Skip to main content

What is an NPC?

Gaming terminology is like general slang — it is constantly evolving and easy to get lost in, especially if you aren’t very tuned in to online gaming communities or a younger gamer. Gaming terms can also leak into the real world and take on new meanings in day-to-day conversations. You aren’t alone if you get a little lost keeping it straight sometimes.

NPC is a gaming term that’s been around for a long time, but it has recently taken on a new meaning and is being used more frequently by folks outside of gaming. Let us break it down for you.

What does NPC mean?

Cortana, the AI NPC from the Halo series.
343 Industries/Xbox Game Studios

NPC stands for “non-playable character” in gaming. It’s a term used in video games and tabletop gaming to distinguish between characters in a game that are controlled by the player and characters controlled entirely by the game (or by “the computer”). NPCs can range from characters that exist solely to deliver exposition through dialogue in cutscenes to characters the players can interact with directly and even companion characters that play the game along with them.

Pictured above is the NPC Cortana from the Halo series. In the franchise, Cortana is an artificial intelligence that journeys along with Master Chief (the player character) throughout the game, furthering the story through dialogue mid-game and during cutscenes but never controllable by the player.

NPCs come in all shapes and forms — post-apocalyptic merchants and faction leaders in the RPG series Fallout, neighbors in the farming simulator Stardew Valley, or rival Nintendo characters in a round of Mario Party 8.

What does NPC mean outside of gaming?

Leon and Ashley in the Resident Evil 4 remake.
Capcom

Over the past couple of years, the term NPC has been used more and more outside of gaming. In online communities and in-person, some people have been using NPC as an insult to describe individuals perceived as lacking independent thought or blindly following trends. It can describe people who may be perceived as generic, without any special characteristics that make them stand out (unlike the main playable character in a video game).

The term has been popularized on social media, where it shows up in several ways.

On YouTube, people started posting videos of encounters with strangers whom they considered to be NPCs. Often backed with instrumental music from the RPG Skyrim, which is full of NPCs delivering dialogue without being prompted, these videos typically feature people who are either speaking in an odd monotone, are repetitive or harping on a specific topic, or just speaking without really addressing anything said by the person filming (as if going off a limited script). Unfortunately, this style of video is often exploitative and features people under the influence of drugs and alcohol without their consent.

Some content creators also pretend to be authentic video game NPCs in skits and as pranks — giving strangers sidequests, walking in an odd manner like NPCs in Grand Theft Auto, or repeating generic dialogue.

Signs you might be an NPC

And in perhaps the most extreme and confusing NPC acting trend, some creators on TikTok started hosting NPC live streams where they repeat the same dialogue and actions repeatedly based on donation amounts from their viewers. Canadian TikToker Pinkydoll is the most well-known and popular NPC streamer, with over 1.6 million followers on the platform. According to an interview with Vice last year, reacting to gifts sent by viewers, she was spending six hours a day on TikTok, seven days a week, and making thousands of dollars a day.

Pinkydoll NPC MOMENT COMPILATION

There’s a lot of NPC content on the internet right now, and a lot of it is genuinely funny. But if someone calls you an NPC, they probably aren’t saying it in a positive light.

Editors' Recommendations

Sam Hill
Sam Hill is a journalist and the gaming guides editor at Digital Trends. He's also written tech guides for Input and has…
Helldivers 2 CEO says DLSS is ‘not necessary’ — and he’s right
Four soldiers walk in a Helldivers 2 trailer.

The CEO for Arrowhead Games, developer of Helldivers 2, caught some flak for a controversial take on nowhere else than X (formerly Twitter), saying that Nvidia's DLSS is "cool tech, but not necessary."

The lack of branded upscaling tools in Helldivers 2 is strange, especially given the fact that the title has quickly become "one of the most entertaining co-op games" of the year, as you can read about in our Helldivers 2 review. Thankfully, Helldivers 2 doesn't need DLSS.

Read more
The most common Xbox Series X problems and how to fix them
Xbox Series X

Like any other consoles, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S aren't without issues. Even after several years on the market giving Microsoft time to push out updates and fixes, there are still some issues that can crop up.

In this guide, we're going to cover the most common Xbox Series X problems, as well as how to fix them, including:

Read more
Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers: how they work and eligible games
Princess Peach.

Nintendo Switch Game Vouchers vanished from the eShop in 2019, but they've since made a triumphant return. Though they won't be perfect for everyone, these vouchers are ideal for folks interested in playing multiple Switch games throughout the year and looking to save a few bucks on their purchase. After buying a voucher, you'll be able to browse an ever-growing selection of digital Switch games -- including Super Mario Bros. Wonder and Tears of the Kingdom -- and snag them at a discount.

Curious about the Nintendo Switch Game Voucher program? Here's everything you need to know about the unique program.
How Nintendo Switch Vouchers work

Read more