Cipher Scything

In some video games, the main character is a blank slate. The Heroic Mime's silence is chalked up to this, and this is often the standard lead character for many kinds of video games, since you, as the player, control the action.

The problem with ciphers is being a target for emoting to doesn't make you an interesting character from a story point of view. And if you look blander than everyone else — which you will be, in order to be as generally appealing and projectible as possible — you just stand out as boring.

So when a game that features this gets adapted for television or movies, several things can happen:

  • Sometimes the character gets a "real" name and the most generic personality possible. They end up being a prop, to the point they may not even appear in merchandising. And if your cast is populated with cute girls, The Smurfette Principle will likely come crashing down on the male character.
  • Other writers avoid this entirely by removing the character, banking on the idea you were interested in the side characters in the first place and the writers aren't going to waste time on a boring lead.

This can change the dynamic of the story, for better or worse. Be warned that sometimes removing the cipher can tip the gender ratio quite a bit while still preserving the story's conventions, making Ho Yay apparent but difficult to guess at.

See also Featureless Protagonist and The Nondescript.


  • The Steel Angel Kurumi series did two variations of this. In Zero, Kurumi gets to moon over a male character who we only hear about from her secondhand account. In Steel Angel Kurumi 2, the usual male lead character is outright replaced by a more marketable shy nerd girl in glasses but otherwise Kurumi does her usual fawning and cuddling.
  • The nameless body-hopping male protagonist of the Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito game is replaced by the female minor character Hazuki.
  • In Diamond Daydreams there is no sign of the male lead character of the Kita e visual novels the show is based on, which results in a very compelling set of slice of life stories.
  • StarCraft II is doing this with the player characters from the original and Brood War campaigns; the unnamed Commander/Executer/Cerebrate being retconned away.
    • Some of the earlier briefings in the original StarCraft address you specifically; in these cases you are the colonial governor. This identification evaporates as the colony is evacuated, so you no longer have a named position. However, no explicit change-over is given.
    • The UED Captain also vanishes into the ether, though he can be believed to die with the rest of the expedition. The Zerg Cerebrates are both confirmed dead, the original one being killed in the Queen of Blades novel and the Brood War Cerebrate dying off-screen between Brood War and StarCraft II in Kerigan's restructuring of Zerg control. The StarCraft Executor is Artanis in Queen of Blades, and the Brood War Executor is unknown, but some have assumed it to be Selendis from Starcraft II.
      • The Mar Sara magistrate is thought to be Matt Horner (except his belated biography makes it clear he's not, plus the magistrate left in the novel Horner was introduced in), or Myles Hammond (who was at least one magistrate of Mar Sara), but Blizzard has never clarified who it really was. The magistrate is not identified in Liberty's Crusade, which would have been the best book to detail them in.
  • Commander Shepard is only given the most tacit mentions in Mass Effect novels and comics, despite the potential to just use Default Shepard as the main character (Male Soldier Shepard). BioWare is seriously committed to avoid invalidating any player's personal playthrough.
  • Averted with Darth Revan, who is given a defined gender in the eponymous novel, and a face and voice in the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. The same goes for the the Exile.
  • Tantei Opera Milky Holmes does this with the male protagonist, Kobayashi Opera. He appears as an almost-unnoticeable cameo in the penultimate episode, though.
  • The Galaxy Angel anime tossed out several aspects of the games it's based on, including the male lead.
  • Koihime†Musou does this with Kazuto Hongo, the male protagonist from the games for the anime adaptation.
  • The Silent Bob "Player" of Saints Row was scythed in eight for the 2nd game, giving a choice of equally sociopathic personalities from 4 ethnicities X 2 genders. Lampshaded from early in the game.
  • The Avatar of the Ultima series developed from a Featureless Protagonist to provide his/her own character dynamic to the companions.
  • Persona 4: The Animation does this with the main character of its source video game, giving him a name— but plays up the "generic" personality for all its worth, simultaneously being the resident (comically) serious, snarking, and stoic guy.
  • Preceding that, the Persona 3 manga adaptation gave the character name and distinct personality of a silent, laid back guy.
  • Persona Q, of course, has to do this with both above protagonists. You still get to name them, though.
  • The Avatar of Fire Emblem Awakening has their name, hair colour, build, voice and gender selectable by the player, and can change to any class in the game. Their appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS uses the default appearance and voice, the default Tactician class, and has them go by their Canon Gender-Blender Name "Robin". It avoids this for gender though, both Male and Female versions are playable as functionally-identical model-swaps. When Robin appears in games afterward (through amiibo use) it's the male version of Robin.
  • The Avatar of Fire Emblem Fates gets the same treatment by Smash, using the default name, "Corrin", appearance and voice, with both male and female appearances available.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link in the animated adaptation in the 1980s almost inverts going from the mute, no-personality cipher of the Legend of Zelda games of that era to an over-the-top, annoying lout in the cartoon.
  • Red, the protagonist of Pokémon Red and Blue, is missing from the anime adaptation. He is replaced with his anime counterpart, Satoshi/Ash. In comparison to future game counterparts Ash looks much different and has a different name.
    • When a more faithful adaptation of the game was released with Red as the protagonist it's clear he shares very little with Ash, aside from a preference for trucker hats.
  • The Massively Multiplayer Crossover game Super Heroine Chronicle has a strange inversion with its adaptation of Infinite Stratos, removing its infamously bland protagonist Ichika and transferring his harem to Hibiki from Senki Zesshou Symphogear.
  • The Warcraft novel Tides of Darkness had the daunting task of making a single coherent storyline out of two fairly generic and, at times, contradictory RTS campaigns. Along the way, we learn that the generic Alliance commander in Warcraft II was none other than the paladin Turalyon, the novel serving as his origin story before the events of Beyond the Dark Portal. The Horde commander is... conveniently never mentioned, but other spin-off materials imply that he was the famous Varok Saurfang.
  • An inverted case: Licensed Pinball Tables will often take the existing characters from the source material, then add in a Featureless Protagonist as its player character. An example is Street Fighter II, which has all of the playable characters from that game, but has the player playing as a nondescript and never-seen new challenger taking on the entire existing cast.
  • Kantai Collection has a very weird way of going about this. The Player in the game is the Admiral. While the Admiral is featured in the anime and even has a subplot or two involving them, they're not seen proper in the show and they ultimately contribute nothing to the story, even their absence contributes nothing.