Attack of the NPC meme

A specter is haunting the West – the specter of NPC.

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, NPC stands for non-player character, that is, a video game character that is not controlled by a human player. NPCs are stock characters such as merchants, quest givers, and pets. Although they are necessary to advance the storyline, NPCs are typically one-dimensional, robotic, and lacking in social and emotional depth.

NPC behavior in computer games is usually scripted and automatic, triggered by certain actions or dialogue with the player characters. (Infogalactic)

When it comes to the vast majority of computer games, an NPC’s entire existence will consist of walking back and forth (typically right where you don’t want them to be in 2D games) and saying the same line of dialogue over and over again. (That is if they have the honor of being able to move; sometimes they just stare in one direction until you talk to them.) (TVTropes)

Some wags on the internet started applying the NPC label to real-life humans who lack the capacity for independent thought, i.e. the “sheeple” who simply parrot whatever fashionable tastes, opinions and beliefs are programmed into them by the mass media and pop culture. The meme appears to have been spawned on 4chan as early as 2016, but it really took off last month when various anons came across a dubious psychological finding that most people lack “inner speech,” raising the question of whether they are fully human. Here are some choice reactions:

yeah this is bizarre, how do you not hear what you type or read in your head?

*

Is this for real? The ability to debate over pros and cons of things is only in about a fourth of the population? Is this what’s being said?

*

…….. this is depressing, are these people just on auto pilot? ffs how can you even function like that?

*

How the fuck do people not have an inner voice or dialogue? Are you fucking robots?

*

LITERAL NPCs

*

but this has been known for a while, I remember being in grade school and watching the teachers look out for this kind of thing.

*

yo wtf dis bitch 4 real? shit sounds like me when I was like 6. I remember my brain developing very rapidly from the ages of 9 to 10. Before I was basically a retard with little to no inner monologue, thinking in mainly feelings like she said. But that was when I was 9 lmao.

The meme has broad applicability to anybody who speaks and acts like a simple video game character – in other words, a large percentage, perhaps a majority, of modern Western people. The NPC does not think for himself and may be wholly incapable of self-talk. His ideology, his political opinions, his consumer preferences and even the exact words he uses to express himself are chosen by others; he merely repeats what he is told.

Orwell was essentially writing about NPCs in this passage from 1984, describing a young man who works in the Fiction Department of Oceania:

Whatever it was, you could be certain that every word of it was pure orthodoxy, pure Ingsoc. As he watched the eyeless face with the jaw moving rapidly up and down, Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man’s brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

NPC is, as one blogger put it, a “memetic killshot.” The meme’s lethal effectiveness stems from the ugly truth it encapsulates – that many people in modern society do not appear to be sentient at all, especially those who have passed through the higher education system and have sufficient verbal skills to remember and repeat the words they are programmed to say.

The 20th and 21st centuries have been defined by totalitarian mass movements, mass media and globalist capitalism; things that by their nature tend to crush the human spirit and produce mass conformity. It’s no surprise, then, that anxiety about mass conformity and loss of individual agency is a recurring theme of modern culture, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” (1979). The concept of “culture jamming,” a way of challenging consumerism and corporate propaganda, arguably stems from the same anxiety.

The NPC meme is a continuation of this honored tradition: a perfect expression of current-year contempt for groupthink and “normie” behavior. So far so good; and if it were only that, it would hardly be a cause for scandal. The problem is that the NPC meme has found a fat, juicy target in the form of the Left – in particular, the species of Leftist that predictably vomits forth social-justice nonsense the way a gumball machine spits out a gumball when you insert a quarter and twist the knob.

Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. And once you start pasting that blank face onto the heads of our media, entertainment and political elites, you really can’t stop. It’s so easy it feels wrong, like wiping out an undefended village with a fleet of stealth bombers. This meme has all the ingredients to go mega-viral and rip a serious hole in our culture. It goes without saying that the SJWs, who are are beginning to grasp the lethal power of the NPC meme, are VERY VERY UNHAPPY about it:

What makes this marginal, stale meme built on edgelord logic worth half a thought is what the idea of an NPC speaks to. NPCs have no agency; NPCs don’t think for themselves; NPCs don’t perceive, process, or understand; NPCs arrive at the same worldview not because it’s authentic to their experiences, but automatically. As a descriptor, it suggests that those to whom it applies aren’t even human, but are rather, functionally, robots, or clusters of computer code. That this has resonated as widely as it has is funny, but also a little scary.

It’s scary because it hits brutally close to home, as the evident panic of the SJWs would suggest. As for “dehumanizing,” the NPC meme is no more dehumanizing than attempting to win an argument by smearing your opponent as a racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe, etc, etc, as the Left has never hesitated to do for decades now.

Like the word “racist” when used against cuckservatives, the NPC meme is powerful rhetoric that is designed to immediately shut down an opponent with no hope of recovery. As such, NPC should not be deployed against anyone willing to use logic and reason (i.e. dialectic) to communicate. You don’t win a debate by walking across the stage and sucker-punching your opponent. Not only is it very unsporting to imply that someone is less than human for disagreeing with you, but all effective rhetoric is rooted in truth, so the meme is less effective against someone who cannot fairly be described as an NPC.

My suggestion would be to deploy the NPC meme liberally (heh) in the online meme-wars, but sparingly when interacting with “real” people, that is to say, people that you suspect of being human. Including, of course, people that you care about. This is a weapons-grade meme we’re dealing with, so handle it with care and remember that it’s all fun and games till someone loses their mind.

UPDATE: Steve Bannon, who has a gift for off-the-cuff concision, said it much better during an interview some time after I posted this:

“The NPC meme is the single more brilliant meme I’ve seen the entire time. ‘Cause it cuts right to the arrogant heart… You’ve gone right to the heart of who they are. Once you take away the intelligence factor, it all shatters.”