There’s a hot new meme celebrating NPCs, those village inhabitants in Zelda games who say the same lines repeatedly, the quest givers in Fallout. But it’s so destabilising that Twitter and /pol/ are banning it! Where did it come from, what does it mean, and who is it dehumanising? This special Pietriots investigation reveals all.
On the 5th of September, excerpts from a 2011 blog post on PhyschologyToday were spammed across the usual Internet anti-social media networks. The blog was the fourth in a series of seven advertising the author’s then newly released book on self reflection and mediation. The comments accompanying the post honed in on the author’s claim that only 26% of his 30 participants conducted ‘inner speech’ and divorced this from the the context that the rest of the author’s participants experienced other forms of ‘pristine inner experience’ including visualising, sensory awareness, emotion and ‘unsymbolised thought’. Also the author describes pristine inner experience as that vacant state of mind you’re in before you consciously, actively do something. But fuck those details, the memers picked it up and ran with it, taking this pop psychology blog as scientific confirmation of the long suspected theory that 74% of people were merely rounding up the numbers, autonomous drones who didn’t consciously act or think; non player characters.
The idea that the vast majority of people are drones, controlled, sheeple, rounding up the numbers isn’t a particularly new or compelling one. They Live might be the most notable example, but variations of the theme are littered throughout pop culture and philosophical thought. Every edgy teenager, often after a hit of the bong, had their first ‘woke’ moment that others didn’t ‘get it’. One time while tripping on mushrooms I formulated a theory that all sensory experience was a trick by my subconscious to distract my conscious self from the insanity of the static void. Upon returning to Earth though my programming reset and I accepted the sad, mundane reality that everyone else really was unique and special.
There’s various interpretations and reactions to the meme but I only have enough runtime scripts loaded to my RAM to discuss three.
Drudgery of modern life makes us all NPCs.
Perhaps best exemplified by this Hard Drive piece (which predates the recent meme by a year) is the ironic embrace of the meme. We’re all NPCs. Our lives consist of routine and drudgery and few of us will be the heroes of our adventure unlike the sports stars, celebrities, and industry titans that people buy biographies about. We take the same route to work, we spend half our day there, we talk to the same people over and over and usually about the same topics. Maslow suggested few of us ever achieve self actualisation. and it can be inferred the majority of us who don’t will only be NPCs, reduced to background characters in the game of some superstar’s life.
We are all NPCs might be the most fun interpretation of the idea, and it can even be empowering as you actively find way to break your routine and enrich your life. Sadly this isn’t the most common interpretation of the meme though, the next one is.
My political opponents are stupid, they must be NPCs.
This is where the bulk of the meme generation has been focused. The world is very consumed in their political identities and ensuring our team is winning. Obviously if you agree with an opinion you heard on mainstream media you must be an NPC. It’s not possible that majority held beliefs are that way because they make rational sense to people, they must be NPCs and only a true radical like you, yes you with your Jacobin subscription or MAGA hat understand the world for what it really is. I understand that most people enjoy a good joke though and are probably having a laugh with this meme. However, those like me on The Left™ are a little touchy because the last time we didn’t take The Right™ seriously we woke up to find Donald Trump had been elected President. So just as the meme was catching on, this happened:
Many people didn’t read the word “sincerely” in that tweet. Or they did and figured the best reaction was to inflame the situation. Soon real twitter bots were being written to droll out canned lines reflecting mainstream American liberal thought. On the 25th of September Twitter began enforcing its new policy against dehumanising language and just started banning the accounts. Even 4chan’s /pol/ began deleting NPC threads because they were derailing and beginning to take over the whole board. The only way to not have your thread deleted was to take the idea seriously. /Pol/ has always sheltered fascists.
Portraying your political opponents as NPCs is popular because it’s soft and easy. If all your opponents are mindless drones, you don’t have to do any self reflection or critical thought yourself. Which brings us to the real NPCs of the world.
Memers are real NPCs
Memes are a fun and popular way for contemporary internet humour. Their ideas are embedded within an image, and through repetition, variation, and mashups with other memes, build a shared understanding for jokes and humour. We all like sharing the odd meme but everyone knows that dipshit memer that does nothing but consume and repost memes constantly, clogging up your discord chat or social news feed. They’re probably the first person you saw using the NPC meme because, of course they fucking are.
Using memes as a replacement for a personality is excusable for a teenaged zoomer but I see people in their twenties and even thirties who have seemingly abandoned all hope of formulating their own original thoughts, instead easing back into endless reposting of tired image macros until they become cliché. Their behaviour is no different to the mainstream media obsessed pop culture junkie they regularly lampoon and might even be worse. Memes are designed for the lowest of attention spans and burn out at an increasingly rapid pace. Remember Uganda Knuckles? I fucking don’t, and by Christmas we wont be laughing about NPCs anymore either.