Non-playable characters, aka NPCs, aren’t exactly known for being the brightest sparks. They’re the folks that you’ve got to rescue, get stuff for, ask you to perform random tasks and generally cause a nuisance that you’ve probably got to clean up later. But they also fill our game worlds, making them feel more believable and alive, even if they are responsible for a lot of very strange behaviour. Leaving gold-filled chests, letting strangers come into their homes and take their stuff without even a raised eyebrow are just a few examples of their rather odd traits.
Usually the presence of NPCs is easy enough to ignore as you task your way through their worlds - unless they block your way, in which case you want to punch them in their pixellated faces. Although, when you actually start to think about NPC behaviour, it’s pretty ridiculous. Consequences of their actions can range from having the strangest drawer contents in the world to actually getting physically harmed because of it. So here’s a list of dumb things NPCs do constantly, for reasons that science and logic have yet to explain. Watch the video below or skim through, but no sudden movements - you might scare them away.
Leaving treasure chests out where anyone can raid them
Treasure chests are like the ATMs of the gaming world--they're a good way to get quick cash, and sometimes there's one on practically every corner. That seems weird when you think about it, because someone has to be filling them up, and then making the conscious decision to trust them to the alleyways, back gardens and balconies of the world, where any ol' protagonist can come along and abscond with their bounty.
It makes a little more sense to find chests in dungeons and temples--the sorts of places where anyone who cared about the contents hasn't been around for a while. However, in bustling cities, one has to question the wisdom of leaving valuable items or currency in an unlocked, unguarded wooden box. What are the chances these things won't get raided? In fact, why is the hero the only one who ever seems to go for it? Coming across a beggar asking for food while standing next to a crate brimming with gold is kind of a bizarre experience, to be honest.
Scattering journal pages around for complete strangers to find
For being private chronicles of their most intimate thoughts and feelings, NPCs don't seem to care much about who reads their diaries or, really, where they end up. A myriad of side quests have centered on the player seeking out journals or diary pages of certain individuals to better understand the games plot, which in and of itself isn't that odd. It's when the search gets under way that things turn peculiar, as pages show up on roofs or in the hands of dead bodies, or highly incriminating recordings get stashed in flowerpots.
We're not just talking about writings by the dearly departed either, or people who had no means of keeping their annals contained: often enough the person who wrote the pages is alive and well, and doesn't seem all that concerned that their embarrassing secrets, criminal confessions or safe combinations are being picked over by complete strangers. Heck, at least one person is collecting these things--how is that not unsettling?
Forgetting about a crime committed in front of them (about two minutes ago)
Witnessing a crime can be a harrowing experience, even more so when it’s an assault or murder. It’s the kind of thing that sticks with a person, and while some can push it out of their minds, others may never manage. NPCs don't seem to have that problem: they’re liable to forget a felony committed in front of their face while the perpetrator is still within shouting distance.
Boasting the memories of goldfish, many NPCs who see the hero trespass in a restricted area, steal something, or brutally assault someone will completely forget about it if the assailant hides in a dark corner for a minute or two. This behavior is particularly jarring when it comes from guards; while it might make sense for Cindy Civilian to look the other way, one would hope the watch would be more discerning. However, often enough they'll spy the hero and give chase, only to decide the danger has passed when their mark slinks away into the shadows, still armed and deadly. Yeah, you're right, it was probably just rats.
Acting nonchalant about strangers storming into their house
Apparently breaking and entering isn't a crime in most video games worlds, or NPCs are just really neighborly, because most of them are way too cool with random travelers wandering into their houses and taking anything of remote value.
This behavior is most common amongst the cartoony background characters who inhabit the likes of Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda. Despite the fact that the hero just strolled into a private residence with no warning or introduction--usually without speaking at all--the residents are more than happy to carry on a conversation with them as if this were totally normal. They also don't seem perturbed when their uninvited visitor starts going through and/or breaking their things to get at what's inside. It's not just one weird old lady or a pair of new age hippie types either--you can go through an entire town without finding a single person who will object to you trespassing in their home. Suddenly the intruder looks like the well-adjusted one here.
Asking a stranger to do an intricate and important task for them
Speaking of inordinate trust for complete strangers, a lot of NPCs seem overly willing to foist quests on the hero before they even get a handshake in. Normally this could be chalked up to laziness (lay-abouts, walking back and forth between the same two points all day) if they had no personal stake in the success of the quest. However, often the favor the NPC asks for is personal, and they seem to think that you, oh nameless one, are the person for the job.
Usually the task involved is of dire importance: retrieve a precious family heirloom, help rescue the NPCs pet or child (those are interchangeable, right?) or recover a critical protective item. That in mind, I can't help but wonder why this monumental task is being given to a totally random person. What's to stop the hero from stealing or ransoming the NPC's precious item, or doing something equally horrible? If this fellow off the street is really the most trustworthy person you know, you may need better friends.
Keeping things in their homes that they have no earthly use for
Say Character X has powers unique to the world in which she lives. These powers give her distinct advantages over others, cause her to stand out, and her fellow citizens might even be frightened of her. Then she saunters into an NPC's house for the daily looting and finds a super special potion that has literally no other function than to augment her powers. Huh?
If we want to imagine for a moment that the world doesn't revolve around the player character (yeah yeah, laugh it up) one has to wonder what random NPCs are using such items for, since they have no real function to anyone but the main character. What good is, say, an item that restores magic points in Final Fantasy XIII, where magic users are feared by society? Why does a random office in Bioshock Infinite have a shield upgrade potion in a desk drawer, when Booker is the only one in the city who can use it? Someone call Hoarders, this one's a doozy.
Leaving things in the weirdest places
NPCs have the organizational skills of a team of howler monkeys on PCP; there’s literally no other explanation for the collections of things one stumbles upon while looting their homes and places of work. Why are there rifle rounds in the bathroom sink? Who keeps mythical potions in their desk? How does a pineapple even fit in a card catalog?
Even though the layout of these places looks completely reasonable, the logic stops there, as the residents unfailingly store their personal possessions in bizarre and nonsensical fashion. Every now and then the hero will stumble upon something justifiable, like a first-aid kit in a medical cabinet, but you're just as likely to find a mobile suit upgrade or an entire turkey in there. (Oh, and remember those diary pages from a few slides back? Check under the coffee table.) One can only guess that this arrangement makes some sort of sense to them, but on the other side of the controller we're left scratching our heads.
Selling highly dangerous items to pretty much anyone
Your typical NPC seems to be a poor judge of character. Between asking roughened strangers for help recovering items of paramount value, leaving their life savings outside in a box and not minding when people loot their home, these people are far too trusting for their own good. The good news is that usually their gullibility only affects them; the bad news is that, on the other hand, some of them are weapon shop owners.
Clearly adamant fans of the free market, NPC shopkeepers are happy to sell the biggest, strongest, most dangerous weapons and spells to just about anyone. Admittedly most of these worlds probably don’t have firearms / broadsword / magic talisman regulations, but these humble salespeople can probably feel safe pulling the blinds when a man the size of a small house comes around looking for Sword of Eternal Damnation and Woe. If they aren't careful, one of their immensely powerful weapons could turn a hero evil, and they'll have to find another hero to go take care of the first one. Vicious cycle and all.
Discard valuable resources on a whim
For some of us, finding a couple of dollars in the dryer can feel lucky, and nabbing a $20 bill of the sidewalk seems like a windfall. However, video game heroes have got us all beat: they're practically swimming in all the cash NPCs toss aside.
Bizarrely, just as they hold onto things they decidedly do not need, NPCs throw away a lot of really useful items, like money and medicine. Scrounging the trashcans of the video game realm is one of the quickest ways to prep for adventure, because stacks of coins, an ether or a health pack seem to be waiting around every discarded banana peel. While this is a lucky break for the main character, one has to wonder who throws out honest to goodness legal tender or perfectly good potions. Youre also almost guaranteed to find restorative items and ammo thats been tossed aside, which makes you wonder how well off these people are for that to seem reasonable. Forget the bourgeois, what about the bourgeoiPC?
Neglect to keep their world-destroying artifacts under lock and key
Devices of unending destruction always seem to end up in the hands of the bad guys. Sometimes it's because the villains are stronger, more vicious, or more well-armed than the heroes and able to take it with ease. Sometimes it's because an unwitting NPC forgot to lock the Storage Closet of Doom.
While some NPCs take guardianship over highly dangerous items seriously, an alarming amount of them are willing to rest on their laurels, content in the assumption that the object of interest will be safe for no real reason at all. The Happy Mask Salesman from Legend of Zelda is a pretty prominent example--carry an evil mask that can possess people in a sack over your shoulder, that seems safe--as is whoever decided to leave the three world-destroying statues completely unguarded in Final Fantasy VI. A Chuck E. Cheese has higher security than that, and surprising exactly no one, those objects unfailingly get stolen or messed with, causing mass chaos.