Apology for an NPC
Everyone is the protagonist of their own life, the hero of their own story, but where do we fit as individuals on the grander scale of things?
Two of the most profound influences on my life have been stories and video games. Many times these things go together, and whenever questions of destiny cross my mind, I frame them in the context of the games I have played my entire life.
I have always thought of myself as the main character of the game. The person the entire simulation revolves around. The person the entire universe exists for. This may sound a bit selfish, but I believe this is the default perception for human beings. If we didn’t think our role was important, we might never do anything.
Recently, though, I have been thinking differently. Everyone thinks they are the main character, but that is a role we cannot all be cast in. Some of us must be background characters. In fact, most of us must be background characters. And I am no exception.
II. NPC, or non-player character, is a term used to describe video game characters that are not controlled by a human. In a role playing game like Skyrim these characters are the guards, the shopkeepers, the beggars, and even the kings. Basically, if a person has a job in a video game, then chances are they’re an NPC.
Non-player characters are the unsung heroes of any virtual entertainment experience. They are the ones that make the simulation seem realistic, and perform vital functions for the game-world. No one is slaying dragons without a blacksmith to sell them weapons. No one is proving their nobility without a wretch to give some coins to. Without NPCs, games are boring, lack direction, and just aren’t any fun.
In a video game, the opposite of an NPC is a player character. These are the characters that actually do the playing of the game. They influence the world by going on quests and achieving specific objectives. Objectives like defeating enemies, obtaining items, and achieving higher and higher ranks.
Anyone who has spent time playing video games knows that player characters also go around smashing pots and crates for no specific reason.
They do everything recklessly, as if there are no consequences for their actions. They run everywhere, are rude to everyone, and treat whatever world they are in as their personal sandbox. And they should. But no matter what the player characters do in a game, you can still count on the NPCs to be there quietly fulfilling their roles, only to be noticed when something goes wrong.
III. How does this relate to our own reality? Sometimes real life can seem like the most detailed game ever made. If this is indeed the case, then certain aspects of the video game should transfer over onto real life. There ought to be NPCs who are part of the universe, and player characters who might just be visiting for a while.
So how can we tell the difference? If reality is like a giant, complex simulation, which people are the player characters, and which ones are the NPCs?
As mentioned before, I have always thought of myself as a player character. I’m sure most of us do, but this simply cannot be true.
No matter what I think of my own role, the truth is that I want to get along with other people and do what I can to contribute to the system as a whole. I would never consider attacking a passerby just to level up my hand-to-hand skill, and I would never break into a stranger’s house just because I could.
I want to feel like I belong. Unfortunately for my ego, this means I am probably an NPC. Just like the vast majority of humans on Earth. But this is no reason to despair. NPCs are in good company. Rulers and celebrities and the giants of history are mostly NPC’s, too. Police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, teachers, factory workers, and so on. Anyone who consistently does what they are supposed to, be it clean a toilet or lounge all day on a fancy couch, is a non-player character.
Therefore, the people out there who don’t seem to belong, who seem disinterested in the world or unconcerned with the people around them, are reality’s equivalent of a player character. Maybe they are spirits from another dimension, or the aliens who built the universe, or God taking a break from working on his taxes.
Player characters may be comparatively rare, but we encounter them every day. They are the difficult people. The people who waste your time and clearly don’t care. The people who make stupid, dangerous moves in traffic like they’ve got another life stashed away. The people who rob convenience stores and steal cars like it’s a compulsion.
Want to see a player character right now? Turn on the TV and go to one of those, “stupid criminal,” shows, or watch a few segments of COPS. Go to YouTube and look for any viral video of somebody being stupid. That stupid person is a real protagonist. The universe exists for them, and people like them.
IV. Again, to realize you are an NPC is no reason to despair. It may or may not be glamorous, your fate may not be in your control. But maybe its better to be a part of something then to be the center of it. Better to be stolen from than to be a thief. Better to be a citizen than a hero. Better to be saved than to be a savior. And, there is the chance that if an NPC performs admirably, the grand galactic programmer will give it the chance to star in its own game.