Real Human Beings: Shadow of Mordor, Watch Dogs and the New NPC
And here, then, is the largest problem with these systems as they stand. No matter how many songs the Orcs of Mordor sing, no matter the desperation of the out-of-work Chicagoan teacher, all I can do is hurt people.
In a recent episode of the podcast Three Moves Ahead, guest Chris Remo opines about how Jordan Mechner’s The Last Express communicated the lives of its NPCs, who went about their own schedules, had their own conversations, and paid little attention to the player’s motivations. He says that the game gave “glimpses of other people’s interior lives without regard for how they may relate to the player’s.”
This is a beautiful thing that we often forget that games can do. My hope is that the success of Shadow of Mordor is a sharp reminder of this capability, even when, in its lowest moments, it re-inscribes the player’s centrality. I hope that other developers will learn to confront this tension, and I look forward to whatever they’ll make when they do.