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Monday Mysteries: As Quiet as a Link
We all know the trope by now. There seems to be a wide spread epidemic of Laryngitis in the gaming world and it looks to be affecting playable characters the most. Whether they be from an era before voice acting or an MIT graduate, there are a lot of silent protagonists out there. It makes me wonder about one protagonists in particular though.
With the recent announcement that Hyrule Warriors will not feature voice acting, we think about the notable absence of voices in all Zelda titles. Well… all the ones that matter anyway. That isn’t to say that the entire game world is silent though, characters do speak, they have even monologue from time to time. However, there is one character yet to produce anything beyond a few grunts whilst swinging his sword, and that is the hero himself, Link. So while everyone around him is doing their best Hamlet, why would Link, arguable the most important person in the fiction, keep his lips sealed?
Well it is pretty obvious that he isn’t silent due to any physical restrictions. He produces a lot of guttural noises, none of which resemble any form of communication outside of “I am currently trying to kill you”. So that might suggest a psychological impairment, some form of social anxiety. I doubt it though, Link is often shown to be a reasonably well liked person in whatever home town he is placed in. I understand that this is not always true, but for the most part it seems to be the case. All of this begs the question, how does a mute become so popular? Not to knock anyone who does suffer from any form of mutism, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it makes socializing quite difficult. Well my answer would have to be that … Link is not mute, not at all.
There are plenty of suggestions scoured across all the games that Link does communicate with other people. Whether is be as simple as a yes or no answer or an implied conversation that the cinematic just so happened to cut away from before the hero could speak. Link can talk, so then why doesn’t he have a voice?
The answer, some might suggest, is tradition. Link didn’t have a voice early on and so it will remain the case. I don’t think that is true though, at least not entirely. Other previously silent protagonists has gain voices, like Samus or even Mario. Even though one of those voices lead to some… less than possitive feedback from the fans. I think that the more likely answer is because of the thematic resonance Link has within the overall Zelda canon.
He was designed to be the conduit through which the player vicariously explore the game world. For all intents and purposes, he was designed to be an empty shell a Tabula Rasa. Shigeru Miyamoto has even said this in regards to the characters naming. He is named Link because he is literally the link between the player and the game.
Mystery Solved… right? Why is there still another 4 paragraphs left? Because even though I’ve uncovered the functional reason behind Link’s silence, I think that there is one more thing left to be discussed. There is this awful song from the 90’s by a group called West Life that posits, “you say it best, when you say nothing at all”. I think this lyric, no matter how cheesy it may be, holds a very significant relevance to how the lack of any and all voice to Link, informs his character. And Link is a very definite character by this point.
He may have started blank, but over the years, Link has evolved past this. We have been able to observe things about him. We know that he is lazy, but also fiercely courageous, we know he is a bit clumsy, but extremely resourceful. We know all these things about him, we understand his motivations in life and what drives him all without the character having to utter a single word. And the reason behind this is simple.
Actions speak louder than words. No character in all of gaming illustrate this more than Link. We don’t require a Shakespearean style soliloquy from him, because we know all we need to without a single line of dialogue being written. And therein lies the true reason behind Nintendo’s refusal to give Link a voice.
Link stands for something, in a way so few characters from gaming, hell from fiction in general, have ever managed. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht once wrote: “Therefore learn to see and not to gape; to act instead of talking all day long”. I think that if anything defines Link the best… it would be this lesson from a very old writer.
If you’re interested in the Zelda series at all, then feel free to check out the latest Nintencast in which I and others have been discussing the ins and outs of all the games, specifically: Majora’s Mask, Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past.