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Artificial Stupidity

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<Patrician|Away> what does your robot do, sam
<bovril> it collects data about the surrounding environment, then discards it and drives into walls quote #240849

In almost every video game ever made, there are some characters controlled by the Video Game A.I.. These can be categorized into one of three groups:

  • Set Pattern — the computer actually makes no decisions; all enemies will make the same moves every time regardless of what the player does. Most of the enemies in (simple) shoot em ups and platform games fit this category.
  • A.I. Roulette — again, the computer is not making decisions per se; it is simply choosing a move at random. At best, this seems like the character is thinking about their actions. This type is often seen in turn-based Roleplaying Games.
  • Analytical, or Responsive — the computer chooses a move based on the situation. The ghosts in Pac-Man fall into this category, which in 1980 was considered impressive.

It is in this third group that Artificial Stupidity can be found. This is when the AI can select a move for its character(s), and consistently chooses ones that are completely stupid. This might be a result of Idiot Programming. If the programmers simply didn't program the AI not to make that move, then when the AI evaluates its choices, the poor move looks like the best one. (It's far more likely that The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard will be introduced to compensate for Artificial Stupidity rather than the other way around.)


On the other hand, it may be completely intentional, since Tropes Are Tools; an AI that a player can learn to exploit and outmaneuver (in moderation) will often be more satisfying to face than a Perfect-Play A.I., so they're often designed to Do Well, But Not Perfect.

Artificial Stupidity is particularly visible in Role-Playing Games, be they turn-based games like the majority of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, or strategy-based games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, simply because it is in these types of games that the decision-making process is the most important, and therefore, the most visible. It can potentially exist in any game involving an analytical or responsive AI, though, and the more analytical the game, the easier it is to get an AI that's, well, stupid. For instance, even good chess games can suffer from a version of this, called the "horizon effect".


Differs from A.I. Roulette because AI Roulette chooses moves randomly. Artificial Stupidity puts some "thought" in its moves, making the most obvious stupidities less likely but creating more consistent general incompetence.

Suicidal Overconfidence is a specific case of this that's usually less about bad programming or making the game easier than about allowing the player to have something to do.

The Escort Mission is often a variety of this.

The opposite of Artificial Stupidity is Artificial Brilliance, where the AI makes surprisingly good decisions that convincingly appear intelligent. See The Guards Must Be Crazy for this trope as relates to stealth games. A Tactical Suicide Boss falls into this category, since if they were smart enough to only use the safe moves, every Boss Battle would be a Hopeless Boss Fight. A.I. Breaker is when bad AI allows game-breaking exploits.

Note that, for the sake of argument, this trope typically only covers situations that a player can be reasonably expected to enter over the course of normal gameplay. It's hardly fair to blame the programmers, after all, if you use a cheat device to get special weapons ahead of time and the AI has no idea what's going on.

This trope is not to be confused with Obfuscating Stupidity, though some games that computers can inherently play well will use Artificial Obfuscating Stupidity to balance the difficulty. For example, the computer can mash buttons as fast as they want, but they'll pretend to be slower at it to give the player a chance.

Not to be confused either with an Idiot Ball or at least one of its sister tropes, which is a different (though still artificial) kind of stupidity.


Non-video game examples:

  • The Omnidroid in The Incredibles is mostly a case of Artificial Brilliance, showing great tactical acumen and the ability to adapt to anything used against it, but the first version seen (the v08) does have one major moment of this — apparently, its programming never anticipated an enemy climbing inside the robot itself. When Bob does just that, the Omnidroid attacks itself to get at him, eventually pulling out its own core.
  • In Us, when the Tethered start attacking Josh and Kitty's house, Kitty calls for help by telling her home AI assistant Ophelia to call the police. Instead, Ophelia, in one of the film's most darkly humorous moments, starts playing "Fuck tha Police" by N.W.A. Her Tethered clone Dahlia slits her throat soon after.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the opening of Scream: The TV Series, Nina attempts to call 911 when Ghostface is attacking her, but because her hands are wet and can't operate her phone's touch screen, she has to use the voice commands to do it. The phone mishears her request to call 911 as "call Pottery Barn".

    Western Animation 
  • Glitch Techs: In-Universe, Glitch intelligence is usually related to their base programming, so they tend to act as if they're still in their game. While this is why most Glitches are dangerous, since they run by video-game logic and don't comprehend the dangerous consequences of their actions, or they see real-life creatures and objects as things from their game. It also means that they tend to still fall into the patterns that they followed in said games, like periodically exposing a weak point.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Idiot AI


Berry - Hide and Seek

In Larry's Gym, you may hide from Berry in the stalls. He'll check them half the time, but even when he checks them he may not find you.

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