The Silent Protagonist.

TheBrogrammer

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Hey everyone. 

What are all of your thoughts on silent protagonists?

Are they a way to immerse the player into the game, or is it just a cop out on the writer's part?  (Both?)

Do they deserve to stay in RPGs and other games, or should they just go extinct?

What situations call for a silent protagonist, and what situations do not?

Does your game use a silent protagonist?  Why or why not?
 

Hudell

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I ended up not using a silent protagonist on my game, even though I think they are better.

Imagine yourself playing a game where your character keeps saying stuff that you don't agree with. Some people may actually stop playing because of that.
 

Harmill

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I despise silent protagonists but there are still games I love that feature them (namely, Dragon Quest games).

But personally, I play a lot of RPGs for the narrative, and I really don't like the concept of trying to put the player in the silent protagonist's shoes. I don't want to be in his shoes. I want to view interesting character relationships, much like as I'd read a book. Interesting protagonists can keep me invested and immersed in the story more. John Marsten is a huge reason I played Red Dead Redemption, because I loved his character and found him so fascinating. I was glued to the game because he made me care about him and his quest. The dynamic between Cloud and Sephiroth would have been a joke if Cloud was silent. Tidus's development as a character, and his relationship with the other characters made me invested in Final Fantasy X's story. Replace any of them with a silent protagonist and you've killed the game.

Silent protagonists are just so boring to me. Perhaps one can argue that there are situations that they have a place, and I won't go so far as to say that silent protagonists should go "extinct", but I'm simply not interested in them.
 

hiromu656

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Silent Protagonists can make it much easier to put yourself into the character's shoes, dialogue options help as well. Like Hudell said, if the character keeps saying things you don't agree with it can be pretty aggravating knowing this is the character you have to play. The game Tales of the Abyss, which is a pretty great game, gets a ton of complaints about the main character (initially) being incredibly unlikeable which made it personally difficult to continue playing the game. He makes some changes fortunately, but it was hard to care about the story when you dislike the person taking you through it. Obviously if you only write characters that the player will like, however, that's a bad thing. I think silent protagonists and non-silent both have their place in games, just avoid using one or the other for the wrong reasons.
 
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Sharm

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I think a main character that people actively dislike is a problem with writing, not with the character not being silent. There are ways to make a character unlikable if you met them in person but really fun to watch/read/play. If you can't pull that off, make them a likable character and don't mess with the difficult stuff.


I can't stand the whole "empty protagonist" thing where you're just supposed to fill in the gaps however you like. I always see those characters as a frustrating half state. It's not like they don't have any character at all, otherwise there would be no predetermined plot and you'd choose everything. But since you don't choose everything, they have a character. For example, if you were to ask people to describe Link's personality I bet you everyone who did would come up with something very similar. Making them silent on top of that so people can put words in their mouths is silly and makes me feel like the writers aren't finishing their job.
 

Scythuz

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I can't stand the whole "empty protagonist" thing where you're just supposed to fill in the gaps however you like. I always see those characters as a frustrating half state. It's not like they don't have any character at all, otherwise there would be no predetermined plot and you'd choose everything. But since you don't choose everything, they have a character. For example, if you were to ask people to describe Link's personality I bet you everyone who did would come up with something very similar. Making them silent on top of that so people can put words in their mouths is silly and makes me feel like the writers aren't finishing their job.
Yeah I completely agree with this Sharm, in fact it was pretty much the point I was going to make too.  

Here's my own thoughts on this.  Silent characters can still have personalities even without saying a word, dialogue isn't the only way a character can express him or herself.  I feel incredibly cheesy quoting a song like this but it sums it up well for silent protagonists "a little less conversation and a little more action".
 

Ms Littlefish

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I don't prefer them but there are lots of games that have very charming silent protagonists and incorporate a lot of likable quirks and narrative to the game. One of my go to examples are the pantomime scenes from Super Mario RPG. So, silent characters can definitely work and be exciting. A silent character that does absolutely nothing is not. I understand being a blank slate and the whole imagination aspect, but if there is no strong indication of personality or effect on the story; then it doesn't really feel like I'm controlling the main character at all, just watching everyone else.
 
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Alexander Amnell

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    I despise a silent protagonist in a story-heavy game. A prime example of this I guess would be Golden Sun. In the first game the protagonist Isaac can only nod or shake his head in response to anything going on in game, while all the other characters are chatting up about the linear story progression going on around them. It's awkward, forget making sure the characters are 'likeable' for a minute and lets get back to whether or not the game itself is actually interesting enough to keep your attention in the first place. If you are screwing around in open-world type games where you are basically just playing an avatar (i.e. fallout/morrowind\gta etc(none of which are truly silent I know, but you can usually choose words for characters to some extent so it's a similar concept.)) it's okay I guess, though personally I'd rather play a game with a sound story featuring characters with convictions to make their role in said plot believable than be a blank slate and given only a nod and a shake or 2-4 flavor text choices to halfway choose something just similar enough to what I might say anyway.

   The whole 'your character has to be agreeable/likable' idea is nonsensical to me. It just sounds like at that point games become some form of weird escapism, rather than a healthy, entertaining hobby. I play games because I enjoy them, I read books for the same reason and have never had a problem with protagonists beliefs/actions/ideals/whatever conflicting with my own. The whole idea just seems strange to me, if I as the player of a game has to dictate how my character navigates a plot written by someone else to me the only end result is that the story suffers from it. Even in games where they try to allow the player to do that and actually pull it off for a minute seem to all eventually bail on the idea entirely and just leave their fans feeling cheated with retconned 'official' story canon that trumps any conflicting choices they might have at one point allowed you to make; bioware anyone?

   The stories are entertainment unto themselves to me, and if you are playing just to play and don't care so much for story then it really shouldn't matter anyway? Maybe if there is a reason to have a silent protagonist, and it's made up for by giving him/her other ways of portraying personality and conviction like Mrs. Littlefish said it'd be alright, other than that I can't see a true reason to make a silent protagonist, they just always seem to detract from the games that feature them.

   I'll certainly never use one in anything I work on, and with the exception of maybe Morrowind I can't think of an example of a game with silent-ish, immersive protagonists that I don't believe would have been better with a set lead with their own personality.
 
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Milennin

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Even though I'm not really a fan of the silent protagonist, there are still RPGs with silent protagonists I do very much enjoy (Pokémon, Skyrim and Borderlands 2 come to mind). In more open games I guess it's more acceptable (Pokémon and Skyrim), since those games want you to immerse yourself in the world, rather than take over a character with a defined personality. For me, Borderlands 2 has the excuse of it being a pretty action-y game, so a lot of the times you're missing out on the actual dialogues because you're too focused on shooting stuff around you (at least that's how it was for me). Also, the game is first person perspective, so you don't really see your character and makes it easier to imagine yourself as being the character.


Then there are also games in which having a silent protagonist do bother me. The Legend of Zelda games come to mind as the best example. I just... hate having Link being basically a mute, except he's not really a mute because he still utters those annoying shouts (Hyaah! Raah!) Ugh, I hate it so much. It worked for the old school 2D games, but in the 3D games, especially during cutscenes, it's so awkward in my opinion.


In my own game I have the main character with a defined personality and plenty of dialogue of his own with his teammates and NPCs they meet in the world. I really like that in RPGs, so of course I have it in my own game. I like to learn about the characters in my party, and part of that should come through dialogue. As well as see my characters grow and develop throughout the game's story. I enjoy that very much in games.

I despise a silent protagonist in a story-heavy game. A prime example of this I guess would be Golden Sun. In the first game the protagonist Isaac can only nod or shake his head in response to anything going on in game, while all the other characters are chatting up about the linear story progression going on around them. It's awkward...
Lol, agree. I guess it's more noticeable in Golden Sun because the other party members actually do get to do quite a lot of talking. I didn't mind it too much, but I agree it was kind of awkward having my character just stand there, not saying anything during dialogue-heavy cutscenes and only answering with yes/no on occasion.

I ended up not using a silent protagonist on my game, even though I think they are better.


Imagine yourself playing a game where your character keeps saying stuff that you don't agree with. Some people may actually stop playing because of that.
While people are probably more likely to quit a game over disliking the personality of the protagonist over playing a silent protagonist, it's impossible to please everyone. But even so, if your game is good enough, I doubt many people are going to quit over your protagonist's personality (unless he's got a very extreme personality), especially if you have a good variety of team members that may make up for that.
 
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whitesphere

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Even though I love Chrono Trigger, I wasn't a fan of Chrono being a Silent Protagonist.  The only time I think it makes sense in a story-driven RPG is if the character has been made mute for good reasons.  And even then it is much harder to pull off a compelling, emotionally engaging silent character in RPG Maker styled RPGs.  That's because your character is represented by a 32x32 (or 32x48) sprite, face sets and dialogue.  So the face sets have to carry the entire story for a Silent Protagonist.

Now it makes perfect sense in games like Skyrim and Pokemon because in those the world and events are all that matter.  I enjoy those 2 games but I'm not concerned at all really with interpersonal connections the protagonist makes in them.  The stories in those games are completely plot-centric, not character-centric.

If we ARE concerned with the protagonist as a person, I think it's very out of place to have the protagonist be mute. 

As for "a non-silent protagonist can throw players out of the game if they hate the protagonist", that is the challenge of good writing, I think.  Really good writing can make sympathetic villains, complex heroes that have real flaws, without going so far that some players lose interest.

And, there's no way to please everybody anyways.  Say an RPG has homosexual main character relationships.  It will certainly alienate some portion of the players for various reasons.  But if the developer needs that dynamic, it's a conscious choice.  I think the potential risk for losing player interest is outweighed by the benefit of being able to know a lot more about the protagonist if the protagonist speaks.
 
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jdh34

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I have a slightly different view on this a silent protagonist is a good thing I have many in my project they appear near the main enemy and say shh I'm here to help or I know this enemy's weakness or ha I know a perfect strategy
 

Heretic86

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The Actions of every Silent Protagonist will speak much louder than any Words ever will.
 

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