Like many others, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year thinking about identity and gaming. Beyond just thinking about the different roles we take on as gamers, I’ve also been thinking about how we react to different non-player characters (NPCs) encountered within games, whether popular games, games for learning, ARGs, or any other games we play. What about these characters makes them engaging and causes us to react to them? Why do we dislike one character but like another, when both are written to be allies? How do NPCs affect player engagement with the game as a whole?
A recent ARG project I worked on included an NPC which players had intense responses to – he was controlled by the puppet-master (me), but was introduced to players as a manager within their company. Players deeply bought into the character, sometimes even showing an emotional response to his ability or inability to help with any problems they encountered. I did not expect such a high-level of engagement when the character was created, and was surprised when some of the development team told me that the players were asking who “that Josh guy” was and why he had more administrative privileges than they did. They even expressed surprise when told that he was a fictional character.
For my session, I’d like to get people together to pick apart this character, as well as other engaging characters from popular games or projects that attendees have worked on. I would like for us to end up with some sort of set of guidelines or brainstorming ideas for creating engaging NPCs, and maybe a few engaging character profiles. I will bring examples to work with, but everyone can bring their own characters to pick apart, or bring character design problems to crowd-source.