Antonio J. Fernández Leiva

Game programming and serious games

What about Emotional non-player-characters (NCPs).


Affective Computing (AC), in a very simplified view, consists of applying the principles of Computer Science (CS) to the computation of feelings, emotions and or other affective phenomenons;  from some perspective, AC combines fundamentals of Computer Science, Psychology and Cognitive Science and, among other issues,  it analyzes ways to provide emotions to machines and the cevelopment of machines that can express feeling; yes, you are reading well! This  (AC) can be considered a quite recent branch of CS as in the past CS has mainly focused on the way to provide intelligence to machines or, in other words, CS (in the form of Artifical Intelligence) has promoted the generation of computing methods that can “imitate human behavior” but the fact is that, until recently, emotions have been largely ignored by the Computer Science community.

Artificial Intelligence centered (and focuses nowadays) on the development of techniques that can help to create  entities (e.g., robots or simulating software such as an artificial interlocutor)  that are controlled via a decision-making mechanism that might be considered as human if it imitates or replicates the human behavior (thought as a decision-making procedure); however, what about feelings and emotions? Affective Computing might be considered the extension of  Artificial Intelligence to the emotional universe (if one considers emotions instead intelligence).  Of course, there is too much to say here! Can you think  in the future of a machine  expressing stress, or fear? The question is: is a machine able to express feelings, or more profoundly, just feel like a human? …..Hmmmm, why not? why not? I really think so, and I do because the first complicate task to attain this goal (i.e., computers that feel)  is to provide a specific concept for emotions/feelings, and to have into account that not every person feels in the same way, and that the intensity of expressing emotions is different from one individual to any other;  moreover, a really very complex task is the way to measure emotions and how this task can be handled.

As already mentioned I prefer to think that this is possible, but I do not want to create a debate here as there are a number of ethical issues that I do not want to discuss here (this might be the issue of a future post ;-);  I just will say that there are many researchers that are investigating this line of work. For instance, in MIT Media Lab, you can have a look at the Affective Computing Group:

Emotion is fundamental to human experience, influencing cognition, perception, and everyday tasks such as learning, communication, and even rational decision-making. However, technologists have largely ignored emotion and created an often frustrating experience for people, in part because affect has been misunderstood and hard to measure. Our research develops new technologies and theories that advance basic understanding of affect and its role in human experience. We aim to restore a proper balance between emotion and cognition in the design of technologies for addressing human needs. (Affective Computing Group, accessed 10th november, 2013)


One of the main issues that Affective Computing deal with is the capacity of a machine to provide empathy in the sense that the machine might perceive the human emotions and acts according to them.  As you can intuit, my dear reader, this is not an easy task as it is not easy to measure emotions even in human “creatures”. This is an obstacle and at the same time a motivation as it is not easy to recognize any kind of emotions.

What I have mentioned above might be extrapolated to the videogame area as a bot is an extension of the reality (a simulated machine basically); think for instance of an opponent (or an NPC mate) of you (e.g.,  in the context of a FPS game)  showing different mood states according to the changes that the story or the scenario is suffering; I mean non-preprogrammed changes of moods or non-scripted emotional jumps; so, a bot might get angry when you shoot him or a mate of him, or might feel fear if the bot perceives certain degree of loneliness or senses that he (the bot) will be relentlessly annihilated by you in a few instants of the game. Bots that emotionally react to perceptions and are sensitive to the environment? Yes, they would be definitely welcome!!  From my point of view, this would introduce a new perspective on videogames, and would increase drastically the sensation of reality with a(n supposed and assumed) increase of player satisfaction……but the truth is that one never knows! In any case, this is an issue that is attracting the interest of many researchers in the area of computational intelligence applied to videogames (I promise to say more and give details in the future).

In any case, what I have mentioned here is just a partial view of Affective Computing,  and this is only the tip of the iceberg, I did not go  into details of the origin of Affective Computing, neither in its multiple possibilities nor in its social applications: perhaps in the future I will consider these issues (surely) but not today……..In any case I (and  surely you) can think of a number of serious applications of Affective Computing in the videogame field, I mean useful applications  in Society (health, administration, social services,…etc).

As an introduction to the field, the interested reader can refer to the scientific literature and perhaps would be interested to deep into the IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing or the Conference series on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, just to name a couple of references.

To be continued……

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This entry was posted on November 10, 2013 by in Affective Computing, Game AI and tagged , , .
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