Monday, 26 December 2011

Real Friends Versus NPCs

Friendship is a wonderful thing in video games as NPCs (Non-Playable Characters, also known as companions) are incredibly loyal and susceptible to suggestion.

They're a motley bunch too, each with their own unique personalities and some with transferable skills that make them much better than those real-life companions... plus, they don't judge your actions or hassle you to socialise with them.

Whether Elf, Super-Mutant or man's best friend they'll always back you up in a fight.

In school your social circles were probably carved out of necessity, at least to begin with.

You sat next to someone because your name happens to be alphabetically similar or because you share basic interests and so you spend the rest of your school years claiming that you'll be BFFs and promise to attend each other's future weddings.

But school ends and so do your friendships as you inevitably drift apart, attend different colleges then move away to university and find a new group of people to cling to, people with the same vaguely similar interests, you make the same promises and then you go out into the workplace and... well you get the idea, circle of life.

Why am I ranting about friendship?

Well, largely because I've recently been exposed to Skyrim - a game I had been feigning mild interest in, largely because I knew it would suck my spare time dry if I actually bought it.

Well, it did just that and I've been playing continuously to the point that I'm now considering quitting my real life job to make daggers, potions and absorb dragon's souls for the rest of my life. The only reason I'm not playing it now is because my boyfriend has commandeered the Xbox to play it himself!

I have really great friends, I genuinely love them and I know some of them will be reading this but I've come to the conclusion that my in-game companions are in some ways far superior than the real thing (sorry, you guys) and it's frustrating.

I'll give real friends some credit though, unlike NPC's, you don't get in the way of my screen during a boss battle and glitch out when we walk through doors. That said, I still wish friendships could be like they are in games like Skyrim or by extension, Fallout. Companions in Bethesda titles are ferociously loyal, never whining or complaining and they're practically indestructible. They listen to you, follow your commands and are just happy to hang out with you - the fact they are pretty mean dragon-slayers is a bonus too.

Real life friends have their own responsibilities so bail out of stuff all the time.

This one time, I was like, "Hey, let's go on a long hike up some snowy mountain peaks full of deadly spiders and trolls, so I can go and learn some new skills from a bunch of old guys in robes!" and you know what? My friends all decided that they didn't have the time, that they had prior engagements.. or they just openly shunned me. Not only that, but they also forget important dates and borrow possessions for months and months, pretend to like the gifts I buy them but then never wear them and... well, the list of things friends suck at is pretty much exhaustive.

If only they were more like Faendal (my loyal companion in Skyrim), he wears a ridiculous hat I smithed especially for him, even though he looks stupid in it and it doesn't fit him, yet he doesn't complain. In fact, he's grateful for my gift. Not like real life where I made all these hats for my friends and no ones wearing them! Consequently, here's my character Asroc The Vigilant (left in image) and Faendal in his silly hat, look at the way he's fawning over me. Aww, there's a good Faendal!

NPC's are useful when it comes to heavy loads too, they'll carry all the pre-war junk and burnt books that you can't manage.

Most will happily carry these things without a complaint, that is, unless you're Lydia from Skyrim who reminds you in the same overly sarcastic tone every freakin' time, "I am sworn to carry your burdens." At which point, I promptly sent her away to Whiterun and ran back to Faendal, begging his forgiveness and pleading him to take me back... oh wait, I don't need to beg or say I'm sorry. He understands me, he knows I didn't mean it and he doesn't expect me to explain myself. There are no questions, no doubting, just "Lead the way" - now that's a friend! Either that, or I'm a terrible person, comfortable abusing the trust of a submissive.

But if I'm being honest, when a dragon attacks would you rather put a companion in the line of fire while you launch arrows meekly from afar or spend your time discussing a plan and bickering over of the best course of action while the dragon singes your hair? Faendal's the best.

There have been other companions in my gaming life but only a select few that stand out.

One comes to mind just for her constant nagging... yep, if you've played the the Zelda series you know who I'm talking about; Navi (often referred to as Navi The Annoying Fairy), everyone's favourite "helpful" fairy companion. Nothing is quite like hearing her shrill voice boss you around and hassle you for attention, "HEY! HEY! LISTEN!".

No, Navi! I have no time for your self-obsessed stories or your ability to blindly state the obvious! Any Zelda fan will tell you that she's high maintenance. In her defence, at least she wasn't Tingle... that's a whole new level of irritating, ergh.

Then there's Tails from Sonic The Hedgehog.

Less an NPC and more of a playable sidekick much like Luigi in the Super Mario games. Sure, Tails might fall off of platforms ALL THE TIME and yes, he does struggle to keep up with you but he tries hard, damn it! He's just a little unbalanced but you can guarantee he'll always come whizzing back on his tails to fight by your side.

Of course, I can't possibly write about digital companionship without mentioning the ultimate buddy. Words cannot truly express the love I have for the silent, strong, stalwart, ever-dependable Companion Cube; always there for you, even when you murder it - and you will. It never holds a grudge and will never leave you but maybe that's because it doesn't have a mouth or legs to run away from you screaming.

Ahh, friendship.

Either it's a lack of understanding or respect but maybe my fondness for NPCs stems from the fact that they are basically wholly obedient slaves.

If we think about it, I have no real attachment to any of them, happy to let them suffer and die (if, indeed, they can die), burdening them with heavy objects and treasures that I don't want to carry, and forcing them into humiliating attire. Maybe that's why 'real friends' are somewhat inferior to NPCs... they're not slaves. So, I guess my conclusion is... we need to legalise slavery? Wow, that can't be right.

Ok, scratch that.

Let's say... my conclusion is... value the friends you have because their unique nature and unpredictable willpower makes them entertaining.

(*Phew* Nice save)

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