Kotaku has an interesting blog post today, coming to the defense of video game characters such as Half Life‘s Gordon Freeman or Chell from Portal, who stay silent through their games.
Blogger Inspector-Jones makes some good points about how silence allows the gamer to infuse more of themselves into the character they are playing, but I think silent game protagonists greatly affect overall game design, as well. Half Life 2 hedges its bets a bit by having Alyx Vance often accompany Freeman, allowing her to give some exposition on what is happening. But when gamers are by themselves, such as nearly the entirety of the Portal series, the lack of being able to guide the player through dialog forces game creators to speak via design: the way the environment is laid out must communicate what is expected. The iconic signs from Portal are a great example of doing this right. They give the player an idea of what is coming, without being a giant flashing arrow saying “GO THIS WAY”. And the nature of the icons themselves help shape the overall narrative, that of being a mouse trapped in a maze, given only the most clinical of instructions on how to proceed.
I also believe that, on some primitive level, silent game heroes create a connection in the minds of gamers back to the simpler times of the classic gaming era, when every character was practically mute. Unless you had a voice synthesis module like the Intellivoice, that is.
In a lot of games, silence is indeed golden.