In my last article, I discussed how choice or lack thereof and exposition has become the prevalent means of telling the overall story in a game. Today, I’m going to discuss how storytelling in gaming is effected by the use of a silent protagonist or multiple protaginists.
A plot of a story usually has a certain point of view to which the story is told. The main views being known as 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person, omniscient. Games have used everyone of these point of views effectively to tell their story as the game progresses. This is done through a figurehead, which in this case is the protagonist, or in some games, multiple protagonists. However, some developers have used the “silent” protagonist, which has no inner monologue, no speech, and is used to simply convey the motions of the user. The story simply evolves around their actions alone.
The silent protagonist has existed since the dawn of gaming with the likes of Pac-Man and Mario. The use of this style of protagonist has gotten better since then as gameplay has effectively has been improved and games are better written to and The game that introduced me to this style of game and was Doom. Doom put you into the body of the last surviving member of a marine squad on the Mars moon of Phobos. Your objective was to fight through the army of Hell and prevent the razing of Earth. The “Doomguy” was “the” silent protagonist. No voice, no thought, just a way for the player to enact carnage. The original Doom plot was told through exposition found in the manual and between levels. Doom 3, the rebooted retelling of the original Doom did a much, much better job in handling the story. The use of audio logs and emails made the events prior to and leading up to the events of the game all much more understandable.
- the conduit of our carnage.
I believe the use of the silent protagonist is the greatest enabler for the use of choice-based storytelling. Since the character has no inner monologue and simply used as the player’s avatar in the digital world, it allows for a more immersive, and enjoyable storytelling experience. I should be clear that I don’t consider the player characters from the Fallout/Elder Scroll games as a silent protagonist. Speech although not vocalized is present, since every conversation is a 2-way exchange.
Stepping away from the singular figurehead that of a multi-headed figure. Games that use multiple protagonists to progress the story can go two ways. It can be a single story told from multiple points of view, or single story shared over multiple characters. This can have a positive or negative effect on the plot of the story and overall experience by the gamer. There are games that get it right, and some that get it wrong. It’s usually when a single story is split upon multiple characters that the plot begins to become confusing and less clear to understand. For this section I’m going focus solely on the Resident Evil series because it has tread both sides of the good and bad.
- great stories either way
The original Resident Evil and more importantly the remake, told the same story but from 2 different points of view. You had a choice of playing as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine. The stories shared the overall major plot but had different interactions that still lead to the shared ending. Each playthrough helped understand the entirety of the story. The sequel followed with the same formula but changed it, by having the 2 stories of Leon and Claire almost never interacting and taking place in different area of the same location. By playing both scenarios, you once again get a better understanding of how and why the Racoon City incident happened.
- This game gives me chronological confusion
Those are where multiple protagonists went right for the series. When Resident Evil 6 came out, the story was a mess. Each campaign, Leon, Chris, and Jake each took place on varying time lines where they interacted very little with each other until the literal end of the stories. Unlike the other games where the different stories took place in the relatively same location. The story was much easier to follow and connecting the dots was simple. Resident Evil 6, changed that, as the setting was spread across multiple locations, over numerable months/years. Unless you played the campaigns in chronological order, the stories would be hard to follow and then even if followed, hard to understand.
So how would games be different if they switched out the protagonist for something else? What if instead of just Master Chief in Halo, you could also play as Johnson, and Keyes? What if Final Fantasy just had a singular mute protagonist? What if Doomguy was replaced with “The New Order” B.J. Blazkowicz? No matter the type of storytelling a developer uses, a protaganist is what makes the story flow smoothly. If a protagonist is uninteresting, then the story might as well be.
- Complete carnage with a side of heavy thoughts.