Artificial intelligence aims to simulate humanity’s most complex mental activities, but there is surely none more fraught and complicated than the matters of relationships, romance, and love.
Life’s Meta from Buenos Aires-based Widow Games is in development and fund-raising mode right now. It’s attempting to convincingly simulate the dating experience, using AI. According to Widow’s CEO Martin Spinetto, the ambition is to move the dating and relationship genre along from player-focused models which boil down to choice-trees, to something more human.
“We can use AI to create compelling stories that reflect human emotion,” he explains. “We are putting human emotion at the center of the gameplay experience. To be honest, we don’t know exactly what the result will be yet. But we’re working towards narrative and emotive experiences that haven’t been seen in games before.”
Avatar and persona
At its most basic level, Life’s Meta follows the dating video game template. Players create their own avatar and persona, and then try to get to know pre-programmed NPCs. You win by ingratiating yourself to the NPC, by saying the right things, and not saying the wrong things. With the addition of AI, according to Spinetto, the number of potential outcomes in any particular conversation are wider, by an order of magnitude.
“Your conversations with the AI are much more compelling and interesting, and so are the potential ways you can evolve the relationship. There’s none of the repetition [that we see in traditional dating games]. When you have a conversation, the AI remembers. They remember if you say you’re going away to do something else. Every conversation is different.”
Life’s Meta does not have a release date as yet, and the details of the business model are still being ironed out. The plan is to release a freemium mobile version, alongside a more sophisticated desktop version.
Players will also be able to buy goods inside the game, such as clothing and furniture for their apartments. They can even buy gifts for their dates, as they attempt to woo and charm towards a more meaningful relationship. All purchases will be connected to the blockchain, and will be made with regular currency (i.e. not crypto). Players will also be able to make and sell goods into the game’s marketplace.
The PC element of Life’s Meta will include dating environments like restaurants and nightclubs, as well as the player’s pad.
At this stage, the game only features a handful of NPCs, including a confident young woman, a shy, well-meaning man of middle years, and a non-binary character with an “explosive attitude”. Spinetto says that Widow Games’ small team is working on expanding and diversifying its range of NPCs, giving each of them deep narratives and complex personalities. The team is aiming for diversity across the board, including race, age, ableness, gender and sexuality.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback and we’re listening,” says Spinetto, whose experience includes a long stint as Microsoft’s consumer marketing communications director for Latin America. “We’re a very diverse team, and it’s important to us to create a diverse environment. For example, we’ve been talking about age. Should the player and the NPC that they are with age together? I say, why not?”
Personality diversity is at the heart of the game’s narrative engine. If you don’t feel comfortable with brash, arrogant men, then you might struggle to get on well with one of the game’s prototype NPCs, Dante, an extrovert gym instructor. Then again, Dante might surprise you.
“We don’t want to build a game where the NPC is basically fine with anything that you say to them,” says Spinetto. “If you go to a bar, you approach someone, you start talking. If you’re not making a connection, you both move on. The NPCs aren’t standing around waiting for you to show up and waiting for you to say whatever you want to say.These characters are complex. If they don’t like you, then it’s over, and they won’t speak to you any more, just like in real life.”
He adds: “The gameplay is about feelings. Empathy is how you progress in the game. But it goes both ways. The AI understands that they [NPCs] need to be interested in you for the relationship to progress. You’re learning about them, and they are learning about you. Emotions and empathy are part of your toolset. Feelings are important.”
As relationships progress, the game will feature implied intimacy, but not erotica. “We don’t want that to be the focus. It’s not important to see these characters in bed. It’s about creating comfort between the player and the NPC. It’s about romance and connection.”
Spinetto says that Life’s Meta can also serve as a learning tool for anyone who is grappling with the intricacies of the real world dating scene. The player character is an advanced and intelligent android that the player shapes according to their own taste, but which must then navigate the world of feelings.
“We’ve talked about how this game could be a great tool for people who are struggling with social interaction. It’s a safe environment where you can replicate real life interaction, and you can work with feelings and empathy. Playing this game helps you to understand how to behave with different kinds of people and different personalities. We build relationships on shared interests and on caring about the other person.”
Ultimately, Life’s Meta aims to be a game about human feelings and human stories. “In life, there are good feelings and there are bad feelings,” says Spinetto. “This game is about discovering stories and NPCs, and sharing those feelings with them. It’s about life and you will definitely find NPCs who have their own struggles. They are in a bad way, and you can choose how you empathize with them, or not. Hopefully, we are building something that will be a part of the player’s lives, and that they want to play for years.”