There is no shortage of abbreviations and acronyms in the world of video games. Among these shortened terms is NPC, which is used to refer to specific “non-player” characters in a game.
What does NPC mean
NPC is an acronym for “non-player character”. A non-player character is a character in a game that is not controlled by the person playing, nor by any kind of artificial intelligence. They are usually not made to behave like real people.
For example, visiting stores to stock up on supplies is a common scenario in games. In these cases, the shopkeeper, who does not move from his seat or dynamically change his behavior in any way, is an NPC. They just exist to interact in the same way whenever you want.
In addition to serving a functional purpose, NPCs can also have relevance to a game’s storyline, playing the roles of villains or other important characters. In “Animal Crossing”, NPCs like Tom Nook or Blathers will assign you tasks to complete, which you will need to progress.
They might even be there just to fill the world. In big city games like “Grand Theft Auto”, NPCs are used as citizens on the street, simply walking in one direction or running away from you. They help make the game world more immersive and alive.
Basically, NPCs generally serve a single purpose and have a very limited number of actions and reactions to the player.
The difference between an NPC and a CPU
As noted, in single player video games, NPCs are generally controlled by a limited set of routines and protocols. They are robotic and don’t try to hide it.
However, many games, especially multiplayer games that can also be played in single player, have characters known as CPUs. These characters are computer controlled, but are meant to move and act as if a real person is controlling them.
CPU stands for “central processing unit”, which is the component that manages the most vital systems of a device. You can think of it like the brain of a computer. Games use this term to mean that the character is actively controlled by the computer, making decisions dynamically as a human player would.
As noted, they are more common in games meant to be played with multiple people. If you don’t have enough human players to fill all the seats, the game will allow you to play with CPUs instead.
For example, take Chess, a game bundled with every Mac computer. In these games, you can play chess without a partner, in which case your opponent – computer programming – will be a CPU. This opponent is not a character of any kind; rather, he is an artificial intelligence that reads and reacts to his own moves.