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NPC: Non-Pertinent Characters

Your actions in the game can affect the lives of other characters, but do you actually care?

 

In many games the player is taking the role of someone extraordinary whose actions affect the entire world, and their status is often reflected back to them by the behavior of the NPCs. These characters always seem to have something to say about the player, but it's becoming difficult to pay any attention to them at all.
 
  As I walk past pedestrians in L.A. Noire I can hear them whisper comments about what they think of me, although contrary to what I’m sure was the intention of the developers, this actually pulls me out of the immersion rather than in. When characters do this, it makes me wonder what exactly is so special about a detective that everyone in this world seems to know about me, and why do they feel the need to make comments about me whenever I’m within earshot of their murmuring. Curious as to why they make these comments right next to me instead of behind my back, I confront them to get some information on these unnamed gossipers. They however, refuse to speak to me and will instead look me straight in the eye as they continue to talk about me in the third person.
 
  I do think that watching the world change and at least in some way respond to your actions in the game can cause the player to take greater care in how they play, but if those consequences appear artificial or irrelevant then whatever care the player had in shaping those consequences will be lost.
 
  Far too often have I looked forward to seeing how people respond to my actions, only for the end result to be an NPC that approaches me and says something along the lines of “Hey you! While we’ve not spoken much before, I’m just letting you know that my opinion of you has been altered based on your recent actions. I want you to believe that what I’m saying is important, but the writers have armed me with only one or two lines with which to chastise and/or praise you before I return to my life of being irrelevant to your quest.”
 
This method of affecting the behavior of the NPCs is quite prevalent in many games, but I’d like for developers to take a little more care in ensuring that the player does not dismiss the changes they are making to the world. One of the main issues with NPCs is their role as background ornaments, ones with no names that the player never really gets to know and consequently ends up caring little for. The player is expected to have varying experiences by watching the affect their actions are having on an NPC's life, but so often are they cookie-cutter clones that their names may as well be RedShirt#263 since the player will pay no attention to whether they live or die.

                                  Persona 4 Conversation


I remember playing Persona 4 and being able to interact with many people in that game who could have otherwise been inconsequential characters. I learned their names, met their friends and family, and spent my free time hanging out with them. Should actions in the game, scripted or otherwise, end up shaping the lives of these characters, I would find it difficult to shrug off the results of my deeds when I see the people I have grown attached to affected by them. Unfortunately I continue to roam the streets of L.A. Noire, listening to people I will never interact with share their opinion of me.

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