Computer games provide a compelling environment to study and enable virtual beings to engage with humans as equals. In this chapter, we investigate the requirements, design and implementation of virtual beings that participate in computer games as humans would; playing the game and creating rich new collaborative game play experiences in areas of education, training and entertainment.
Alan Turing once remarked that “We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields” (Turing, 1950). While may not be fully realized today, the integration of artificial beings into human organizations and society evoke powerful images of both positive and negative possibility. Despite the technology that surrounds us today, humans continue to use the imagery of science fiction to strive to create more intelligent machines capable of autonomous decision making.
In this Chapter, we explore the possibility of artificial i.e. virtual beings emerging as partners to humans rather than tools used by humans in various collaborative situations. Unlike past revolutions of mechanical automation, the presence of virtual beings should not imply a redundancy for human partners, but rather a complimentary relationship. Group decision-making, including both humans and virtual beings as equals, increases the diversity of the knowledge pool (Dunbar, 1995), improving the likelihood of positive outcomes.
Computer game development offers a compelling platform for such research and development. As each new computer game produced pushes the boundaries of technical possibility, it should come as no surprise that academia and the game industry have frequently cross-pollinated each other’s efforts.
To this end, we explore a collaborative computer game called TeamMATE1. This environment facilitates the investigation of human and virtual computer game players engaged as fully equal partners. By investigating the nature of fully equal partners, concepts of collaboration and facilitating architecture, it is possible to address the following questions:
Can human and virtual beings, being heterogeneous agents, interact cooperatively as fully equal partners in the context of computer games, where each entity is fully replaceable or substitutable with the other?
How can cooperation be obtained in heterogeneous agent situations, such as a boardroom, be designed to facilitate cooperation between biological and virtual beings?
Can a boardroom-like game scenario be appropriate for social and educational computer games?
This book chapter explores these questions, and what is required in order to engage human and virtual players collaboratively in computer games. The principles presented here are delivered from our experience in designing, developing and implementing the TeamMATE© cooperative computer game.
Fully Equal Partners (Feps)
To engage human and virtual beings as equal partners in a computer game setting requires interaction beyond treating the virtual partners as sophisticated tools, but rather requires a degree of social acceptance and cohesion. In such a heterogeneous group of partners, virtual beings must be able to articulate their perspectives and opinions, while taking on board the knowledge and opinions of others. For social acceptance and societal influence to occur the virtual being needs to become acceptable within the social system: Society, organization or group (Kelman, 2006).
In making the transition to societal acceptance of virtual beings, there are great challenges both technical and social. To better study virtual beings as collaborative partners, it is possible to focus on a smaller, group social setting, with an assumption of social acceptance (and therefore the capability to influence) collaborative group decision-making. For this reason, computer games provide an excellent environment for understanding how humans and virtual beings can positively influence outcomes in a collaborative group situation.
The nature of an independent virtual being participating alongside humans collaboratively in computer games is strongly influenced by the notion of intelligent autonomous agents in computer game theory. The concept of an intelligent autonomous agent as described by Jennings and Wooldridge (Jennings & Wooldridge, 1995) is appropriate for application to the characteristics of human and virtual beings that engage collaboratively as equal participants in computer games. An intelligent autonomous agent, being situated within a collaborative computer game enjoys the following abilities: