Why are there so many silent protagonists?

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hencook

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1. Why are there so many silent protagonists? Is this a budget problem, or a conscious decision to allow the players to feel more like they are controlling an extension of themselves on screen?

2. Why is it more prominent in FPS's to have silent protagonists?

and before we begin, let's define the term: When the PC you control has multiple conversations with other NPCs, but the PC doesn't talk or even type back.

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mosespippy

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#2  Edited By mosespippy

It's probably a number of factors. For one, the other characters might only exist to tell you what to do in order to advance the game. The only response needed is for you to do it. This is almost guaranteed to be a poorly written story. For example, that dumb and tacked on story mode for GRID 2. I can't even remember if they voice the other character (because there is only one other character). He just emails you sometimes saying "Hey, pick some sponsors and a car and go race."

Another problem is that in the vast majority of FPS games the only mechanics are pointing your gun and shooting or pressing an action button to pull a lever to open a door or some shit. There isn't much else going on, so the player character doesn't need to talk to inform the player what's going on. You look at a JRPG; it's probably got some sort of political drama happening and you're traveling between countries. At some point there will be a discussion so the player knows what's going on. It's probably a complex narrative, so there needs to be more dialogue to explain it, so the player character is gonna end up in those discussions.

If you're playing an older game it could be a technical limitation of the time.

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Whimsee

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#3  Edited By Whimsee

I think I agree with it probably be a way for players to feel more in control with their Player Character but in recent games where technical limitations should not be much of a problem, I think it's because giving a protagonist an apparent personality in games where it is appropriate or necessary to have one might run the risk of driving people away from the game.

Granted, this really just goes down to the writing and design of the character and it's probably situational but there were games that I wasn't into as much because the protagonist had a personality that I didn't like to play around with. Conversely, there were games that I wanted to play because the protagonist was fun to "role-play" with and I simply wanted to know what reaction they'll make in certain situations.

As to why it's more prevalent in FPSes, probably because that's the development norm for now. I mean, some people blame Half-life 1 for the prevalence of FPS silent protagonists so, coming from that, there probably was a time where that wasn't the case and that was when there were obvious technical limitations.

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Justin258

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#4  Edited By Justin258

I've seen the sentiment that it allows players to be "more immersed" in the character they're playing as. This just comes across as ridiculous to me. I always find myself questioning why people care about Gordon Freeman or Chrono when those characters keep it zipped. Antisocial assholes.

It seems to be less of a thing these days. I imagine that a lot of developers used silent protagonists because that was the popular thing to do at the time and the industry took a while to catch up and go "oh, this is kinda dumb, let's move on from it."

For shooters specifically, it is a little bit weird to be playing as a dude who just says stuff while you're in first person. It's not anywhere near as weird as Alyx Vance beginning to think of Gordon Freeman as a friend as he silently runs around, jumping and crouching while waiting for the scene to end so he can get back to shooting stuff.

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Ares42

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I've seen the sentiment that it allows players to be "more immersed" in the character they're playing as. This just comes across as ridiculous to me. I always find myself questioning why people care about Gordon Freeman or Chrono when those characters keep it zipped. Antisocial assholes.

I'd say it's not about become more immersed in the character, but the game. The whole idea behind silent protagonists is that the game is speaking to you. Even though you can't have a dialogue with the game it still makes it feel more like you're stepping into the shoes of someone like Freeman. It's not a story between characters that you're percieving, but an interaction between you as the player and the game.

The ultimate example of this is probably The Stanley Parable. If that was story told between the narrator and the main character the game would be a completely different experience.

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NTM

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#6  Edited By NTM

I'll just say I thought it was ridiculous that Gordon Freeman won GameSpot's best character a couple of years ago (I think it was). I mean, I think it's the love of the game, not the character. I don't dislike Gordon Freeman, but as a character, there were much better choices.

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Justin258

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@ares42 said:

@believer258 said:

I've seen the sentiment that it allows players to be "more immersed" in the character they're playing as. This just comes across as ridiculous to me. I always find myself questioning why people care about Gordon Freeman or Chrono when those characters keep it zipped. Antisocial assholes.

I'd say it's not about become more immersed in the character, but the game. The whole idea behind silent protagonists is that the game is speaking to you. Even though you can't have a dialogue with the game it still makes it feel more like you're stepping into the shoes of someone like Freeman. It's not a story between characters that you're percieving, but an interaction between you as the player and the game.

The ultimate example of this is probably The Stanley Parable. If that was story told between the narrator and the main character the game would be a completely different experience.

But it makes little sense because the only input I have in the game is where Gordon Freeman moves and shoots. I have absolutely no input in his interactions with other people, so any interactions that characters have with him come across as quite unnatural. I am not Gordon Freeman, I'm not role playing as him or anything. He is the eyes through which I see Half-Life's story, he's supposed to be a character in and of himself. It's like if Nathan Drake never spoke and yet every other line of dialogue was the same.

You do have some sort of interaction with the narrator in The Stanley Parable, by the way. That is certainly not a static story.

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@believer258: well, we could argue back and forth about how well it's done in Half-Life (although it's been way too long since I played that to have any real opinion on the matter). What I was trying to say is that I think when it's done right someone like Freeman isn't supposed to be a character. People might be speaking to him and referring to his name, but what they're really doing is speaking to you as the player. There is no character development or real character interaction because he isn't really part of the story, you are. It might appear strange or just be straight up poorly done most of the time, but what it tries to do is place you inside the world as a participant rather than an observant.

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Bollard

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Because it's easier.

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Raven10

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Look up the term player agency. It's the concept of a player placing himself into the game and feeling that he has a direct effect on the game world. Early academics theorized that a player would be more easily able to become engrossed in a world if they felt they were playing a representation of themselves. To allow for this the character had to be silent so that he or she wouldn't say something that the player wouldn't say in the situation. The reason it is popular in first person games is because you don't ever see your character so it is easier to place yourself in the role of that character. Gordon is supposed to be a shell for the player to inhabit. This line of thinking is also why Square traditionally makes the lead characters of the Final Fantasy series the least interesting or detailed of the group. Cloud, Squall, Lightning, Vaan, and so forth are supposed to be as blank a slate as possible so that the player can imprint him or herself onto that character. In White Knight Odyssey Level 5 actually had the player create a character to represent themselves in the game who played only a minor part in the story. The idea is that players are trying to role play and it is easier to do so with a character who is silent and/or who has few background details. Even characters that do talk in shooters usually have very little to say. Why does Master Chief never take off his helmet? Why did Bungie not ever say his name(John) until Halo 3? Because Master Chief can be any race. He can be from any part of the world. With no name and no face, players can put themselves into the role more easily. Another example is how Insomniac gave Nathan Hale almost no lines in the Resistance series. If you play the first game I believe Hale speaks two sentences the entire game. The second game he speaks a bit more, while in the third game the character you play doesn't speak at all during gameplay, just during cutscenes. It's all about making the player feel that sense of agency.

Now in recent years the whole concept of creating greater agency through a silent protagonist has been debated with many people now saying that the concept doesn't work. People point to Bioware and how they made Commander Shepard have a voice while still allowing players to create a character they could attach themselves to. I personally think that is the future. But Valve continues to push silent protagonists and they hold a ton of sway in the industry. I think if Gordon Freeman talks in Half Life 3 then you'll see silent protagonists go away permanently.

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Justin258

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#12  Edited By Justin258

@ares42 said:

@believer258: well, we could argue back and forth about how well it's done in Half-Life (although it's been way too long since I played that to have any real opinion on the matter). What I was trying to say is that I think when it's done right someone like Freeman isn't supposed to be a character. People might be speaking to him and referring to his name, but what they're really doing is speaking to you as the player. There is no character development or real character interaction because he isn't really part of the story, you are. It might appear strange or just be straight up poorly done most of the time, but what it tries to do is place you inside the world as a participant rather than an observant.

I just finished playing Half-Life 2 and its episodes. Still excellent games. They write around the fact that Gordon is mute by never writing dialogue that requires him to respond directly, but it is still awkward. Alyx Vance develops a relationship with Gordon Freeman when all he does is tag along, creepily staring at her as she speaks or doing random squats on the bodies of zombies or jumping on crates. It makes only a little more sense in Chrono Trigger, where a lot of the writing is addressed to other characters, but it's still a little awkward there. I think that both of these games are some of the best ever made, by the way, so I'm not bringing up this criticism lightly.

There is no character development or real character interaction because he isn't really part of the story, you are.

I'm not an extremely fit gun nut slash theoretical physicist, though. I'm just some fat guy behind a mouse and keyboard. I understand this argument, but it's one I'm strongly against. If the person on screen is me, or if I'm pretending to be the person on screen, why don't I at least get some form of interaction with the characters who are directly speaking to me? Am I forced to role play a mute in a world where everyone seems to be pointedly oblivious to the fact that I'm a mute? Why does all the artwork involving this game depict a guy in an orange suit, wielding a crowbar, that I've never seen in the game?

I dislike silent protagonists because the dialogue written around their silence is awkward and ridiculous. It tends to pull me out of the game more than it has ever brought me into it. If you're going to make a character, make a bloody character, and don't design one and give him or her a background without letting him or her speak.

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Ares42

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@believer258: I get why you would find it distracting, but I think you're sorta getting caught up in the little things and missing the big picture. I don't really know how to explain it in a better way, but how it affects story-telling etc is sorta irrelevant, it's more about the whole "meta" experience thing. I guess it might come down to what you're looking for in a game as well.

I dunno.. I keep thinking about how much less impactful a game like Portal would be if Glados wasn't talking to me personally. Would that game even work if the protagonist wasn't silent ?

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jimipeppr

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Silent characters direct focus towards the events of the game and make them more inclusive. Half-Life isn't about Freeman... he's just a scientist that is really good at shooting stuff. By not saying anything, he lets the player react for themselves. You can't fault Freeman for being a bad character because he is whoever you want him to be. Genius!

First-person shooters are by nature meant to be "immersive." Come to think of it, there are very few player characters in FPS that are actually interesting... maybe Booker in BioShock Infinite(?)

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Justin258

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#15  Edited By Justin258

@ares42 said:

@believer258: I get why you would find it distracting, but I think you're sorta getting caught up in the little things and missing the big picture. I don't really know how to explain it in a better way, but how it affects story-telling etc is sorta irrelevant, it's more about the whole "meta" experience thing. I guess it might come down to what you're looking for in a game as well.

I dunno.. I keep thinking about how much less impactful a game like Portal would be if Glados wasn't talking to me personally. Would that game even work if the protagonist wasn't silent ?

In Chell's case, one might interpret that she's trying to mentally shut out all of the demoralizing dialogue from GLaDOS. I haven't played the Portal games in quite a while, so I might be wrong on this, but most of GLaDOS's lines are not meant to be responded to (Wheatley's lines might be problematic). But, again, I'm not Chell. Chell is Chell. She's the protagonist of Portal, I just happen to be in Chell's shoes when playing the game.

In any case, I've never felt like I, personally, am the character in a game, even in Western RPG's like Skyrim or Mass Effect. Don't pander to me. Tell a story. If you want to allow me input into this story, by all means, allow me input. Just don't shape dialogue around me responding to and building relationships with characters when I'm not actually doing that at all.

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Video_Game_King

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For the same reason there are so many generic white guys in video games: because (video game designers think that) we want a protagonist we can relate to in the story. Otherwise, why bother playing?

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#17  Edited By Ares42
@believer258 said:

But, again, I'm not Chell. Chell is Chell. She's the protagonist of Portal, I just happen to be in Chell's shoes when playing the game.

In any case, I've never felt like I, personally, am the character in a game, even in Western RPG's like Skyrim or Mass Effect. Don't pander to me. Tell a story. If you want to allow me input into this story, by all means, allow me input. Just don't shape dialogue around me responding to and building relationships with characters when I'm not actually doing that at all.

The way I see it Chell does not exist. Yes, she exists in a pure practical manner, but as a character, no. So yes, you are not Chell, or RPing Chell. You are you, and you're playing a game, and that game is interacting with you.

I'm actually sorta inclined to feel sorry for you if you've never felt that way about a game, but hey, whatever floats your boat right :P But I guess it comes back to what I said about what you want from a game. It seems to me like you come to games for a story, so it sorta makes sense that things regarding that comes first. Personally I'm more of a gameplay guy, so when it comes to storytelling and setting I'm much more interested in how the game makes me feel and react than what the actual story is all about.

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I think a lot of it is just lazy story writing/character creation. Like Dishonored. Just lazy.

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In any case, I've never felt like I, personally, am the character in a game, even in Western RPG's like Skyrim or Mass Effect. Don't pander to me. Tell a story. If you want to allow me input into this story, by all means, allow me input. Just don't shape dialogue around me responding to and building relationships with characters when I'm not actually doing that at all.

Stories aren't always focused on the main protagonist. Shepard is just a generic soldier (that happens to be kind of badass). You as the player shape his/her relationships with other characters with your choices in the dialogue. When you say different things, the other people react in a different way and more is revealed about those characters. Shepard rarely does anything other than react to situations like a well-trained soldier... if you think Mass Effect is about Shepard I actually highly recommend that you play them again.

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Justin258

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#20  Edited By Justin258

@ares42 said:
@believer258 said:

But, again, I'm not Chell. Chell is Chell. She's the protagonist of Portal, I just happen to be in Chell's shoes when playing the game.

In any case, I've never felt like I, personally, am the character in a game, even in Western RPG's like Skyrim or Mass Effect. Don't pander to me. Tell a story. If you want to allow me input into this story, by all means, allow me input. Just don't shape dialogue around me responding to and building relationships with characters when I'm not actually doing that at all.

The way I see it Chell does not exist. Yes, she exists in a pure practical manner, but as a character, no. So yes, you are not Chell, or RPing Chell. You are you, and you're playing a game, and that game is interacting with you.

I'm actually sorta inclined to feel sorry for you if you've never felt that way about a game, but hey, whatever floats your boat right :P But I guess it comes back to what I said about what you want from a game. It seems to me like you come to games for a story, so it sorta makes sense that things regarding that comes first. Personally I'm more of a gameplay guy, so when it comes to storytelling and setting I'm much more interested in how the game makes me feel and react than what the actual story is all about.

I come to games for both, really, though I value gameplay a little more than I do story.

I also look at things from a more distanced perspective than most people, it seems.

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Justin258

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@believer258 said:

In any case, I've never felt like I, personally, am the character in a game, even in Western RPG's like Skyrim or Mass Effect. Don't pander to me. Tell a story. If you want to allow me input into this story, by all means, allow me input. Just don't shape dialogue around me responding to and building relationships with characters when I'm not actually doing that at all.

Stories aren't always focused on the main protagonist. Shepard is just a generic soldier (that happens to be kind of badass). You as the player shape his/her relationships with other characters with your choices in the dialogue. When you say different things, the other people react in a different way and more is revealed about those characters. Shepard rarely does anything other than react to situations like a well-trained soldier... if you think Mass Effect is about Shepard I actually highly recommend that you play them again.

Uh... Shepard was largely portrayed as a sort of "chosen one" throughout the Mass Effect games. The story is definitely centered around him or her.

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#22  Edited By Video_Game_King

Uh... Shepard was largely portrayed as a sort of "chosen one" throughout the Mass Effect games. The story is definitely centered around him or her.

I'm not so sure about that. Granted, I haven't played Mass Effect, but I do know of a similar case to what you're describing: Chrono Cross. Serge (silent protagonist. Woohoo.), for various reasons, is central to the game's plot. But that doesn't mean the story is centered on or around him. It's centered on theme, mostly, and the same could be said of Mass Effect.

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Silence is Pro qB|

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Justin258

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@believer258 said:

Uh... Shepard was largely portrayed as a sort of "chosen one" throughout the Mass Effect games. The story is definitely centered around him or her.

I'm not so sure about that. Granted, I haven't played Mass Effect, but I do know of a similar case to what you're describing: Chrono Cross. Serge (silent protagonist. Woohoo.), for various reasons, is central to the game's plot. But that doesn't mean the story is centered on or around him. It's centered on theme, mostly, and the same could be said of Mass Effect.

You should probably play Mass Effect. The game has a real hard on for talking about how special Commander Shepard is, for reasons that are never really explained properly other than "he or she is just that badass".

Also Shepard has a voice. I'd say that Mass Effect actually fails at role-playing because the morality meter in it ensures that you need to be at either full Paragon or full Renegade to select some of the better dialogue options and keep some characters alive. But at this point we're straying away from the subject.

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#26  Edited By veektarius

I think that it's a fading tradition. It used to be for immersion, didn't want to force thoughts on the player that he wouldn't actually feel, but I think that it's been shown recently that any decently voiced attempt at a character will be totally fine. I don't think that many games go that route anymore except when they're going for a throwback sort of vibe. The last I can really think of that did was Dishonored and that aspect of it wasn't very well thought of.

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deactivated-5f8ac39b52e76

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First-person shooters are by nature meant to be "immersive." Come to think of it, there are very few player characters in FPS that are actually interesting... maybe Booker in BioShock Infinite(?)

Two that I remember from the top of my head:

  • Tommy from Prey
  • Jackie from The Darkness II

But then again, I don't play many FPS.

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#28  Edited By stonyman65

I think because way back when it was hard and expensive to do voice acting so they only did it as little as possible. These days, that's not really an issue anymore so you are seeing a lot more voice acting across the board. I think the reason why there is still less when it comes to FPS games is because a lot of the big series got their start at a time when voice acting in games was just becoming a thing so they are mostly sticking to tradition these days. I mean, think about it for a second, how insane would it be if Gordon Freeman or the Doom Guy just started talking at of nowhere in a new game? That would just be....weird....

As far as action games and especially RPGs go, I could see there being a reason as to making the character "you", so I can kind of understand the argument there but I still think that stuff is kind of hokey. It ain't 1997 no more y'all.

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Cause' real gangsters don't talk

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Slag

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I imagine it's easier to write in some ways too. You don't have to worry about making the player protagonist unlikable in some way to any segment of your audience as they will mentally fill in the blanks of how the character acts with their own personal interpretation.

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elko84

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Talking is for the weak.

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I've NEVER felt like I was the Doom guy or the Quake guy or even Gordon Freeman... silent protagonists are stupid to me, I prefer it when they have some personality beyond being a dude who carries a gun/sword/crowbar. Unless they're silent for a reason like BioShock.

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#33  Edited By Video_Game_King

Cause' real gangsters don't talk

"Can you believe this guy?"

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I think it's a mixture of player agency and another, totally opposite kind of gamer-- those who have no interest in the concept of a game having a story, either because they have no patience for it, or because they just don't give a shit, no matter how well-written the game is, or how heavily it relies on story. It helps them create the illusion that they're just shooting people for the sake of shooting people, and the character won't suddenly pipe up with "Urgh, I gotta go find Jessica before the terrorists do!" Being a very story-focused person myself, I never understood the appeal of this kind of approach. Even with games that genuinely possess no story, I tend to make up one as I go along, as a source of motivation.

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mems1224

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Silent protagonists are the worst. Its not immersive and turns the player into a lapdog that blindly follows orders.

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cornbredx

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This is 100% the reason- no speculation: Because developers believe it's more immersive. It's very much a design choice.

Mystery solved.

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@medacris said:

I think it's a mixture of player agency and another, totally opposite kind of gamer-- those who have no interest in the concept of a game having a story, either because they have no patience for it, or because they just don't give a shit, no matter how well-written the game is, or how heavily it relies on story. It helps them create the illusion that they're just shooting people for the sake of shooting people, and the character won't suddenly pipe up with "Urgh, I gotta go find Jessica before the terrorists do!" Being a very story-focused person myself, I never understood the appeal of this kind of approach. Even with games that genuinely possess no story, I tend to make up one as I go along, as a source of motivation.

Yeah, that's pretty much me. I don't hate VO work in games automatically, but I find it to be intrusive and bad more often than not. Portal is the example of a game talking to you in a 1 way direction that works extremely well. Would it have been better if the protagonist spoke back? No, insanely worse (IMO).