Its a dying trend, silent protagonists are no longer a mainstay of video games. Once thought to be a way to help immerse players in the character they were being, protagonists were left without any sort of dialog, sometimes even to a fault. But recently developers have realized that its much better to characterize their protagonists and give them a voice in what is going on around the player. The biggest evidence of this was the drastic change of Issac Clarke in Dead Space from a silent everyman to the fully-voiced character he became in Dead Space 2. Not a bad change, mind you, but certainly an indicator of how far removed the silent protagonist now is. This list is a look back at the best ones we’ve had in gaming.
10) Point man (F.E.A.R.)
I’ll be pretty blunt, the story of F.E.A.R. is simultaneously simple and overly complicated. The protagonist you play is called by fans the “point man”, because his name is never revealed in any of the games, on top of the fact that he never talks. What makes the point man from F.E.A.R. so interesting is how deeply involved in the back-story he becomes, yet we still don’t know many hard details about him by the end of any of the games.
9) Claude (GTA III)
Claude’s name is never actually revealed in GTA III, it was said much later in GTA: San Andreas when he makes a brief cameo. At first glance he seems like a pretty uninteresting character, but its when you really consider his actions and the missions he takes on that you start to see something deep is going on. He’s betrayed by his girlfriend and must work his way back up through the crime ranks of Liberty City to get a chance at revenge. Also considering that at a drop of a hat he can steal cars, blow up ambulences and kills literally hundreds of people and evades the authorities (well, depending on how good you were) kinda speaks to the insanity of not just this character, but the insanity that resides in all of us.
8) Jack (Bioshock)
At this point I think it is universally agreed that Bioshock had an amazing storyline up until the very end, had it not been for the somewhat misguided boss fight I think it would have been perfect. Jack is the protagonist and we assume that we are just the average joe-schmo until a few key parts of the plot are revealed. That he is silent throughout all of this makes us believe he is just sort of a simple person, but its actually a trick of the game to get you to feel secure in Jack’s shoes. By the time it is revealed that you are the unwitting agent for the game’s real villain, Fontaine, its all too late. By this time you are thoroughly cemented in Jack’s shoes making it all the more compelling to see Fontaine destroyed.
7) Pokémon Trainer (Pokémon series)
Pokémon is one of those games I treasure deeply for its insistence in staying the same throughout the years while still adding more creatures and places to battle. Its an enduring series that I don’t think will ever truly die, as long as handheld games stay around. The trainer that you play is always a silent protagonist, usually charged with saving whatever region you play in from something, but as I see it he is usually just along for the ride. He never argues with people and never makes a fuss even when some real BS comes his way (oh 4 different 2-man battles in a ROW? That seems fair, sure). Eventually he beats all the odds, catches em’ all and typically whoops the ass of several of his buddies along the way.
6) Tim (Braid)
Tim is a complicated character. That much is known from almost the very beginning of the game. He also has some time-manipulating abilities that make one wonder where he got them from. The real story of Braid may not ever be revealed, but from the build-up of those short little snippets of text to the mind-blowing ending, I think Tim’s silence really gives him a lot of character. We don’t actually feel like we’re in Tim’s shoes in this game, so our scrutiny of his story becomes even heavier. What is he hiding? If you haven’t experienced the ending to this game yet, I highly recommend you do, it will turn you comprehension of stories on its head.
5) Chell (Portal)
Chell is very much in it to survive. Its obvious from the half-way point of the first Portal that there need be no more of a motivation than getting the hell out of Aperture Science at all costs. As GLaDOS begins telling you about neurotoxins and past test subjects, it becomes clear that the only way to survive is by taking her out. Chell’s silence follows Gordon Freeman’s model, but it feels very special here since the characters talk directly to you all the time. It seems like you would be inclined to at least tell her to shut up. Chell puts her best boot forward and keeps at it until she thorooughly beats GLaDOS and friends twice, but the unfortunate problem is that we still know nothing of her backstory and where she will end up. Does it even matter? Maybe that’s the better question.
4) The player from Myst (Myst series)
This character may or may not change from game to game. Its never fully explained. But one thing is for certain that the character you play is deeply involved in the story at hand, yet is usually treated as a third-rate character. In a way you are a third-person character to the various other stories going on, typically learning about them through journals and cut-scenes. By the end of the game you do usually have direct involvement in the story at hand (such as the epic climax of Riven) and may even choose its outcome (most of the games had more than one ending, although usually only one was actually cannon), but without your direct involvement its obvious that things just wouldn’t happen.
3) Crono (Chrono Trigger)
Now here is a character that actually goes through a lot in the sense of characterization, somehow acting silent through the whole story. I think most of that is really just conveyed through the other characters as they talk, but Crono definitely has his own set of convictions and thoughts, they just happen to mirror a lot of your own. My favorite part of the game was also getting various unintended consequences from some of your earlier actions, a trick that not many games, save The Witcher, have really attempted.
2) Link (The Legend of Zelda series)
Link is the cannon name for a character you can technically name whatever you want. It also happens to be about the only thing you ever tell people in the series (when they ask your name, its repeated on-screen in the dialog at some point, usually they tell you how cool that name is). Link is the epitome of heroic and he does it unapologetically. When he makes mistakes he’s more concerned with fixing them than he is about sulking on them. His character is what “actions speak louder than words” truly represents. The series has also had its fair share of characterization, Twilight Princess showed some of the darker parts of Link’s mind in some of the cut-scenes. My only real problem with him would be his relationship with Princess Zelda. Typically it is non-existent, yet we are led to believe he’s fighting for her. The Wind Waker, I believe, had the best relationship between the two, but still nothing very substantial. I digress of course, Link represents the hero in all of us and his silence lets us enter into his shoes very easily, I think its part of why he is so endearing.
1) Gordon Freeman (Half-Life series)
You knew this was coming sooner or later. Gordon Freeman is silent almost to a fault. In an age where 3D graphics were becoming widely accepted and the production values of games were really ramping up, Half-Life dared to make Gordon the silent hero. The story of Half-Life is meant to be somewhat convoluted and hard to understand, because there is so much detail in the world there to help you figure it out. Having Gordon talk to the other characters would ruin a lot of the fun of discovering the story as you move along. Occasionally other characters make jabs at how little you speak, but one assumes that in reality Gordon has a presence and a voice in the matters at hand, he just doesn’t need to actually say it, his towering and silent demeanor are enough. Half-Life has one of the most rabid fanbases and I think it is because of the silence, because we all fit neatly into Gordon’s shoes.