Thoughts on Nonplayer

Fun fact: I don’t read comics; they’ve never captured my interest much. Nonplayer though–this caught my eye right away, and it’s easy to see why. Yes, I’m very superficial. You throw something like the picture above my way, and I’ll start swooning. I adore Wind Waker, Uncharted and Borderlands specifically for their visuals. I can’t stand the thought of playing some older, classic games because of how ugly they look. The angular polygonal shape of games on the N64 make me cringe now, looking back.

Nonplayer is definitely a visual treat, reminiscent of the wonder and splendor of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. This is a living, breathing world–a video game world, no less. It’s liveable; the detail is intricate in a fantastical, almost impossible way. The warm color palette invites you in. It’s not plausible inasmuch as it’s palpable, tangible–like Avatar’s visuals. I can’t say enough about the visuals–they’re worth the price of admission alone.

Nonplayer follows the story of Dana Stevens, a young adult who has dropped out of college, lives with her mom and delivers tamales for a living. Oh, and she plays a ‘full immersion’ MMO called Warriors of Jarvath where she happens to be an elite assassin. The twist? The NPC’s that are killed for quests have started to gain sentience. Like Skyrim’s Radiant AI, but real. The other crucial tidbit: when these NPC’s die, they stay dead.

Wow, a player having to deal with accountability? The possibilities for such a premise are great, though we’ll have to see where Nate Simpson takes it. It’s not a new premise, for sure, but the quality of the writing and the visuals may make it all worthwhile. Right now, with only one issue out, it’s too early to tell. If there’s one thing I hope, though, is that it doesn’t take the approach Battlestar Galactica did, where the humans all have such trouble conceptualizing feelings and emotions of something else simply because it’s not human. The fact that the NPCs are transient like us, however, may mean that the humans do not put up such a strong psychological wall.

Another interesting bit in the comic is the tech. It isn’t touched upon too much on the first issue, though the hardware looks like an ordinary bluetooth headset which is capable of taking you into the game. More than this, there appears to be tech that can transform what you see in the real world into something more interesting–that’s what the picture above is showcasing. Why experience the ‘real’ world, when you’ve got something more intriguing at the touch of a button? This, too, is a thought-provoking premise. We’re mitigating more of our daily lives in the digital realm, parsing high-bandwidth interactions and experiences into low bandwidth ones. Sure, though, the divide between the digital and the ‘real’ is, at the end of the day, political (ie one is not more legitimate than the other). But we’re still not at a point where we can freely admit that as a society, we privilege certain interactions and modes of experiencing life over others. I’m interested in seeing how this society, which already has all the tech in place to ‘fully’ transport us into the digital realm, deals with that reality. Is everyone immersed in that culture? Why or why not? Do they privilege one over the other?

If any of this sounds appealing to you, this online preview may be of interest to you, as might be this interview with Nate Simpson.