Thursday, October 17, 2013
Blips: Speak Up
Source: Nathan Drake talks too much
Author: Brian Taylor
In a new piece for Unwinnable, Brian Taylor talks about the silent protagonist, and the misguided thinking behind its continued implementation in video games. He frames the silent protagonist through its most easily recognizable pop culture figure: the silent cowboy. The silent cowboy, as we remember him today, is a character born out of cinema that says more with a cold stare or a squint that he ever could with words. Of course the social context of wartime and post-war cinema was using the silent cowboy to reinforce societal norms with regard to masculinity, which makes carrying over silent protagonists into video games ironically appropriate, given how they've largely been implemented.
The conceit of the silent protagonist is supposedly that it allows the player to immerse themselves in the character, making them their own, but Taylor rightly calls BS on this. It's a theory that has since been disproved, except in cases where full customization is at your disposal. I love the analogy of games with silent protagonists as puppet shows: you don't become the characters, you just pull the strings of puppets that have no personality built into them.
The only reason I might prefer silent protagonists is when I don't have confidence in the writing ability of the game development team. However, now that more devs seem to be hiring dedicated writers and including them as part of the process early on, let's allow them to write dynamic characters instead of forcing them to write around archaic conventions.