Silent Protagonist is a curious feature, that I feel works best in video games. That said, I feel there are good and bad ways of featuring a silent protagonist – some that feel like you ARE that character and can influence many things, others where you have NO ability to influence things and that feel like lazy writing.
Elder Scrolls, I feel, has ‘nailed’ the silent protagonist trope – you typically choose your race, gender, faction, star sign, dialogue options, etc and you feel that your character has a voice, and that you can influence NPC reactions, the character’s personality, certain quest lines, etc based on your decisions and dialogue options. Done in this way, silent protagonist works well, and you get to legitimately shape the character’s personality.
Then there are other video games franchises that have done this poorly by comparison – such as the Legend of Zelda series. In the Legend of Zelda games, not only is the protagonist silent, but there are virtually no opportunities to choose different dialogue options (except a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to a question, and even then, rarely), no way of influencing NPC reactions, no way of choosing the character’s personality, etc, and the main character feels like a selective mute automaton that wanders around with entirely scripted NPC reaction. The Shin Megami Tensei games suffer from this to some extent also, but you are at least offered some dialogue options, and there are multiple endings based on following a particular Alignment.
I feel ‘silent protagonist’ should either be done right (like Elder Scrolls games) or not at all – arguing it as an ‘artistic choice’ is unacceptable if you feel you have virtually no control over the character’s personality, dialogue, NPC reactions, etc. If done poorly, it feels like lazy writing, if done well (like Elder Scrolls games), it can be excellent writing.
I’m glad to give a voice to this topic.