Game Development Reference
So, where does that leave the writer? Once you understand that the main charac-
ter serves as the player's vehicle, you can actually play on that to the game's advantage
instead of treating it as a limitation. At the cost of character development, you can
create a story directed at the players themselves, in some ways turning a first-person
shooter into a second-person narrative. The player becomes the “you” that the game
refers to, and you can then appeal directly to his motivations. The advantage here is
that this sets the player firmly inside the shooter, giving him greater personal stake in
the story and a half-degree separation between player and game environment. More
importantly, the emotional investment is based on the individual player and not the
dictates of the game's developer, what's called player agency.
F. E . A . R . and Breakdown use this to the best effect by turning the main character
into a tabula rasa or blank slate through amnesia. The player is free to imprint himself
onto the character.
Disadvantages: Faceless or Voiceless Characters
Now the disadvantage of a faceless, voiceless character is easily evident as well. Would
Halo 's Ma s te r Chi e f and Metroid 's Samus come forward? Stripping the character
of face is done for technical reasons, but developers often take it to the next step
in an all or nothing gambit. If the player can't see the character's face, then there's
almost nothing there to empathize with. And since we can't empathize with a faceless
character, why stop there? Why not eliminate personality entirely or replace it with an
easily understood archetype? Take that a step further and you might as well eliminate
Now, would Half-Life 's Gordon Freeman, Portal 's Che l l , Doom 's Marine, and
Bioshock 's Jack please step forward next? Stripping the character of voice is often a
technical choice, simply because the player can't actually see who is speaking. More
importantly, he can't see himself speaking unless the dialogues occur in a third-
person-view cutscene. In first person, this can be cheated using radio communiques,
for example, but in normal in-game conversations, having the protagonist contribute
to a conversation may confuse players who are trying to place the disembodied voice.
That's not to say that all developers use this approach, but upon depriving the
character of one characteristic, mainly his face, developers often take the next step in
slapping him behind a mask or robbing him of voice. In many ways, it's an all or
nothing approach, mostly slanted toward the nothing.
The decision to remove face and voice is almost always the lead designer's, pro-
ducer's, or creative director's decision, meaning the writer is forced to adapt to the
situation. This doesn't work when you need to interject character development or
empathy for the hero's plight. The protagonist must have a personality in these in-
stances; face is therefore important toward garnering empathy for the protagonist
and his plight in the game, and voice is necessary for imparting personality.
Allowing the character to speak or be seen can help in developing the charac-
ters using traditional methods, but should neither of them be available, then there's
another trick the writer can use. And that's implied personality.