If it's crap ... We'll tell you
In Half-Life 2, you play as Gordon Freeman who is a scientist turned freedom fighter against an alien force. He goes throughout the entire journey without saying a single word outside of grunts of pain or gasps for air, yet he’s treated like he can hold a conversation. That’s more science fiction than the fucking aliens. Characters simply accept that their messiah is a mute whose only means of communications are shooting things or smashing a crowbar into objects. It’s especially frustrating to understand why one character sees him “like a son” or why the main female protagonist becomes fast friends with him though he never actually communicates (outside of pressing buttons). I get it, VALVE. You wanted the player to be ‘Freeman,’ but it doesn’t work. You make a character with a backstory and scripted interactions with other characters that the players have no control over, yet you don’t fully characterize him out of some perverse sense of making him a ‘character of the audience.’ Either give us a fully developed character (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), a blank slate to create (Mass Effect), or a fully developed character with moments of personal choice (Red Dead Redemption).
Let’s take a look at when silent protagonists have actually been done well. BioShock has Jack, a survivor from an airplane crash, delving through the ruined utopia of Rapture. While your interaction with other characters is limited to such aspects of the game such as the fate of the Little Sisters or Sander Cohen, every time you are allowed to influence the story, there’s actual significance to it when you do. It gives the player a sense of importance that’s missing from the aforementioned Half-Life 2. Also, in BioShock, you’re basically exploring the ruined city and playing the role of detective – piecing together what happened to the inhabitants of Rapture and how it came to be. Being a silent protagonist makes sense in that you're involved in the story as a character who's motivations are self-preservation - keeping you alone keeps you on your toes.
Some video game enthusiasts cried foul when Dead Space turned the once mute Isaac Clarke into a fully realized character. I don't see what the big fuss was. In fact, it's one hell of an improvement. In the first Dead Space, Isaac was called into investigate the Ishimura - he also was compelled to venture there as his girlfriend, Nicole, is also aboard the ship. You never actually get a sense of what Isaac and Nicole's relationship was like given the minimal interaction these two have. In a story where the relationship of two characters take a center role in the plot, you need to make it believable, and it just didn't fly in Dead Space. In the sequel, Isaac has a personality and a story arc - these are big improvements. With Isaac being able to express himself, his story is one where his interactions with other characters are genuine and fully fleshed out that makes his motivations well developed. In short, talkie is much better for character growth.
But, you might still be wondering, "why are silent protagonists dangerous?" Because it’s lazy storytelling. Basically, the developers don’t want to develop characters and instead want you to be in the digital avatar where they can bark orders at you. If developers had to create an actual character in first-person view only, they would have to give him an actual arc, character interactions, and motivations - that means the developers must then spend more time, resources, and money into crafting a great story. It’s much simpler for them to have characters talk at you, giving you narrative information and directions without the hassles of actually giving you a character.
Developers, if you want to give the players a blank slate to imagine themselves as, make sure you actually offer them choice as well.