5. Scurra says:

    Sadly, I am not an academic. But this: Economic impact is valued above cultural impact. is something that has bothered me for a while now. Ever since the neo-liberal economic consensus took over (in the mid-to-late 70s), academia seems to have lost sight of a key part of what it is there for. Yes, it needs to provide funding. But it also provided an important home for those people who, for whatever reason, didn’t fit into the traditional models of work – I guess today they would be classed on the introverted end of one axis of the Asperger’s spectrum; the classic image of the Oxford Don, who can deal with small tutorial groups and individuals, but not with the insanity of the mass production line that our modern universities are dangerously heading towards. Nowadays, that sort of person probably wouldn’t even make it through University, let alone find their home in the research space that they would be suited to…

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for commenting! I don’t want to come across as not believing in economic impact – of course, research can help stimulate or even create new industries and so on. But I think it can and should do loads of other things as well, like you say. Of course, uh, universities aren’t only refuges for introverts :) But there should be a large spectrum of people, work and outcomes welcome in public research.

  6. jgf1123 says:

    As a Ph.D. who has left academia to work in education, I disagree with the statement that universities push academics to teach too much. I don’t know how it is in Europe, but in US research institutions, publish or perish is the law of land. Receiving a tenure-track position and gaining tenure is almost solely determined by research output (and what grants the candidate can bring in). Teaching is a distant second, and the US university job market has bifurcated into institutions looking for a limited number of research faculty — to increase their impact factor — and a large pool of cheap adjunct / part-time / non-tenure track instructors, who teach the bulk US college-level courses.

    So yes, if you view your Ph.D. as training to be a researcher, only to have academic appointments forcing you to interact with students and perform departmental functions, then they are being “slowly moved into roles where they have less and less opportunity to do what we trained them to do.” But if you view a university as a place where students get quality higher education, which is what a lot of people think of as “university,” then something has gone horribly wrong, and it is not trending in the right direction.

    • Mike says:

      Hey! Thanks for commenting and offering an alternative view. After I wrote this piece I showed it to a few researcher friends, and some of them raised a similar point to you. I think it varies wildly depending on which university you look at, and also which country you’re considering too (you mention the US here), or even which department within a university you look at. I’m not sure impact factor gets anyone out of teaching – it definitely doesn’t in the UK, but I’m sure there are examples for both sides of the argument.

      As for the definition of university, I don’t disagree that these are places to teach students, partly, and that someone has to perform teaching duties! But I think often we overburden the best people in a field because we prioritise teaching over other things. Another researcher put it this way (I hope they don’t mind being quoted): ‘I think probably the balanced way of phrasing it is that working in a university pulls you in a lot of directions simultaneously, if you’re spending time on teaching, you’re often not spending it on research, unless you can figure out how to align them really nicely’. I think that’s a good summation. Teaching is great, but if you’re teaching you’re not doing something else. I think there are some people who need to be doing other things, including many of the people I’ve mentioned in the article.

      I hope that doesn’t come across as too argumentative! I can’t speak for the entire university system. But these are problems I perceive in the way things currently go on.

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        Aerothorn says:

        Just to expand – jg’s description is 100% accurate and not very controversial, to boot, when speaking of US higher education. So I’m going to guess this is a substantial difference between our two systems. In the USA, it’s the opposite – professors who value teaching are forced to sideline it in order to publish research papers, which are freely given to journals, which then sell them back to the originating institutions for boatloads of money (and is probably the single biggest driver in the rise of the cost of higher education).

        • Mike says:

          I’d argue that this kind of publishing is also harmful to actual research too – I tried to allude to this when I said “They also prioritise certain kinds of academic activity over others – writing for particular journals, hitting particular targets”. So I definitely agree here but I still think this can be as bad!

        • arisian says:

          Hi, I’m Ben Mitchell, and I’m a PhD student working on AI/Deep Learning, and also teaching AI to undergrads. I put my intro here, because I wanted to respond to this thread.

          I think it may be important to point out the (US specific?) distinction between “Colleges” and “Universities”, or more specifically small, liberal-arts type schools vs. big, research-focused schools. At the former, I think it’s entirely true that most faculty get pressured to spend most of their time and energy teaching; you still need to publish and do service, but teaching is emphasized (what do you mean you can’t do 3 things at once?). At a big research university, most full-time faculty are hired primarily to do research (and manage grad-students). They still have to teach classes, but they’re tacitly encouraged to put the minimum possible time and effort into teaching (leading to schools where grad students get a good education, but undergrads don’t), because the expectations for publishing/fund-raising are so high. These are also the type of schools that often rely heavily on adjuncts for teaching (and the highly questionable labor practices that go with that system).

          The “3 legged stool” is always there, but there is definitely a strong bias based on the kind of school you’re at. That said, in all cases, you’re still getting pulled in three directions at once, meaning you’re guranteed to be spending a significant amount of time/energy doing something that you weren’t trained for (and generally dislike, and sadly, often aren’t very good at).

      • jgf1123 says:

        I agree that academics have a lot of demands on their time. The successful associate professors I know work very hard to do everything their tenure committee demands of them. I’ve heard faculty positions described as a 3-legged stool: research, (departmental) service, and teaching. This ensures that the faculty are integrated into all aspects of the university, though there is some negotiation as to how much each leg is emphasized, so it’s not quite one-size fits all, but there is a particular mold. (As an aside, here’s a recent article from Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s written by a humanities professor, but some details also describe STEM departments: link to chronicle.com)

  7. lankoski says:

    I am Petri Lankoski, senior lecturer at Södertörn University. Got my doctorate from the Aalto University, the school of art and design, I am teaching game design and research. My main research are character design, game design research and play experience (especially emotions). Big part of my research has included game development (my latest research game is Lies and Seductions, http://www.liesandseductions.com). Now I am editing a book Game Research Methods: An Overview with Staffan Björk.
    link to iki.fi

  8. gillian says:

    I’m Gillian Smith, an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, US. I do research in procedural content generation and game design. Some projects I have going on right now are designing an AI to automatically generated puzzle games, researching the history of procedural content generation as it appeared in non-digital games (think D&D random encounters), and designing a game that is based on quilting and e-textiles. My website is over here: http://www.sokath.com and Mike already graciously linked my twitter: @gillianmsmith

  9. spacetown says:

    Hey! Just wanted to pop in and say hi — I’m Patrick Trinh from the UC Santa Cruz Games and Playable Media Master’s program. We’ve been reading your work for Jim Whitehead’s Generative Methods class :)

    • Mike says:

      That is terrifying and really flattering all at the same time! Thanks for saying hi, hope I get to visit UCSC someday :)

  10. carriejill says:

    Thanks for connecting universes, Mike! I’m Carrie Heeter, Professor of Media and Information at Michigan State University. I run our 3-course fully online graduate certificate program in serious games, and most recently I design and study cybermeditation, including meditation games. http://carrie.seriousgames.msu.edu

    • AJLange says:

      Hi Carrie! :D

    • codonnell says:

      I’m replying to Carrie, because she is awesome.

      Hi, I’m Casey O’Donnell. I’m also a faculty member at Michigan State University. I don’t work with our online Masters students (but I will be saying hello to some at GDC this week), but I do teach as part of our undergraduate game design and development curriculum as well as our in-residence Masters program.

      I’m a researcher too. I study game developers. I’m an anthropologist that studies game developer culture and the broader context games get made within. I have a new book about the game industry and game developers. You can find it on the MIT Press website or on Amazon.

      I also make games as part of our Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) lab.

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      Skabooga says:

      Not to get too off track, but I’m a grad student in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University, and I never realized that there was research like the both of yours going on in my backyard. This university is too damn big. Although I have no professional ties to video games, I certainly am an amateur appreciator of them, so I just wanted to give you both a shout-out to tell you how proud I am that you’re doing your work here!

  11. Ultima Ratio Regum says:

    Hello folks; I’m Mark R Johnson, just finishing off a doctorate at the University of York and currently on the game studies job hunt. I’m more at the intersection between the arts/humanities side of game studies and the CS side; my main interests are in the close study of games as individual texts (a la literary studies, film studies, etc); player interaction with games, especially on the “fringes” of gaming (danmaku, roguelikes, etc); and the thematic elements in games, and I’m particularly looking at posthumanism and ecological ideas at the moment. Beyond academia I’m an independent game developer making a roguelike called Ultima Ratio Regum (previously mentioned here on RPS, e.g. link to rockpapershotgun.com), inspired by the work of Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges; and I’m also an ex-professional gamer and a former and current gaming world champion.

    Basically, you can find everything here link to ultimaratioregum.co.uk or here @UltimaRegum. I’m very much looking forward to my Dagstuhl visit this summer!

  12. koenitz says:

    Ok, I hope I got the links right, this time :-)
    Hi, I am Hartmut Koenitz, an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia. I got my PhD from Georgia Tech in digital media. My research focus is on interactive/video game narrative, which I also see as an ‘undiscovered country’. I teach intro game programming and interactive narrative design. I founded the games and narrativ research group http://gamesandnarrative.net together with a group of international colleagues (Mads Haahr, Gabriele Ferri, Digdem Sezen and Tonguc Sezen) and we work on the topic in workshops and publications (upcoming edited volume on the topic: Interactive Digital Narrative: History, Theory and Practice).
    I am also the creator of the ASAPS authoring tool , which I use in teaching, but also to make games as part of my research. Breaking Points is an ASAPS title for iPads.

  13. scottnicholson says:

    Not all game scholars focus on recreational video games!

    I’m Scott Nicholson (@snicholson), tabletop game designer with several published games and host of the first video series about board games on the Web, Board Games with Scott.

    I’m also the director of the Because Play Matters game lab at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies.

    My focus is on games in the physical world and games for informal learning. So, I do things like run game jams at science museums where kids create games on the exhibit floor while the museum is open, create live-action roleplaying games for 5-8 year olds at libraries where they do research about dinosaurs to then be transformed into their favorite, and am right now putting together an Escape Room for a revolutionary war fort at a nearby national park.

    I teach classes on Applied Game Design, where students create tabletop games for learning that do not involve rolling a die, moving on a track, or asking trivia questions, and Motivation through Games and Play, which looks at the problems with reward-based gamification and meaningful gamification.

    I also run the Game Designers’ Guild, which is a local community group where we create games that benefit the upstate New York community and create a place for people to bring their own games for playtesting.

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      Aerothorn says:

      Hey Scott –

      Just wanted to say that your histories on games and libraries were incredibly helpful to my research on the subject (I’m a first-year MLIS student). Thanks!

  14. pilouuuu says:

    Then PC gaming would be really dead.

  15. togelius says:

    Hi, I’m Julian Togelius and I’m a games researcher. These days I’m an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at New York University, after jumping ship from the IT University of Copenhagen. I work on basically everything in the intersection artificial intelligence and games, but I’m maybe most well-known for work on procedural content generation in games. I like teaching if in moderate amounts and dislike administration. And answering emails. But nobody likes to answer emails. Here’s me:

  16. galaxykate says:

    Hi, I’m Kate Compton. I’m at the Expressive Intelligence Group at UC Santa Cruz. A long time ago I wrote the first paper on procedurally generating platformer games, then went to work on Spore, where I wrote the scripts to procedurally generate the planets, and helped make the fire system on the latest SimCity before my frustrations with the games industry led me back to school to get a PhD.

    My new research is on using generative methods to help create new creativity tools to help average people make neat things. I make a helluva lot of weird generative AI experiments, and am working on a language to write generative text, which I’m mostly using to write a really trashy interactive sci-fi romance game.

    I like combining high-femme frilly glittery things with cutting-edge AI techniques. Have some generative flowers

  17. anise says:

    Hi! I’m Anne Sullivan. I have a PhD from University of California, Santa Cruz from the computer games and playable media group. My research focuses on storytelling and quest generation, and lately have moved into games and story with tangible artifacts. I don’t have a snazzy website yet!

  18. paulralph says:

    Hi all, I’m Paul Ralph, a Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Auckland. I do some research on exergaming and theory of game design. I also co-founded the AIS Special Interest Group for Game Design and Research (link to gamedesignresearch.org) and co-chair one of the games minitacks at the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. I have a lot of experience in social research methods so if you’re having trouble, feel free to reach out:
    Twitter: @DrPaulRalph
    Google+ : link to plus.google.com
    Facebook: link to facebook.com
    web: link to paulralph.name

  19. mirjam says:

    Hi, I’m Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari. Mike, thanks for writing this article, you bring up so many important topics in it.
    I’m interested in how we can use computation for making new interesting games and other digital stuff that can somehow be fun and/or meaningful. I have been doing my work in academia lately, but now, as Mike noted in the article, i will see how it can be possible to work independently. Time will tell how it goes :)
    Links, my website: http://www.mimmi.net, my blog: eladhari.blogspot.com, my research site: http://www.projectconstructive.com, and the page for my brand new indie-endeavour: http://www.otter-play.com.

  20. mtreanor says:

    Hello, I’m Mike Treanor. I am a professor at American University and part of the game lab there. I have always been interested in making and understanding games that express complex ideas. This has led me down many paths including semiotics, artificial intelligence and design. I previously was a design lead on an IGF nominated social simulation game called Prom Week as well as a crazy newsgame generation tool called Game-O-Matic.

  21. jeff.orkin says:

    Thanks for writing this series Mike! Hello, I’m Jeff Orkin. I’m not in academia anymore, but I consider myself a Game AI researcher, having spent almost 8 years at MIT, and about 9 in industry prior. I have more to say about this article than I can fit in the comments, since I have spent my adult life trying to find a sustainable way to innovate AI for games, and am currently finding the right balance in a startup — GiantOtter.

    But in brief, I’ll make a few points:
    1. What you’re describing is not unique to the field of A.I. It’s just the reality of trying to do something new in any field.

    2. Game AI is a form of art, and there is no perfect solution that allows freedom to explore while also getting a steady paycheck. Academics have freedom, but don’t have the time to make games. Industry game developers devote all of their time to making games, but have limited freedom.

    3. The good news is that in 2015, there are more avenues available than ever to find ways to fund your art, if you are resourceful. For example, there is obviously kickstarter. I have found government small business grants to be a good option, with a recent award to GiantOtter.

    4. Whether you’re looking at academia or industry, the reality is that the audience specifically interested in Game AI is small — an this makes it hard to fund. If you want to find ways to support innovating in Game AI, you need to take a holistic approach, step out of the AI vacuum, and think about a bigger picture, but where AI can make a difference. Getting people to pay attention to AI is really about execution, where AI is one small part among many. If you ask a non-AI person what they liked about the AI in game X, they will likely mention many aspects of the game that we look at as tangential to AI.

  22. mcdanger says:

    Hi! I’m Mark Chen. I’m not researching games per se but player behavior and learning in games, though I do write about games some times, too. My book Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft was basically my dissertation rewritten for a general audience and is an anthropological look at raiding in the early days of WoW and how WoW culture’s move to be more and more number-centric with add-ons, etc. led to the eventual break up of my raid group.

    These days I’m piecing together a minimal existence through multiple adjunct appointments and year-long grant work, etc. Academia is a bitch if you don’t land a job. Currently, I’m the director of Pepperdine University’s Gameful Design Lab where we’re organizing game jams for homeless kids and game design curricula at charter schools and after-school hackerspaces in the LA area.

  23. chongdashu says:

    Hi, I’m Chong-U Lim, Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, and Computer Science and AI Lab (CSAIL). I work with Prof. Fox Harrell at the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab.

    My main research revolves around the application of AI to better understand players through their 1) choices of representation (e.g., how they customize their avatars) and 2) actions and behaviors in-game (e.g., preferring to heal rather than hurt) and 3) how these exhibited behaviors can reveal implicit behavioral patterns of the player that may span across other systems and games (e.g., does one’s Steam Profile activity relate to the kind of class they enjoy playing in TF2) The applications of my research expands into various other interests, such as using AI to help designers to evaluate and design better games for players. More information is available on my website

    Apart from that, I enjoy game development in general, having worked on several titles in the past such as Restaurant City and The Sims Social in the past. I’m always interested in new games technology, particularly those which facilitate cross-platform development and ease of deployment and dissemination (e.g., via the web).
    I am on Twitter at @chongdashu

  24. Michel Ottens says:

    Hey all you passionate analysts. Gosh I now feel highly inadequate in posting my own interests in the field. I’m a third-year bachelor student in cultural studies who’s forcibly writing each of his papers on the subject of computer games, even if the courses don’t officially allow for it. Specializing, by doing an Honours Project and working towards a Reseach Master, in intermediality as evident in computer games; I’m looking at how a longer understanding of media such as architecture, film, literature, choreography, etc. are evident in specific computer games, and how those intermedial practices can be seen to fail in some other instances where computer games are clearly their own thing. Lots of interpretation, theory and conjecture, so my stuff is more about opening up lines of inquiry and producing explanatory text than it’s about concrete statistics or physical results.

  25. martin_cerny_ai says:

    Hi, I am Martin Cerny, I am a PhD student in game AI at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. Most recently I collaborate with Warhorse Studios on AI for Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I advise a few bachelor thesis on Starcraft AI and side-quest generation for RPGs. I also collaborate on Pogamut platform – a framework for writing bots for Unreal Tournament. On the gaming side, I made a small, Kafkaesque point&click game called Before the Law.

    You can reach me on Twitter: @martin_cerny_ai

  26. arnavjhala says:

    Hello fellow RPS readers !

    I am Arnav Jhala, an Assistant Professor at UC Santa Cruz in the newly formed Computational Media department (http://games.soe.ucsc.edu). I am interested in many aspects of AI based storytelling, behavior modeling, automated cinematography, and computational aesthetics. I have been fortunate enough over the last decade to have worked alongside many of the people mentioned in Michael’s post (including Mike van Lent and Michael Mateas from the first post). I have teach undergraduate and graduate courses in game design and programming, 3D game engine programming, Game AI, Computational Cinematography, and Interactive Storytelling. In terms of service, I am the director of the undergraduate degree in game design at UCSC and also serve as the campus director of the Univ. of California Study Abroad program. I was the program chair for the AIIDE conference last year.

  27. deterbold says:

    Hey! Michael, thanks for starting this!

    I’m Miguel Sicart. I’m an associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, where I teach game design and playful design. I’m a play scholar who works with games, and while I make quite some many playthings in my free time, none of these are actually good, releasable, or research-worthy :)

    I’m currently interested in play and computation – I’m more into playable media than games these days. This an area I hope to explore more during the sabbatical year I will spend at UC Santa Cruz, starting this summer.

    My research stuff can be found here: miguelsicart.net and playmatters.cc. My courses can be found here: playing.itu.dk

  28. SentientDesigns says:

    Hello, I am Antonios Liapis, a dungeon master pretending to be a game researcher with the Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta. I’m currently navigating the Snakes and Ladders game of academic hierarchies, starting at Lecturer within the year. During my PhD studies at the Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen, my work revolved around human-computer design interfaces, where artificial intelligence generates suggestions for the human designer to consider and be inspired by. You can read about my work on my personal website; you can also read about and try out Sentient Sketchbook, a level design tool with real-time evolving suggestions.

    I am glad that Mike mentions an anonymous researcher who is “positive that research can be changed from within, and that these systems can be improved if we fight and pressure the right organisations.” I’m always surprised when I get described as positive, especially when Mike then argues about reality being grim. Perhaps Mike is right, perhaps more productive/effective/fast steps can be taken to create a niche between academia and industry, rather than try to “fix” one or the other. Perhaps Mike and everyone that answered the call for commenting on RPS (be they academic, indie, student, gamer, craftsperson, dungeon master) can carve out a new non-traditional role for people doing AI-driven games and game development. I’m glad we can discuss this on fora, at workshops, at treks through snowy forests. I’m glad we’re not alone.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for commenting, Antonios! I wasn’t sure if it was your or Alex that voiced that particular comment, and I didn’t want to misattribute in the short time I had, but I’m glad you commented here and talked about your position more. I’m glad that people are doing this, and you’re definitely in the majority. I hope we can find solutions, wherever they come from.

      Also you are positive! I think you are anyway. You always know the right thing to say. You’re going to end up as one of those older researchers who the young students think is incredibly wise and knowledgeable about the world due to many years of research, but in reality you were always that way! You have a good outlook.

  29. AJLange says:

    Hello! Just happened to notice this post from a seat at a tutorial I’m taking part in at a university, so I figure I’ll chime in now. I’m Amanda Lange. I work for Microsoft as an Evangelist and do games research on the side. I’ll be presenting some of it at GDC on Tuesday, if you happen to be there! I have a masters, but I work with my husband Ryan who has a PhD. Right now we’re working on a project with the lab at WVU with Nick Bowman, another games researcher! I’ll see if I can get him to chime in as well.

    • bowmanspartan says:

      Consdier me chimed in. =)

      Amanda has worked with our team to help us develop/modify several games to test specific hypotheses related to player psychology. One of our favorites was a modification to GTA: San Andreas to let us test the effects of real-world habits to in-game behaviors – here’s an old blog entry (link to onmediatheory.blogspot.com) but the paper will come out in a research journal really soon!

      We’re also working on a new project involving GTA and player psychology, but that one’s still top-secret. ;p

  30. noelcusc says:

    Hi everyone, I’m Noel from Malta. I’m currently reading for a Masters in digital gaming at the University of Malta. My thesis, which is very much early works in progress, is about expanding the game design space by using defamiliarisation and critical reflection. Had to take a break cause I had a baby boy while working full time as an IT architect and supporting my wife to finish her studies in Gestalt psychotherapy. Sometimes I like the academic pursuit because it opens new ways of thinking but I think that it needs to be coupled with action such as actually designing something. Working with others or even in a healthy competition is quite fruitful for learning I find.

  31. bowmanspartan says:

    Interesting stuff here. My name is Dr. Nick Bowman, and I am a research of communication technology and human interaction – a media psychologist who uses communication theory to best understand how we use (and are influenced by) video games. I’m a founding researcher at the Interaction Lab (#ixlab) at West Virginia University, and I’m always eager to chat games. I’m on the editorial board of several major journals, and I have ongoing research projects in the US, Germany, Peru and Taiwan. I’m also the incoming Chair of the Game Studies Interest Group of the International Communication Association.

    For the study of games, my main interests are in studying what makes games “enjoyable” (hedonic fun) compared to “meaningful” (emotional and poignant experience), and how both of these reactions can teach us so much more about the rich tapestry of video game experiences. I also do extensive research on the functional and social interactions between players and avatars, to understand the role of digital bodies in our “real” worlds. I’ve also looked at how video games can help repair bad moods. I’m happy to share ANY of this research – ping me at @bowmanspartan (Twitter) or check my Google Scholar page: link to scholar.google.com

    A few links about myself, my team and our work:

    Personal page: link to ndbowman.info
    Lab page: link to comm.wvu.edu
    WVU COMM STUDIES: link to comm.wvu.edu
    ICA Game Studies: link to game.icahdq.org

  32. Olle says:

    Hey! I’m a bit late to the party, but hey, who can resist participating in such an excellent initiative?

    I’m Olle Sköld and my main research interests are game preservation and game archives. Put broadly, I’m interested in questions relating to how to provide access to games and their key dimensions — e.g., how players produce and share knowledge, memory-making, player culture, social interactions — to future game researchers, developers, and other interested parties.

    I’m currently pursuing a PhD in information studies at the Department of ALM, Uppsala University. Some of my work can be found and . I’ve also co-authored a piece in the book Game Research Method that Lankoski mentions above.

  33. jbarbara says:

    Jonathan Barbara here (that’s one man, Barbara is the surname!) The Maltese seem to make up for their island nation’s size in their presence here! I’m from the sunny rock myself, 36yr old father of two, lecturing Creative Computing at Saint Martin’s Institute in Malta and have just finished my MA in Games Design with UCLAN where I explored the transmedial nature of games and extended UX research to board games. I am now looking for PhD opportunities with my research focus being the role of games design in transmedia storytelling – particularly the use of AI to match game mechanics to story structure while remaining consistent with other narratives of the same storyline. Would love to chat about it if anyone wants to, electronically or in person at DIGRA 2015 which I’m attending. (Awesome post there Michael! Sorry to have missed Dalguth, sounded like a great place to be!)

  34. recardona says:

    Hi everyone!

    I’m Rogelio (rho-HEL-ee-oh), and I am currently a Ph.D. student working in AI+games. My research is about using AI for predicting player actions in games with story elements – in particular I am trying to understand what compels players to act in specific ways in the presence of a story (is it their sense of role? is it the narrative genre? is it just the game mechanics?). My interests are somewhere in the space of artificial intelligence, game design, story-telling, and psychology (although not necessarily in that order).

    You should follow me on Twitter! @recardona
    You should check my website out! http://rogel.io

  35. yagiz says:


    First, thanks Mike! My name is Yagiz Mungan. I am independent scholar/researchers as I work in the industry. I am an MFA from Purdue but I also have a separate MS. My main research topics are about art games, game sound and interactive sound. I keep my teaching up-to-date via workshops and spend my nights for research and personal works. Feel free to find/add me on LinkedIn and my personal page is http://yagizmungan.com .

  36. chrisamaphone says:

    Hello! I’m Chris Martens, Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon working on programming languages for modeling and designing game mechanics. Read more about my work here:

    link to cs.cmu.edu

    • bowmanspartan says:

      Good to meet you! We’re just down the road in WV, so stop by sometime. =)

  37. danimuriel says:

    My name is Daniel Muriel and I’m a sociologist working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Salford (Greater Manchester) on a research project about video game culture (funded by the Basque Government).The research project is focused on video game culture from a sociological point of view. I seek to understand how video games, which are becoming more and more important in our societies, have an impact on our everyday life and on our identities. Taking into account the social interest of the project, I think the research could provide analytical and theoretical resources for game developers and gamers, as well as other relevant agents within the universe of video games, in order to improve their relationship and let them participate more actively in the products, meanings and identities they want to construct. You can follow some of my thoughts on the matter at my research blog: link to the3headedmonkey.blogspot.co.uk

  38. amperjay says:

    Hiya. :) My name is Jaime Banks … I’m Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at West Virginia University and Research Associate at the Interaction Lab (#ixlab) there. Originally from Colorado (completing my doc at CSU), I spent a year teaching/researching at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary comm/culture/information/tech institute before finding my place at WVU. My scientific research interests are at the intersections of immersive digital games, identity/self, virtuality/materiality, embodiment, and human-technology relationships. My main program of research focuses on player-avatar relations and their impacts on players’ sense of self, but current projects are delving into narrative and serious games, anonymity and social interaction, social and psychological impacts of game changes (e.g., expansions, avatar models), and game studies research methods.

    I’ll be headed to GDC (tomorrow!) so if a group of game studies folks is interested in meeting up for a pow-wow, I’d be up for it. :)

    Google Scholar: link to scholar.google.com
    Academia.edu: link to wvu.academia.edu
    Twitter: link to twitter.com

  39. Bugamn says:

    Nice to see UCSC here. I have started studying here recently and I have noticed their game department.

  40. Jiituomas says:

    Hello, fellow readers. I’m J. Tuomas Harviainen, a postdoc from the Tampere University game research lab in Finland. The only thing that stays constant is the fact that I study information in games and play, but the actual topic varies: this week it can be how the systems structure of MMORPGs affects player organizing in them, the next why a service design board game fosters co-creativity in people. I edit the International Journal of Role-Playing and often guest edit special issues for Simulation & Gaming as well. I can be found at http://www.jiituomas.com

  41. tquandt says:

    Hi Mike, great initiative!
    my name is Thorsten Quandt, I am a professor of online communication at the University of Münster, Germany. I am primarily interested in the social impact of digital games (esp. the user side). I am also the founding chair of a working group on digital games research in the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), and I was the PI of an ERC project on the social impact of digital gaming. The ECREA group might be interesting for all the researchers with a social sciences/ communication/ sociology/ psychology background out there, as it has grown quite a bit lately – we have about 270 members in our Facebook group. You can find us here: link to facebook.com
    All the best, Thorsten

  42. Torill says:

    Hello, I am Torill Mortensen, associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen. I have studied games, gamers, and the use of games since the mid nineties. Today I work in the borderland between games and social media, looking at how games renew and refresh other media, as well as challenge theory. Shameless plug, th year I will, together with professors Jonas Linderoth and Ashley Brown, publish an anthology: The Dark Side of Gameplay”, about playful environments and problematic content. The book is packed with great articles from interesting authors, and I hope you will all enjoy it. I have a very slow blog on torillsin.blogspot.com.

  43. jungletoad says:

    Hi, I’m Cory.

    I have a PhD in clinical psychology. I started my undergraduate training with a full scholarship in Computer Science, with an interest in Artificial Intelligence, but then decided I was interested in human intelligence. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the mind and I’m back to being interested in A.I., but I haven’t programmed in over a decade and don’t really know how to break back into the A.I. world.

    I have a lot of ideas about how A.I. can improve psychology, and vice verse. I really want to get involved with tech heads again and create currently unheard of forms of tech therapy using software, A.I., and V.R. If anybody has any bright ideas on how a psychologist can sync up with the tech industry, toss me a line. :)

  44. rmohseni says:


    I am M. Rohangis Mohseni, a scientific assistant at the eLearning-center of Osnabrück University. While I am co-coordinating an eLearning project for a living, in my spare time, I like to do research about game effects.

    My PhD was about virtual emergency assistance, where I tried to find out if killing characters in order to save a person makes you more helpful and/or more aggressive. I modded TESIV for this purpose, which is why I am interested in modding. As a result of this, together with with Benny Liebold and Daniel Pietschmann, we wrote a chapter about “Extensive Modding” in Petri Lankoskis upcoming book about Game Methods (which will be a really great book, even without our chapter ;)

    Apart from that, I try to connect the world of games with the world of eLearning by making eLearning more fun.

  45. matthewbarr says:

    Hi, I’m Matthew Barr and I run the game studies course at the University of Glasgow. My PhD work is on how playing video games can help develop useful skills like communication, critical thinking etc. I’m also the editor of the student game studies journal, Press Start. I’m @hatii_matt on Twitter.

  46. bowmanspartan says:

    Wow … I’m so glad to see some of our field’s (communication and game studies) “big minds” posting in here, such as Thorsten and Torill. Not to mention, several colleague such as Amanda, Jaime, Rohangis and others. Nice collection. =)

  47. alchemist says:

    Hey all, I’m Mike Sellers, and I’m something of a platypus (and not just because Jeff and Mirjam have corned the Otter market). I’m an academic/researcher/developer now, but I spent over twenty years working in game design — MMOs, social/mobile, etc, at places like 3DO, EA, and Kabam. I don’t have a PhD, but I’ve published original research in AI, gameplay, social/emotional models, and distributed reputation. I ran my own company, Online Alchemy, for almost ten years, focused on trying to create (and just as importantly, sell!) social-AI gameplay, i.e., “NPCs that are more than vending machines.” We did some interesting work for DARPA, but beyond that making the AI salable proved too difficult — or else we were just several years too early.

    Last summer I joined Indiana University as a Professor of Practice in Game Design, and I feel very fortunate to be there. They’re supportive of my research and haven’t saddled me with a crushing teaching load. In addition to the teaching (which I really do enjoy), I’m working on a few original, way-too-innovative-for-industry games, and on bringing my AI work back to life.

    I have a dusty old blog that I keep saying I’m going to jolt back to life too (link to onlinealchemy.wordpress.com) and am on twitter (rarely) and reddit (far too often) as iugameprof.

    I’ll be at GDC this week, speaking as part of a group on ageism in the games industry, and look forward to seeing a lot of folks who have posted here at the conference.

  48. ihuvila says:

    Hello all, I am Isto Huvila, senior lecturer in information and knowledge management at the School of Business and Economics, Åbo Akademi University in Finland and a research associate (associate professor) at the Department of ALM, Uppsala University in Sweden. I am information scientists and working on pretty diverse topics around how people use information in different contexts and my interest in games is in how people interact with information in game and game-like settings and also how game-like behaviours can be observed in non-game settings. Some musings about (not only about games) can be found at http://www.istohuvila.eu

  49. It's not me it's you says:

    Holy shit. Based on this comment section it appears all you’d need to do to Solve AI In Games Forever is give this commentariat a chatroom and a few months.