For The Gamers and Writers: NPCs Don’t Have to Cooperate

Spoiler warning: A spoiler for season 1 of Locke & Key is in the embedded video.

Over the years that I’ve been playing tabletop role playing games, the influence of computer RPGs started showing up in a way I’d never expected: Through the dialogue options.

In most computer RPGs, when you interact with another character, you usually get a set of dialogue options like this:

Even as the graphics and storylines have gotten more complex, the dialogue options are usually pretty … well, blunt. They’re straight to the point, often in “command voice” (see the first two options in the above image), and just indelicate as fork. [1]

I’ve been seeing this effect the playstyle of tabletop RPG gamers as well. If they find something suspicious, need to get the authorities involved, or something else of the sort, their characters march right in and make their accusations and demands, presenting the circumstantial or flimsy evidence they have as if it makes an air-tight case.

And then get surprised when the NPCs (or even other characters) do not immediately cooperate or launch into a monologue about how they would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky kids.

Look, I know that most shows – and RPGs – don’t get the details about specialized work (particularly police work and courtrooms) anywhere close to right. Sometimes they’re get it so wrong and unrealistic that it’s downright laughable (hello, Arrowverse!).

But when I saw this scene from episode 6 of Locke & Key, my gamemaster/writer brain chuckled. The tone of this scene is pretty much the best outcome that characters should expect in this kind of situation.

The police officer is not antagonistic – he’s apologetic and as helpful as he can be when faced with a new acquaintance leveling fantastic allegations with no evidence. When she asks for evidence the police have gathered, he does not give it to her.

Eventually, when there’s more evidence (or things unexplained), the behavior of the NPCs/other characters can change.

Initially, though?

A little bit harder than just mashing the “A” button. [2]

Featured Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

[1] Yes, you can also see this in shows with bad writing, like Scooby-Doo, but I think it’s gotten more normalized
[2] You have to hit ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA(Start), of course.

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