A silent protagonist is a central character in a dramatic work that is not shown to communicate — verbally or otherwise — within the narrative. Such characters frequently appear in computer and video games, and occasionally in other media.
As storytelling devices
In computer games, the intended effect of silent protagonists is to allow the player to create their own interpretation of a game character. By not being prompted by scripted character dialog, the nature or sometimes gender of that character and what they say is left up to the imagination of the player. The character forms a tabula rasa, which can more easily and fully be inhabited by the player, immersing them as fully as possible into the game. In some cases, as in the Myst series, the player character is given no name or defining characteristics at all, meaning that the player is effectively the protagonist of the game, or in Bioshock, where the lack of character is used as part of the plot. This is in contrast to games such as Duke Nukem 3D, where the protagonist frequently interjects comments into play, and leaves the player in little doubt as to the nature of that character.
In computer and video games
The use of silent protagonists in early computer and video games was born of technological limitations and simplistic narratives that did not require dialog. As technology improved, video games began to move away from this trend. However, in the early 90s, the silent protagonist became a recurring trend in the RPG genre, and many successful games of that era featured non-communicative heroes as their lead. The Zork series took this to extremes by dubbing the player character the "Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally-Ambiguous Adventure Person".
While most games have abandoned the idea of the silent protagonist for added realism, several series such as Chrono Trigger, Shining Force, Half-Life, Suikoden, EarthBound, Pokémon, Call of Duty, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Cave Story, Portal, F.E.A.R, Doom, and various MMORPGs have continued the tradition. The common counterpoint to the added "realism" of a speaking protagonist is that a non-speaking hero allows the player to provide their own "voice" for the character, fostering a deeper immersion in the plot. These characters often have undeveloped personalities and back stories for the same reason.
In some games, especially those geared toward older players, silent protagonists are used as an in-joke as a reference to the old stereotype. A recurring joke in video games is for a silent protagonist to have words put in his or her mouth (occasionally when it appears that they are finally going to say something). In other words, they are subject to many "one-sided conversations." An example of this: there here are many scenes in Jak and Daxter 1 where this occurs, for comedic affect. Jak, however, becomes fully talkative from Jak 2 and beyond.
In the Half-Life series, there are several occasions in which non-player characters joke about protagonist Gordon Freeman's silence: "Man of few words...," Alyx Vance quips not long after their first meeting. In the Legend of Zelda series, the protagonist Link is completely silent, save for the 3-D games in which his dialogue is still no more than just battle grunts and the like. In Twilight Princess, a joke about his silence is made by one of the townsfolk who says, "Your voice carries quite well, as usual" even though Link doesn't speak. In "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker", Link at one point in the game will say, "Come on!" if the player makes him call a statue.
Although the silent protagonist doesn't have lines of text on screen, the player can still infer what the character is saying. When the character is answering questions directed at him, the prompt may sometimes give responses that go beyond "yes" and "no". For example: Final Fantasy VII
- "What should we do?"
- Sneak around the back
- Bust through the front
Occasionally, it is implied that the silent protagonist is actually verbally communicating with other characters, despite the player's lack of visual or aural confirmation or the protagonist speaking complete gibberish. This can be inferred when characters around the silent protagonist echo back statements or questions that are assumed to have come from the protagonist. Continuing the example, "What do you mean, sneaking around like cowards!?" or in Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga when Mario and Luigi speak in pseudo-Italian gibberish unless saying each other's names or certain two word phrases.
The Golden Sun series takes this role reversal a step further; in the first game, the main protagonist Isaac is silent, while Felix, a secondary character and antagonist, does speak. This is reversed in the sequel Golden Sun: The Lost Age, where Felix is the main character and thus silent, except for saying "Why?" at a certain point in the game, while Isaac talks as normal. Something similar happens in Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.
In both Half-Life and Half-Life 2, the protagonist Gordon Freeman has absolutely no voice, even when suffering the greatest injuries, no kind of vocal noise is uttered. The protagonists' silence is the same in both of Half-Life's expansion games: Half-Life: Opposing Force and Half-Life: Blue Shift, where Adrian Shephard is the protagonist of Opposing Force, and Barney Calhoun in Blue Shift. Despite Calhoun being silent in Half-Life: Blue Shift, he appears in Half-Life 2 and it's sequels with full voice acting and dialogue.
In the role-playing game Chrono Trigger, published by Squaresoft, the main playable character, Crono, does not speak save for two lines in a humorous one of the game's thirteen possible endings. In the game's sequel, Chrono Cross, the main playable character, Serge, does not speak. His official character statistical information lists him as "Silent Protagonist".
In the early iteration of Lunar: Silver Star Saga on the Sega CD, the main character, Alex, has only one or two short lines in the entire game. However, the various subsequent remakes and re-imaginings of the game has turned Alex into a character with full dialog.
In BioShock, protagonist Jack Ryan is only heard speaking in the beginning of the game during a radio transmission while riding a plane, shortly before his crash (though he survives). He is later heard in an audio diary (if picked up and listened) where, as a young child, he is forced to break a puppy's neck during a mind-control test. Furthermore, he usually makes quiet grunts or even yells for every time he is injured in combat, thus barely making him a silent protagonist.
In BioShock's sequel, BioShock 2, the protagonist Subject Delta (a man whose body has been grafted to a diving suit and underwent a vocal modification) makes grunts and yells in pain when injured in combat. Unlike Jack Ryan from the first BioShock game, Delta has no speaking roles. Also, his true name and face are never revealed in the game. He was given the nickname "Johnny Topside" due to the fact that he was captured during a diving operation by the residents of the very underwater city the game takes place in, Rapture. The lack of a real name was a deliberate choice by the developers so that no extra distance between the player and the protagonist would be added, and so the player could create their own personality and/or name for Delta.
The protagonist of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen only speaks once in the entire game. This one time (in Copycat's house) leads to a great deal of possibly intentional confusion, which is further heightened by Copycat putting on an outfit identical to the player's.
Michael, the main protagonist in Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness.
In the "Pokemon Mystery Dungeon" series, the protagonist turned into a Pokemon somewhat never speaks since he or she would often refer to certain things to him or herself. Despite this, the protagonist directly speaks to his/her partner on one occasion towards the end of story mode when the time comes for him/her to turn back into a human and return back to the human world, leaving his/her partner saddened. In the Blue and Red Rescue Team versions, if the player, after completing the main story mode, makes someone else the leader and talks to the protagonist in a dungeon, he or she will have a brief dialogue. In the Explorers of Time, Space, and Sky versions, the protagonist will only have an ellipsis if the player talks to him/her using their partner or any recruited Pokemon as the dungeon leader.
At times, the second member in the party will ask questions on behalf of the silent protagonist, as Rui does in Pokémon Colosseum, or introduce him or her to NPCs, as with Golden Sun's Garet (original Golden Sun) and Jenna (Golden Sun: The Lost Age).Also,in Pokémon Gold,Silver,Crystal and their remakes,The Player will encounter the Hero(playable character)from Pokémon Red,Blue,and their remakes,whose Dialog only consists of an repeated ellipsis.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars takes Mario's role as the silent protagonist to the extreme by making him seemingly incapable of speech. To communicate, Mario will nod "yes", shake his head "no", or jump high in the air to confirm his identity. He even elaborately pantomimes out complicated "monologues", taking the physical form of the other characters involved in the story and inserting sound effects when appropriate. The other characters are usually able to decipher what Mario is trying to say, although occasionally there are humorous misunderstandings.
Another turn is taken by the Ys series: protagonist Adol Christin talks, but his dialogue is not shown. Instead, a summation of his dialogue in the third person is given; for example, "Adol explains what he saw at the shrine".
In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario's thoughts are conveyed through simple gestures. For example, when an NPC asks Mario a pointed question that the player knows the answer to (due to having played through a certain part of the game), Mario will raise his finger, and the NPC will respond to Mario's implied dialogue. Similarly, Mario shakes his head rapidly and a frustrated sound is played if an NPC is incorrect or mistaken about something. His silence is directly mentioned by Goombella at one point in Chapter 4 (when Doopliss steals his body by the time the player defeats him the first time around), stating that Mario never even speaks.
In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, both Luigi and Mario make gestures and vocalizations (often in gibberish) making it seem as though they are talking (sometimes with each other), but like in Super Paper Mario it is still up to the player to guess what they actually said.
The main character in Heatseeker is also silent in the game and is not seen.
The protagonist in X-Wing Alliance, Ace Azameen, is neither seen nor heard.
The hero in "Fable" as well as "Fable: The Lost Chapters" never speaks. Despite this, he does say "Mom" in one cutscene. Although he does not speak through cutscenes, you can make him utter short words, such as "Wait", "Come on", "Follow", etc.
Keyan Farlander from Star Wars: X-Wing and Maarek Stele from Star Wars: TIE Fighter are unseen and do not speak, though in the latter game the player is prompted with several questions before and after each mission that Maarek can ask his commanding officer or the agent of the Emperor's Inner Circle.
In Saint's Row your self-created character will only speak when a gang is defeated (he will only say a few words however). He is referred to in-game as "a man of few words". In Saints Row 2, when your character gets full dialog, a character comments that she is surprised that he can even talk.
In the PC and Playstation versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry hardly speaks (apart from a few occasional lines, grunts or spell-chanting), barely making him a silent protagonist.
In Doom 3, the marine never speaks, mainly because that all the other marines have vanished and somehow died. Some have transformed into mutants after dying. However, the marine will occasionally yell in pain for every time he is attacked despite being a silent protagonist. Despite not having a name, the community of Doom players simply named him "Doomguy". In a novel, he is named "Flynn Taggart".
In Hype The Time Quest, Hype remains silent throughtout the game until the final boss fight, where he challenges the main antagonist.
Also, in Grand Theft Auto 3, the main character, Claude, is silent throughout the game and only makes quiet grunts when he is injured or dies. In Shin Megami Tensei games, every protagonist is silent, and most of them answer with "yes" or "no" head movements.
In other media
- The main character of Tack in Richard William's animated feature film The Thief and the Cobbler. 
- In the Kim Ki-duk film, 3-Iron, the main character, Tae-suk is completely silent throughout the entire film. 
- In Kevin Smith's movies (in the View Askewniverse) featuring Jay and Silent Bob, one of the protagonists, Silent Bob, typically speaks only one line at some point in the movie, and is otherwise silent (hence his moniker).
- Most of the works of American author H.P. Lovecraft feature little to no dialogue, although it is implied that the protagonists still speak.
- Similarly, most of the early works of J.R.R. Tolkien (such as The Silmarillion) contain very little dialogue.