Your weary hero stumbles into a shabby village, perhaps set at the foot of a sprawling range of pixelated mountains or at the bank of a river that never runs dry. Small cottages cluster together, flimsy wooden doors somehow impenetrable, milling townsfolk crisscrossing in programmed patterns that lead nowhere.
Your hero, in some respects, is aware he is in a video game. You are controlling him, after all, and he is simply an extension of the sweaty PlayStation remote you grasp. You have free will, and thereby, so does he.
These townsfolk, however, do not. You maneuver your hero up to one of them, press “X” to start a conversation, and they recite three robotic lines of dialogue. A challenger awaits in the nearby town, or there is a secret artifact in the lands of Gondor, or a captive in Waverly’s Dungeon that needs freeing. They’ve said the same exact thing to millions of players. If you restarted this level, their words wouldn’t change.
These characters are known, in gamer terms, as “NPCs.” For long: non-player characters. In modern society, the phrase has become a biting joke used to chastise people who seem unable to formulate their own opinions or think freely.
It is time for me to accept my truth. I, Luca Evans, am an NPC.
Let’s clarify. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’d say I’m a reasonably intelligent young man. There are things that I like and don’t like, such as any normal human being. I hate papaya. I adore my girlfriend. I feel normal emotions. I’m curious about life’s little details.
But what makes an NPC an NPC is their utter lack of knowledge or care that they exist in a simulation. They never question their reality. They just simply are.
When it comes to the grander scheme of things, the existential questions that seem to plague so many of my fellow youth and send us spiraling down rabbit holes of social media shitposting, I just simply care. I really don’t. Ask me such things and I’ll act like a mindless drone, programmed with small-talk responses.
Is there a larger deity, of any sort, that rules over us and manipulates our decisions?
Hmm. Maybe. Beats me. Could be.
What if we actually just live in a simulation and are actually all just tiny little beings in a larger experiment run by intergalactic aliens?
Cool. So what? I need to go buy paper towels.
When we die, do we move on to a different life? Are our souls reincarnated? Do we remember anything?
Why does it matter? We’re alive now. Lovely weather we’re having.
To clarify, this isn’t an anti-religion rant. I’ll support any religion unless they influence hateful beliefs. I’m not God – why would I know better than anyone else?
In the 2021 masterpiece of a film “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds as an NPC named “Guy” who gains free will, there is a scene where a real-life player delivers the earth-shattering revelation to Guy that he exists inside a simulation and nothing is actually real. Guy freaks out.
Couldn’t be me.
You could tell me that my entire life as gangly adult man Luca Evans was a lie and I’m actually a little insect lad named Phillippe. Or that the whole world was secretly run by TeleTubbies. Or that every single other human being was actually a puppet commandeered by John Malkovich.
I’d nod my head, deliver a generic line completely devoid of free thought, and walk away with a stupid smile plastered on my face.
Now, dear reader, it may seem at this point like I’m a doofus who cares about nothing. This is utterly false. I am one of the most anxious people you’ll ever meet – that girlfriend I adore so deeply will sign off on this. At every single waking second, I am self-evaluating, self-analyzing, thinking about an exclamation point I may have misplaced from an email eight days ago and wondering if my entire career will crash down because of it.
I’m not really sure what I have. I think it’s generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with it over the years (my method: work until the problem goes away and I feel less anxious, or alternatively, eat food and watch an episode of “New Girl.” Success rate ~ 85%).
The key is recognizing the anxieties my therapist calls “white noise.” We are all born from caveperson tendencies, and an unfortunate consequence of those tendencies is mistaking an essay due Thursday night as a charging wooly mammoth, or an immediate and damning threat to our human survival. Instead of letting such trivialities sound a full DEFCON 1 brain alarm, I try to let them pass like clouds, wisps of condensation drifting by. I try not to grasp too tightly.
These existential questions invite an overwhelming amount of white noise. I have enough existentialism to worry about – the kind of career I want to have, the kind of person I want to be. It would be self-sabotage to toss in the occasional pondering on where I will end up when I die. I’d end up in a straightjacket, screaming nonsense about how my true identity was a little insect lad named Phillippe.
So try and have a conversation with me about life, and I’ll tell you that a challenger awaits in a nearby town. Or that there’s a secret artifact in the lands of Gondor. Or a captive in Waverly’s Dungeon that needs freeing.
Or maybe just, “Lovely weather we’re having.”
Luca Evans is a senior broadcast journalism major at Chapman University and co-editor of ChapBook Magazine for the spring 2022 semester. He enjoys sports, writing, sportswriting, and most of all annoying his co-editor.