Four Gaming Clichés That Absolutely Need To Die

Article Index

Oblivious NPCs

Honorable Mention: A Very Special Skyrim

Being an NPC in Skyrim requires that you pass some sort of terminal stupidity check. I've created a short multiple choice test below:

You're a small-time bandit living near Whiterun who enjoys Horker sandwiches, long walks through the countryside, and taking an arrow to the knee. There's a pair of possible marks walking close to the cave you and your handful of half-starved followers call home, seemingly unaware of your presence. As they approach, you notice that one is covered in gleaming black plate that flickers with magical energy and strange, demonic-looking runes. The other wears flexible scales with boney protrusions at the shoulders and the tough, weathered look of dragon hide. Both carry eldritch weapons of ancient design and terrible purpose.

As you spy on your potential prey, one of the figure makes a remark to the other. The second laughs -- and six birds drop dead out of the sky.

Do you:

A)  Fight to the death.
B)  Flee.
C)  Hide. If they notice you, attempt to buy your life with the handful of gold coins and old cabbage you've managed to squirrel away.

If you answered anything but A, we're sorry -- you're just too smart to be a Skyrim NPC. Skyrim, to be fair, is far from the only game that uses this sort of mechanic, but the behavior of its NPCs stands out in what's otherwise an excellent title. Bandits and other low-level NPCs will continue to attack you on sight, despite the obvious disparity in your equipment and capabilities.

 Yes. Attack me. That's a good move.

This sort of game design is irksome because it directly contradicts human behavior. In real life, criminals make decisions about who they will and won't waylay based on the person's size, bearing, and estimated capability for self-defence / violence. If you make your living robbing people, this is a vital job skill, which is why it's hilarious when would-be muggers pick the wrong targets.

In Skyrim, I'm wearing pieces of dragons I killed, I've got a demonic horse, an undead assassin helper monkey, and I can fling giants off a cliff with a well-articulated belch. I have a second deadly companion who follows me around as a pack mule. You have a broken sword and a badly-stained pair of pants.

This ties into another problem with Skyrim, which is that very few NPCs ever actually surrender. Instead, NPCs will cower when low on life, typically shouting "I yield!" Stepping back and sheathing your weapon doesn't lead to any sort of negotiated surrender or strategic retreat. Instead, they'll just start attacking you again. I've actually felt guilty for killing bandits who simply wouldn't stop whacking me ineffectually with a sword while I went about my business.

This sort of behavior earns an honorable mention because it's not the same as the clichés we've been discussing but it's still frustratingly immersion-breaking.

Tags:  Gaming, graphics, cliches

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