The Internet meme has developed an unsettling and predictable proclivity towards lowest-common-denominator sensibilities, but recently we at Mediolana chanced upon an electronically-shared concept with a difference: the non-player character (‘NPC’). Precise definitions of this phenomenon vary, but the central idea is simply that in today’s world, a startlingly large proportion of the population is effectively acting like the ghosts in Pac-Mania or the unedited, identikit footballers in computer soccer simulations: robotically proceeding through a life devoid of critical thought, deeper analysis or complex emotions.
The idea of the NPC has attracted plenty of invective, partly because it is viewed as an essentially dehumanising tool with its origins in 4chan, a somewhat controversial and curiously rightward-leaning Internet bulletin board with a strong Japanese cultural influence. However, its instant success as a largely-organic cultural reference shows that the non-player character notion has struck a profound chord with many. After some contemplation, three reasons in particular stand out behind the mass adoption of the NPC:
- Social critique. Pointing to the existence of purported NPCs is a neat shorthand method of denouncing societal dynamics, specifically those relating to mass conditioning which are seemingly rendering people unable to break free of dominant narratives (Trump, Brexit).
- Reality bites. More broadly, the calling out of so-called NPCs also evinces serious dissatisfaction with contemporary life, constituting as it does the labelling of vast numbers of people as criminally boring.
- Extreme tribalism. With the world having been divided into an NPC majority and an elite non-NPC minority, the latter can take immense satisfaction in the fact that they perceive themselves as (at least relatively) fully alive. This in-group logic is enormously seductive, regardless of its exact correction with the increasingly nebulous truth.