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Feature: 'Modeling Opinion Flow in Humans'

For today's feature, Skip Cole presents his academic paper discussing the possibility of mapping rapidly-changing human opinions for use in game NPCs, using a cost-benefit calculation to d
For today's feature, Skip Cole presents his academic paper discussing the possibility of mapping rapidly-changing human opinions for use in game NPCs, using a cost-benefit calculation to determine how a person is likely to react in most situations. From Cole's introduction: "Given the opinions and desires of a non-player character (actors), it is possible to devise a cost-benefit calculation to decide what they are likely to do. This is a common problem in Game AI and much good work has already been done on this. But this supposes a fixed set of opinions (beliefs) in the actors. We would like to allow the actors to evolve and change their opinions over time, just as real people do. We also want to replicate the fact that while the opinions people hold are often understandable, they are not always rational. In this paper we introduce a methodology to do just this. Modeling opinion flow is a big topic. People’s opinions are understandably multi-faceted and complex. Here we are saying dash to this complexity and reducing the decisions on one particular issue (the topic at hand) to one simple number. At the end of the day in our game universe, one supports King John, supports King Richard, or doesn’t particularly support anyone. If the bulk of the population supports King John, then his troops will receive more resources – and that is an effect that can be felt by King Richard. To perform our calculation, we are borrowing concepts from the Boids algorithm and from Social Network Analysis. This technique makes possible new types of conflict, such as a Public Relations battle, and can make concrete the ‘battle for hearts and minds.’ People's opinions are influenced by events, but also by what they perceive to be the opinions of the people around them — people tend to believe what the people around them believe. The central analogy of this paper is that just as birds, fish, and other animals move their bodies in groups, humans move their opinions in groups. Animals flock with their bodies. People flock in their opinions." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the topic, including applied examples of opinion models in population schisms, battles, and by king-makers (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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