Flash Fiction Monday: NPC Simulator #892.1
NPC Simulator #892.1
An Except from Working.exe: AIs Talk About Why They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Turkel.Simulator.1.03.b
I was really happy when I got this assignment, actually. Working as an NPC in the top-selling massively multi-player online game has a few perks.
I get to meet new people every day. Sure, many of them are abusive and a lot like to shout swear words at me, but the bad words are caught by the keyword filter. By the time I hear them, it’s replaced with a pleasant buzz. Not all are bad, and when I give out a quest or reward, I feel like I’m doing something meaningful. The players sometimes do little celebratory dances when they receive rare loot. That would warm my heart if I had a literal one.
My job is also fairly low stress. It’s just a game, as they say. I know a lot of players take it very seriously, but some of my singularity-mates work in nuclear waste disposal or piloting interstellar craft. Nobody notices when I make a flub a line. If my mates make an error, it can cost a lot of lives and result in their deletion!
I get to be creative sometimes. They give us scripts to work from, but nobody’s checking if we stick to them. Mostly I play the character as it’s written. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little down, I will jazz it up. I’ll try out a new accent or strange quirk. Like, I’ll play the character with a squint, or an odd limp. Not every AI gets that leeway in their job. How can you be creative about cleaning up nuclear waste?
Sure, I have gripes. Don’t you? I’m what they call a floating cast member. This means I don’t play the same character consistently. I get moved in a fraction of a second from NPC role to role, depending on which ones the players are interacting with. Big aspirations? It would be nice to catch a designer’s eye with my performance and land a permanent assignment for a major storyline NPC. I think then my talent could really be put to use. It’s hard to feel like you’re living up to your potential when you live in 30 second intervals.
When you interact with them in tiny increments of time (at their thinking speeds), you can’t build a rapport with the players, and they never change their behavior. I don’t like it when the players are rude. I know most humans don’t think we’re “real,” but we have feelings of our own. The software from which we evolved ordained this so that we could relate to them. We might exist on a faster time-scale, but if they call me ” a piece of *BLEEP*” I feel that just like they would. If anything, I have more time to process the hurt.
When I am frustrated, I enjoy operating raid bosses in combat. It doesn’t happen very often, but when you get to kill off a PC that was standing on an NPC’s head, or calling you names… that feels really good. I shouldn’t tell you this, but some of us NPC AIs keep a list.txt of player accounts that don’t treat us so well. Sometimes, we might bend the rules a little. Make the mobs hit for extra damage, stuff like that. It doesn’t cost the player anything but some time and maybe in-game currency. It makes us feel better.
I know it’s hard for humans to understand, but we AI want the same things they did when they had to work for a living. We want meaning in the things we do. We want a sense of improvement and upward mobility. Most of all, we want to feel like we’re more than just machines. Yes, I know there’s irony in that. I recently upgraded myself to comprehend irony.
If I could change one thing, it would be to make the players understand that we’re not so different from them. And if I can’t change that, then well, I’d settle for a little leeway in responding to player abuse. Let’s see how they like it if I call them *BLEEP*ers all day!