In an attempt to reinforce the notion that the player of the game "is" the player character, most early games went out of the way to avoid applying any characterization to the player character.
More often than not, a thorough examination of the game will cause this to break down, as providing any kind of substantial interaction with a player character who is a total cipher is problematic. Most often, the first thing to slip through will be a tacit assumption that the character is male.
Less common in its extreme form today, as it makes anything like compelling storytelling highly problematic. Much easier to achieve in Interactive Fiction, for the same reason that text is better suited to the Tomato Surprise, and to this day, many text games still take this approach, and enthusiasts have been known to be disappointed if "forced" to play a character who does not reflect their gender or sexual orientation. One place this continues to thrive however are vehicular based games where the player pilots a mech, car or aircraft, which allows for the protagonist to spend the entire game encased inside the vehicle.
Beyond adventures, most games at least need to graphically present the player, so some amount of customization is required. The result is often an extended form of Purely Aesthetic Gender, with little additional influence on the story.
A weaker form of this attempt results in the Heroic Mime. Often used in conjunction with Second Person Narration. Media which try to put a definite name and face on the protagonist result in Canon Name.
This tends to cause problems when the work gets adapted to other media. One solution is to give the character in question as generic and bland a personality as possible. The other is to remove him completely.
- 1 Gamebooks
- 2 Tabletop Games
- 3 Video Games
- 3.1 Action Adventure
- 3.2 Action Game
- 3.3 Adventure Game
- 3.4 Edutainment Game
- 3.5 First Person Shooter
- 3.6 Interactive Fiction
- 3.7 Mecha Game
- 3.8 Puzzle Game
- 3.9 Racing
- 3.10 Real Time Strategy
- 3.11 Role Playing Game
- 3.12 Simulation Game
- 3.13 Stealth-Based Game
- 3.14 Third Person Shooter
- 3.15 Turn Based Strategy
- 3.16 Visual Novels
- Back in the days of single-player roleplaying gamebooks, the player character was never referred to by a pronoun other than "you", and in the unlikely event they had a name, it would usually be one that could be a male name or a Tomboyish Name.
- Lone Wolf is a notable aversion; the title character is explicitly male from the outset.
- Also, his race, the Sommlending, are described as white-skinned and blond-haired. Most of the book covers and illustrations have Lone Wolf with long dirty blond hair down nearly his entire back.
- Played straight during the New Order Kai series, when the protagonist is one of Lone Wolf's top pupils. The narrative goes to ridiculous lengths to avoid calling him by name, mostly having characters refer to him as "Grand Master". There is even a random table set up in the books to help players generate their own Meaningful Name for their character.
- Fire*Wolf too is explicitly male and of barbarian origin.
- Lone Wolf is a notable aversion; the title character is explicitly male from the outset.
- Choose Your Own Adventure:
- Most Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks portrayed "you" as a child or teenager of unspecified gender... who, in the illustrations, was sometimes slightly androgynous but almost always unmistakably Caucasian, and often clearly male.
- This was averted a FEW times, however, where illustrations would consistently portray the protagonist as a girl (though a tomboyish girl, at that). Mystery of the Maya was one.
- Also, Jay Liebold's Mystery of the Ninja series started with a protagonist drawn as a boy with a ponytail, but the following titles made said main character a long-haired girl.
- It was also averted in Fight for Freedom, which was set in apartheid-era South Africa and with your dark skin a few bad things happen.
- Funnily Averted in the Spanish edition of Mystery of the Secret Room. While the illustrations showed that "you" is clearly male, the editor (editoress) decided to insist continuously that "you" is a female.
- In the 80s, a series of Choose Your Own Adventure romance novels called Heartquest was published as a genre experiment. Although the character was a blank state as per Choose Your Own Adventure standard, the character you played as was obviously described as a beautiful female in order to make the marketing angle work.
- Fighting Fantasy books never drew your player character and no one ever remarked upon your gender. One book did give you a name, but you were an Elf so it was impossible to infer gender as the name was completely unlike any human name.
- Another had you wake up in a sarcophagus with no memory; as such, you were some character of significance, and you had to learn about your past over the course of the story, culminating in a fight with the people that put you in the tomb.
- Averted in The Legend of Zagor which runs on Schrödinger's Player Character.
- The protagonist of Grail Quest Solo Fantasy was a young person named Pip whose body the player occupied. Pip was never referred to as any specific gender or illustrated from the neck up (with one exception, but then it was of Pip's head exploding so it was still gender-neutral).
- In the solo CD&D adventure "Blade of Vengeance", the pre-generated character is an elf whose gender is deliberately never specified, even on the enclosed family tree that names (and gives genders for) all the relatives he/she is attempting to avenge. The interior artwork depicts the PC as androgynous.
- The main character in Overlord. Besides being male, all his features are obscured and blurred out by his impressive helmet. He's also never referred to by name by his former friend and colleagues. The later Overlords in other games are given some degree of Backstory, with the sequel starting him off as a Creepy Child along with several badass nicknames while the prequel Overlord: Dark Legend gives the Overlord the name Lord Gromgard though they still remain relatively faceless, wearing face-obscuring clothing before donning their armor.
- Link from The Legend of Zelda series was originally meant to be this... in fact, that was the very reason he was named Link, because he was the "link to the gameworld", simply a player avatar. Ironically, he is now one of the most recognizable faces in all of gaming, endlessly tributed and/or parodied. Giving him a distinctive, recurring costume probably didn't help.
- Though Nintendo is still trying to retain some of Link's Featureless Protagonist qualities (hence why he is still a Heroic Mime), he seems to be growing out of this in the more recent games, especially with regards to his personality.
- Samus Aran from Metroid started as a complete cipher in both person and motivation (robot? guy in Powered Armor? who knew?). This caused some players to think "Metroid" was the character's name. Only at the end of the game did she get a gender and later a species, and her identity was only given any exploration in the later games.
- The player character in Ghostbusters the Video Game is one of these, as Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis figured that was the best way for the jokes to work.
- There is also an in-story reason: the team is still very shaken up by what happened to the previous new recruit so they refuse to learn even your name to avoid emotional attachments.
- Interestingly, all the Ghost Busters wear easy-to-read nametags on their uniforms. Including the unnamed player character. Thing is, you have to work to see it, because you spend most of the game staring at your characters backside. If you manage to get a good look at it, you'll see it says "ROOKIE".
- There is also an in-story reason: the team is still very shaken up by what happened to the previous new recruit so they refuse to learn even your name to avoid emotional attachments.
- In the obscure vehicle combat game Auto Destruct, the agent is only known as Booth, and never speaks, nor is he shown in person.
- Dark Fall: The Journal is bold enough as to give the player character a last name, ethnicity, and approximate age range, but still sees fit to leave the character genderless.
- In The Journeyman Project, the player is only referred to as "Agent 5", and though we see his reflection, his face is computer-generated and featureless (all other characters are photorealistic). He gets a full name (Gage Blackwood), identity, and face in both of its sequels, as well as the remake, Pegasus Prime. Perhaps as a bit of Lampshade Hanging, in the second game, the player comes across an action figure of himself (the events of the first game had been turned into a popular action movie) with the same mannequin features.
- The player character's gender in the Myst series is never made specific; Atrus only ever refers to you as "my friend."
- Thanks to the Myst games being a series however, the need for a persistent player character is met quite cleverly, by only providing "hints" here and there about the character as they become Atrus' family's friend. This more encourages players either to perceive themselves as part of the story or use their own imaginations, rather than leaving one to wonder who they're playing. The avoidance of even hinting at gender might almost be called impressive—though a couple of points in the series do present players with the ability to create a customizable character.
- It should be noted that Word of God places the first four Myst games some two-hundred years in the past, which breaks the concept of "the player as him/herself" somewhat. Both Uru and Myst V are set in the present (with certain key characters still alive because the D'ni live very long) and therefore feature a different protagonist. In Uru it's explicitly meant to be the player (one of the meanings of "Uru" is "You Are You"), but recent Word of God has declared that the protagonist of Myst V is Dr. Watson of the D'ni Restoration Council (an NPC in Uru, and the in-universe counterpart of developer Richard A Watson).
- It only gets more convoluted from there: The Stranger (the player character) is never fully described, and so, in-universe, the Myst games are simply Robin and Rand Miller's interpretations of Atrus' journals. Confused yet?
- The only personal information established about your in-game persona in Riddle of the Sphinx and its sequel The Omega Stone is gender, which you can choose in the second game. The only time it ever comes up is in found letters' being addressed either to "sir" or "madam".
- In Shivers and its sequel, though the player is given a home town and set of friends, he is only ever referred to by others as "You", and only ever described in gender-neutral terms.
- Except near the very end when you fall down a large slide and your screams are clearly masculine.
- The Crystal Key, like Myst, handles this by showing everything from a first-person perspective and having almost no one with whom to interact (the occasional enemy soldiers don't speak your language). Unlike Myst, however, items don't teleport from the main screen to your inventory and back again—they levitate, as if you're telekinetic. Also of note is that you abruptly stop being a Heroic Mime if you're caught and tortured, but gender neutrality is still preserved—the resultant screaming is barely recognizable as human, let alone male or female.
- Some games give your character a gender-neutral name (e.g. in Rhiannon, you're "Chris") to allow some sense of identity without excluding any gender.
- The hero of the Super Solvers series wears a giant hat, a giant coat with the collar turned up, bermuda shorts and tennis shoes. Either the hero's skin is stark white, or they're wearing tights...
First Person Shooter
- Word of God says this is the reason why the Doom Marine never talks. He was meant to be the player character, and thus was never given an offical name and never speaks. Played less straight than other examples as you do know what he looks like, but nevertheless, he was meant to be the player.
- BioShock (series) starts out like this—the only clue to your nature are your hands, which are white, kind of masculine and have little tattoos of chain links on the wrists; and your voice, heard only in the opening Cutscene, which has a non-descript American accent. Then it gets weird and you find out the details of your identity.
- If you examine the photographs pinned up right outside Ryan's office, you can see Jack's face captured in a couple of them.
- Though if you pay attention, you'll notice that Jack is freaking huge, assuming that everything in the game is made for normal human size, he is easily seven feet tall.
- FINALLY the hostility of the Big Daddies to some schmoe just standing there smoking a cigarette makes sense...
- The protagonists from System Shock games. From the first game we have a normal looking male white hacker with the mullet, and from the second game we have the male white soldier with cyber-eyes. Other than that, everything else is for the player to imagine.
- In Halo, the protagonist Master Chief, while obviously male, never shows his face, speaks only a handful of lines, and is referred to solely by his rank. His official designation is the rather generic "John-117".
- The one time he takes off his helmet, the camera angle shifts to obscure his face just as he removes it; even when using cheats to keep his head in frame, all we get to see is another helmet!
- The novels and the comic book adaptation of The Fall of Reach reveal that he is a Caucasian with brown hair, though the only clear visual depiction of his face we get is of him as a six year old. Expanded Universe material also reveals that while "John" is his birth name, he has no memory of what his surname is, having been kidnapped by the military when he was six.
- The Rookie in Halo 3: ODST is another example, who never removes his helmet or says anything. The only clue about his appearance is his fingers, which are white.
- SPARTAN-B312 AKA Noble Six, the protagonist of Halo: Reach, is perhaps the ultimate example of this trope in the series, since the player gets to determine everything about the character from the gender to the appearance of the armor. Once again, s/he never takes off the armor and only speaks a handful of lines.
- In Marathon, the protagonist is drawn in a few art pieces, but his appearance is very inconsistent. You can only see what he looks like in-game in co-op, and he's wearing what looks like a flight helmet, which only reveals his jaw.
- Half-Life's Dr. Gordon Freeman is a subversion; while he is silent, and his characterization based entirely on the player's actions, he does, have a face, name, and rather extensive backstory.
- The more recent Call of Duty games have this in effect for most of the multiple player characters, who never speak and are never seen in third person. One notable exception is 'Soap' MacTavish, who is the primary player character in Modern Warfare, but your squad's commander in the sequel, in which he has a full speaking part.
- Averted with Alex Mason and Jason Hudson from Black Ops, who are both fully voiced. Hudson appears in some missions where you play as Mason, and Mason's face is shown a lot in the between-mission cutscenes.
- The only thing we know about Alcatraz, the Delta Force Marine in Crysis 2, is that he's fond of tequila, unlike the prior protagonists of the series who both had voices, personalities, and faces.
- FEAR's lead protagonist, Point Man, is, aside from being specified to be male, basically a Featureless Protagonist. This is actually practically canon, considering that he is later revealed to have no memory and be one of a number of clone soldiers birthed by Alma. The third game finally revealed his appearance.
- The Pyro from Team Fortress 2, whose nationality(notable considering s/he's on a team of national stereotypes) and gender are unknown. Never removes that gas mask, is known only by Pyro, and speaks only in muffled grunts. S/he does have some characterization though.
- The Interactive Fiction game Everyone Loves A Parade appears to use this. However, it subverts it. Towards the end of the game, you learn that your character is decidedly female. Using this to your advantage is necessary to actually complete the game.
- Interactive fiction game Jigsaw takes this to extremes: Neither the player nor the main villain is ever referred to by gender-specific terms, but only by the names "White" and "Black" (after their costumes), but are taken to be whichever pair of genders the player is most comfortable with, given their evolving romantic relationship. That said, a number of details from the game have been taken to suggest that the two are almost certainly of opposite genders. It is also possible to provoke responses indicating that both Black and White are male, though this is believed to be a bug. One scene set aboard the train bringing Lenin to Petrograd just before the Russian Revolution requires the player to don the uniform of a British Army officer. However, as many people have pointed out (including the game's author), stories of women passing themselves off as male soldiers in times of war are not uncommon in fiction, nor are they unheard of in reality.
- Jigsaw's predecessor Curses was very similar in its presentation, but without the romantic aspect involved, the question was not as urgent.
- Slightly subverted in an interesting way in the pornographic Interactive Fiction game Leather Goddesses of Phobos. The game plot features several instances of (heterosexual) sex, so in order for the genders to "match up" the player had to specify his or her gender (but no other details about their character). This was done by making the player go into a restroom—either the men's or women's room.
- In the original Mech Assault, the main character was a Featureless Protagonist. As new gameplay elements of the sequel required an onscreen avatar for the main, they were revised into an explicitly male Heroic Mime—to the disappointment of anyone who had previously imagined him as female.
- Chrome Hounds uses this; it's fairly easy since it's a mech game.
- Armored Core does this as well, referring to the player only as "Raven" or "LYNX".
- Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story The Blue Destiny takes this trope for a ride, as the player character never speaks and is even named "Yuu" (a homophone of "You", which is how it's rendered in English sometimes). When he started showing up in games like the SD Gundam G Generation series, he was given a face, personality, and even a voice.
- Perhaps as a nod to this, though slightly characterized, the player character in The 7th Guest is referred to in the manual as "Ego", Latin for "I", and starts the game with absolutely no idea how he got there or who he is.
- The player character in the Dark Parables games is only ever identified as "Detective," and never seen. At most you see gloved hands and jacket-covered arms.
- Similarly, the player character in the Ravenhearst arc of Mystery Case Files is also only called "Detective" or "Master Detective." There's a slight subversion in these games, however; at the end of the second game, the character's voice is heard speaking on the telephone, revealing that the Master Detective is in fact a woman.
- Destruction Derby games always have these. You're represented by a person whose face is fully obscured by a helmet.
- Depending on how much story there is, this can be common. Even when you're in the roofless 1880s-era Mercedes early car in Gran Turismo, you're still in your firesuit and helmet. And taken to an extreme in the Burnout games, where no-one at all is driving.
- Same for the Need for Speed games. The PC's face is either obscured by a helmet, or pixelated.
- The player character and his B-Spec drivers in Gran Turismo 5.
Real Time Strategy
- The Command & Conquer games are also notable. You're addressed only as 'Commander/Comrade General', however subtext with your female assistants indicates hetrosexual male or lesbian.
- That or the female assistants are simply bisexual. Also, Tiberian Sun averts this trope as the player actually has a specific character who's seen in cutscenes: Anton Slavik for Nod, and Michael "Mac" McNeil for GDI. Also, James Earl Jones' character in the same game is supposedly retroactively the GDI player character from Tiberian Dawn.
- The Commander in Dawn of War 2. No information is given about him except that he is recently promoted, a man of few words (he doesn't have any lines - not even unit responses) and so awesome that he is expected to beat back an ork invasion on his own.
- In StarCraft and its expansion, the player character was called by titles such as Magistrate, Cerebrate, or Executor depending on what campaign you were playing.
Role Playing Game
- The original release of Dragon Quest IV allowed the player to select a name and gender for their ultimate main character (though unusually, you wouldn't actually get the character until very late into the game, and so could easily be confused when the game first has you playing someone else). However, this breaks down at many points, especially in bath scenes that have decidedly (and presumably unintentional) Les Yay overtones if you're playing a female character.
- The DS version of Dragon Quest IV lets you choose your name and gender again, with some of these incidents corrected. They also added a 'Prologue' that lets you see your hero briefly before the main game begins.
- Dragon Quest III also allowed you to pick the name and gender of not just your hero, but the rest of your allies. Again, in the original translation of the NES game, several referred to you as 'Ortega's son' -- starting with the king himself. This was corrected in later versions, though.
- Corrected with a Lampshade Hanging: "Ortega's Son... er, I mean, Daughter!"
- In The Elder Scrolls series of games, you can customize your protagonist, but when a character or an in-game book refers to the protagonist of a PREVIOUS Elder Scrolls game, the said protagonist is always a Featureless Protagonist referred to with a nebulous nickname ("The Eternal Champion", "The Emperor's Agent", "The Nerevarine", etc.). The game does not know what kind of character you played the previous one with.
- The first and third Final Fantasy games apply all characterization to your whole party; the individual members are completely interchangeable. This is especially true in III, where you can change your characters' very identities at any time through the job system—all they have to call their own are their names (which you chose).
- This is nodded to in Dissidia Final Fantasy: Onion Knight and Warrior Of Light are called by their class and title, respectively—the Warrior says he doesn't remember his name because he never had one; it was the player's choice.
- The DS re-release of III gives all four characters their own names, personalities and backgrounds, and they each have their own character models for every single possible class.
- Baten Kaitos has a mix of this and Non-Entity General; while the cast are all well defined, the player is in fact a spirit connected to the main protagonist. It's also subverted in the second game when YOU get a Tomato in the Mirror.
- Etrian Odyssey does this in two ways. One being that all of your guild members have absolutely no background, name, gender, or anything. It's up to you to give them a class, a face (which also defines their gender), and a name.
- The other occurrence would be the guild leader. Being impersonated by the player, he even only gets vaguely mentioned in the beginning as one of many daring explorers who are willing to challenge the labyrinth. And the games seem to assume that it's a "he".
- Strangely, the guild officer in Etrian Odyssey 2 invites you to register yourself as a member (i.e. name a character after yourself), but the system isn't designed to recognize which character is "you." If you take her up on her suggestion, the narrator will refer to you and your avatar as separate people for the rest of the game.
- In the Game Boy version of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the player character portrait is shown as a bust portrait with young, tween-like facial features of ambiguous gender, an ethnically unclear anime look, and hair tied up in a bandanna on the forehead though it's clearly black.
- The Free Space series of games, where the player is only ever addressed as "pilot" or by the wing position "Alpha 1". Just like all the other Red Shirt wingmen, except the Red Shirts actually talk, so they aren't exactly Featureless Protagonists. The only thing we know is that the PC is Terran ("Terran" being the only name the Vasudans use to address the PC, ever).
- Subverted in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. The Player Character turns out to be an AI. The planes you were flying the whole time? They were completely unmanned.
- But pretty much played straight in most other Ace Combats. It's often implied that the pilot is male, at least, but other than that...
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War makes this central to the plot. The game's framing device is a documentary trying to figure out who "Cipher" is, but the best it can find is a lot of testimonials to fact that Cipher flew really well.
- Finally averted in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, where other than the exception of Spence (the AC-130 "gunner") all three other playable characters are named, have their faces shown and are voiced.
- Star Trek: Bridge Commander plays this straight. You are the nameless Captain (or maybe your name is Captain) of a starship, and nowhere, anywhere, can you get a glimpse of yourself. The entire game runs in first person view.
- However, a Ferengi is outraged that you allow a woman (your First Officer) talk to him. That makes you very likely male.
- In Red Baron the player character has no real characterization whatsoever beyond the player-input name. It can be reasonably deduced that he's male, but this is due to the fact that, other than nurses, there were no female personnel in any of the major armed forces during World War I (officially).
- Aerobiz: The player is only known as the CEO and always addressed in second person ("You").
- X3: Terran Conflict and X3: Albion Prelude only ever address the player as "pilot" or "captain". You can rename your PC, but it never has any effect on gameplay.
Third Person Shooter
- In Crackdown, you are only ever called "Agent". The only certain thing is your gender, as there are no female Agent models.
Turn Based Strategy
- Advance Wars puts you in the role of an "adviser" to the Orange Star Army, who is spoken to directly but never shown onscreen. Absolutely nothing is known about your character except that they are new to the job. In practice, your "advising" consists of telling the various generals what to do (they never go against your advice) and they in turn deliver these orders to their troops. This makes your character seem a bit redundant, which is probably why the adviser was removed completely in Advance Wars 2, which puts you in control of the generals directly (which is basically what you were doing in the first game).
- Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame does this, too. You're a wandering tactician, and you meet one of the main characters before the first fight. Of course, after the prologue chapters, you're rarely mentioned.
- You can actually choose to not have a tactician, in which case the sprite will not appear on the map and the characters will not address you. However, this also means that Athos won't give you the Afa's Drops (a very good item that is almost a must to use on charas lie Nino), because he normally hands them to the tactician personally! Otherwise, the differences are fairly minor.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! Tag Force series has the player character as Hat Guy as seen here: a Hat-wearing Slifer Red Student (In the first three), and a rather lean-built red-clad guy (In the fourth installment). Hilarity Ensues to find that in the fourth installment the developers have left inside jokes about him as you play the games:
- He NEVER seems to take his hat off. (even when asleep, in the shower, or putting on a T-shirt)
Ruka/Luna: [Hat Guy], you can't put on a shirt with your hat on!
- His Nice Hat from the first three series is hanging on the rack next to the door of his apartment.
- His interactions with the character 'partners' can be interpreted as Romantic...even if nearly 95% of the cast is Male.
- In most dating sims, the male protagonist (being, effectively, the player's stand-in) when he is on screen is a vaguely dark-haired youth whose bangs conveniently hides his face if he is ever seen from the front.
- Faceless protagonists are becoming a Dead Horse Trope in visual novels now days. It's becoming more and more phased out that the protagonist is faceless and even more so nameless. Examples are far too numerous to name.
- More story-based games sometimes maintain the faceless look early in the game, but then reveal the protagonist's face in CGs later in the story when the player has gotten to know the character better.
- Dating sims with female protagonists, and sound novel type dating sims, tend to avoid this and do show the girl's face from the beginning.
- Toyed with in the Prince of Tennis dating sims. The first one, Gakuensai no Oujisama, never shows the face of the brunette main girl (default name: Shizuka Hirose), and there are extremely few mentions to her possible looks (Kawamura's path implies that she uses glasses). In the other two, Umibe no Secret and Sanroku no Mystic, the trope is subverted: the girls's faces are clearly seen from the beginning (Sanroku's Tsugumi Obinata is a long-haired Yamato Nadeshiko, Umibe's Ayaka Tsujimoto is a short-haired Tomboy), and yet sometimes the CG's deliberately show them only from behind or from angles where we cannot see their faces, despite us already knowing how they look like.
- The Shall We Date? games, however, play this trope painfully straight. They take great pains to never show the otome protagonist's face even during the kissing scenes!
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni appears to be a dating sim at first, so it follow this trope for half of it. Latter it is revealed the protagonist is someone else and the previous main character gains a face (the new protagonist was present since the beginning, so they had a face already).
- Its sequel of sorts, Umineko no Naku Koro ni, however, averts it, by giving the main character a face from the beginning. The author even commented he wanted to avoid having the main character go faceless for so long again.
- Averted all the time in Key Visual Arts' works, since the male protagonists actually develops a character (especially in Clannad. It would be ridiculous if Ushio-chan have a faceless dad.). Some protagonists are more bland than others, though (i.e. in Planetarian).
- Averted in Katawa Shoujo, as we see Hisao Nakai's face clearly in one of the first CG's and his features are almost never hidden from then on.
- In One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e this is played up to the point of stupidity. In CG in which Kouhei is kissing someone, he will have no eyes, nose, etc. depending on the scene.