Atop Hillfigure Knoll I sit, contemplating how best to find a griffin to slay, to prove myself as Arisen to some sect of the government of Gransys. They really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s an excuse to hunt.
The night has fallen, as my band of Pawns is so willing to point out. The direwolves are out in droves, threatening to overtake me. Never the other wildlife that dwells around them, never the bandits that inevitably find me on the well-worn paths across the countryside, and certainly never the snow harpies they often collaborate with in an attempt to rend me limb from limb.
The forest’s silence overtakes me. The ambient noises I am accustomed to, living in a fairly wooded area, play backdrop as I weigh my options for going forward. Jotting notes and checking my map, I set out for a nearby healing spring to recuperate from the relentlessly malicious, if not outright malevolent, forces that batter me, or the Arisen I control.
This silence, trudging through the underbrush of a hilly forest, is mine.
The Dragon has issued an ultimatum to the Arisen, and thus, ostensibly, to me. Along with the Arisen’s (literal and symbolic) heart and passage of time, this gargantuan beast has kidnapped their Beloved. This is the person with whom the Arisen has the highest affinity and has most recently spoken to.
Adelaide, my Arisen, sees a group of goblins harassing her beloved, fair Aelinore, once wed to Duke Edmun Dragonsbane, a man who lacked the stomach to face the Dragon and instead backed out in the only way he could; sacrificing his beloved for the title of Duke and his continued survival. He faced the ultimatum Adelaide does now, and she must now stand resolute against this menace to save her Beloved.
…Not that I really had any input on who her Beloved was.
You see, when I arrived at the Duke’s Demesne and Adelaide was made part of the Wyrm Hunt as part of the main storyline, I exited the building and was directed to a garden near the area’s exit. I went to visit a lady tending the greenery, who was marked as the primary quest’s objective, and chatted with her until she was no longer the primary quest objective. In the process, I triggered a missive delivered to me by her maid upon my return with a cleared quest for the Duke. I had to return under cover of night and sneak into the bedchambers of the Duchess for a secret rendezvous.
And so I did, because it was a quest, with a gold and experience reward. And I watched as Aelinore, who took a fancy to me as I silently prompted her to chatter on in the garden for a similar gold and experience reward, pulled Adelaide into her bedroom and they prepared for a midnight romp. Because of course my nebulous and silent Arisen is going to have an affair with a married woman, and a noble one, no less.
Silence is all the Arisen has to offer while the Duke violently enters the room and proceeds to choke Aelinore. Silence is all she has to offer as she interrupts the Duke and Aelinore tries to save her own skin by damning Adelaide to be tortured and jailed under the pretense of presuming too much about Aelinore’s affections.
Silence resounds in the alternate ending, where Adelaide sits upon the Duke’s throne in solitude.
Silence is all that Adelaide can muster as it’s revealed to her that killing The Dragon has returned the passage of time to Duke Dragonsbane, and his weary form assaults her newly-dragonforged existence, accusing her of taking the same bargain he did to gain his seat, and setting the city’s armed forces after her.
This silence is not mine.
I’m not sure this silence is even Adelaide’s.
Silence is golden; so the adage goes.
And I agree.
Silence is akin to gold in its nature; it’s valued for its scarcity over most practical applications it might excel at, and it’s far less useful than most other material that may take its place for most purposes.
Expounded upon in one of the earlier appearances of the phrase “silence is golden” in English, a segment of the novel Sartor Resartus, a poioumenon (a piece of metafiction where the story is about creation) purporting to be a commentary on a fictional philosopher to which the following quote can be sourced:
Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule. Not William the Silent only, but all the considerable men I have known, and the most undiplomatic and unstrategic of these, forbore to babble of what they were creating and projecting. Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.
Now, I know a little something about Time and Eternity. It’s bad. *rimshot*
I agree with the point being made, though. While speech can be valuable, it is hardly valuable if it’s constantly spouted at the expense of time to think and make the speech more potent. Its value lies in making its absence more potent, especially in the context of a person’s silence.
Silence is a catalyst, and if it has nothing to catalyze, it does little more than burden a character with an inability to express the character they are inescapably assigned.
This is what bugs me about silent protagonists, and, to a lesser extent, protagonists that you can rename. Blank slate protagonists mean nothing to me anymore; they’re shells of characters with enough willpower to occasionally act without me, betraying the illusion of me-as-them, but not enough to speak their mind when it matters, or would indicate a flicker of personality outside of what the plot demands of them. They’re assigned names, they’re assigned traits, they’re assigned characters, but the writers refuse to commit.
Golden Sun and its sequel/second half, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, come to mind. In it, the protagonist of each game is struck silent for no particular reason than to be a silent protagonist, limited to yes/no responses. Despite this, Isaac, the protagonist of the first half, is quite the talkative hero when he joins up in The Lost Age, while Felix’s commentary in the first half is a welcome addition before he stops talking as the protagonist of The Lost Age.
In both cases, it squanders the character’s potential as a character, let alone a protagonist that the player is going to be spending the most time with. Silence should be an event, not a character trait, unless it is using the character’s muteness wisely and not as an excuse to neglect their characterization. And frankly, I don’t trust non-indie developers to do anything groundbreaking on that front.
The necessarily vague parameters that must accommodate protagonists in games and the variety of player actions is a topic for another time.