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.
- Azur Lane takes a couple different tacks with the player-insert Commander depending on the adaptation:
- In the 2019 anime, the Commander is omitted altogether, with Enterprise herself taking up the role in the finale.
- In Azur Lane: Queen's Orders and Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, the Commander is regularly mentioned by the cast, but always remains off-screen.
- Since the shorts which make up Azur Lane Comic Anthology are all set in separate continuities, they can get away with showing their individual interpretations of the Commander on-screen. That said, many of the shorts still opt to at least obscure the Commander's face.
- 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.
- 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 an Ideal Knight in Shining Armor, 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 : The customizable player avatar, the Glaive, introduced from the expansion Comrades onwards. Not only are they 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.
- Like Shantotto and Prishe for XI and Y'shtola for XIV, Noctis is used as representative for XV in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT instead of the Glaive. Justified, as pre-Comrades FFXV versions didn't feature the Glaive and Noctis was always meant as the protagonist.
- Fire Emblem
- 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. series uses the default appearance, voice, and class (Tactician), 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. As far as its home franchise is concerned though, future games (such as Fire Emblem Warriors) that feature the character have male Robin as the canonical version.
- The Avatars of Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem: Three Houses gets the same treatment by Smash, using the default names ("Corrin" and "Byleth", respectively), appearances, and voices, with both male and female appearances available. Fire Emblem Warriors treats female Corrin as the canonical version for that entry, and it's female Byleth that's used for official cover art of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. Engage retains female Corrin as the representative of Fates, while using male Byleth instead to represent Three Houses, in order to keep a Gender-Equal Ensemble.
- The Galaxy Angel anime tossed out several aspects of the games it's based on, including the male lead.
- 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.
- 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.
- KanColle 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.
- 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.
- The anime adaptation of Koihime†Musou does this with Kazuto Hongo, the male protagonist from the games.
- Played for laughs in Learning with Manga! FGO, a webcomic Self-Parody of Fate/Grand Order which turns the loosely-defined hero of the game into a Psycho Lesbian Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist whose personality is a parody of the game's players.
- The Legend of Zelda
- Link in the 1989 animated adaptation makes the mute, no-personality cipher of the Legend of Zelda games of that era an arrogant, wise-cracking hero keen on getting kissed by Princess Zelda.
- 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 in the original Majora's Mask - 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 manga, which give Link plenty of character and dialogue, with the semi-exception of the Wind Waker adaptation, which keeps Link silent.
- 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.
- Commander Shepard is only given the most tacit mentions in Mass Effect novels and comics, despite the potential to just use Default (Male Soldier) Shepard as the main character. BioWare is seriously committed to avoid invalidating any player's personal playthrough.
- In My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Maria Campbell is the main protagonist of the in-universe video game Fortune Lover. However, in the story, Katarina who is the Big Bad of Geordo and Keith's routes in the game, regains her Past-Life Memories of an Otaku from the real world who played Fortune Lover. Fearing that she's going to be killed if she acts the way she does in the game, Katarina begins taking countermeasures and ends up becoming the main protagonist by being really nice to everyone and averts her "doom endings" which she never notices, ever. When Maria does show up, Katarina learns that Maria has some major Hidden Depths, namely being bullied over her rare Light 'em Up abilities that drove her dad away due to rumors that Maria's mom slept with a nobleman, but Katarina's defending Maria from bullies has Maria taking a level in cheerfulness and falling in love with Katarina who, of course, does not notice. The anime has Maria's eyes being hidden in Katarina's flashbacks of playing Fortune Lover.
- Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, of course, has to do this with the 3 and 4 protagonists. You still get to name them, though. The sequel, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth does it with the 5 and female 3 Portable protagonists in addition to the returning other two.
- Persona 4: The Animation does this with the main character of its source video game, giving him a name, Yu Narukami — but plays up the "generic" personality for all its worth, simultaneously being the resident (comically) serious, snarking, and stoic guy. Persona 5: The Animation did something similar with its hero; Joker, now named Ren Amamiya.
- Preceding that, the Persona 3 manga adaptation gave the character a name (Makoto Yuki) and the distinct personality of a silent, laid back guy.
- In Pokémon Crossing, the player character is removed from the story in order to focus on the animal villagers. The villager Benedict takes on the player's role of being the character who moves into a new town and decides where to go from there.
- Red, the protagonist of Pokémon Red and Blue, has a very complicated case with Pokémon: The Series. The anime was made before Red was given a Canon Name or his own distinct character in future Pokémon games, so it used Red's secondary name, Satoshi/Ash, as the name of their anime protagonist and modify his look to include blue and yellow to his red outfit. Due to Ash's own popularity and the anime displacing the games for a time, Red began receiving redesigns and different characterizations to stand apart from Ash, becoming more stoic and serious compared to his hyperactive, hot-blooded counterpart. Pokémon Origins is a more faithful adaptation of the game with Red as the protagonist, which gives him traits associated with Ash, namely his hot-blooded attitude and naivety, but in a manner where he's own character rather than just a copy of Ash.
- Pokémon Horizons: The Series is technically an anime adaptation of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but its game protagonists, Juliana and Florian, are replaced by original characters, Liko and Roy. This in stark contrast to Ash Ketchum, who was at least based on Red. What's more, the main supporting cast of Horizons, including the villains, are all original characters too. The only known connection to the Scarlet and Violet games is Liko being from Paldea and wearing a pendant connected to Paldea's Legendary Pokémon. That said, partway through the series, Liko, Roy and the Rising Volt Tacklers arrive in Paldea where they encounter characters from Scarlet and Violet such as Nemona, Arboliva, Brassius and Iono.
- 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.
- StarCraft II does 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Massive 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 Symphogear.
- Tantei Opera Milky Holmes does this with the male protagonist, Kobayashi Opera. He appears as an almost-unnoticeable cameo in the penultimate episode, though.
- 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).
- The Avatar of the Ultima series developed from a Featureless Protagonist to a specific White Male Lead, but still doesn't provide his/her own character dynamic to the companions since he is never given dialogue (only keywords).
- 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.
- The nameless body-hopping male protagonist of the Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito game is replaced by the female minor character Hazuki.