So this week I defend the notion of a silent protagonist in a videogame. You know, because there’s nothing else going on that’s worth talking about. This is something that’s been annoying me for a while.
Since the article went up, irridium tweeted this to me:
@shamusyoung Interesting article this week. Though I have a question, how would you define a good silent protagonist from a bad one?
— Tyler (@Irridium__) June 4, 2013
What makes Gordon (Half-Life) a good one and Corvo (Dishonored) a bad one? I think the big thing is that Gordon is new to the world he’s in and free to make up his own mind about things. Is Alyx your sidekick? Your peer? Your love interest? It’s up to you. You explore, see new things, and then decide how they make you feel. I’m exploring City 17 right along with him, and so I can assume that however I’m feeling is how Gordon is feeling.
Corvo is not new to his world. He’s been an active participant, and the problems in the game are deeply, deeply personal. I’m not exploring Dunwall with him, because he’s been here for ages and most likely already has thoughts on the place. He saw the city before it went to hell, so I have no idea how he might feel about what he’s seeing. He’s been branded a traitor, had his girlfriend murdered, his alleged daughter kidnapped, and then tortured for weeks by the guy who made it all happen. I can’t really relate to that. (It doesn’t help that the betrayal happens pretty much the instant the opening credits are done.) There’s a huge disconnect because I’m playing catch-up and he’s not helping.
Also, Corvo isn’t really mute. He does say things in little unvoiced dialogs. So instead of assuming he says things that aren’t depicted in the game, we’re left to conclude that “I’d like to buy something from you Piero” is the only thing the dude has to say. The dialogs are goofy because They don’t allow Corvo to express anything and they don’t allow us to express anything or ask any questions. It’s one thing if Corvo doesn’t talk about his life-changing betrayal because he doesn’t ever speak. It’s another if it just never seems to come up in conversation. Especially when those conversations revolve around killing the dude who did the betraying.
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