Accepting synthetic life forms.

Michaël Samyn, August 4, 2012

There tends to be something very mechanical about the behavior of synthetic characters in videogames. This is caused by their logic being driven by the very rigid processes that we can feasibly describe in computer code. One could argue that we just need to multiply our efforts and resources to make these characters look and behave more like the creatures they are supposed to represent. Or one could reject the desire for realism entirely and simple stick to non-human characters, or characters presented in a simplified visual style so that their rigid behavior doesn’t seem odd.

Both approaches have their merits and I do want to see people exploring them. But ultimately, wouldn’t we all be better off if we could simply accept that the creatures on our screens are synthetic? They are not really humans, not really animals, not really plants. Nor photographic representations of them. They are just fabrications inspired by such creatures that may recall such creatures in our mind. If they possess some kind of life, then they are an entirely new form of life. Simpler perhaps than we are, but still quite useful in our artistic endeavors.

If we just accept that these fake characters will have fake behaviors, we will enjoy our videogames much more. A well done simulation is of course a beautiful thing to witness. But if our synthetic actors don’t quite succeed in imitating our behavior exactly, maybe we should just cut them some slack. After all, they only have human-created systems to fall back on, unlike our own organic systems which we did not make ourselves. I think they’re doing pretty well given the circumstances. They have God nor evolution, and yet they have life and manage to move and amuse us from time to time.

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