We all like to think we’re the main characters of our own stories.
Except I’m pretty sure that in the grand scheme of things, I’m an NPC. A non-player character. One of those guys in a video game who stands around and might do something useful for the main characters once in a while. Or like the redshirts in Star Trek.
Image from StarTrek.com
Ensign Frank, no!
In theory these NPCs have lives, families, jobs, hobbies. Some video games even program those things into the NPCs so you can stalk them and watch what they do. But they’re not part of the main story. They’re just background. The highlight of their existence is the one time they get to assign a quest to the main character or otherwise interact with the plot. After that, they’re just Citizen #47.
Most of us spend our lives straining for significance. We want to know we’re important and effectual. That what we do matters. We thrill when somebody important notices us. (Like this one time, Michael Connelly favorited a Tweet I wrote. Squee!) In the end, though, the vast majority of us are not going to influence global politics or sociological trends. Even if we achieve huge success in our given fields, the rest of the world probably won’t notice.
I don’t know if there are main characters in life. But if there are, I’m not one of them. I might never be one of them.
And that’s okay.
You do not derive significance from whether or not other people notice you. Not from your accomplishments and whether they’re seen by the world. You are significant because you’re a person. You have a life, and whether or not that life makes it into the world’s main storyline or is simply part of the background of history, that matters.
You impact the people around you in countless ways, and those people go on to impact other people in other countless ways. What you do today could have an effect far beyond your understanding. I’ve said before that God is an author, and the world is like his novel. That means your decisions, whether or not you realize it, play into the story. You, as the character, might not know it. But the author does.
Where would Frodo and Sam be if the off-screen Elvish baker hadn’t made the waybread they took with them into Mordor?
Where would Captain Kirk be if the ship’s quartermaster didn’t keep replacing his torn shirts?
Where would countless fantasy protagonists be if the town blacksmith didn’t repair their armor and weapons? Or the innkeeper feed them and shelter them?
The things NPCs do may not make it on screen, on the page, or into the story. But without them, there’s no world, and without the world, there is no story.
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There also wouldn’t be memes like this. And that would be sad.
So come on, fellow NPCs. Let’s go out and live our lives, perhaps brushing up against the plot, perhaps only indirectly touching it, but influencing it nonetheless.
Adventure (or lack thereof) ho!