Story in Games – The Witness [The Blank Slate Character]

blank slate

Video Games are unique…in a bad way!

Blank Slate Characters
Video games are the only storytelling art form that consistently makes use of the “blank slate” character. they rarely speak or show any personal character motivation or emotion. In theory the player is supposed to superimpose himself onto the character to increase the immersion. From a storytelling perspective, I think this is incredibly wrongheaded.

Chrono Cross, for example, while being a great game, spent a huge amount of time making each of its 40 or so minor characters have distinctive speech patterns, but gives us a main character who doesn’t have any lines at all. Leaving the main character in this state does nothing to enhance the game’s story or emotional impact. It fact, it’s the game’s weakest point.

The Witness’s Blank Slate Character
The main (and really only) character in The Witness is a blank slate character, but it may be the one game where actually enhances the story. It’s an unconventional point of view, but The Witness is an unconventional game and its storytelling is likewise.

So why does the blank slate work for The Witness:

  • You start the game in a state of absolute ignorance. There is no opening cut-scene that explains the world/struggle/war. You are dropped into a dark tunnel with no explanation and you must piece together what’s going on from there. The character’s blank slate mirrors this experience.
  • The game’s story isn’t about the game world. The “story” in The Witness is literally about your experience, not the characters!
  • There is no character motivation in the game, only your own desire to solve more puzzles and explore more areas.

So what’s it all about then, this game? It’s about life. It’s about how you see the world. It’s about patterns.

There are scattered around audio logs to listen to. But they don’t really fill you in on what’s going on, although in a very expanded sense they tell you everything.

I won’t go into any more detail because this is not a game to have spoiled in any way. It is a game only to be experienced, and truly witnessed from a purposefully blank slate.

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