Are player characters in Mass Effect and Dragon Age series "silent protagonists"?

I have always loathed the silent protagonists. Doesn't matter if the game is fun, there is no character development happening to the protagonist him/herself. Yeah, the NPCs around the silent protagonist may get a great amount of character development, but there is no reaction coming from the player character.

And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse. If that was the case, why give the iconic look? I am looking at you, Half-Life, LOZ series, Metroid, Shadow of the colossus, and many other games.

And then there are the bioware characters.Bioware games always had the player choose the dialog on how they want to choose the situation, which is a common trope in silent protagonist games. But then they also have the iconic voices on default dialog lines, which is found on characters with defined personalities.

IDK, I loved Bioware games, but looking back it's making me scratch my head when it comes to protagonists. Are Hawke, Inquisitor, Ryder, and Commander Shepard silent protagonists?

Well it's a gradient and I'd argue that silence doesn't actually make a protagonist "silent". Personally I think a silent protagonist is one that's written to be able to hold any personality. In that sense I'd say Bioware game protagonist aren't silent, they just have three protagonist and you pick one at the start, so you have paragon Shepard, Renegade Shepard and boring ass Shepard. Each have there own persistent and consistent personality. Compare that to older PC RPG (or newer like pillar of eternity) where you can pick whatever you want from conversation to conversation and no real guide on which one is more in line with the previous answer you gave. I think it can even be done well and give a sense of a real protagonist, dragon age 2 Hawke even goes trough character evolution over time (imo DA2 conversation system is by far the best one bioware ever did). It also help make them distinct that you have to actually listen to what they say rather than having it written out before you answer.

I'd also say that Samus isn't a silent protagonist, she doesn't speak much but when she does there's a clear sense of personality in it (ignore other M, it might as well be non cannon).

Personally I dislike silent protagonist in RPG because they make the story unconnected to the play since they need to be written in a way that anything can happen. But bioware RPG don't have that problem. Every Shepard want to stop the Reaper, they just disagree on how to do it. They didn't have to write a story where Shepard might want to kill the Reaper, join them, watch from the sideline, ignore them, start joining but then betray them and so on.

I will pick an actual realized character that I have no control over in terms of their story choices over a bland "make your own choices" character.

If they talk, they aren't silent. It's a very simple definition, really. Whether they have well fleshed out characters is a separate issue.

Mass Effect has fully voiced protagonists, DragonAge does likewise after the first one.

The actual Silent protagonist is relatively rare. Varying dialogue is most definitely not a silent protragonist.

Most of the ones still around nowadays are usually played as a joke (subtly or obviously), with the non-speaker who can't object to any of the inane things they're being tasked with.

As to why Link, for instance, has maintained his state, it may have been to avoid translation or cultural gaffes.

There is of course, the removal of the dialogue so not to conflict with alleged player roleplaying or agency, but that's kind of transparently lazy substitution for actually allowing player agency (the most recent offender I can think of is Destiny : Forsaken. Which ironically brought the Guardian's voice back for a few lines, but centres half its campaign around a moral choice that you never control, and even hides the actual choice itself behind a cut to black)

Meiam:
I'd also say that Samus isn't a silent protagonist, she doesn't speak much but when she does there's a clear sense of personality in it (ignore other M, it might as well be non cannon).

Personally I dislike silent protagonist in RPG because they make the story unconnected to the play since they need to be written in a way that anything can happen. But bioware RPG don't have that problem. Every Shepard want to stop the Reaper, they just disagree on how to do it. They didn't have to write a story where Shepard might want to kill the Reaper, join them, watch from the sideline, ignore them, start joining but then betray them and so on.

In any Fallout, your given a personality despite not speaking. Even in number one, you at hope and you wouldn't have been sent unless you were competent. It's why people complaining about there being no low intelligence run in later games. It literally made no sense. An Overseer would never had sent a literal stupid person to save heaps of people.

Freeman's personality is newbie and thus unsure and bumbly. The Grey Warden had prerequisites to get in, thus he had a clearly defined personality. Most of these silent protangonists are nowhere near blank slates

sgy0003:
And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse. If that was the case, why give the iconic look? I am looking at you, Half-Life, LOZ series, Metroid, Shadow of the colossus, and many other games.

Shadow of the Colossus' protagonist was silent? That dude totally speaks at the start of the game, he has a whole conversation with Dormin. There's little dialoge in the game, and it's kept purposefully vague, but Wander talks.

The thing is, there are two types of silent protagonists. There are characters who literally never speak, like Gordon Freeman, and there are characters who are not voice acted. The Warden in DA:O wasn't voice-acted, for example, but they weren't a silent protagonist in the true sense of the word because they spoke. In fact, they spoke a lot, their lines just didn't have voice acting.

What we're really talking about is the balance of "blank slate protagonist" versus "fixed protagonist". Most Bioware RPGs are actually neither, they're somewhere between the two, and it actually causes a lot of the problems and dissonance in these games.

For example, when you fire up a game of Mass Effect, you choose Shepard's military specialization. They can be a soldier specializing in combat, or they can be an unusually powerful biotic prodigy, or they can be an engineering genius. As soon as dialogue starts though, Shepard is always a soldier, and yet also isn't really because they're trying to keep it vague. Probably the most egregious example is that, even if you're an engineer, Shepard is confused by technical terms, and other Engineers explain things to them like they know nothing. Just throwing in a few lines where other technical characters nerd out about having read Shepard's doctoral thesis or something would have given a real sense that those choices mattered and weren't taking place in a separate room.

It's not a bioware game, but Fallout 4 had this problem even worse. They tried to make your character more fixed than other Bethesda games by giving them a backstory and objective, but it winded up creating situations which making no sense, like Nora's law degree somehow training her to be a lethal killer capable of taking on whole groups of raiders single handedly. There was also the fact that you were a parent looking for a lost child who you clearly cared about and were fixated on retrieving, and yet as soon as the game plonked you down you could ignore this objective and go off and build settlements for the minutemen. They gave you a hugely pressing, immediate character goal and yet gave you the player no incentive to follow it.

So it's a difficult balance, and easy to get wrong.

I think pre-made characters shouldn't be silent, ie Gordon Freeman. I am not Master Chief, I am not Samus, I do not feel like I am them. I do feel more connected to Noble 6 though, and every TES character.

Shepard also feels like not me, but a character I do admire, since my Shepard is...well, he is a lot like Captain America.

For Fallout, well, I felt more connected to my FO3 character, but they were a teen with a missing father, something I could relate to when I played it. I am not a mother, so my FO4 character feels less like me. New Vegas...well, I imagine them being my FO3 character having moved west, so I continue to relate to them.

People can and usually do relate to fully realized characters, that is fine.

Oh, and yeah no, if a character talks, they are not silent, that is an objective descriptor.

Seth Carter:
The actual Silent protagonist is relatively rare. Varying dialogue is most definitely not a silent protragonist.

As to why Link, for instance, has maintained his state, it may have been to avoid translation or cultural gaffes.

Link is a weird silent protagonist since he's still his own character despite being a mute. There isn't much projecting a player's own personality into the silent Link. No matter who plays Wind Waker Link will still by a hyperactive goofball and no matter how confident a player of BOTW is Link himself is still defined by crippling shyness in that game.

No. If anything they are the illusion of silent protagonists, but they have defined personalities that the player can switch at will... in limited occasions (and only between two personalities). Renegade Shepard is really one of the biggest jerks in videogames.

Guard: I have nothing more to say to you.

*Shepard pushes the guard trough the building's window, sending him to his death*

Shepard: How about "good bye"?

sgy0003:
And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse.

Sorry, but that's the developer's excuse (please, don't shoot the messenger).

Casual Shinji:

sgy0003:
And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse. If that was the case, why give the iconic look? I am looking at you, Half-Life, LOZ series, Metroid, Shadow of the colossus, and many other games.

Shadow of the Colossus' protagonist was silent? That dude totally speaks at the start of the game, he has a whole conversation with Dormin. There's little dialoge in the game, and it's kept purposefully vague, but Wander talks.

Not only that, there's a clear sense of motivation and backstory for Wander, even if it's mostly implied. Has a dead girlfriend, can't use a sword worth a damn except for jabbing it into giant things, gets told that a terrible price will be paid to bring mono back by a mysterious entity who may or not be evil and he just rolls with it. Plenty can be inferred about Wander from that. There's just little dialogue to express it. Near the end of the game you find out he stole pretty much everything he brought with him to the forbidden land.

sgy0003:
And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse. If that was the case, why give the iconic look? I am looking at you, Half-Life, LOZ series, Metroid, Shadow of the colossus, and many other games.

And then there are the bioware characters.Bioware games always had the player choose the dialog on how they want to choose the situation, which is a common trope in silent protagonist games. But then they also have the iconic voices on default dialog lines, which is found on characters with defined personalities.

Bioware games revel in the self-insert. Shepard is a self-insert character in bad fanfic. I don't think this counts as silent protagonist, but it plays into the serious Mary Sue nature of video games.

Something Amyss:

sgy0003:
And don't give me "Silent protagonists are there for players to assert themselves in the game" excuse. If that was the case, why give the iconic look? I am looking at you, Half-Life, LOZ series, Metroid, Shadow of the colossus, and many other games.

And then there are the bioware characters.Bioware games always had the player choose the dialog on how they want to choose the situation, which is a common trope in silent protagonist games. But then they also have the iconic voices on default dialog lines, which is found on characters with defined personalities.

Bioware games revel in the self-insert. Shepard is a self-insert character in bad fanfic. I don't think this counts as silent protagonist, but it plays into the serious Mary Sue nature of video games.

fanfic? I didn't know there was a cannon Mass Effect before Bioware's.

CaitSeith:

Something Amyss:
Bioware games revel in the self-insert. Shepard is a self-insert character in bad fanfic. I don't think this counts as silent protagonist, but it plays into the serious Mary Sue nature of video games.

fanfic? I didn't know there was a cannon Mass Effect before Bioware's.

'Wishfulfillment' I guess would be a more apt description for it. It sorta scratches that same itch that fanfiction does.

Nope. They have agency, they make choices, regardless of the actual voice acting they are not a "silent protagonist" in the actual sense of the word.

The point of a silent protagonist isn't about any form of character development, though, it's about viewing a story from what is effectively a mobile camera. Sure, you might have to remove a couple of obstacles between bits of story progression, but it's the people and plot around you that are developing, not you yourself.

As with any genre / medium, doesn't float everyone's boat.

CaitSeith:

fanfic? I didn't know there was a cannon Mass Effect before Bioware's.

There isn't a cannon Mass Effect now, given a cannon is something you shoot.

Casual Shinji:
'Wishfulfillment' I guess would be a more apt description for it. It sorta scratches that same itch that fanfiction does.

It's a fanfic in the same sense a lot of fanfics are, in that it's a thinly-veiled pastioche of multiple sources. It was heavily compared to Star Wars--something Bioware had previously and subsequently worked on--back when it got its start. By 3, it became a lot harder to peg its origins, but the part where it became something else is like pretending Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't read like fanfiction because they changed it.

ME and DA read like "we can't use the licenses we previously had, let's create fanfic instead." I mean, at least in their origin. I can't tell you what DA is now because I haven't played one since the first. How convenient they...previously had those licenses.

Bioware essentially straddles that line between figurative fanfiction (which still shows up on fanfic sites) and the literal type. Fanfic is used colloquially in this sense quite frequently, both as a pejorative and as a compliment (if such a work is considered a good thing) in other media, though gaming tends to use other terms.

I think gaming as a rule goes beyond mere wish fulfillment and usually writes protagonists as Mary Sues (or Canon Sues if you prefer) given the tendency of the world to warp around even the most average player character. There are definitely exceptions, but we so often play as The Chosen One even if those words are never uttered.

Samtemdo8:
Only Dragon Age: Origins.

Warden wasn't a silent protagonist. They weren't voiced, but they had dialogue.

Saelune:
I think pre-made characters shouldn't be silent, ie Gordon Freeman. I am not Master Chief, I am not Samus, I do not feel like I am them. I do feel more connected to Noble 6 though, and every TES character.

I am Master Chief. No matter what everybody keeps telling me!

The Warden from Dragon Age: Origins is my favourite protagonist of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect franchises. Part of that is their almost silent nature.

With Shepard, Hawke, Ryder etc you pick what they say and it is quite clear from the voice acting as to why they are saying it and how they feel at the time. With the warden however because you don't hear the voice, you can put your how spin on how they are saying something and why they are saying it.

For instance if I were playing as a female Cousland wanting to marry Alistair, the same lines take on different meanings and feel depending on how I am playing. Am I telling Alistair I love him because I truly do or am I saying it just so I can take the throne.

The silent protagonist in role playing games gives me a lot more scope for role playing.

Something Amyss:

CaitSeith:

fanfic? I didn't know there was a cannon Mass Effect before Bioware's.

There isn't a cannon Mass Effect now, given a cannon is something you shoot.

Casual Shinji:
'Wishfulfillment' I guess would be a more apt description for it. It sorta scratches that same itch that fanfiction does.

It's a fanfic in the same sense a lot of fanfics are, in that it's a thinly-veiled pastioche of multiple sources. It was heavily compared to Star Wars--something Bioware had previously and subsequently worked on--back when it got its start. By 3, it became a lot harder to peg its origins, but the part where it became something else is like pretending Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't read like fanfiction because they changed it.

ME and DA read like "we can't use the licenses we previously had, let's create fanfic instead." I mean, at least in their origin. I can't tell you what DA is now because I haven't played one since the first. How convenient they...previously had those licenses.

Bioware essentially straddles that line between figurative fanfiction (which still shows up on fanfic sites) and the literal type. Fanfic is used colloquially in this sense quite frequently, both as a pejorative and as a compliment (if such a work is considered a good thing) in other media, though gaming tends to use other terms.

I think gaming as a rule goes beyond mere wish fulfillment and usually writes protagonists as Mary Sues (or Canon Sues if you prefer) given the tendency of the world to warp around even the most average player character. There are definitely exceptions, but we so often play as The Chosen One even if those words are never uttered.

They also tend to have the sort of gimmick-characters that populate fanfics. Just piles and piles of Bioware's companions that are some bizarre variant or outcast of whatever their race commonly is, or some bizarre one off special factor to them. The sort of stuff where if it was 1 or 2 out a cast of a dozen, it'd be mostly fine. But Bioware tends to go more on 9-10 out of the dozen being all these weird subversions, even in their own created universes.

 

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