Silent Protagonists Are Good For Your Mental Health
People often brush aside ideas that video games have health benefits, yet games with silent protagonists have an immense effect on your mental health. They provide people an avenue to escape the real world, a fantasy world to immerse yourself in, and even help improve your mental well-being.
The debate between fully voiced and silent protagonists has raged for decades with many people wanting to axe the latter from the industry entirely. They’re often used to criticise a game’s story as the lack of a voiced main character apparently signifies a weak narrative. How this argument holds any weight when the Fallout franchise and Persona 5 exist is puzzling.
There are significantly more examples of games with subpar stories that feature fully voiced protagonists. The Fallout series is arguably a shell of its former self and the revamped dialogue system in Fallout 4 was a major part of that. Having to pay a voice actor meant that the number of dialogue choices seen in previous titles had to be scaled back, resulting in much more of a shallow narrative.
With the industry focusing a lot more on fleshed out, cinematic experiences, I would argue that silent protagonists are more important than ever before. More and more developers are choosing to show their fans a story rather than let them make their own, taking away any agency players might have. Despite how impressive games like The Last of Us and God of War are, you can get a similar experience by watching a film.
Link from The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved characters in gaming, yet never speaks a word.
Immersion Is Key
Immersion is such an important part of your gaming experience and having a silent protagonist only elevates how invested you are in a particular story. Having a main character with no visible personality or thoughts of their own allows you to project your own onto the character. They’re a blank slate that allows you to experience a story through them rather than watching one play out in front of you.
Games, like the aforementioned Fallout series, offer levels of immersion that very few other franchises provide. Allowing the player to choose how they respond to a particular character or act when presented a challenge gives the player more control over how things play out. A fully voiced protagonist decides for a player whether or not they agree with it, which shatters the immersion.
In times of hardship, people sometimes use games as a form of escapism. What better way to wind down after a hard day’s work, or to forget about a certain virus that may be sweeping the globe, than to throw on your favourite open-world adventure game and lose yourself for a few blissful hours. This feeling is something that no other medium can match and is a reason single-player video games are so popular.
Fallout: New Vegas’ Lone Wanderer walking into the distance.
We can even use some games as a form of companionship. Having a silent protagonist allows you to form stronger attachments with characters that a voiced protagonist would render impossible. Persona 5 is a wonderful example, a game that allows you to form relationships with your classmates, dependent on whether you like them as an individual. If you don’t like them, you rarely have to interact with them and vice-versa.
In an age where there’s controversy around every corner, political arguments are as toxic as ever, and the world is a horrible stew of negativity and hatred, it’s nice to have places where we can be ourselves. Experiencing the story of another is fun in its own way, but games with silent protagonists allow us to escape into our own personalised digital space, and that’s important now more than ever.
I am a 24-year old gaming enthusiast from England with a penchant for indie games, Fallout and everything Assassin’s Creed. My first introduction to the world of gaming was Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and I haven’t looked back since.