RPG Evolution - The AI DM: The Trouble with Art

How can gamers use AI art ethically?

AI's recent surge in popularity generated art that sometimes looked like someone else's. How can gamers use it ethically?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The Problem​

Because what we term "AI" are Large Language Models (LLM), the "intelligence" part of "Artificial Intelligence" is actually us. LLMs use data sets to generate their content, much of it publicly sourced from what's freely accessible on the Internet. And that's where AI art gets into trouble.

Art that is AI generated uses its data set to blend it into something recognizably similar to user-entered parameters but (according to AI developers), uniquely different. The problem is that often the art is TOO similar; so similar that it looks just like an artist's work, down to faking signatures.

Which raises a legitimate concern: if AI art can effectively mimic an artist's style for free, will anyone still pay the artist?

How Did We Get Here?​

Part of the problem is that artists advertise their by sharing it for free on the Internet. In the physical world, an artist might hang art at a booth. Only the memory of that art is in the mind of potential customers. They don't walk away with a copy.

But on the Internet, everything is copied for future reference. Google's image searches can dig deep into sites to find pictures independent of their creators' sites. That said, Google doesn't store copies (a fact that was critical in a court decision). Pinterest, however, does.

Pinterest doesn't just store a thumbnail graphic, it stores a full-sized copy. By merely pinning any graphic, users are unwittingly giving Pinterest advertising revenue and potentially violating copyrights. Examples abound of this, but the most common is a "phantom pin" in which the pin no longer links to the site, essentially keeping a photo on the Internet long after the artist has revoked permission.

Unfortunately court cases have not swung in favor of artists, ruling that it's the people pinning the content, not the site, that is the problem. This is all coming to a head because some art LLMs use Pinterest as a dataset, thereby creating content inspired by artists who never consented to their art being used in the first place.

What to Do About It​

The biggest problem with AI art is the kind that's generated from scratch. This is the type that uses Pinterest to generate its images. Fantasy art in particular is dominated by Magic: The Gathering, and it's not uncommon to try to create a monster via AI only to be served up what looks like card art.

Similarly, it's nearly impossible to make a creature have spider-like characteristics without Spider-Man's red-and-black web pattern and large white eyes. Spider-Man's so popular as art that he effectively has replaced what real spiders look like on the Internet, warping AI's perception of what "spider-like" means.

The obvious answer for game developers is to not use AI-generated art. Paizo won't. Wizards of the Coast won't. Most other major RPG publishers won't. This is important, because these statements aren't just a commitment to artistic ethics: it means these companies will continue paying artists for their art.

But there are other ways that art can be ethically sourced. One way is to use AI to modify art so it looks like a different style. I'm particularly fond of taking art I've created (and own) and asking an AI to make it look more realistic. Conversely, you can apply these types of AI filters to documents that were intentionally released into the public domain with clear licenses. Using AI this way, it can turn clipart into three-dimensional monsters and characters, or turn a standard creature into something more exotic (a bull can become a metal gorgon, a bird can become a phoenix, a human bard can become an undead bard).

For game masters who are using art for their home games, AI art can act as a tool to illustrate what's happening in a game: character portraits, maps, landscapes, monsters, and magic items.

For artists, offering free content to potential customers now comes with significant risk. It's always been possible for users to just steal art, but thanks to AI it can now be stolen at scale without tracing it back to the original owners. AI isn't currently required to show its homework, and until it does, there's a legitimate argument that posting anything for free is no longer worth the risk. A login or paywall may be increasingly necessary for artists to balance advertising their services while protecting their work.

Unfortunately for many artists, it already may be too late. Even if you take your art down today, Pinterest is saving it without your consent, and LLMs are using that data to build its art without proving where it got it from. As publishers, declaring when and where AI art is used (or not used) is an important first step.

But the group most influential in the future of AI art is us. Perhaps the best we can do is ask for AI art to be labeled and then make our down decisions about whether or not to purchase it.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

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This came up recently with regard to a Kickstarter that successfully funded this week. They were very up front about their usage of AI generated art... and I suspect that we'll be seeing more of this in the future.

The ethics are definitely worth considering. But it seems that from a market perspective, there were enough people willing to go with it in this one example.



Individual gamers don't need to care about the legal stuff.

There is no "trouble" with AI art - it's all good and a huge boon to all of us who can't draw :)

If you're only using the art in your home games or hand it out for free, don't worry, be happy.

Only if you want to sell your stuff for monies does this question even need to be asked.

Artists thus join a long line of professions affected by technology including monks, farriers, cobblers, bookkeepers, etc. They won't be the last.
Monks?The Church hasn't laid any off.

Farriers? Clearly, you have not had a horse shod recently.

Cobblers for the unwashed masses, certainly, that ship sailed generations ago.

Bookkeepers? Have you hired a CPA to do your taxes? It ain't cheap.

But yeah, artists are looking at a grim future. But in just the last couple decades we have seen the drastic curtailing of the music industry's profit structure.


Follower of the Way
But the majority isn't derivative works, any more than seeing a picture of Times Square in Manhattan means that a human artist is trying to duplicate it when they create a cityscape. It seems that people focus on that the models were trained on images without being able to realize that humans do the exact same thing.
It's not at all the same thing. Humans learn by semantic content. We're really quite bad at learning syntactic content; just consider how a slight change in the wording of a probability question can result in going from "90% will pick the right answer" to "well-educated humans whose job is to answer this kind of question do it worse than random guessing."

This is not to say that we must eliminate these things. LLMs have their uses. But if a company makes millions selling an LLM that stores data scraped from an artist's work, legally and morally, there is a case that that artist should be paid. A student learning by practice is not selling the derivative sketches. Which is what the AI is doing: not learning techniques by practice (because that is semantic content completely invisible to LLMs), but actually copying the data and then jumbling it up with other, similar data.

It is like making a film by stitching together slightly modified one-second clips of 7200 other films. Sure, it has been changed, and the presence of each individual film is incredibly short. It's still stitched together from them, rather than truly original work, made from whole cloth. Which will force us to face the sorites paradox of remixing vs originality: a single grain of sand is not a heap, but enough of them and it becomes one, yet removing individual grains does not make it *stops being a heap. When does a garment become wholly original and not a patchwork--is it enough to unweave the cloth and then reweave it? Can you keep a little bit of the original cloth, or does it have to be all "new"? Etc.

We will learn to adapt around these tools just as we have others. But it is not true, neither technically nor practically, to say that these things are 100% identical to a student practicing to develop their skills, and the differences are extremely salient for what ethics we should uphold with the use of these tools. Just as ethical use of something like Photoshop is a big deal; it can be very easy to pass off what is not real, to tell lies with pixels.


Artists, Authors, Artisans
Peer pressure doesn't work on nerds or geeks. We wouldn't have TTRPGs if it did.

Artists learn by mimicking. I was taught to copy the work of the Masters - literally striving to recreate their Art - and then to copy the Masters I enjoyed to develop my own style. Gone are the days when Artists would set up easels in a Museum to copy the Masters.

"It's natural for people to be apprehensive about new technologies and their potential impact on their jobs and lives. AI has the potential to automate many tasks and jobs that were previously done by humans, which can be both beneficial and disruptive.

However, it's also important to note that AI is not a replacement for human creativity and ingenuity. While AI can generate and analyze data, it still lacks the human element that is essential in creative fields like art. AI-generated art can be impressive, but it can never truly replace the unique perspective and emotional depth that comes from a human artist's work.

AI is a tool that can be used to augment and enhance an Artist's work, rather than replace it. Many artists are already incorporating AI into their creative process and are discovering new possibilities and avenues for expression. Additionally, it's important to stress that AI-generated art is still a relatively new field and is not yet widely accepted as a replacement for human-generated art.

Ultimately, it's up to each individual to decide how they want to approach AI in their field. Some may embrace it and use it to their advantage, while others may choose to avoid it altogether. The important thing is to remain open-minded and adaptable to new technologies and opportunities as they arise."

The text above is what an AI advised as counsel on this matter. For what it's worth.

We are at the bottom of the S-curve.

One thing 2020 and COVID taught Tam and I is to be adaptable. She lost her job in Film and I lost my job in Surgery, and had to reconsider our life path as necessity and survival. Where my tabletop role playing wargame was once an indulgence, it became a means to put food on our table. I am grateful.
One thing we can say is we did everything in The World That Was Miniature Game - the Game Design, Art, and Stories - with Traditional means. But we are open to Technology and the tools available. Just recently Tam began to use an Art Tablet and Clip Studio to improve our Production pipeline. And that's a Good Thing.

As Game Designers and Publishers begin their journey, I see no problem with the use of AI Art - as long as they don't take credit for it. Plagiarism is not ethical, even if you steal from a robot. Do we really need discuss that? Be up front and honest.
Eventually though, they will have means and opportunity to hire Human Artists or do it themselves because we Humans love to say we did it ourselves.
But until then, AI Art is a tool to see your worlds imagined. Try copy-pasting descriptions of the world you are building into an Art AI and see for yourself.
I personally recommend looking into AI to assist in layout and design, to proof text and expand on ideas, and to crunch point costs and probabilities before you go to print. AI is a Tool. Learn how to use these Tools well to enhance your work.

Just be ready to show your work.

And my charcoal figure sketches do hang in offices of Plastic Surgeons. Pay the Bills however your talents allow.

Final word of advice from a grey hair: Be cautious of those who seek to limit you. Paizo and WotC have an opportunity to amend their stance - before they get left behind.

Thank you for your time and attention. If you read this, may your efforts be rewarded and blessed.



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