By Dylan R.N. Crabb
Over the past few days, there has been much hype within the gaming media sphere around the release of “Red Dead Redemption 2,” the sequel to the popular adventure game taking place in the wild American West of the latter 18th century. Rockstar Games open-world western places the player in a fantasy of the nostalgic freedom that the old American West once promised and that many Americans today romanticize. However; one writer at Kotaku has a particular grievance with the games realism regarding its non-player characters (NPC’s) or characters not controlled by human players. The writer, Heather Alexandra, initially praises the game for its committment to quality in its character-to-character interactions but then explains that, as one continues through the game, interactions with the NPC’s start to feel stale and unreal.
“On the surface, NPCs aspire to the same level of detail, acting out what seem to be full lives. An angry saloon-goer tosses someone through the window for sleeping with his wife; a clumsy rider stops to calm their horse only to get kicked in the head. These moments try to suggest the world is full of people going about their lives, but when contrasted with the rest of the game’s level of detail, they are woefully artificial. The seams start to show, and it’s obvious that Red Dead Redemption 2’s people only exist in relation to me and are defined solely by what I can do to them (Heather Alexandra, Kotaku, 2018).”
Did you catch that?
“The seams start to show, and it’s obvious that Red Dead Redemption 2’s ‘people’ [the NPC’s] only exist in relation to me and are defined solely by what I can do to them (Ibid.).”
That’s because they are not real people, simply animations created for the benefit of the gamer.
If we want to give Miss Alexandra the benefit of the doubt, we could argue in her favor that she is criticizing the failure of current artificial intelligence standards to recreate a realistic human-to-human interaction but shouldn’t that be needless to say? I think we’re some time away before a computer can fool a human into thinking that its in fact not a computer, artificial intelligence isn’t quite that advanced at this point in history.
Video games are ultimately for the purpose of entertainment, everything created within the game for the gamer to enjoy at his/her leisure. The difference between a video game and a movie lies largely in the interaction between the user and the source. Video games allow the user to act in a way that they would not really act with other humans. Movies are strictly one-way with the user watching other humans play out a scene. The reason why there is more emphasis placed on human actors than animations is because there is more of an impetus for the actor to portray the specific character properly and accurately. (I don’t mean to demean voice actors here.)
What am I trying to convey here? Video game critics should not be focusing in on realism when regarding a human’s interactions with animations. There are obvious limits on computer-generated characters and a sense of perspective is important to maintain.
In short, NPC’S ARE NOT REAL PEOPLE.