Dear Developers, WHY can't I help those poor NPC's?
I am currently playing through Watchdogs Legion, and while I am very much enjoying its weird, quirky, obviously flawed self, the game has inspired me to finally write a short opinion piece that has been in my head for awhile now. I have played a lot of open world games, a LOT. It feels like every franchise in the gaming world has tried to go for the open world treatment with varying success. Some games manage to build breathtaking cities, filled with life, people going about their day, and things to do while others feel empty, vast, and soulless.
While the quality of open world, vast digital cities, varies from game to game there is a detail that I have come to notice so many of them share, and I have yet to see a game do what I want to see. These worlds are filled with countless NPC’s all going about their lives, and inevitably many games contain poor or homeless people in these cities, and never once have I been able to have my protagonist help them.
That’s my topic of discussion, “Why can’t I ever help poor / homeless NPC’s?”
Now please allow me to preface my topic with that I am well aware this is not the biggest issue in the world right now. I am also aware that if a game ever did what I suggest adding, it wouldn’t do anything to help real poor or homeless people in real life. I understand that helping poor or homeless people in real life is more important. I promise I get all this. But that being said, I think theres room for discussion here for games to maybe at least change the way we see homeless and poor people, change our mindset, or at the very least just have more realism.
Game after game my hero walks or flies or traverses their city and game developers keep putting poor, homeless, down on their luck, NPC’s on these streets, and I am powerless as a player to help them. It is actually so common, the "begger npc" that I feel it is fair to say is becoming a trope. There often times is a homeless npc sitting on the ground begging for money, and I wonder if maybe it desensitizes us to seeing poor people in real life and just ignoring them? When I see homeless people in real life, I want to stop and help them, make sure they have food or shelter. When I’m not able to do that, it feels weird. It’s almost as if these games use homeless people as an easy lazy way to “add realism”, "background detail" to a virtual city, instead of remembering to think of them as “people”.
I argue that in games where I spend 90% of the time mowing down enemy soldiers, a mechanic where I can give money to the less fortunate or help them in some way would be a nice change of pace. This concept isn’t new to games, many RPG’s have NPC’s constantly asking the protagonist for favors to help them out. It's not like protagonists never help people, but I’ve never seen a game that has you see a homeless person on the street and have it allow you to just give them some of your players virtual money or buy them a room at a virtual inn. In fact, this happens so often that It made me think of this article.
You might be thinking, "so what". Maybe you don't think it desensitizes or causes us to think of homeless people as "meaningless background detail". Then at the very least, it is emersion breaking. Most recently I am playing Watchdogs, and homeless people are on the streets begging for money, and with all the power the characters have it would have been easy to add the ability to "hack" them some digital currency. I can control police drones and buy 6,000$ jackets, but I can't give the homeless person 5 dollars? Watchdogs Legion is a little unique in that every NPC's is recruitable, so you can at least do some favor for the homeless NPC's, but they don't need to to join your hacker group, they just need help. Why can't I just do favors for NPC's without needing them on my team? I will give Watchdog's major credit in that it is the first game to at least give attention to these characters. The homeless NPC's at least have names and can be talked to. Other games do this way worse.
It was weird playing the PS4 Spider-man game where an actual super hero just is supposed to walk past a homeless person on the street and do nothing. Even Spider-man is supposed to see these NPC's as meaningless background detail? Let’s be honest, if Spider-man walked past a homeless person on the street, he would do something. I've also seen in happen in the Witcher 3, Detroit Become Human, and pretty much every Assassin’s Creed game. There have even been times when the homeless person audibly is asking for help, or even homeless children coming up to the character and begging for money, in which my character has no choice but to walk past them, ignoring them.
I repeatedly play games where eventually I accumulate lots of in game currency and hoard loot like the Grinch on Christmas, but no matter how rich my character becomes, I am always forced to walk past poor people who are literally begging me for money. It is WEIRD.
It breaks emmersion. It reinforces that behavior in real life. It encourages a subconscious thought that homeless or poor people are just backgrounds and meaningless. You might think this topic is stupid, and that’s ok, but I want games to get more realistic, and one of those things is player freedom in these massive open sandbox games and I just find it strange that game developers keep bothering to populate these game worlds with homeless people and then just asking us to ignore them. Why even put them there if there's nothing I can do?
Dear Developers, If I can pet the dog or shoot the chicken, please for the love of god just let me drop some fake money for the homeless NPC so I can feel less like a monster in my free time.