Stop treating human beings like NPCs.

Technology has made it stupidly easy to avoid real human interaction. Our eyes are glued to our phones, barely noticing the people around us. Even in real-world interactions, we talk over the top of our screens — anything to avoid face-to-face conversations. We treat cashiers, servers, customer reps and even people we care about like NPCs from some video game–two-dimensional extras put here just to serve our needs. This has to change. It’s dehumanising and keeps us from connecting, both with each other and with ourselves.

When we mentally reduce people to NPC status, we strip their humanity away. We don’t see them as complex individuals with real lives, hopes, dreams and struggles. Instead, we see them as quest-givers, vendors, allies or obstacles. Their only purpose is to help our cause or get out of the way. We don’t “waste” time wondering where they go when we’re done with them, what they struggle with, or who’s waiting at home. This mindset has spread from games into dangerous places.

Customer service reps get hit the most. Think about the barista at your coffee shop, the grocery store cashier, or the waiter at your favourite restaurant. We don’t even make eye contact or offer basic niceties. We’re brusque, demanding, self-absorbed and sometimes flat-out rude.

Beyond basic courtesy, these workers deserve respect. But all too often, we hear horrific stories of abuse — harassment, bullying and discrimination. Maybe if we saw service employees as human beings instead of NPCs, that crap wouldn’t fly. Bosses and managers wouldn’t get away with mistreating real people who deserve basic dignity.

It gets worse. We even treat friends and family like NPCs now. Social media has amped up the trend of showing off fake-perfect lives to impress others. Our posts are humblebrags, strategic glamour shots, and exaggerations. “Killer content!” is the battle cry. But we’re constantly wondering, “How will this perform online?” and it wrecks any chance of authenticity. It turns real interactions into staged performances. We pursue friends and partners not for who they are inside but for whether they make our feeds pop. Here, too, everyone’s just the supporting cast in our own personal gamified RPG existence. 

Even those closest to us get the NPC treatment. Partners view each other as emotional servants to satisfy needs when convenient, ignoring each other’s inner lives. Parents reduce kids to achievement machines serving their reflected glory. Friends become disposable sidekicks rather than cherished companions.

This dehumanisation seeps into our language, too. We talk about “optimal productivity hacks” instead of a reasonable work-life balance for human sustainability. We want to “game the system” rather than contribute meaningfully. We evaluate mates as lifestyle accessories rather than whole people. Everywhere, living, breathing humans get reduced to objectives, stats and strategies.

To get off this trainwreck track, we have to put in the work.

Cultivating authentic connections takes time and sincerity. It means listening without judgment, sharing without expectation, and supporting without strings. We have to see the soul behind the social mask.

Ditch the phone and notice people around us. Make eye contact, chat, and be polite even when we’re not feeling social. Remind ourselves that the barista or cashier assisting us has their own full life beyond the transaction. At a minimum, niceties like “please” and “thank you” and smiles help.

Most importantly, we need to nurture real relationships. Put in the effort to truly know someone–their dreams, fears, core beliefs. Be vulnerable and fully present without distractions. Maintain bonds not for what the other provides but who they are. Cherish loved ones for their essence rather than their roles.

We have to consciously choose to see the whole person behind the real-world avatar. Notice their quirks, curiosities, dreams and doubts. Start small with basic courtesy to strangers, then nurture intimacy and vulnerability with loved ones. Trade frenzied productivity for meaningful contributions that affirm our shared humanity.

Call me a rabid idealist, but I believe this shift could transform our society. As we start to see the humanity in others more clearly, it creates a ripple effect of respect and consideration. Movements emerge to support basic human rights and dignity for everyone, recognising we all share core needs regardless of race, gender, status or other differences. Laws and social norms grow to provide better protection, especially for vulnerable groups. Language evolves to reflect value, belonging and compassion rather than cold objectives and transactions. Even small, individual acts of kindness have an exponential effect, compounding to strengthen communities.

With fulfilled, connected human beings, creativity and innovation flourish. People feel safe taking risks and expressing themselves when surrounded by support rather than judgment. Mental health improves, reducing addiction, violence and isolation. Education gets more personalised, medical care more holistic and preventative. When we look into another’s eyes and recognise our shared essence, walls crumble. When we know someone’s story, judgment fades. In glimpsing and understanding pain, our hearts expand. It’s easier to be generous and forgiving when you feel secure. Petty grudges fade when your own cup overflows.

Reducing humans to functions may seem expedient in the moment, but it bankrupts our souls. When we strip others of their intricate inner worlds, we lose part of our own.

We have everything to gain by waking up to the brilliant souls surrounding us. And everything to lose if we stay trapped in single-player mode. Our future is tied to seeing the humanity in us all.

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