A Bad Case of Silent Protagonist Syndrome

The mark of video games on mainstream culture is one that can no longer be ignored. Gone are the days of 2 dimensional characters who’s only goal is to gobble up all the balls without being caught by a ghost. Video games today have unparalleled storytelling tools at their disposal which developers use to craft immersive worlds full of unique characters which come together to create living, breathing environments. The medium through which you interact with these environments, however, cannot always be said to have the same level of detail, with many player characters suffering from ‘silent protagonist syndrome’. Those afflicted with this condition often exhibit an almost complete lack of any discernible personality, with the intention of the player projecting them self onto the character so as to become more immersed in the decision making process.

The film Mad Max: Fury Road attempts to transition this story telling tool to the screen with mixed results. The character of Max, once a colorful character (when portrayed by Mel Gibson) has been reduced to a mostly grunting force of nature that seems to merely react to the world around  him rather than actively engage with it in any way. While this tool is often effective in video games due to the element of choice giving the player a sense of importance, the same cannot be said for Max who ends up feeling like a secondary character in a film who’s title bears his name. While action scenes are undoubtedly helped by this almost mechanical ability to have Max focus on the job at hand, dialogue heavy scenes are hurt with Furiosa’s interactions with Mac calling to mind Will Smith interacting with Sam the dog in I Am Legend.

All that being said, this does not mean that movies have nothing to gain by borrowing storytelling elements from video games. The film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opened to heavily mixed reviews, with critics and fan seemingly unable to agree on anything, with one shining exception, that exception being the warehouse fight scene that was seemingly ripped straight from an Arkham video game. With this example and many other, we must ask, are movies beginning to mirror video games as video games attempt to mirror the cinematic nature of movies?

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