Blank Slate Characters in Video Games

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Have you ever played a video game and thought, “Why doesn’t the main character have something neat to say?” I know many games have this sort of main character. Throughout the entire game, they say absolutely nothing. This is all the more unusual, as most media (TV, movies, books, etc.) almost never do this. Most viewers want someone interesting to cheer for on their adventures, and not some mute puppet that follows the flow of the story (actually, there are select stories, that do this and do it well, but personality and intent are shown through actions, so they aren’t complete blank slates).

Let’s take a look at a brief list of games or game series with blank slate heroes (or no hero) that the player controls. Keep in mind that this list is based on my experiences and knowledge, and is by no means comprehensive:

  • Super Mario
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Kirby
  • Metroid
  • Pokemon
  • Mega Man (mostly)
  • Tetris
  • Castlevania (mostly)
  • Earthbound (mostly)
  • Dragon Quest (main character)
  • Golden Sun (main character)
  • Final Fantasy (first game only, I think)
  • Splatoon
  • Chrono Trigger (main character)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (most games, though it is a stretch in some of his games)

It should be noted that many of these games are popular or are well-known. Now let’s look at some games where the main character has much more to say, and has a personality. This includes mostly games that I owned or played, and is far from complete.

  • Fire Emblem
  • Most Final Fantasy games
  • Octopath Traveler
  • Baten Kaitos
  • Star Fox
  • Pikmin (Well, the main characters do, but the Pikmin themselves are mute)

Most of these games are RPG’s , and the number is smaller than the list of mute playable characters. But the real question is why are there so many game characters that have nothing to say, or have a blank personality? There are a number of reasons, so let’s look at them one by one:

  • The primary reason is the character is an extension of the player, at least in most games. Heaven forbid they say something the player disagrees with. In order to compensate for the variety of players that play a game, they go with the middle ground of not saying anything at all.
  • Another reason may be technical restraints in older games. The technology, time, and budget may not have allowed it to be feasible to have characters audibly talk or have text pop up to say anything. This is no longer the case, at least most of the time.
  • The previous one may explain why older characters still don’t talk, as a form of tradition.

Some interesting things have occurred with this type of character being frequent in video games:

  • Mute characters tend to grunt or yell unintelligibly to emote with noises as they move on-screen. This is especially true of older games when voice acting was starting to crop up in games.
  • Personality, even the kind the player projects onto the character is shown thorough visual character design and movement patterns. This may have helped characters like Mario remain popular, despite no one really knowing what they are like.
  • Games also compensate for lack of speech through interesting actions and abilities that the character can do. This allows the game-play to shine in the game when it could be lacking in story.

There are some good things and bad things concerning a blank slate character in games:

Pro’s:

  • The player gets a chance to project their impression of the character as they play, allowing each player to have a unique experience.
  • The character’s lack of personality means there is no interference from personality with the game-play, or any interference with immersion (the suspension of disbelief that allows the player to get sucked in to the story).

Con’s:

  • Relies heavily on visual design and game-play functions to draw the player in. (This is good and bad).
  • The player knows next to nothing about the main character, particularly personality or motivations.
  • The supporting cast and other characters must pull the weight of the story, if there is one.
  • Some in-game conversations are awkward, where the character the player is talking to reacts to something not said (this is noticeable in The Legend of Zelda series).

So what do I think about games with blank slate characters?

  • Not all games need a personality infused character.
  • Games without much story definitely do not need it (Tetris especially) .
  • Famous characters that have never spoken may never need to speak, and their games may still be fun.
  • If these characters do eventually speak, it will require really good writing and voice acting.
  • This will require research on the impressions that fans have of these characters, so as not to break what they feel these characters are about.
  • Almost any story heavy game of almost any game genre can benefit from interesting and unique characters.
  • If it is reasonable to have a well written character in a video game, the game itself in usually better for having it!

So those are my thoughts about characters in video games with no personality. What is your favorite character in a video game? Does he or she have a personality? Which games do you think would benefit from having more personality? Which do you think would not? Tell me why you think so in the comments below!

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