7 votes

Confessions of NPC torment

Shadow of War keeps crashing on me now, which has provided the inspiration for me to finally sit down and get this off my chesticles. I think bad things happen in my brain when I read the news too much or don't get enough exercise.

I remember when tormenting NPCs in games used to make me feel very sad. I was almost driven to tears by the villagers in Black & White being flattened under a carelessly dropped boulder, in fact. Over the years, though, I've found that my capacity for cruelty toward NPCs has grown considerably. I'll give a long example:

In the game *Shadow of War*, you wage a supernatural guerrilla war against orcs in Mordor. While orcs and goblins are usually portrayed in the *The Lord Of The Rings* as being stunted, hobbling little creatures, the kind you face up against are Uruks. A basic distinction between them and ordinary orcs is that Uruks are bigger and nastier. Mordor is crawling with Uruks of various sizes, colours, tribes and fighting styles, and your job is to dominate or kill the toughest of them to rebuild the army of the dark lord in your own image.

What sets the Uruks of Middle Earth apart from your typical NPCs, aside from the great variety in their appearance and behaviour, is the superb quality of their voice acting. Each of them has a name that reflects their character or deeds in combat. Each has his own wrestler-like introduction, complete with imaginative threats of violence. They can taunt you one last time on their knees before you deliver the killing blow, they can cheat death to come back scarred and vengeful, they can ambush you and swear they'll make you eat shrakh (they have their own vocabulary too) for killing their blood brother, and they can become increasingly obsessed with you if you either refuse to stay dead...or choose to do what I like to.

You see, you don't always have to kill your prey. In fact, depending on their strengths and weaknesses, that might be strongly against your interests. You're supposed to be rebuilding an army, after all, and for that you need like live soldiers. So while the potential pool of captains is as deep as the infinite birthing vats of Mordor, there are some who will have a special place to you for reasons of their attributes, their fighting style, their level, or even their voice and appearance. Some Uruks sing, some rhyme, some look like cenobites, and still others might communicate like the Martians from Mars Attacks. Once you find a favourite, you can defeat them in combat and then choose to dominate them. At this point, you can recruit them...or you can shame them.

Shaming is a mechanic that will lower an Uruk's level and place a prominent brand of your palm into their face. This can be useful if they have an iron will and you wish to remove that attribute so they can be coaxed into joining your zombie army. However, just as Uruks have a chance to cheat death or betray you, they also have a chance to react strongly to being shamed: they become deranged, losing their mind along with their power level; or they transform into much more powerful maniac.

Finally, on to my tale of the follower who betrayed me and suffered a fate worse than death: being almost the sole object of my attention for an entire evening. I had a rather powerful follower with a suite of deadly abilities in combat, and he was a hoot to watch at work. I sent him to the fighting pit frequently, not so much to level him up as to watch him butcher his optimistic inferiors in a variety of exciting ways. Sadly, this follower eventually died in combat, and I recruited someone else to fill my emotional void. I'd actually forgotten about him until he unexpectedly surfaced in the middle of battle a few hours later, announcing that because I'd left him on the battlefield he was swearing his allegiance to the true dark lord of Team Red. A fight ensued in which I knocked him down to a fraction of health and then dominated and shamed him, before finishing off my other opponent. Not willing to let the matter rest, though, I pursued my erstwhile soldier, marking him down as Priority Uno. Again and again I would find him patrolling some quiet corner of the map and leap down upon him like a spider onto the head of an Australian electrician. After the first few shamings, he was only indignant at the repeated humiliation, but by number four, he was becoming increasingly paranoid that I was a tool sent to test him by the dark powers that ran Mordor. He would yell that this was simple to see, and to tell my infernal masters that he refused to be persecuted like this.

Eventually, after I'd almots shamed him all the way down to level 1, I encountered him sitting quietly on a little mossy bridge and staring blankly into the ravine below. I found it momentarily moving that anywhere within miles of the blasted hellscape of Mordor could present such a remarkably tranquil, pastoral scene. I wondered, from my perch above, what he must have been thinking. Did his heart hang heavy with sadness and regret? Was he building a mental web of the conspiracy in his head? Or was he just thinking that he was so exhausted, and it was such a long way down?

He didn't have long to ponder, because shortly afterward I broke him. I turned my one-time compatriot into a gibbering wreck unable to vocalise words beyond, "It's simple! So simple!" as he stumbled away, quaking, through the undergrowth.

If you thought the story was already bad enough, you should probably stop here. Earlier, I mentioned that the previous captain had ambushed me during combat, and that Uruks have a chance of cheating death. Well, the other captain I was fighting at the time did just that, and was incensed that I'd maimed him. Unfortunately for him, his fighting skills hadn't improved during the mortal interim, and I decided to shame him as well for giving it a second go. He broke a lot quicker, and would do nothing (outside of attacking me) besides giggling like Bill SkarsgÄrd's Pennywise. Once I'd sent him off for the third or fourth time, I was surprised by another orc who raged at me for destroying his blood brother's mind and swore he'd do me in for it. This was quite unusual, as Uruks don't tend to display emotion beyond anger and terror (in that order). I thought for a moment about the fact that I'd taken this Uruk's brother away in a manner far crueller than just outright killing him, and then I shamed him too. Somehow, though, it just wasn't quite as much fun, so I eventually killed him.

In the space of a few idle hours, I had managed to turn a game full of compelling and even charming characters into something more akin to One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, then eventually the asylum from Amadeus. It was quite entertaining, in spite of the little melancholic voice in the back of my head, until I inadvertently checked myself in and dissociated entirely. I hope my in-game stats aren't being too closely observed.

So, got any confessions of your own? Is this a potential indicator of psychopathy? How many musically talented Pushkrimps have you recruited?


  1. tempestoftruth
    I don't know if this story counts, since I was tormenting an actual player and not an NPC, but I think it fits the spirit of the post. When I was younger, my friends and I would play Minecraft on...

    I don't know if this story counts, since I was tormenting an actual player and not an NPC, but I think it fits the spirit of the post. When I was younger, my friends and I would play Minecraft on a private server we hosted. One day, someone joined our server whose username we didn't recognize ("new player"), and after asking the person several times to identify themselves (they didn't), we gave ourselves operator privileges and started coming up with creative ways of killing the new player over and over again in the game. We'd go into creative mode, fly really high into the sky, then teleport the new player to our location so they would fall to their death. We'd teleport them into pools of lava. We'd create a fenced area, spawn a bunch of monsters inside the area, then teleport them into the enclosure and watch them die to skeletons and zombies. We'd create a small container made of obsidian with only enough space for a player to stand in (1x1x2 blocks, oriented vertically), teleport them inside the container, and then leave them there for several minutes, then drop a bucket of lava in the container, and so on. As all this was going on, we were in a voice call laughing our asses off because we thought it was hilarious. In retrospect, it was a terrible thing to do, especially if the new player had just wanted other people to play with.

    Eventually I found out that the new player was someone else in our friend group (which is how the supposed "new player" had gotten the server's IP address). He had gotten his hands on an alternate account from online friends we didn't know, so none of us recognized the username. I don't believe his ultimate purpose was to perform this social experiment, but once he saw where it was going he decided to keep it going, to see what we'd do. He told me later he was disappointed in all of us for being so terrible to someone just because we didn't know them and we could retain anonymity behind a screen.

    4 votes
  2. mrbig
    Not exactly torment but made me quit playing Quake for a while. I found some guys locked up in different levels of dismemberment. They asked me to kill them, so I did. It was pretty fucked up.

    Not exactly torment but made me quit playing Quake for a while. I found some guys locked up in different levels of dismemberment. They asked me to kill them, so I did. It was pretty fucked up.

    3 votes