Right-wing circles online have become increasingly obsessed with “NPC” memes, which they’ve utilized to compare their critics to non-playable characters in video games. The comparison, they hope, serves to ascribe a degree of intellectual apathy to, and dehumanize, those who do not hold their own far-right beliefs.
According to the meme-tracking website “Know Your Meme,” the NPC meme originated on 4chan in a 2016 thread posted to the portion of the site dedicated to video games. The post projects a hybrid of simulation theory philosophy and belief structures held by many conspiracy theorists, who become convinced that they have discovered a “truth” that has broken them from a previously autonomous lifestyle in normal society.
In early September, the meme experienced a brief renaissance on 4Chan’s “politically incorrect” anonymous image board (known online simply as “/pol/”) but appeared to wander out of the spotlight nearly as quickly as it had entered. But since the publication of a Kotaku article explaining the meme last week, users have made a play to replace the term “SJW”—referring to the caricature of a “social justice warrior”—and has given birth to a new tangle of spin-offs. As Cecilia D’Anastasio at Kotaku explains:
In some corners of the internet, NPC is beginning to replace the term “SJW.” According to ex-World of Warcraft dev Mark Kern, NPCs have the following qualities: “Incapable of independent thought. Wants everything done for them. (Quests) Constantly needing coddling (escort quests).” He published his checklist after another developer accused him of being a “right wing hack.” The tweet evidently was meant to compare so-called SJWs to these NPCs.
It’s a now-common refrain on Reddit, with posts on /r/The_Donald saying, “The Left is just a meme of lunacy come to life. They’re just NPCs in the game of life” or, in reference to economic experts widely condemning tariffs, “here we are with one of the best economies in US history. Only brainwashed NPCs believe what ‘experts’ say when those claims are contradicted by reality!.”
Now that the NPC meme has been re-framed as a way to “own the libs,” it’s inspired a new wave of enthusiasm among Trump supporters online. Google Trends shows a massive spike in interest in the meme.
Users at Reddit’s largest pro-Trump forum board have praised the meme’s supposed potency, one user writing, “I guarantee this is demoralizing enough liberals to make a difference on Election Day.” Users adapted the meme to depict NFL player Colin Kaepernick, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and panel guests on CNN. One user even created a custom snapchat filter that users can apply to transform anyone’s face into the “NPC” meme.
Moderators for the subreddit posted the meme on Twitter.
NPC’s confirmed pic.twitter.com/ecuKZCbQPM
— /r/The_Donald (@thedonaldreddit) October 12, 2018
The meme has also taken a grip over the 4chan board that birthed it. In the last week, more than one hundred threads discussing the NPC meme have been created.
Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump figure who works at One America News, took interest in the meme earlier this week.
Ian Miles Cheong, who Kotaku identified as a primary popularizer of the meme, has been using the term to sneer at his critics.
Naturally your opinions don’t change because you’re an NPC.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 10, 2018