Skyrim: Very Special Edition was the best gag so far at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a way of Bethesda making fun of itself for its multiple ports of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Yet as the actor interacted with his Alexa, having the device describe its situation and ask questions from playing Skyrim, what I saw wasn’t a joke but a way to make single-player role-playing games work on a smart assistant.
Alexa does Dungeons & Dragons, if you will.
Think about what tabletop role-playing games like D&D are. One person, the Dungeon Master (or Game Master if it’s not D&D), tells the story, setting up situations for their players as they take on the story. Now, a smart assistant can’t replicate what a flesh-and-blood DM could do, reacting to the off-the-wall whims of the adventuring party (like how when you plan a dungeon for your party, but they see a road going the opposite direction and decide, “Hey, let’s go this way instead”).
But maybe Alexa, Cortana, and their ilk could replicate the old text-based MUDs (multi-user dungeons) from the late 1970s and the 1980s-early 1990s. The first were straight-up takes on what was then the new game of D&D. What we saw in the Very Special Edition was quite similar to these MUDs, so much so that someone even made the comparison when I tweeted that an Alexa RPG would be a good idea.
like a modern version of a text adventure or MUD… I kinda want this https://t.co/dCFCHOUg1p
— Jayce Wagner (@JayceHB) June 11, 2018
I don’t know how difficult it would be to program an interactive narrative over a smart assistant — could today’s Alexas and Cortannas handle it? Maybe Bethesda itself will notice how smart this idea is — it did announce an Elder Scrolls mobile game today. Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of D&D, has a mobile game coming out soon with Warriors of Waterdeep. It also feels like a good fit for MetaArcade, a platform for creating RPG-style adventures.
Maybe soon, we’ll be asking Alexa to cast magic missile on those pesky goblins.
Update, 3:07 p.m.: The Alexa team reached out to say that this skill is real, and you can access it here. I’ve also received a couple of pitches from developers working on smart assistant RPGs, so expect a story on this after E3.