Playing Smart

From Playful Thinking

Playing Smart

On Games, Intelligence, and Artificial Intelligence

By Julian Togelius

A new vision of the future of games and game design, enabled by AI.





A new vision of the future of games and game design, enabled by AI.

Can games measure intelligence? How will artificial intelligence inform games of the future? In Playing Smart, Julian Togelius explores the connections between games and intelligence to offer a new vision of future games and game design. Video games already depend on AI. We use games to test AI algorithms, challenge our thinking, and better understand both natural and artificial intelligence. In the future, Togelius argues, game designers will be able to create smarter games that make us smarter in turn, applying advanced AI to help design games. In this book, he tells us how.

Games are the past, present, and future of artificial intelligence. In 1948, Alan Turing, one of the founding fathers of computer science and artificial intelligence, handwrote a program for chess. Today we have IBM's Deep Blue and DeepMind's AlphaGo, and huge efforts go into developing AI that can play such arcade games as Pac-Man. Programmers continue to use games to test and develop AI, creating new benchmarks for AI while also challenging human assumptions and cognitive abilities. Game design is at heart a cognitive science, Togelius reminds us—when we play or design a game, we plan, think spatially, make predictions, move, and assess ourselves and our performance. By studying how we play and design games, Togelius writes, we can better understand how humans and machines think. AI can do more for game design than providing a skillful opponent. We can harness it to build game-playing and game-designing AI agents, enabling a new generation of AI-augmented games. With AI, we can explore new frontiers in learning and play.


$21.95 T ISBN: 9780262039031 192 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 29 b&w photos


  • Perhaps the most fascinating question Togelius broaches is: What is intelligence, and thus, artificial intelligence? Long after the last page, this question will linger, along with a strong urge to play games and learn.

    Communication Arts


  • “This is a thoughtful and engaging introduction to the various ways in which AI and games can learn from each other. It shows how procedural generation is more than just generating an infinite variety of slightly different trees; rather, procedural generation can provide new environments and new tasks for our agents, thereby testing their generality to the limit.”

    Richard Evans

    Research Scientist at DeepMind, AI Lead for The Sims 3 and Black and White, and creator of Versu

  • “Julian Togelius, one of the world's top experts in artificial intelligence and games, has written the perfect book for everyone who wants to understand the complex relationship between intelligence, artificial intelligence, and games. This book is required reading for anyone interested in these fascinating topics.”

    Frank Lantz

    Director, NYU Game Center

  • “In his own cheeky and irreverent way, Togelius guides readers through the bizarre and often eclectic world of AI research in video games: what we're doing, why we do it, and the weird insights we have in the shower along the way. Part biography, part AI textbook, Playing Smart provides invaluable insight for students, hobbyists, and anyone interested in artificial intelligence. From AI that plays StarCraft to AI that builds Super Mario levels, sometimes science is stranger—and more fun—than fiction.”

    Tommy Thompson

    AI Researcher, senior lecturer, game developer, and host of the YouTube series AI and Game