We all like making the occasional observation about the weirdness inherent in video games, but most of us also recognize that what we’re really doing is poking fun at the anthropic principle. The real reason NPCs tend to fight rather than just fleeing at the sight of us is, well, the alternative isn’t particularly fun to play. It’s part of an acceptable break from reality, and for most of us, we are willing to accept that fact with a bit of tongue-in-cheek prodding.
What I don’t see very often, though, is an appreciation of the really insane part: What all of this looks like from the perspective of the NPCs – because however many breaks from reality we accept from the game, we are the real breakers of immersion.
Consider, for a moment, that you’re an NPC. Imagine that you have full knowledge of the fact that this is a video game (there’s an old humor blog entry that sums things up nicely). Now imagine that you’re watching PCs. You would quickly come to the understanding that player characters are nuts. Why? Well…
1. They’re sociopathic murderers
Imagine that you’re a sand troll in World of Warcraft. You have your sand troll friends, you have your eyes on a cute other troll you want to date, you like playing sand troll games like Checkers But There’s Sand Because We’re Sand Trolls. Now, imagine that one day a group of people invade your capital city for no reason at all, murdering dozens of people who are just trying to defend said city, and then kill your leader.
And then rifle through his clothes and take everything they consider valuable on his and every other body. And then, worst of all, they start dancing and laughing.
If you know that you’re a character in a video game, sure, you understand not being afraid of death. But there’s a difference between “I know death results in respawning” and “let’s teabag the boss now that he’s dead.” Player characters seem to downright revel in things dying around them.
2. If they’re not, they’re workaholics
All right, so maybe you haven’t had to see all of the murdering. Maybe… let’s say you live in Kugane, in Final Fantasy XIV, and you’re excited to meet Eorzeans coming over. And look, there’s a player character now, and she doesn’t look like a murderer at all! She’s dressed nicely, and she’s got a saw, but it’s clearly meant for cutting lumber.
Then you watch as she drags a workbench into the middle of the street, kneels down, and starts making a cabinet. Then another cabinet. Then another cabinet. And when she’s made a bunch of cabinets, she runs over to sell all of them before dragging her workbench back into the middle of the street and making more cabinets. Occasionally, she mentions making lots of money.
You’re not sure where to start with how weird this is. But let’s start with the social part.
3. They constantly act socially weird
Who builds cabinets in the middle of the road? Who just jumps up and down while standing by someone? Who dances naked on a mailbox just because? Who just slaps people randomly?
Every single PC seems to act with a solipsistic abandon that would seem out of place in any other social setting. Some of them just stand in crowded places unleashing powerful attacks that they know full well won’t hurt anyone, because… it’s new? It’s a button to hit? The whole thing seems nonsensical and weird.
4. All of them are wholly greed-driven
Of course, the weird thing isn’t just that someone was crafting cabinets in the middle of the road (and you are well aware that it doesn’t make much sense that this was the not-weird part). The really weird part is that all the money she was making wasn’t in service of anything. She just wanted more money.
Greed is what motivates all of these people. But then that feeds into a bigger and stranger issue…
5. All of their greed is for functional advancement
There’s a guy in Final Fantasy XI who just keeps killing the same monster, over and over. He just sits where it spawns, and when it shows up, he kills it. That alone is socially weird. He’s been doing that for about a week. Why is he doing it? Greed, sure. But that greed? Entirely informed by his desire to get a nice ring from that monster.
You could understand someone killing a whole lot of monsters for reputation, but the sociopathy doesn’t even extend that far. If all that killing doesn’t result in getting something notably stronger, few PCs seem to care all that much, and even those who do tend to want it for something. No one just wants a nice vase or a fun book to read or a well-cooked meal. Everyone’s favorite foods are based entirely on what they need next, and no one ever goes back to a restaurant in an early zone because it has really great steak or something.
Most people hang out in bars because a given bar has a nice atmosphere and clientele. PCs seem to hang out in the bars that make it easier to kill people or build cabinets, even if those bars are covered in spiders.
6. There are either none of them or loads of them
As mentioned, the spider bar with the best stat boosts is where everyone stays. But as soon as there’s a better bar, everyone goes to that one. Doesn’t matter how large it is, it’s pure functionality. Old areas become phantom towns, devoid of player characters, while the latest good thing is swarmed to the bursting point with people.
For whatever reason, this seems to change every couple of years. No one is totally sure why, but everyone who now gets some space to breathe is thankful for it.
7. They just vanish every so often
Oh, look, it’s the cabinet-maker in the street again. She’s just… standing there.
And… now she’s disappeared. And in a few hours she’ll just reappear, and she’ll act like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
I should probably give some credit to Age of Wushu’s whole offline character thing trying to address this weirdness. Granted, it introduces a totally different sort of weirdness, where your badass master of seven martial arts now willingly accepts being sold into slavery, but that also ties into the whole “greedy sociopath” thing. It takes a special sort of person to see someone calmly standing in the street and say “hey, I bet I should sell that dude as a slave.”
8. Every event is swarmed by them
You’re living on Taris in Star Wars: The Old Republic. That sucks. There’s been an outbreak of the rakghoul plague. That sucks worse. But suddenly a huge number of PCs descend on the area like locusts, desperately intent on beating back the plague.
That’s a good thing, in context. It’s a less good thing if you consider that the exact same thing will happen for the equivalent of a small-town Halloween celebration as well. Any sort of special event, no matter how small or insignificant, can suddenly become a swarming point for PCs if they think they can get some new hats out of it.
9. Even their hobbies seem terrifying
Jumping puzzle. What the hell is a jumping puzzle? There are lots of scary things in Guild Wars 2, but the people who fight those things seem to think that a good way to relax is to jump between narrow walkways, with one wrong jump meaning a broken leg and possible death.
Sure, death isn’t permanent, but it is still really, really weird. You’ve considered making a new sort of board game that gives you money when you win, just to make things feel a little bit more normal.
10. They constantly blame you for breaking reality
There’s the real kicker. You ask one of these greed-motivated sociopaths to take care of the smallest tasks for you and promise to pay them an exorbitant sum for a simple task of killing a few things. Saves you time, right? Everyone gets what they want.
“Stupid NPCs asking me to run errands for you,” mutters the PC. Like you’re the one jumping up and down naked after building cabinets in the middle of the street.