…are hard. This is heavily on my brain right now for all sort of reasons but to make this work related – I read this article the other day and found it sort of fascinating.

I cant think of many games where my relationship with or attitude towards the NPCs has been much more than rudimentary. One thing I cant stand is the kind of 2d character building that seems to be popular in the likes of Dragon Age, Assassins Creed, or even Skyrim. NPCs are polarised figures – obvious tropes – with little in common with real world individuals. Their single-mindedness eliminates any possibility of relationship since even if your goals happen to align their motivations are so laughably limited as to make you want to see them fail, even when it means you failing too. The article above deals with this nicely in an unusual way. In the way it tackles anonymity it suggests a method of relationship that reminds me of one successful such application in my own experience : the Marathon trilogy.

From the very first vidscreen presented to the player you begin to build an accidental relationship with Leela, the do-gooder AI trying to save the Marathon. Her motivations are simple but her application is complex – making decisions for the highest good in way that involves no player input at all but has one relying on her sensible decision making for survival. The fact is that to start with there is not enough information for the player to make any decisions at all, even if the game were to allow it, and so we suddenly find ourselves trusting Leela because of the vulnerability we feel.

Later, as we meet the other AIs, Durandal in particular, we start to build a relationship with a character who’s anonymity and mystery force us to cobble together snippets of information in order to try and understand what is happening, and what is going to happen. All of the conditions in Bell’s article seem to be met, even in the linearity of the experience.

I’m not sure I have a conclusion, except that of course this method of relationship building is appropriate only in certain types of game. The lessons, however, could well be used in less linear RPG type experiences to help players develop relationships with NPCs that are not based on explicit goal sharing or the willingness of players to colour inside ‘alignment’ lines.

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