École polytechnique: Return on the “Science and Video Games” Chair conference

The “Science and Video Games” Chair organises an annual symposium bringing together researchers and video game manufacturers in order to strengthen their interactions. For its second edition, the conference addressed the modelling of physical phenomena, the current challenges in AI or the game as a tool for inclusiveness.

In keeping with its desire to bring together industrialists and researchers, the “Science and Video Game” Chair organised its second conference from 29 March to 1 April, the first to be open to the general public. This event is one of the rare places for exchanging knowledge in this field, and allows for the creation of links between academics and industry thanks to presentations and round tables involving multiple points of view. This year, the Ubisoft-supported Chair, led by Raphaël Granier de Cassagnac, CNRS research director at the Laboratoire Leprince-Ringuet (LLR*), brought together more than 150 participants each day for four mornings with distinct themes.

The price of physics’ realism
The first part of the conference focused on physical simulations, very often limited to so-called Newtonian physics (that of collisions, gravity, etc.), which allows us to approach the real world we experience on a daily basis. In games, the objective of simulations is to ensure a visual rendering in real time, in clear contrast to the film industry, where a rendering as close to reality as possible is desirable but can be calculated in advance with long calculation times for each image. The challenge of real time leads to certain compromises, such as the simplification of physical models. On the other hand, some games choose to preserve the physical laws as much as possible but let the player discover and experiment with these phenomena himself.

Difficulty: a subjective experience?
Some games are known for the difficulty they pose to the player, and it is around this theme and the player’s experience that the second morning of the conference was centred. Although some algorithms allow the difficulty to be adapted to the player in real time, a good dosage of the challenge is more complex. Indeed, psychological studies have shown an effect of “overconfidence” or even boredom when the difficulty is dosed by maintaining a too regular balance between success and failure for the player. In the board game Hanabi, the main difficulty is to coordinate between players with imperfect information, and it is this particular challenge that has defined this game as “the new frontier of AI research”.

End of the research-industry dichotomy?
The third part of the conference looked at the links between the academic and industrial worlds within video game production. The traditional image of a clear separation between the two worlds was shown to be obsolete, with more and more industrial videogame actors setting up independent research teams, free to choose their work. Open research and knowledge sharing are becoming more common in the video game industry, especially in order to facilitate the transfer of technology from one game platform to another. Moreover, there are similar methods between industry and academia, for example in the creation of characters. Indeed, the 3D modelling of prehistoric animals follows a similar process to that of the creation of realistic characters, with the aim in both cases of producing credible 3D models for the general public.

Playing games to better understand each other

Responding to a need for socialisation, the use of and demand for video games has increased significantly with the current health crisis. However, some studies go further and are interested in using video games as a means of better understanding people suffering from autistic disorders (ASD). Presented on the fourth and final morning of the conference, this work uses this medium as a means of simplifying communication with people with ASD, and as a means of enhancing their strengths. The accessibility of the games is a central issue for this objective, given the diversity of the disorders of this population.

Responding to a need to build bridges between the academic and industrial worlds, the “Science & Video Games” Chair conference showed the interest of sharing knowledge and points of view between multiple actors. These cross-views reveal the richness of the videogame environment, both from the point of view of research and the range of possible uses of the game.

*LLR: a joint research unit CNRS, École Polytechnique – Institut Polytechnique de Paris

About the Chair:
Organised in Gamelab and supported by Ubisoft, the “Science and Video Games” Chair focuses on enhancing the realism, gameplay and accessibility of video games through science, as well as using this medium to spread scientific culture. Led since 2019 by Raphaël Granier de Cassagnac, this Chair, which is interdisciplinary in nature, aims to facilitate the videogame integration of models (physical, economic, social, etc.) and addresses various techniques such as 3D modelling, sound spatialisation or artificial intelligence. Teaching is another innovative axis of the Chair, aiming to familiarise engineering students with the industry’s methodologies and to train a pool of video game professionals.

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