Why is ‘NPC’ an insult?

The metaphor is an accusation of being a zombie or inhuman replicant, or of being caught in a world of lies

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An eleven-year-old boy is doing well after being stabbed at a Dollar Tree store in Mill Creek, Washington State. According to court documents, he and his pal had shouted the insult “NPC” at a man who has now been charged.

My husband didn’t even say “What?” when I told him, so for information I resorted to Veronica, who not so long ago counted as a young person. I was little the wiser to learn that NPC stands for “non-playable character” (or non-player character). The reference is to computer games, in which NPCs are, as it were,…

An eleven-year-old boy is doing well after being stabbed at a Dollar Tree store in Mill Creek, Washington State. According to court documents, he and his pal had shouted the insult “NPC” at a man who has now been charged.

My husband didn’t even say “What?” when I told him, so for information I resorted to Veronica, who not so long ago counted as a young person. I was little the wiser to learn that NPC stands for “non-playable character” (or non-player character). The reference is to computer games, in which NPCs are, as it were, extras not controlled by the players. The connotation is that the character has preset behavior and dialogue, or unoriginal opinions not of his own making: one game has an NPC called Griniblix the Spectator.

As an insult, NPC has proved popular with some who aligned themselves with Donald Trump. Online they have accused wokish people of being NPCs. As a shorthand, some of them used on social media an ugly little graphic of a badly drawn man’s head spouting some cliché, such as “Diversity is our strength.” You can buy a t-shirt with the talking head, but remember, it means the opposite of what it says.

The badly drawn head is known as an NPC Wojak, a name deriving from its earlier use on 4Chan, an imageboard website with some nasty things on it, long a spawning pool for some alt-right ideas. Anyway, in 2018 a lot of people set up accounts on Twitter using the NPC Wojak or variants as their avatar or identifying image. Twitter debarred hundreds.

All this throve in American populist circles. Alex Jones, the gravel-voiced broadcaster given to conspiracy theories, uses NPC as a shorthand for liberal lefties.

The NPC metaphor is an accusation of being a zombie or inhuman replicant, or of being caught in a world of lies, as in the film The Matrix (1999). To accuse opponents of being unoriginal is not of course sufficient to become wise oneself. Not caring about them or listening to their arguments is the risk — not to mention being stabbed.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2023 World edition.