"He's Just an NPC."
I was in a car with my adult son one day getting caught up on each other's lives. He was talking about a situation and mentioned an extra person who was also involved. He ended the topic by saying, "He's just an NPC."
For those of you active in the gaming world, you probably understand what my son was referring to. I, on the other hand, looked at him quizzically and said, "A what?"
"A Non-Player Character," he said. He needed to continue his description because the last time I played any sort of video game was years ago when Super-Mario Sunshine was the big deal when he and my other son were much younger and I would let them play and sometimes I played with them after they got their homework done. Side-note: Luigi's Mansion was also very popular in my house.
If I understand the term correctly in a game, a non-player character is a background character or a character that provides the player with information and does little to nothing more. Ultimately unimportant. However, my son was referring to a real human being in his life. I understand each generation has their own slang terms. Part of me wanted to knee jerk respond and call this particular one demeaning. But I'm a Gen-Xer. We definitely had worse terminology.
Is calling someone an NPC derogatory?
Right now, I am sitting right outside a Starbucks people watching to get character ideas, brain storm notes, and write this blog post. It's a beautiful day, and I just can't think of anything better to do right now. This is my potential future lively hood and current favorite form of entertainment.
All these people I am watching are NPCs for me I guess. There are two women sitting at a table in front of me actively gossiping. Others are walking in and out the door getting their caffeine-fixes. And here I sit gleaning information from them. The pre-teen walking past has alerted me that the schools are all out now for the summer. The woman pulling the collar of her top in closer to her neck is reminding me that we are experiencing a June gloom morning here in SoCal where the sky is cloudy and the breeze is chilly. A nurse has buzzed past with her hot venti-sized something or other to tackle another day of impatient patients. These are all NPCs to me, and I am an NPC to them.
However, that was not what my son meant. He wasn't talking about a stranger. He was talking about someone he knows. Someone he knows but whose opinion he does not cherish. That seems to me a way of cataloguing a person based on relationship non-commitment. He made me think about people in my life who are NPCs closer to me than the ones I am observing here at Starbucks.
I am a bit of a Star Trek fan. (Hold on! Yes, I just took a left turn on this topic. It does relate. I promise.) In almost every episode where the Enterprise or Voyageur or whatever ship is on tv comes to a new planet with potential hostiles, dedicated viewers can almost immediately determine which character is going to get killed in the next few minutes. That character is an NPC. Their only purpose in the episode is to show that this situation is life-threatening. Information is absorbed by them getting injured or killed so the story can continue. I always feel bad for them. They are sacrificial victims of the story curve.
One of my son's favorite video games is Fallout. He would come home from school and play to chill out his brain. It's a role-playing game in a post-apocalyptic world with plenty of NPCs he would shoot for what seemed like no good reason. When I would express upset with the killings of innocent characters, he would laugh at me that they were probably dangerous to his character anyway. All I could think, probably as a writer, was that these characters had back stories that should be honored. Yes, I know that seems ridiculous. I got plenty of that sentiment from him laughing at me throughout his teenaged years. Now that he is in his 20s, the laughing at me hasn't ended. I suppose that is payback from the years I laughed at him learning to walk, talk, and feed himself without splattering apple sauce on the dining room wall behind him. See? Back story.
Personal questions: Who are the NPCs in my life whose opinions don't matter to me? Should they matter to me? Should they not? Do I have some of them backwards? Are their people in my life who should be NPCs? Deeper yet, who am I an NPC for?
We are the product of the people we surround ourselves with. Who is around me? Who is a pertinent participant in my existence? Do they belong in my world?
Who is around you? Who shouldn't be? Who should be? What can be done to change that?
Which is harder? To love and not be loved in return; or, to be loved and not love in return?
Imagine an NPC being so impactful that they lead to such deep existential questions on relationships? Hmmm...that sounds like a sequel to a previous story. Authors often do that - pull out a background character who seems to want to step forward and tell their own story. They deserve to be honored too.
Am I an NPC in my own life? Are you? Dang...
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Thanks for reading!
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