“Why do some of those people have floaty lights bobbing about over their heads?” I asked my son, as I watched him playing a computer game.
“They’re called NPCs – Non-Player Characters,” he replied patiently, still managing to move his own avatar swiftly through the crowded medieval street. “They’re there to help you. Sometimes if you stop and speak to them they give you useful information, like suggesting where you could go to collect more EXP, or sometimes if you follow them, they lead you to a part of the game you haven’t visited.”
I noticed that he wasn’t stopping to speak to any of them, but I dare say he’d fully explored this part of the game several times before.
In our game – Life – those special characters don’t often have shiny things dancing over their heads. They have another way of getting our attention. Usually they do it by getting in our face and making it hard for us to ignore them. Since we haven’t (or not as far as we remember) played this part of the game before, it would make sense to stop and listen to them, wouldn’t it? Maybe they’re going to show or teach us something we need to know…
I had an encounter with one yesterday.
I was in Bristol – a busy, bustling city in South West England. I’d been Christmas shopping and the weather was not great. In fact, by the time I reached the steep narrow alley that leads from the shopping centre up to the bus station, I was tired, windswept, wet and – above all – cold. My one thought was that I wanted to get into the shelter as soon as possible and on to my warm, comfortable no. 376 bus. I’d been skillfully weaving my way through the hordes of pedestrians, with an impressive turn of speed, when I came up against my NPC.
In front of me was this small, wide figure, moving ridiculously slowly. She had two large bags of shopping in each hand and these were held out to the sides, so that it was almost impossible to get past. Seeing a small gap, I moved to the left. With immaculate timing but never a backward glance she veered in that direction, blocking my path. I headed right. Instantly she tottered over that way and again I was blocked. I felt my frustration and anger starting to build. As I made a final sharp twist to the left, she quite suddenly stopped right in front of me and put the bags down, bending over and gasping for breath. At this point, she looked back and noticed me.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, dear. I must be slowing you up.” She hauled the bags to the side and gestured to me to pass.
Ah, but you see I’d done it now – I’d stopped and listened to her. And yes, she did have something valuable to teach me. This encounter moved me beyond my narrow desire to reach my next goal, and expanded my perception a bit. Now I was seeing this fellow shopper – quite a bit older than me, also cold, wet and tired and struggling to carry four huge and heavy bags up this steep path.
I relaxed, smiled and offered to take a couple of her bags up to the bus station for her. We carried on – at her pace – chatting as we went. By the time we’d reached the top of the alley, I knew all about her six grandchildren and the Manchester United pyjamas she’d wanted for one of them and been unable to find anywhere.
As I returned her bags and we parted, I noticed that although the weather remained the same, I no longer felt cold.