Silent Protagonist Place in Gaming
While playing Far Cry 5 I was really enjoying myself. The gameplay was fun, the world was beautiful, and I enjoyed taking back the map piece by piece. Then story moments would happen and I found myself unengaged.
The reason? None of it seemed to matter. I’m going to stay mostly spoiler free in this post, but I will lightly touch on some themes of the game. There are events that occur to your character that should have long-lasting effects on you. Instead, nothing sticks, there is no long-lasting effect. When actions have no effect, then they lose impact. When they lose impact, they lose meaning and they don’t matter.
There are also various points throughout the game where other characters are speaking to you. These monologues should beget some response but that never materialized. Instead, you are constantly bombarded by monologues and after a while they just become noise. I rarely, if ever, skip dialogue options in games. I am the type of gamer who will explore every point of the map and talk to every NPC. In Far Cry 5, however, I frequently found myself skipping dialogue.
The main culprit is your player character isn’t a character. He or she, depending on your choice, doesn’t speak and doesn’t react to the goings on around them. If this was a game solely based on gameplay that is fine, but Far Cry tries to have a narrative. Because of its lack of the main character to invest in the rest of the story, it is impossible to invest in it.
This particular game had me thinking about silent protagonists in gaming and whether they still have a place today. To my mind, if you’re trying to have an engaging narrative then the answer is no. I will be the first to admit that there are possible exceptions to this rule, but I believe it still holds validity.
Silent protagonists, in my opinion, were a result of limitations of the medium. The older game didn’t have the ability to have fully voiced characters and they are a nostalgic holdover from that time.
I am aware of the argument that silent protagonists allow for players to fully immerse themselves and become the character. To me, however, they aren’t even a character at all. The worst offenders are the named characters who go unvoiced. If they don’t speak, your name isn’t Link, and they have no personality, then what’s the point?
Some games get around non-speaking characters by allowing you to make your own conversation choices. This is a fine workaround that keeps you engaged, but to be silent and not have a choice of what is said is just lazy for a character in this day and age.
Look back on Jak for the Jak and Daxter series. In the first game, Jak was mute and didn’t feel like a real character and Daxter was his mouthpiece. Games two and three come out and Jak finds his voice, and in doing so, finds a character. He becomes infinitely more interesting for it. Heck even GTA took the jump from good to great after leaving behind the mute Claude and finding voices and personalities in CJ, Tommy, Niko, Michael, Trevor, and Franklin.
I was really let down by the story of Far Cry 5. Unlike most people, it wasn’t because of, or the lack of, political commentary in the game, it was a lack of character. If a game wants to have a story players invest in, they would be better off having a character to carry that load.
Those are my thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments below, on Twitter @bypartisangamer, or on Gmail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Chuck the Bypartisan Gamer signing off.