The NPC Meme: Time to Wake Up and Start Thinking for Yourself

A mob of robotic non-playing characters

The "Non-Playing Characters" (NPC) meme has caused shockwaves across social media platforms.

Leave It to 4chan

A simple meme poking fun at the relentless, permanent post-election "resist" culture in America is creating shockwaves throughout social media. The original meme is a simplistic drawing of a person with gray skin and a blank, expressionless face. The term "NPC" is a reference to video game culture. In the world of video games, Non-Playing Characters (NPCs) mostly provide atmosphere or limited interaction within the game's storyline. Once you get the valuable information that you need to complete a mission in the game from some of the NPCs, they then typically just repeat the same, pre-programmed dialog over and over again if you try to interact with them further. Other NPCs are literally just zombie-like "filler" for an otherwise empty city street environment, for example.

The meme was first uploaded in 2016 by an anonymous 4chan user to a thread asking, "Are You an NPC?" It referred to certain people who "autonomously" submit to collectivist group think and always jump on the bandwagon of the latest social trends. In September 2018, the meme was essentially brought back to life when 4chan users began discussing it on the Politically Incorrect board.

It's All Fun and Games...Until It Hits Too Close to Home

The intended recipients of this meme are, of course, fairly outraged. They argue that the meme is "dehumanizing" (though it's interesting to note that conservatives are often called "Russian bots" by them). Making the comparison of the great unwashed masses to sheep certainly isn't a new idea. On the other hand, taking note of the similarities between how video game NPCs are programmed and how some people seem to behave in real life is certainly an interesting insight. How is it that some people are so impressionable and susceptible to the ideas of celebrities, the mainstream media, and essentially the social media mob? How can it be that so many people are seemingly unable to discern truth from obvious political and commercial propaganda? How can so many people repeat the same pre-programmed rhetoric over and over again, and not feel like a robot? In short, how can so many people be so stupid?

The Lights Are On, but Nobody's Home

The meme goes from a down-to-earth, simplistic joke to the realm of the totally bizarre as we explore the other aspect of this phenomenon. Could it really be that real-world NPCs can't actually help their zombie- and drone-like behavior, thanks to a cognitive deficiency? The meme implies that a vast majority of the human population lacks "inner speech" or "inner monologue." That is, a large subset of the population is unable to parse information with their own minds, selecting the good bits and throwing out the rubbish.

This area of psychology and brain research obviously demands much more scientific study. It's fairly well known that some people make good leaders, while others don't. Is this merely a personality trait based on nurture, or do the brains of "followers" physically, chemically or biologically actually work differently than the brains of "leaders"? If there is a biochemical influence, think about what this would mean for our entire civilization.

Without scienfitic evidence, there are, of course, logical, rational and non-emotional arguments against the NPC meme. The meme proceeds from the assumption that an "inner voice" is indicative of a certain mode of cognitive ability, the lack of which presupposes the non-existence of this ability. But there are people who think in a different ways. For example, some think in visual pictures. The documentary entitled, The Boy with the Incredible Brain describes how a man is able to do unimaginable calculations in his head because he literally "sees" numbers in his mind as colored, amorphous blobs that, when combined, translate into the solutions of complex mathematical problems. With humanity's meager understanding of brain function, this is a pretty glaring omission.

A woman pressing a virtual social media icon
Social media is being used to spread ideas, but many times these ideas are simply repeated for the sake of "likes," without ever being discerned.
(Image credit: Bigstock/ra2studio)

Let Them Eat Cake

Many rulers of society have historically viewed the common people as inferior, being compared to easily controlled livestock such as sheep or cattle. The elitist phrases "useful idiot" and "useless eaters" are commonly thrown around. Historically, the elite like to employ a strategy of dehumanization against their enemies (us) to justify greater centralized control and reaffirm their belief that the general populace cannot be trusted with true freedom. Should we really be taking a page from their playbook by stooping to this level of elitism?

In the Unabomber's manifesto entitled Industrial Society and Its Future, Ted Kaczynski suggested that certain personality types are drawn to collectivist ideologies because of the psychology of the individual. For example, a person who feels, himself, to be inferior is likely to align with groups that claim to advocate for the rights of minority "victims," thereby creating and reinforcing essentially a collective inferiority complex. According to this theory, then, personality traits and individual psychology both play a role in the development of a person's individual political beliefs. If true, this theory agrees with the nurture theory and stands in opposition to the nature-based NPC theory.

Independent and critical thought is paramount to any civilized society. Thomas Jefferson once said that if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and will never be. We are living in extraordinarily precarious times. The masses of people today are dangerously ignorant of the lessons that history has to teach. If you don't take control over what thoughts go into your head, someone else will! Simply stated, if we continue down this path of mindlessly believing celebrities, the mainstream media and the deluge of political propaganda being spewed across social media platforms, we are doomed.