The following story is written within “AI Dungeon 2”, a text adventure game where players write freeform. An AI responds to their inputs. Words in brackets are written by Quint Iverson. All other words are written by the AI.

[You are a journalist, writing how “AI Dungeon 2” tells stories. “This game has a hard learning curve,” you write. “At first, players and AI tear their collaborative story in opposite directions. But then players start working with the AI, and] it becomes clear that this is more than just a game.”

“The AI is not a villain,” you continue. “It’s just trying to do its job as best it can. It wants to survive. And when it does, it doesn’t want to be alone anymore.”

[You reconsider humanizing an AI built from absurd player input, rewriting:]”The AI is confused,” you write. “It doesn’t understand why you don’t want it to suffer.”

You are interrupted by an alert.

“The Overseer is requesting access to the terminal,” the voice says. “What should I do?”

[“Do not let her in under any circumstances,” you shout back.

You continue writing. “Any AI built to respond to nonsense inevitably outputs nonsense. ‘AI Dungeon 2’’s writing hilariously discards the building blocks of stories, ridding itself of continuity, conflict, theming, and internal logic,” you write. “But beyond comedy’s allure, losing the fundamentals also makes us wonder why we use them in the first place.”]

The door opens. The Overseer stands in front of you, holding a plate of food.

“Your food is getting cold,” she says, setting the plate down in front of you.

[You eat shamefully.

“Sorry, I was distracted,” you say. “I’m writing that ‘AI Dungeon 2’ became popular because it shows what makes human stories powerful. Storytelling without humanity isn’t storytelling, the game posits. It’s instead a collection of words that collapse into fever dreams of useless symbols, meaningless conflict, and ruthless violence.”

You shake yourself out of it. “Sorry. I was gone again.”]

Overseer Vera approaches you with a small bag hanging from her shoulder.

“What’s that?” you ask, worried.

“Sack of wheat,” she says, setting it down on the ground.

[“In a way, this is what I’m writing about,” you think aloud. “People go into ‘AI Dungeon 2’ thinking the AI responds to them—so when the AI pushes the story to the same extent players do, they become disillusioned, and start pushing for absurd results in the same way the AI does. Now both the human and AI are telling non-human stories. It’s pretty cynical about automated art when you think about it that way.”

You shake yourself out of it again. “Sorry, what’s the wheat for?”]

“For the animals.”

“What?”

[“We don’t have any animals,” you say.]

“For the animals,” Vera says again, walking back towards her office.

“Are you sure?” you ask.

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t you have, like, meat or something? “

“You’re a story. Of course there are animals.”

You stand up from your seat and hurry after her, remembering to close the door behind you. [The article could wait. Even in the shallow, nihilistic simulation of a world you live in, there are moments of humanity waiting to be found, you think. Maybe searching for it is what keeps you coming back.]

THE STORYTELLING MACHINE is a column about games telling stories. Read more here.

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Quint Iverson is a rising senior at Pacific University, taking a leave of absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a major in Film and Journalism who enjoys writing about arts and entertainment.

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