In Free Guy, the new film from director Shawn Levy and screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, Ryan Reynolds plays an NPC—a non-playable character—from a video game. Over the course of the movie, Reynolds’ character becomes conscious, falls in love, and eventually learns how to use lightsabers, Captain America’s shield, and a grab-bag of intellectual property controlled or licensed for the movie by the Walt Disney Company. It’s not the first time NPCs have been featured on-screen, but no other film has spent as much time exploring their inner lives. To find out how NPCs felt about their moment in the spotlight, I travelled to several video game universes and asked any NPC I could find what they thought about Free Guy. Here’s what they told me.
The Troll from Zork: The Great Underground Empire - Part I
Navigating the twisty little passages of the Great Underground Empire is never easy, but with the help of an online walkthrough, I found my way to the troll room, where I spoke to a nasty-looking troll about Free Guy. Here’s our full conversation:
This is a small room with passages to the east and south and a forbidding hole leading west. Bloodstains and deep scratches (perhaps made by an axe) mar the walls.
A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages out of the room.
Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.
The troll’s swing almost knocks you over as you barely parry in time.
>Talk to troll
The troll isn’t much of a conversationalist.
The troll pauses for a moment, perhaps thinking that you should re-read the manual.
>Say “Troll, did you enjoy the new movie Free Guy?”
The troll’s axe barely misses your ear.
>Say “Troll, do you think Ryan Reynolds accurately captured your day-to-day reality?”
The flat of the troll’s axe hits you delicately on the head, knocking you out.
Conquering his fears, the troll puts you to death.
It appears that that last blow was too much for you. I’m afraid you are dead.
**** You have died ****
An Injured Lab Scientist from Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter
My visit to the spaceship Arcadia wasn’t exactly peaceful: Moments after I arrived, the Sariens killed basically the entire crew. Nevertheless, I was able to have a brief conversation with an injured lab technician before jumping ship. Here’s what he had to say about Free Guy, Ryan Reynolds, and the challenges of creating tentpole movies based on new IP:
Members of Otto Ward’s Gang from Red Dead Redemption 2
I met up with several members of Otto Ward’s gang at the abandoned Prinz & Co. slaughterhouse just outside of St. Denis to see what they thought about Ryan Reynolds’ performance in Free Guy. They weren’t enthusiastic about being interviewed, but nevertheless made it very clear they weren’t exactly fans of the movie.
An Angry But Well-Dressed Man in A.I. Dungeon
A.I. Dungeon is a text adventure that uses artificial intelligence to create new storylines, much like Ryan Reynolds’ character does in Free Guy. To learn more, I traveled to the city of Varesk in the Kingdom of Euryphalia to interview the first NPC I met about the movie, an angry but well-dressed man. Despite his obvious rage and foul odor, I was delighted to discover the man had strong feelings about Ryan Renolds. Here’s our full conversation:
As you approach the small house, you see a man who is predictably dressed in fine clothing. He smiles and nods, but his eyes burn with a cold fury.
> You talk to the man.
You walk up to the man, who smells of blood, sweat and rotten flesh. His eyes are pure, unadulterated malice.
“Good evening,” you say, trying to make conversation.
> You ask the man if he enjoyed Free Guy.
“Yeah. It was alright. But I really can’t stand that bartender. He’s always staring at me! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was creepy…”
> You ask the man if Ryan Reynolds captured his day-to-day experiences as an NPC.
“I… I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he says, clearly uncomfortable.
You shrug and walk away. As you do so, you notice a strange mark on the inside of his left wrist.
> You ask the man if he would have enjoyed Free Guy more if Ryan Reynolds had a strange mark on the inside of his left wrist.
He bursts out laughing. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t even like Ryan Reynolds. I’m married to that girl, remember?”
You feel a small sense of relief.
> You ask the man if he hopes Free Guy gets a sequel.
“No. I don’t think it’ll do well.”
“Yeah, but sequels usually do well!” you say.
> You thank the man for his time.
“Wait!” he says, jumping up. “I need to get this to someone. Can you… can you deliver this?”
He hands you a letter before fleeing.
It seems like non-playable characters don’t much enjoy talking to reporters! Even dedicated cinephiles like the angry well-dressed man in A.I. Dungeon are more likely to try to get you to go on a side quest for them than to share their opinions about the latest Ryan Reynolds film. Nevertheless, after spending several hours immersed in the rich and vibrant subculture of NPCs, one thing has become clear to this reporter: Computers were a terrible mistake.