Children should go to amusement parks. Roller coasters, bumper cars, sugar rushes – it’s an experience designed for a certain age. By the time you’re a teenager, the cotton candy doesn’t melt like it used to. The gravity doesn’t tug the same way.
In real life, there’s a time and a place for everything. Indie rock, Bukowski novels, ironic T-Shirts and Harlem Globetrotting always struck me as things best done by young adults. Backpackers of the world need to hop on a plane before they sell their soul to careers, spouses, and movie night with the kids. Even if you’re single, hostels, drugs, and all-nighters are a young man’s game. You don’t want to be the creeper who travels the world in his late thirties. Or in the words of William S. Burroughs:
You have to be awake.
When you’re young, you want to be in a place where it’s okay to scream. You want to have late nights and good tacos and watch the night bleed out on a fading scrim. Where were you when you weren’t there? Somewhere you shouldn’t be? If you’re young, attractive, and have cash to spend, then more often than not, you were. The rest of us though – old, ugly or poor – we’re still fucking with a strap-on. We’re traveling the world on paper airplanes.
Yet there’s one thing the virtual world grants us that the real world cannot. Agency. In our little sandbox, we can run over hookers and eat cotton candy and ride dragons to work, and it will all make sense because it doesn’t have to. The rules are ours to make, the roles are ours to play. You can read one book and burn another, grow a beard and shave your legs. There is no great watcher to govern our behavior, no clock to tell us when it’s time for bed or time for work. We’re flying high. We’re free.
This is why people lose their shit when you make an essential NPC. It’s a violation of that fundamental contract, the notion that your game is to be played your way. The problem is, while the choices are yours, these decisons are made half-blind. Essential NPCs are always involved in quests. There’s no reason as a developer to give the player the freedom to shoot themselves in the foot, no matter how green and rancid and athletic it looks at the time.
And while there are essential NPCs, there are none that are permanently so. The tag is removed the moment the applicable quest is finished. They can all be killed eventually, but not until they’ve played their part. Because sometimes, even when the world is your playground – and all of us are nothing more than toys for your amusement – there is a time and a place for things.
You just have to wait until you’re a little older. Then you’ll understand why.