What is an NPC?

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What is an NPC?

Key Points

  • NPCs, or non-playable characters, are other people within a video game that the player cannot control.
  • NPCs can serve various roles in video games, such as allies, quest-givers, or merchants.
  • NPCs are essential for creating immersion and making the game world feel more occupied.
  • However, NPCs can also be annoying or suffer from bugs, which can negatively impact the gaming experience.
  • The term NPC is sometimes used metaphorically to describe someone lacking original thought or objectivity.

So, you’re playing a video game, and in this video game, you’re able to control your player character. You can make them walk, run, jump, and possibly fight within the game world. While playing, you encounter other people. Some of these other people talk to you, and some merely walk past. These other people within the game are called NPCs.

While you control the player character, you don’t have the option to control anyone else, and this is where the name “non-playable character” comes from. But what exactly is an NPC, and what are they good for?

In this article, we will look at what non-payable characters are and why they’re an essential part of almost any video game. 

NPCs Explained

The acronym stands for non-playable character. The term refers to any in-game character that you cannot control. These characters may include other people or animals. 

Today, you can find at least a few NPCs in any modern video game. However, the term has been around longer than video games. The term NPC originated with board games.

In the tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons, you play as fantasy characters. Each person controls at least one playable character. Another person is called the gamemaster, or the GM. The GM is almost like a moderator or narrator. The GM and playable characters will encounter other characters in-game. However, those other characters are not controllable and cannot fulfill any playable character role. They are the non-playable characters of the game.

While NPCs can alter or affect game actions, you yourself cannot control them. 


With today’s video games being so expansive, you can imagine that most contain at least a couple of NPCs, and you would be right. While we can’t control these characters, they play a vital role in video games. Some NPCs can be allies and we can recruit others to help us along our path. They may offer abilities that we need to fight a tough boss battle or they may simply help guide us on our mission. 

Other NPCs are there to offer us the chance to buy, sell, or trade items. Some NPCs are simply there to make the virtual world seem fuller. These characters may wander an area, perhaps offering one-liners to anyone who crosses their path. Some NPCs require us to interact with them to complete quests and objectives. For example, you may need to rescue an NPC to advance in a game. 

No matter their role, they play a vital part in immersion, exploring, and world-building. Without them, video games would be rather dull and reminiscent of Pong

Why We Love NPCs

Non-playable characters enrich the player characters’ world. Without NPCs, our game world will feel incredibly empty. Even a game like Fallout 3, which had thousands of NPCs, can sometimes feel empty as most non-playable characters are few and far between. In contrast, Fallout 4 has the capacity to feature many more extras than Fallout 3.

These NPCs help make the world feel more occupied and lived in. Indeed, at their most basic level, the other characters make the video game world feel more robust

Aside from filling the towns and landscapes, NPCs can play the role of quest-givers. It’s true that you may never happen upon some quests until you talk to an otherwise random person. For example, many NPCs in the Final Fantasy world give you side quests. These side quests help you level up your character so you can be more prepared for boss fights. Also, as an added touch of immersion, some NPCs in Final Fantasy games require you to talk to them more than once to get a side quest. 

We love these types of characters because they enrich our playtime while offering us more to do than just wander around aimlessly. Without NPCs, games would be dull and even difficult to play. 

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01/17/2024 05:20 pm GMT

The Problem with NPCs

We have been singing the praises of these non-playable characters and what they bring to the game’s universe. However, sometimes NPCs are just annoying. There’s always that one crazy character that repeats the same sentence to infinity, making it a chore every time you see them.

Some may “bug out” or refuse to cooperate with you. For example, you may find an NPC won’t follow you properly as you go about a mission with them in tow. And sometimes, an NPC can die. If they die, your chance at completing a critical quest may die with them. So, while NPCs are almost always good, they can suffer from bugs like any other video game asset. 

Aside from possibly suffering from bugs, another issue with NPCs is the repetitive dialogue that some suffer from. The repetitive nature of a non-playable character and the fact that some seem totally unaware of the player character can break immersion while in-game. Because some games require hundreds of hours of gameplay to complete, a buggy or annoying NPC can create major frustration. 

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A non-player character (NPC) is a video game character that you can’t control. Typically, they have some sort of guidance or purpose to serve.

NPC as Slang

Some people have started disparagingly using the term NPC. For example, if someone calls you an NPC, they’re probably metaphorically saying that you lack original thought or you aren’t thinking objectively.

The Future

recent survey found that 99% of gamers think AI will enhance NPCs and gameplay. A lot of people feel that a non-player character can make or break a gaming experience. The survey shows that people who play games feel that with the help of better AI, a non-playable character will have better situational awareness and finally stop saying the same five words on repeat.

While there’s still a lot to explore, we’re excited to see how AI can create better non-playable characters and further immerse us in a game’s world. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does NPC mean in gaming?

An NPC, or non-playable character, is any in-game character that you cannot control.

What is an example of a NPC in a game?

Some examples of NPCs in games are the shopkeepers, the weapon’s trainers, and the quest givers. Some other non-playable characters seem to exist to make the world feel fuller and more robust. It’s not fun to wander around an empty game world.

Can NPCs become self aware?

There’s no chance an NPC can become self-aware. Although, that may help some of the repetitiveness we can find in-game.

What games have the best NPCs?

Some games that feature the best NPCs are Dwarf Fortress, Tokimeki Memorial, and Animal Crossing.

Can NPCs be revived?

Some games may let you resurrect a dead NPC, but for the most part, once a character is dead, it’s gone forever. You may be able to load an old save to save the NPC from death, however.

Who controls NPCs?

The game’s coding and AI control NPCs. You are the player character and typically cannot control anyone else. Some games may let you control others for a limited time. Others may let your actions influence what an NPC does or how they act toward you.

What does it mean if someone is an NPC?

NPC can be slang. It can mean someone who doesn’t have an original thought or someone who is following trends blindly.

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