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 projectable 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 a specific personality and/or appearance. Often they'll remain The Everyman or First-Person Peripheral Narrator, 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. When this involves making a decision about some aspect of a character that was decided by the player in the original game, it's also Cutting Off the Branches.
- 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 I 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.
- Darth Revan of Knights of the Old Republic 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 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.
- The anime adaptation of KoihimeMusou does this with Kazuto Hongo, the male protagonist from the games.
- 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 a specific Mighty Whitey character, but still doesn't provide his/her own character dynamic to the companions since he is never given dialogue (only keywords).
- 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: Shadow of the Labyrinth, 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.
- Fire Emblem Warriors features both Avatars in the story mode. Like Smash, they use the default/canon name, and while also featuring both genders as playable, the male Robin and female Corrin are the ones in the story.
- All of the anime adaptions of The Idolmaster give an established appearance and personality to the producer character, who is unseen in the games. Of note is the producer in THE iDOLM@STER: SideM who is of Ambiguous Gender in the games but is explicitly male in the anime. Humorously, Petit iDOLM@STER depicts the producer as a man in a suit with the letter P for a head.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link in the animated adaptation in the 1980s makes the mute, no-personality cipher of the Legend of Zelda games of that era to an over-the-top, annoying lout.
- Besides the inability to have Link talk, let alone sing, the primary reason that he is absent in Majora is because he - and his ability to rewind time and try again - would act as a Deus ex Machina, removing all tension from the plot. Not having him present allows for more drama, creating more uncertainty and doubt over the fate of Termina.
- This trope is averted in most Zelda mangas, for instance the Wind Waker adaptation, where Link is still silent, though he appears with full dialogues and a revamped character arc in Twilight Princess's manga adaptation.
- 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. Pokémon Origins is a more faithful adaptation of the game with Red as the protagonist, which makes it 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.
- Most adaptations of Touken Ranbu leave the Saniwa out of the picture, opting instead for a character to act in their place or make offhand mentions. Touken Ranbu - Hanamaru had the character be present, but they were always holed up in their quarters and only affected the plot indirectly. The adaptations that gave them some sort of life were in one of the musicals (where he remained offscreen, but was heard to be male), Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu (where they were a major character, but androgynous) and the movie (portrayed by Mansai Nomura).
- Granblue Fantasy allows the Player Character to be either male ("Gran") or female ("Djeeta"), but only one can be designated as the protagonist. When the Animated Adaptation was announced, fans expected Gran and Djeeta to be featured, but developer Cygames pushed for a "boy meets girl" narrative between Gran and Mysterious Waif Lyria. Even though the director for the Anime wanted to use both, Djeeta was Adapted Out until this was subverted with the thirteenth episode, where she displaces Gran as the protagonist with A Day in the Limelight.
- The fan-made GURPS adaptation of Marathon abstracts out the Security Officer and attributes their efforts to the BoBs, though battleroids (a type of cyborg that the Security Officer is all but directly stated to be) are still discussed.
- Since two Final Fantasy entries (I and III) star casts of generic characters, the series has come up with various ways of dealing with this across the many spinoffs and crossovers - often featuring different interpretations of the same character.
- The first Final Fantasy begins by asking the player to assemble a party of four characters with six possible Jobs. Dissidia Final Fantasy composites the four into a single "Warrior of Light" resembling Yoshitaka Amano's box illustration, with powers from all of these jobs and whose main personality trait is being a Knight in Shining Armor Ideal Hero, and not much else. Amusingly, Dissidia Duodecim has his "not much else" be a notable personality trait itself. The protagonist of Mobius Final Fantasy is supposed to be a composite of the Warriors of Light from I as well, but, instead of having a generic personality, gets the sort of aloof, sarcastic, slightly roguish personality that resembles late-90s FF protagonists (his similarity to Squall and especially Cloud is remarked upon In-Universe by Meta Guys Echo and Gilgamesh). A lot of the humour of Mobius is based on the idea of "what if a Cloud Strife Expy had to put up with a 1980s setting that only wanted him to be a bland Heroic Mime?".
- The remake of III replaced the four generic children with four characters with names (Luneth, Refia, Arc and Ingus), distinctive appearances, and distinctive personalities. They also each get backstories, and relationships with other characters, when the NES version just starts with them all being part of the same family at the beginning of the story. Dissidia composited them into a single "Onion Knight", a boy who has a gentle and thoughtful personality different from any of the four in the DS remake.
- Dissidia uses side characters Shantotto and Prishe as representatives of the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI instead of the Player Character. Dissidia Final Fantasy (2015) uses Y'shtola as its representative of the other MMO, Final Fantasy XIV.
- Final Fantasy XV : Taken Up to Eleven by the customizable player avatar, The Glaive, introduced from the expansion Comrades onwards. Not only they are completely Adapted Out from the anime Brotherhood Final Fantasy XV and other spin-offs, but the main game itself takes them off the story almost as soon as they enter it. While they are the main protagonists in the Comrades expansion, the main game only allows you (as the non-customizable Noctis) to recruit them very late in the game, in Chapter 14. They never appear in subsequent cutscenes, however, and the rest of the plot is all focused on Noctis. Even the final boss is fought only by Noctis instead of them, and the ending revolves so much around Noctis that it acts like the Glaive never existed.