The little AI probe that could: persistence in the face of failure

Within games, artificial intelligence opponents can teach us a lot about the folly of human behavior due to our emotions and a spiraling defeatist mindset. The computer only calculates the likelihood of victory, the risks involved, and always keeps their eye on the prize. This determination and commitment to their goal is astounding to observe.  Since its behaviors are designed to play the game well by the developers themselves, much can be gleaned from the choices they make and the optimal way to play. Not the least of which is the drive to always try.

In Starcraft II players often test theoretical builds for effectiveness by playing against AI opponents. The more obtuse the build the more variables need to be experimented with. Determining the timing of how the player develops and expands their economy, deciding what their unit composition will be, and alternating between micro and macro choices can be difficult against an unpredictable human opponent.  Thus practicing with an AI opponent with a consistent and predictable pattern of behaviors is preferable.

When playing against AI, set to an easier difficulty, overwhelming and surrounding them will cause the AI to submit to defeat and surrender. However at higher difficulties the AI will continue to fight for the remainder of the match. Well past the point of complete domination, the AI will continue to seek out any opportunity to exist within the map and reestablish itself as a competitive power.

Within Starcraft II the match ends when a player has destroyed the last existing enemy structure. Considering this, when an AI enemy has been displaced due to the destruction of their base they will immediately rebuild wherever they have access to the resources required to reestablish themselves. Even with just a single worker remaining on the map, the AI will always attempt to rebuild. Observing this behavior in the face of a powerful foe is humbling, since as human players we often succumb to our emotions; frustration, anger, and desperation.

One amazing example of this was a match where the player had their entire fleet hovering over a location where the last remaining AI worker probe was rebuilding a base with a few small structures built and a main base structure under construction. With one attack click the player destroyed the main base structure.  Instead of fleeing out of fear for its life, the brave little probe immediately began constructing a main base structure in the exact same location. When comparing the need to preserve its final worker versus the fact that no other base location would serve as a means to establish itself, it understood that to survive it must build at this location, there were no other options.  More importantly it illustrated that defeat is a mindset; that success is a matter of not giving up, if there is an action that can be taken, it must be taken, nothing more, nothing less.

Within the artificial intelligence opponent’s mind lies a powerful lesson of always trying and never giving up. The enjoyment that can be attained from always taking a bold step even in the face of unspeakable odds is a freeing  experience. Once our strategies built upon practiced technique, logical choice, and emotions start to collapse into failure; we are left with an empty space.  One that can be filled with innovative strategies, off-the-wall solutions, or at the very least entertaining final stands which endear our enemies to us with respect and admiration; acknowledging that we played to our last unit, that we never gave up and never surrendered.



Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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