The Acagamic Tip Tuesday #20: Guide Player Actions with NPCs

Lennart Nacke
The Acagamic Tip Tuesday
4 min readJun 28, 2022


In today’s issue of The Acagamic Tip Tuesday, we learn that non-player characters (NPCs) can guide player behaviour by telling them implicitly or explicitly what to do, just pointing in directions, or directly interacting with them. An example of this is the advisor in Civilization VI. Its goal is to let the player know future consequences of their actions at the earlier stages of the game, so players understand how these consequences happen later in the game. This will only take a few minutes to read.

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Game UX Tip of the Week

Guide Player Actions with Non-Player Characters (NPCs): Guide players through dialogue (wisdom or advice) or actions of an NPC to take actions that propel the game forward. This is particularly important for actions with important consequences later in the game.

As an alternative to having UI elements indicate the player action that needs to be taken, games sometimes use NPC to guide players toward action. This can be more explicit or implicit depending on the preference of the game design team.

Wheatley is a fantastic example of an NPC that makes the entire player experience of Portal 2. Not only is it a well-scripted and lively character that provides lots of commentary and entertainment through the player journey in Portal 2, but it also sometimes explicitly tells the player (even multiple times what to do, like plugging it into a panel as a substitute core for GLaDOS.

When playing the Uncharted games, there is usually an NPC available in most missions to help guide Nathan Drake through the world (or to get captured and thus provide a mission goal to get rescued). My favourite moments are the direct assists that the NPCs do like when you are struggling too much with a puzzle and their dialogue changes to saying what the obvious next action step is or like in the screen above where Sam helps Nathan climb a high ledge.

UX Links

UX Research App of the Week: Dovetail

One of our favourite apps in our research group for qualitative analysis has become Dovetail. It is basically a transcription and tagging app for qualitative data like interviews and texts. However, we have also used it successfully to conduct systematic analyses of research literature. It is quite versatile in the way it handles tagging of data and allows presenting of insights. Unfortunately, there is no academic discount available currently and it is quite expensive (depending on how large your team of qualitative coders is) with monthly fees attached to each person (I wish they had a similarly cheap education plan like Slack ($1/person/month) to make it more affordable for academic research).

If you are working in a customer insights team or even a medium-sized business doing qualitative analysis, the tool is definitely worth looking into just because it just works very smoothly for the tagging and summarizing of codes. The company is also doing lovely UX advocacy work through its Methods in Madness blog.

Games Research Find of the Week

In this CHI PLAY 2021 paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM HCI (PACM HCI), the authors developed the game Merlynne where peers can support their mental health and wellbeing through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In the game, the player communicates with NPCs following a CBT protocol. They studied 36 players playing as cleric or monster avatars and investigated avatar identification and helping attitudes of players in a survey and followed up with semi-structured interviews. They only studied men. Players playing the cleric were more connected than players playing the monster.

They found that serious games (like Merlynne) could persuade emotional labour associated with being a peer in P2P support and that using avatars idealized for helping others could strengthen this effect.

Read the full study:

Tina Chan, Robert P. Gauthier, Ally Suarez, Nicholas F. Sia, and James R. Wallace. 2021. Merlynne: Motivating Peer-to-Peer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a Serious Game. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5, CHI PLAY, Article 250 (September 2021), 23 pages.



Lennart Nacke
The Acagamic Tip Tuesday

UX Professor (Games/Gamification) → Mentoring academics how to get their research papers accepted and training UX researchers to create more fun products.