It’s a staple of RPGs, it seems: Main Character does a side quest, NPC thanks Main Character, and then Main Character moves on to the next side quest or main quest. Sure, there are the occasional times when an NCP is unexpectedly genuine, which we’ll talk about in a bit, but for the most part this “thankfulness” seems perfunctory.
That’s right, friends. Even thankfulness and gratitude aren’t safe from the all-seeing eye of AmbiGaming.
Gratitude or Thankfulness?
Language is a funny thing, isn’t it? We love our definitions around here, but this particular nuanced detail of language got me thinking about just how complicated language comprehension can be. Even removing things like tone of voice and facial expression, words can be used in so many different ways – some very different from the word’s original intended use – that it’s no wonder miscommunications are so easy to stumble across.
Take the words thankful and grateful as examples. On the surface, they seem very similar, both describing an appreciation for something, or for something that someone has done for us. Indeed, sometimes these words are used to define each other, formally or informally. But scratch the surface, and really take a look at the differences in definitions, then these words become starkly different.
Thankful is defined as “pleased about something good that has happened, or something bad that has not happened.” We have benefitted in some way, and are glad about it.
Grateful, on the other hand, is defined as “feeling or showing an appreciation for something done.” This is a state of being; it is more mindful than simply being thankful for a specific “thing” occurring.
These sound similar, don’t they? However, if we take a close look, we notice one small detail that is of paramount importance:
Being thankful is appreciating a benefit to ourselves, whereas being grateful is appreciating a kindness.
This can get very confusing very quickly, so let’s move on to an example.
Before we continue, I would like to stress that I am not trying to convince anyone that saying “thank you” is a bad thing. I think if people were to top saying “thank you” altogether, there would be a lot of people who would be offended.But, like with other topics we’ve covered, there is a personal-level (e.g., saying thank you even if in a perfunctory way) and a macro-level, which is for your consideration and pondering.
One way we can think of thankfulness is by saying that thank you implies a favor has been done, or a favor has been performed. It implies that the other person has done something of note and you are telling them so. It is favor performed, and creates a sort of “social imbalance,” which most people don’t like. For example, you don’t like feeling like you “owe” someone, do you? At best you are ambivalent about it, and at worst it nags at you until the scales are even again.
At the end of the day, we have simply benefited from another person and are acknowledging that fact. At its core, simple thankfulness is a social transaction performed.
This reminds me of my recent playthrough of The Witcher 3, in which poor Geralt of Rivia spends most of the game running around performing tasks for other people as he tries desperately to find Ciri, his adoptive daughter. Geralt (and eventually I, too) would always sound irritated when tasked with another fetch quest, or when sidequests began becoming so involved that it was hard to remember the original, story-related point.
Perhaps this was Geralt and my issue: we had cleared a cave of monsters, killed a griffin, sorted out family matters, faced all matters of beasts of both human and animal variety, and the people were thankful, paying Geralt with coin and praise, but most of it done as a business transaction: services rendered and paid for with coin and a thank you for the huge favor.
But the overwhelming amount of inane quests often showed a lack of gratitude for Geralt who did nothing but the jobs that no one else wanted to do. Even within game, Geralt is met with scorn one moment, and then a (perfunctory) “thanks, here’s some money” after doing the person/town a pretty huge favor by, you know, clearing that monster den. What was lacking, I realized, was a sense of gratitude.
I realize that, in the lore, being a Witcher does come with a certain amount of scorn and distrust on the part of the average townsperson, so asking for gratitude for a Witcher in this universe is sort of far-fetched. However, this backdrop presents a nice contrast between gratitude and thankfulness. Interestingly, though, as I was writing this I tried to think of times in games when characters showed gratitude rather than thankfulness, and it was not often. Sure, everyone is glad when the dragon is dead or the world is saved or the princess has been taken back from another castle, but where is the line between appreciating an act and simply being glad for its benefit to us?
Yes, it’s another brain bender happening here.
We spoke a bit about this before, but there have been a few times when NPCs have been unexpectedly thankful, and I think those instances are instances of gratitude. The characters realized that they had benefited, and were truly and deeply appreciative, not simply glad that they benefited from the main character’s actions.*
Gratitude, at its core, is a state of being; it is a mindful appreciation of the things you have or that people do for you, rather than a reaction to the objective benefit you have received. *
What About Witcher?
The Witcher are, indeed, a product of their times. I realize this is a bit of “chicken and egg” scenario, but Witchers experience a lack of gratitude at the hands of (most) of the people they help, and – perhaps because of this – they are quick to ask for payment and can be ruthless in their tactics. Or, perhaps, they asked for payment and showed a lack of gratitude themselves for the fact that the townspeople wanted them around, even if they were considered “freaks.”
Well, Athena, you might say. Why should Geralt or any other Witcher show gratitude when other people aren’t appreciative of his/their actions?
That’s a good question, with a thankfully simply answer (yes, I did that on purpose).
Unlike thankfulness, gratitude is not used as a social currency. It is possible to be grateful for thing you have even if the person next to you doesn’t extend that kindness to you. It’s the difference between appreciating that someone did something (which creates no social imbalance) and thanking them for it (which can). And as some research has shown, gratitude can have many health and social benefits to the person practicing it.
Which, of course, leads me to my next point about doing good and kind things because they secretly benefit you, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day…
What do you think? Are thankfulness and gratitude the same? Do you think characters saying “thank you” creates an imbalance of power in the game, and is that purposeful/beneficial for the game? What are some of your experiences in games with characters being thankful versus grateful? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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