But that's the thing: it's his character. You are not really Nathan Drake. Instead, you're more like the unseen force that is walking him down the only path that there ever is, has been, and ever will be for him. You are still the primary participant of the game, of course, and games like Uncharted are still awesome, but in cases like these you are beholding the game's events rather than immersing yourself into it as much as is technically possible. Here, Nathan Drake being voice acted only furthers this divide between player and game world.
With the silent protagonist, however, players are more readily included as being within the game's setting than they would be controlling a voiced character. This is because, in these cases, the players can easily project themselves onto the quasi-tabula rasa that is the speechless protagonist. When controlling someone like Gordon Freeman or Claude from Grand Theft Auto 3, your voice effectively becomes their voice, because, well, they have no voice to begin with. Speechlessness, in this instance, becomes a gateway to deeper player immersion. In part, you become the protagonist itself, doing all the remarkable things they would normally do by themselves.
Now, it's true that protagonists like Link and Claude have back stories, personal histories, and their own physical forms, so it's not like players are fully "in the game" as I've described above. There's always going to be some sort of barrier between player and character, if only because that's just the nature of the game/player dynamic. Unless we are able to actually play as ourselves one day (that weird Gerard Butler movie, Gamer, comes to mind), that sort of 1:1 interaction isn't really possible. But by keeping the protagonists silent, we can get closer to that deeper sense of connectivity between the two.
This isn't to say that if a game casts a silent protagonist as its lead, it will magically hook players into its universe. As always, things aren't that simple. One thing about the silent examples I've named above is that they all come from games that contain unforgettable settings, side characters, narratives, and/or the like. A video game is a complex beast, we must remember, one that often functions and affects on multiple levels. A silent protagonist, at most, can only be a handful of beautiful brushstrokes on a larger painting. And it can only be so if the rest of that proverbial painting is doing its job exceptionally well.
Even still, the silent protagonist can remain an effective tool in a given game's arsenal, if used correctly. Part of the beauty of video games is that they provide a variety of pleasurable experiences to a variety of people, so to implement voice acting where it may distance a player from relating to its game, is unnecessary. You could even argue that a wholly voice acted gaming market is potentially harmful to the medium in general, if only because it creates a small sense of uniformity. While some may argue that a silent protagonist is a relic of an age come and gone, let it be known that there's probably a reason the practice has endured for this long. If nothing else, remember that we have tried to give certain quiet types voices before (the CD-i Zelda games, anyone?), and, uh, it didn't work out too well. In some games, silence truly is golden.
Date: August 6, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*