For art’s sake: What the rise of AI means for artists in gaming

16 Feb 2023

Image: © nguyen khanh vukhoa/

We speak to Colin Foran, head of game at Shrapnel, about the rise of AI and the debate around whether it can, or should, replace the human element in art.

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Earlier this month, Getty Images sued US-based image generation start-up Stability AI for allegedly infringing its intellectual property “on a staggering scale”. While not the first such case around AI and the use of images, the technology’s growth means it certainly won’t be the last.

AI is quickly changing the face of writing, content creation, customer service and even gaming. The emergence of advanced and widely available tools such as ChatGPT has many of the world’s leading companies scrambling to use the seemingly prodigious tech in their businesses.

But some worry that all this is happening too fast and without consideration for what this might mean for humans who have so far traditionally performed similar tasks. One area in particular, that of art, has raised serious questions around whether AI can ever truly replace humans.

Colin Foran, a former creative lead at HBO and current head of game at Shrapnel, thinks that the initial period of AI in his industry is going to be a bit of a “wild west of the internet” show.

“At a slower simmer in the background, I think larger organisations are going to be thinking about how they can sort of productise these tools, primarily make them more predictable and figure out how the tech would work into existing pipelines,” he told

But what about the artists working to generate content for games? Foran thinks AI poses a threat unless we rethink the way in which it is to be used.

“There is a feeling of training your own replacement in the industry right now.”

Art for art’s sake?

The debate around AI and art centres on the question of whether machines can truly create art, and if so, whether such creations should be considered on a par with those made by human artists.

While supporters argue that AI-generated art is a new form of creative expression that expands the possibilities of what art can be, critics might think that ‘true’ art requires intention, emotion and a human touch that machines cannot replicate.

Singer-songwriter Nick Cave recently weighed in on this discussion, when a fan sent Cave a song “written in the style of Nick Cave”.

In his newsletter, The Red Hand Files, Cave called the replication “a travesty” and said that the chatbot cannot recreate the authentic creative struggle required for songwriting.

“It may sound like I’m taking all this a little too personally, but I’m a songwriter who is engaged, at this very moment, in the process of songwriting. It’s a blood and guts business, here at my desk, that requires something of me to initiate the new and fresh idea. It requires my humanness.”

Some, such as Foran, also raise concerns about the ethical implications of AI art, such as issues of authorship and the potential for machines to replace human artists in the art market.

“I almost feel like it’s more of a human question than a technology one, because if I had to bet $100 right now, I would say this: If anyone can make an Avengers movie instantly, Avengers movies are not special anymore,” he said of the importance of having a human element to art.

“A consumer does not care how efficient and industrialised you’ve made your video game, they want something that’s fun. And if there are, say, five packages lined up on a shelf that are all the same stamped-out content because they’ve been overly homogenised and remixed by an AI, people are going to become fatigued by it.”

At Shrapnel, a blockchain-based game development studio based in Seattle, Foran leads creation of the studio’s first-person shooter multiplayer game, also called Shrapnel. Built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 technology, the upcoming game’s first trailer was released recently.

The game includes in-game blockchain-based assets that allows players to collectively own the game and its future roadmap, according to the company. It also allows players to sell and trade assets and earn money in the process.

But as a passionate artist with more than a decade’s experience in bringing rich narratives to platforms, Foran feels personally invested in the conversation around the purpose of art and, therefore, what role AI might have to play in it.

“I think for me one thing that’s been really interesting about this conversation is what are we talking about: art for business and art for technology? Or art because I like it?” he said.

“By looking at an old Looney Tunes cartoon, for instance, it’s almost like you take an artist, purée them down and then everybody gets a taste. Suddenly everyone’s like, ‘oh cool, we all get to make this art now’. But did you see where it came from?

“Many say that’s the ‘inexorable march of progress, what are you gonna do?’ but I call bullshit on that. And the thing is, all these people that are getting exploited are also on Twitter and part of the conversation.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic