Not every protagonist speaks; some games have a silent protagonist. But what makes a silent protagonist good for the story over a speaking protagonist? Let’s see why a silent protagonist can be a good design decision.
When a protagonist is silent, it’s hard to gauge their thoughts and personality. Characters like Mario, Link (Legend Of Zelda), Chrono (Chrono Trigger), Serge (Chrono Cross) would be hard to accurately describe as people because they’re silent. This is why people are cautious of quiet people, or label them shy. This labeling process is what makes a silent protagonist strong from a design perspective.
Labeling is the act of interpreting how someone feels. When you label a character’s personality or emotions in a scene as a player, you create that emotion in yourself. Here’s an example.
The protagonist has reached the end of their journey. They have discovered that they’ve been helping the antagonist of the game accomplish their goals. The antagonist then approaches the protagonist like a lion stalking his prey in the night, toying with his food from the darkness. The antagonist then says: “Thanks for doing my dirty work, friend.” Smiling at the protagonist with a complete confidence as if it’s all over.
At this point, the player who cares about the character will experience emotion; they will label the emotion and come to their own conclusion on how the protagonist feels. This is a powerful tool because each player can have a different experience.
This is a powerful tool because each player can have a different experience. This is often coupled with the other way to create an emotional reaction through the silent protagonist: “choice”.
Everyone has a choice. Choice in video games create high-pressure situations or narrow the focus of the player’s thoughts. By giving your silent protagonist a choice, you let the player shape the protagonist’s personality to the player. A good example is Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Xenoblade Chronicles X has mini-stories in certain quests. The player may be prompted with a choice during the quest. Depending on your choice, certain characters could die, be injured, or be lost forever. These consequences only affected the mini-stories but made the player feel more like their silent protagonist.
The silent protagonist acts as the player in the story. By giving the player choices, and rarely letting the protagonist speak you create an experience of being the character, instead of relating to the character. While playing a game like Xenoblade Chronicles X, the characters feel more important to you, because your protagonist is your avatar in this world. This is also why players feel closer to their characters in MMORPGs. One of the reasons is because customization in-game can help create an identity and attachment, but that’s another topic.
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