A big eagle attacking a warrior from above.

The Silent Protagonist

Actions speak louder than words.  This phrase is used to emphasize that acting upon an event, be it grand or small, can make a larger impact than voicing the intention.  In an example, showing someone you love them with a grand gesture, rather than simply saying the words, can have a deeper emotional response.  In the gaming world, you will rarely see a silent antagonist, as they need to exposit their plans to the audience so they have a clearer understanding of why they are the villain. When it comes to the silent treatment, it’s usually done by the protagonist.  It is a stylistic choice by the developer to have their main character without a speaking role.  The end result doesn’t necessarily hinder the experience, but rather offer a unique take on the events as they unfold.  But why have one in the first place?  Here are some reasons I believe explain it.

The Player IS the Character

In the outside world, you are who your personality says you are.  In the gaming world, you are who the story says you are, even if you are controlling a person that is very different than yourself. These characters can vary greatly based on the genre of the game.  The idea here is that the imagination of the player brings out the experience. This is especially true in an MMORPG, where the avatar can be anything you wish, barring only the restrictions of the character creation screen.  From here the story progresses the same as it would for anyone else also playing in that world, and the only interaction the created character has is walking up to the quest giver and accepting their request.  You see this voiceless character in games like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, Fly For Fun (FlyFF), or Maple Story.

That isn’t to say there aren’t silent protagonists in offline games.  In this case, whether you’re a pre-selected character, or you spent several hours in the character creation screen before finally getting into the game proper – as is the case for games such as Saints Row or Elder Scrolls, you are the character in the game.  You are Master Chief, or Gordon Freeman, or Samus.  There are even characters such as Frisk in Undertale, whose gender and overall appearance is left ambiguous for gender neutrality, which makes it easier for the player to project themselves into the story.

The Theatrics of the Character

As I mentioned before, actions do speak louder than words, and when it comes to the silent protagonist the more powerful emotions come from their body language.  These characters are the ones that do not get the dialogue options to progress the story, except for your input of yes and no.  These characters rely on the actions given to them by the limitations of their games in order to convey what they otherwise cannot say.  In the times of Squaresoft (now Square Enix), we would have seen exaggerated expressions painted onto character sprites to help detail how they feel, something that is best seen in Chrono Trigger.

As technology advanced, a character’s body language was easier to create than it would have been in days past. With the help of 3D modeling, the silent protagonist can now utilize their body to convey further what they feel.  In such cases, games like Persona 3 and Shadow of the Colossus become more expressive with the use of their arms and legs, where showing grief is but a hand hold away.

Does This Work Today?

We are seeing this trope used less and less when it comes to gaming.  As some video games are becoming more in-depth in their story telling, the need for the main protagonist to speak has become even more important. One could say that the silent protagonist is something of a dying breed of hero, had it not been for one of the most famous heroes of all making a return.  In 2017, we saw the return of the Legend of Zelda with Breath of the Wild.  In it, Link makes his return to Hyrule, never once saying a word.  Though it would have been unusual for a character who hasn’t spoken in 30 years to have said anything in this particular game, it still proves that the protagonist doesn’t need to speak to have their game enjoyable.

 

Did today’s article leave you speechless?  Well you don’t need to remain silent, simply leave your thoughts in the comments below.  Until next time, adventurers!

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