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


Josh Gentry - Author, Minister in Training
Is the "running my own drawing through an AI for enhanced output" really considered an ethical option?

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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.
Maybe we both read the context of the post differently, but I felt the post was making exactly the point you are outlining. Just...maybe....the point being that technology changes and the roles in question change, but still persist after that upheaval. So:
Monks - haven't had a corner on transcribing books in a long time
Cobblers - actually for some these still exist, but otherwise shoes are a mass production use-and-replace type deal, sure
Bookkeepers - Yeah, but now you need to be a CPA, and anyone with two brain cells can figure out excel and Quickbooks
Farriers - for the prestige horse owners of the world; but for the rest of us we go to Michelin or Discount Tire


I'm just going to say that on several RPG FB groups I am part of there has been a proliferation of souless AI art. The most irritating thing to me is just how smug and dismissive some of the proponents of this trash are when the conversation turns to real artists and pointing out the ethical concerns raised.


Artists, Authors, Artisans
I lived through a similar experience when Jurassic Park was released. Tippet Studios was used as an example of Evolve or Die when I was pursuing my degree. Tippet Studios was faced with losing business holding onto stop-motion animatronics - or evolving and embracing CGI. This was an example taught in Art School. This was pounded into my head in Art School. Think about that for a moment.

The "proponents of this trash" are major Universities. Watch the video. This is being taught in School: Evolve or Die.

I personally wonder if fear is the motivation for inflammatory verbiage. Yet I can only understand what is going through a person's mind when technology has advanced to the point where it threatens a person's livelihood: we lived through this. After COVID decimated our own way of making a living, my bride and I had to reinvent ourselves. January 2023 saw us dirt-broke poor, literally starving with $22.00 in change to get food and just enough to pay Rent. It's scary when you lost so much weight your clothes are falling off of you. We know what it feels like to miss meals.

But we didn't quit. We learned new techniques, we continually practiced our craft, rebranded and looked forward. Now we have our first Convention coming up next month where we get to sell our games, comics, and more. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
We are not rich, far from it. Yet I am grateful. Tam just got an Art Pad and we have 1 year of Clip Art at her disposal. To us, this is a huge win because it will help us cut down post-production which saves time. You can earn more money, but you can't earn more time.

Tam and I, we are once more faced with the Evolve or Die scenario with AI affecting all aspects of our trade. And I'm not afraid. I look forward to learning new skills, increasing my knowledge, and not giving up. I now talk with ChatGPT and this AI is polite and deferential as it helps me go over point costs and mathhammer for The World That Was Miniature Game and Modules. Kinder than most of my fellow humans.

Think about that. An AI speaks to me nicer than Humans. And with this AI, our next Module is stronger because an Ai can see issues with point costs that my wet-ware cannot. We even had the Microsoft AI read the stories to check flow.

We don't have millions of dollars of revenue or a slew of Artists at our disposal. I spent too much to go to Art School as is, and many aspiring Artists can't walk that path. Our little business is just two Artists in a Caravan who lost everything except our dreams. I am grateful. It's only after you've lost everything that you are free to do anything.

If you remember one thing from this, let it be this: Never Give Up. Never Ever. Keep moving forward, little steps every day, and never quit. You cannot stop a person who never gives up.

Don't fear AI. Be curious. Investigate all aspects of it and play with it. We learn best when we play. And when you see that AI is a beneficial tool, when the mystery is gone there are numerous options open.

Fear is the mind killer. Fear not. Life may suck outloud today, but tomorrow is a new day and another opportunity to triumph. Never Give Up. Never Ever.

WotC and Paizo aren't paying any of our bills. None of us owe them any allegiance. They don't care about us. Their opinions do not matter and our opinions don't matter to them. They shouldn't guide anyone. They aren't our patrons. They are only looking out for themselves while preventing others from making a living. As far as they are concerned, we don't exist.

We can't stop evolution. But we can grow and benefit from it. And we believe in open sharing of Games. We released The Game of Kings Game Engine for free under CC-by-4.0 in February because we believe in being ethical.
A Game Engine we had an AI mathhammer, by the way.

For what it's worth: Tippet Studios is still around today.
If you are reading this, I wish you success.


Artists, Authors, Artisans
Our replies are being Moderated now.

While Tam and I are used to being relegated to the fringes, we never support Censorship.

Thank you all for your time and attention.


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