Rebel Wisdom
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Rebel Wisdom

The Non Player Character and Real Game Player (NPC vs RGP)

‘Nuclear Level Mimetics’

As the world becomes more entrenched in warring tribes—into neo conservative vs liberal, social justice warrior vs tea party republican, brexiteer vs pro-European, atheist vs believer, women’s vs mens rights activist—there seems to be no hope to bridge this great divide. Both sides are locked-jawed within their own tribal block and ideologically possessed stance. They scream their absolute truths and platitudes on twitter and facebook, on Fox News and in The Washington post—to anybody who will listen. Never before has there been more sarcasm, nastiness, reactivity, slogans and banality poured out into the collective space. The louder you are the more you attention you get, and this is what Eric Weinstein has called ‘The Chihuahua effect’. The dog who barks the loudest gets the most attention, even if he or she is a pretty small dog.

Enter the NPC meme, or what Akira the Don has called called ‘nuclear level mimetics.’ ‘It could actually change the course of mankind. We have no idea what the upper limits of this thing are’ Tweeted Akira gleefully. ‘what a time to be alive!’

Akira, a pop culture philosopher in his own right, has made his mark remixing various mantras which float up from the collective consciousness of popular culture. Is he right to say the NPC is the next big thing — the Matrix or the Simpsons of this generation? The difference may be in the the anonymity of the artists. So from what swamp do the NPC come from, and what do they signify?

The Collective Superego and ID

The answer is: we all are NPC to a certain extent. In other words, we are all subject to ideological programming, which makes us behave and communicate in a certain collective, mimetic manner. This ideological programming is what Freud called the super-ego, which is a kind of invisible parent who dictates to our unconscious mind what is safe and what is dangerous to say or do.

Beneath the superego of accepted morality is the terror of being consumed by the primeval Freudian id, or the chaos that awaits the person who goes off script. The invisible parents of Superego and Id create a terror of offending collective ‘good opinion’, as well as instilling danger of being socially ostracised, sexually rejected, or turned into a pariah of some kind.

If one is sensitive one can see this dynamic operating within oneself. For instance, as I write this there is a felt sense of the danger of going into the unknown territory which the NPG represents.


Parrhesia means to “to speak freely”, “to speak boldly”, or “boldness”. Parrhesia, implies “not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.” The Greeks knew the existential risk of parrhesia, but also its beauty and necessity.

The dangers of stepping out of the safe boundaries of ‘good opinion’ are real. However, the dangers of remaining within are equally real—for the soul, that is. If we stay bound to the protected womb or gated city, we will never be born as an individual; we remain in utero. We will become the ‘faceless horde’—an non player character—coddled to death by the incest of good opinion.

Leaving the cosy womb of good opinion will cause a lot of monsters to arise but it is a risk worth taking at the right time. If you are intelligent, brave, nimble, playful —if you have a keen sense of humour and good allies, you can find a meaningful path of truth and virtue. And that will attract conspirators and good people. Certainly, the stakes are high if you risk Parrhesia. You had better learn how to dance.


The NPC is a particular effective meme because of its dark humour: it is genuinely funny and scary at the same time. The NPC bot tells us something that we don’t really want to know about ourselves — it shines a dark mirror.

Humour is one way to speak the unspeakable. It gives us access to our shadow, balances social conformity with some irreverent sanity, shows us how silly we really are. Humour is also one of the best ways to bypass ideological games, it shines a light in dark places—it is a confession of of our fragile ego. And such a confession can be a great relief.

Collective jokes like NPC are not really right wing conspiracies, as the New York Times has suggested (out of terror of the Id presumably). An NPC bot could represent an ideologically possessed non-person on the right or the left. The outrage warrior with his endless virtual causes and the neoconservative who wants to ‘make America great again’ may actually be two sides of the same coin — codependent bedfellows. A real sovereign individual, on the other hand, avoids cults of all kinds and finds heterodox, sane friends and communities.

Actually, as I have suggested, the genius of this particular meme is that it represents everybody. Therefore, in case you think you are a part of the in-group who gets the joke and not an NPC—you might need to look a little closer at your dark side. The pale and the faceless ghost of the NPC does not belong to any particular group or side, in essence. It’s you and me both. This causes a bit of discomfort if genuinely felt, beneath the gleeful sarcasm of the meme. It is easy to mock and ridicule, to point the finger—to think that the NPC is not us but them.

The thing is: we are all non player characters at times, acting on automatic pilot, parroting cliches and truisms. This is part of the terrible human condition. The point is not to beat ourselves up but to notice the existential prison we have built for ourselves. When the prison bars are noticed, the light starts to shine through. Awareness is the beginning of a cure.

Perhaps the monster of ideology is created when we are in too much of a hurry. Today, with the internet, it is easy to quickly absorb a lot of information, to cobble together some kind of script, and press the play button. One could run the ‘left-wing progressive’ script or the ‘right wing libertarian script’ or whatever. But if one is really thinking and feeling deeply, one will have escaped from that binary game, into a more alive, rich and textured game. One will have stopped being a faceless NPC and become what we could call a RGP — or real game player.

Aletheia and Man Machine

The NPC meme at its best is self-mocking and other mocking—it has to be. And the ability to laugh at oneself is proof of having a soul, of seeing complexity, and of not having given too much away to the collective madness. For the collective script, even if it has the function of social glue, keeps the human being stuck in what Gurdjieff called ‘man-machine’.

The NPC is exactly that: man-machine. And the singular thing that man-machine lacks is a soul. A soul is made of what was once called the ‘humours’—which has a larger meaning than just being funny: humour also means psychological balance. The need to laugh at oneself is essential for our humours, as is the need to to laugh at the humourless ideological bots. The more transparent is their script, the more hope there is of finding a soul buried inside.

Ideology has a kind of humourless face. It is earnest without being serious, it is a strange kind of false purity. It believes it wrote the script. However, the script is something inherited. Yes, the script provides a necessary social convention. However, tragedy follows when we believe that the script is all that there is, and when we are swallowed up by the ideology of the script.

So what is beyond the script? This is the same thing as asking: what is the individual? Many have argued that free will is an illusion, and that the individual is also an illusion. And this is mostly true. And yet beyond the script is something unique, something deeply precious and vulnerable, something vibrating and so often hidden under a mountain of verbiage and masks.

The greeks called real thinking aletheia, which can be translated as ‘disclosure’. Aletheia has the quality of ‘ah’ or even ‘ah-ha’. It is the living intelligence—the deep and probing insight that is connected to the whole body, especially the heart. Real thinking doesn’t have to be hyper-intellectual — but it does have to be intuitive and deeply felt.

The social media spirit of binary thinking, of liking and hating, of endless opinions—of reactive, cliche, banal philosophising—is the activity of NPG robots in other words. This is the opposite spirit of what the greeks considered to be thinking. Real thought requires some kind of space and gestation, just as birth does.

The Ghost in the Machine

The real game player (RGP in my coinage) enters when the soul enters. It’s like the difference between soulful music and machine music. Music with this ineffable quality of ‘soul’ is emancipatory by nature, it heals the human heart. Machine music, on the other hand, is distraction; it is scripted titillation without real love—it keeps one nodding ones head like an NGP robot.

Today there are hordes of NPC ghosts floating in a disembodied cyberspace—sometimes we are one of them. Let us show them (and that part of us) the living world beyond the scripted reality. It might be a good dirty joke that is needed, or any sign of genuine energetic expression. We are all dying for real human colour; we suffer like crazy in our scripted humourless games. Let us offer the gods a real smile or a real grimace.

The NPC’s crying out from the machine, dying to find something beyond the script. They are you and me both, in our most robotic automatic mode, in the daily niceties and cliches and truisms and thoughtless adherence to rote which we ritually engage in. They are us when we are not: when we have lost our colour, or complexity, or our depth and perspective.

Over us stands the tyrannical father superego, below us the devouring mother of id. To a certain extent we have to make offerings to them, just to survive—we can still give to Rome what belongs to Rome. But let us not give away our deepest souls. We must risk parrhesia at the right time (for timing is everything) and leave behind those false parents of ideology. Let us become a real game player of the game that was once called aletheia.


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Thanks Stephen Lewis for the edits




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Andrew Sweeny

Andrew Sweeny

Compressed scraps of angel melody, stories, essays, rants against reductionism, commands from the deep.

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