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Why So Silent?

(Minor spoilers for Dishonored)

Why are so many protagonists in games these days silent? Back in the old days of videogames nobody talked. They didn�t have the technology to fit in any voices outside of the occasional villain screaming. But as the technology grew, space on disks and such grew and voice acting was added gradually. Games would have more spoken words. Characters started grunting when they jumped, calling out their attacks and eventually full on acting in cutscenes. These days most games have a ton of spoken dialogue. Games have scripts! Something unheard of in the old days.

Silence fits the character or setting.

The last example, the character isn�t the talking type or it really isn�t the time for talking. Chell from portal is an example of this if you believe the creator�s opinion on her silence. She doesn�t want to give the robots the satisfaction of hearing her speak so she�s stubborn and shuts up. The player doesn�t see if she talks to other humans because there aren�t any. It says a lot about her relationship with the other characters in the game by her silence.

In a lot of horror games, the player character is silent most of the time. Obviously silence builds tension and people want to hear a human voice to reassure them. A fantastic example of this is in Penumbra, the spiritual predecessor to the terrifying Amnesia. You�re alone in a bunker filled with monsters that have better ears than they do eyes. You stay silent, terrified of alerting them. It builds the loneliness in your situation so when you discover there�s someone else alive in the bunker you spend your whole time trying to get to her. When you get a parasitic monster in your head that speaks in a kind sarcastic voice you�re just glad to hear someone talking to you even if it�s a monster. Because you�ve waited so long for another voice you, the player, instinctively trust the monster which makes its betrayal all the more sudden and tragic.

There are non-horror games where silence fits the setting too. Fallout and Skyrim would be a lot different if the dovakiin was constantly making jokes, it�d ruin the desolate atmosphere of being alone in the wilderness.

As said before Corvo�s silence in missions makes perfect sense both from a story and gameplay perspective. He�s silent because he�s being stealthy and the player gets enough characterization in the missions by choosing how to get past obstacles. The atmosphere changes when he�s with Emily or the Empress though. He�s not �murder machine� Corvo, he�s �defender� or �Father-like figure� Corvo. His silence no longer fits the character that�s been established previously and he loses that bit of characterization.

Games are a very unique medium, the only medium where a silent protagonist can work on a regular basis. In order to utilize the concept, however, there has to be a specific reason for the hero�s silence whether it�s to give the player complete freedom over their character, to invoke a feeling of loneliness or unease, or to demonstrate how the character reacts to other characters. It�s the failure to identify the reason for silence that so often causes it to fail.

So what do you think? Are you glad Corvo doesn't talk? Do you relate to Corvo? I want to hear your comments!
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About RamWarone of us since 11:25 AM on 10.20.2012

I'm a recent college graduate who majored in English and Fine Arts. While I wait for the lottery check to roll in, I figured I'd get into the game industry.

I've been playing games since I was five when my grandmother bought me a classic gameboy that came with F-1 Grand Prix, Link's Awakening, and Super Mario Land.

Super Mario Land became the first game I ever beat. Link's Awakening became the first game I was really invested in and F-1 Gran Prix became the first game I owned but didn't care about.

I love games and I love talking about them so feel free to comment on any of my blogs or message me or whatever.

You can follow me on twitter @Mattramwar