Non-Player Character

By Shamus Posted Saturday Sep 15, 2007

Filed under: Links 21 comments

When I was 14 or 15 years old, someone (probably my dad) got me God Game by Andrew Greely. (Looking back, it was probably a pretty outragous thing to get for a kid that age. This was not a kid’s book.) It’s a story about a guy who ends up controlling a fantasy world via a text parser, as if it was a computer game. It became one of my favorites. On one hand it’s a sci-fi story about a guy with a computer that can exert god-like powers in another world. On the other it’s a fantasy adventure. There are a lot of amusing things in the book, like the author struggling with the parser and typos as he tries to manipulate the world.

This short story reminds me a lot of God Game. It didn’t end the way I was expecting, but it was a fun read:

“Non-Player Character” by Eliezer Yudkowsky.


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21 thoughts on “Non-Player Character

  1. Erik Lund says:

    “If I _were_….”

    Ethical responsibilities to NPCs? Both you and OOTS have touched on the idea, and its an important reason I’ve been reading those strips. But what does it mean? I’m leaning in the direction of meditations on empathy.
    I’m glad that I only decide the fate of civilizations in Civ.

  2. mark says:

    That was…. thought provoking. Eliezer is a great writer, anyway. :)

  3. Andre (xero) says:

    Interesting read. Didn’t expect the plot twist.

  4. Ryan says:

    Heh, I’m playing through Ust’Natha right now and had been wrestling with the same issue this morning.

  5. Dolohov says:

    You should read The Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem. He has an interesting story on the subject in there, which inspired Will Wright to make Sim City.

  6. Fieari says:

    I’m not sure how many of you guys caught the 1/0 reference. In case you’re not familiar with it, you’ll want to check out

    It starts out as attempting to be a gag strip, until about 50 or so strips in, the creator realizes he’s far better at philosophy than jokes. The strip runs for exactly 1000 installments, and most of the characters are perfectly aware of their own impending end approaching. It’s fascinating, although as I said, the first couple dozen strips are kinda hard to get through.

  7. theonlymegumegu says:

    Hmm, reminds me of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

  8. Mordaedil says:

    I liked it, but I think it would have been more interesting to explore there resolution to this impossible romance.

  9. Katy says:

    You might be interested in this trailer, in that case.

  10. xbolt says:

    Wow… That was a very interesting read… I might even say a bit disturbing.

    How often I’ve said, “It’s only an NPC…”

    Eliezer is a very talented writer, I must say.

  11. Jol says:

    Fascinating link, I’m definitely checking that book out.

  12. Fieari says:

    I also have to comment that I was shocked by the twist. Honestly, I’d be more interested in a story where the NPC really was real. Stretch it out a little longer, make him not reject her so quickly, actually play the game more, but with her being further and further realized as a character. Maybe some interesting bits where he player checks gamefaqs for help and the game he’s playing bears only a passing resemblance to the one in the guides…

  13. fefe says:

    The plot twist is quite a surprise, but I’m not sure whether I like it yet. I’m wondering why Janey uses a headphone while he types on a keyboard btw.

  14. LadyDyani says:

    Ok, that was amusing, and vaguely disturbing.

  15. Heather says:

    I’m surprised by how many people say they didn’t see the twist coming… I thought it was pretty obvious as soon as ‘Darin’ said he had a girlfriend.

    Still, the description of ‘God Game’ put me in mind of a book called ‘Wizards’s Bane’ by Rick Cook, in which a computer programmer is magically whisked into a real fantasy world and has to use his particular talents to manipulate the forces in that world. It’s an older book (1989) so it has some pretty archaic programming references, but the concept still works.

  16. empty_other says:

    Quote Fieary: “I'm not sure how many of you guys caught the 1/0 reference. In case you're not familiar with it, you'll want to check out

    Thanks, Fieary! Just finished reading it. Awesome cool comicstrip. I have myself had the same thoughts… Can a fictional character live? Do they still live after the author is finished writing his book?

    “For what is man but a fiction of God.”

  17. Amber says:

    I don’t know how you guys were ‘shocked’ by the twist, because honestly, If i knew how to do something like that to my bf and his gaming, I so would. The thought definitely came to my mind that she was manipulating the NPC.

  18. LadyDyani says:

    Heather, you can find Wizard’s Bane at the Baen Free Library website. They also have the second in the series, Wizardry Compiled. It’s an awesome site, and putting the books out there for free is apparently working for them. He says they’ve sold tons of books thanks to the site.

  19. Miako says:

    IT so reminds me of VideoGirl AI

    Please watch it, it is cool.

    back before videogames, but still neat.

  20. Turgid Bolk says:

    Interesting, I was really pulled in to the story, and was very shocked at the twist. I’ll check out that book as well.

    Only distantly related, but interesting is a book by Roger Williams called The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, available for free on his site: where a computer intelligence becomes able to manipulate the real world, and so carry out the Laws of Robotics as a sort of God. Almost the opposite situation to the book you mentioned. Very good story.

  21. DGM says:


    If you liked Wizard’s Bane, you might also like “A Logical Magician” (and the sequel “A Calculated Magic”) by Robert Weinberg. The premise is that whatever enough people believe in, humanity’s “collective unconscious” can actually create. Thus many of humanity’s myths and legends are not only real in some form, but alive and well in modern times.

    Mathematics student Jack Collins discovers this when Merlin the Magician hires him to save the world, which is due to be destroyed by dark forces in a few months’ time. Merlin gets silenced before he can finish explaining everything, though, so Jack – as the designated-but-uninformed champion of humanity – has to piece together the rules that govern the existence of monsters even as those same monsters are trying to hunt him down.

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