This charmingly Japanese robot acts as a gaming buddy, taking the other controller and playing against you while chatting about what’s happening on screen. It’s designed to stave off loneliness, and teach increasingly isolated gamers to be social.
Built by Nara Institute of Science and Technology researchers, this sadly nameless bot is designed to make gaming more fun, more social and less lonely. It’s part of a broader push towards robotic companionship in Japan, where an inverted population pyramid and some messed-up attitudes toward work do not bode well for people’s social life.
Theorizing that video games are better with friends, the team built a robot to play alongside you, competing against you and adjusting its performance to keep the challenge level in the fun zone. And the researchers fitted it with what’s presumably a language model AI like GPT, so it can talk an appropriate degree of trash, give you some encouragement, moan and complain to enhance your satisfaction when you beat it, or simply engage you in a chat about what you’re playing.
“In recent years, the lack of conversation in daily life has become a problem,” reads a study presented at the 11th International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction, “and as a solution to this problem, a dialogue robot [has] attracted attention as a substitute for a human and as a means of encouraging daily speech.”
The robot joined 30 test subjects on the couch for a gaming session, playing the same (unnamed) game with and without the robot. They were then questioned on the experience, and most found it more fun with the bot than without it. The researchers told TechXplore they’re looking at developing the idea from a 15-minute experience into something that could play alongside somebody for years, and could be tailored for various demographics such as older or autistic players.
It strikes us as an interesting new intersection between AI and gaming; in 2023 we saw how in-game NPCs are becoming fully-fledged conversation partners, but this is different; an AI that sits outside the game, that joins in and that reacts to the action or the storyline, encouraging you to be more social.
And indeed, if the idea is good, it needn’t be an external robot. There’s no reason why a companion AI couldn’t be built right into the game console operating system, ready to hang out and chat during single-player experiences, assist during co-op multiplayer games, or go head-to-head against you in competitive multiplayer. The moldable personality of language models should let most folk design exactly the kind of gaming buddy they want.
Sure, it’s a bit of an indictment on our late-stage society, but AI companionship is absolutely going to be a thing. And if it’s going to join us in the bedroom, we might as well let it on the sofa.