Creating Empathy With Silent Characters in Troll and I
In the early days of video games, I never questioned why the heroes didn’t speak. Nobody spoke unless it was in dialog at the bottom of the screen, sometimes with little nonsense noises to accompany the words. But the first time I was introduced to fully voiced characters, I never wanted to go back—hearing lines spoken aloud made the stories feel so much more alive.
Nowadays, when a character doesn’t have a voice (or, at least, a voice we can understand), it’s a deliberate choice on the part of the developer, not merely a byproduct of the medium’s current technological limitations. Purposely taking away a character’s verbal capabilities, however, means developing their personality through other, less traditional means besides spoken lines of dialog, and doing this well often proves tricky.
In Troll and I, Troll and Otto can’t exactly chat it up—they don’t even belong to the same species, let alone speak the same language—but that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. In fact, the game goes out of its way to develop a relationship between the two characters without using dialog; their connection goes deeper than mere speech, celebrating the differences and similarities between the two without words.
Troll and I Gameplay Encourages Character Connections
In a game with non-verbal characters, gameplay, not dialog, becomes the main source of interaction between the characters. In Troll and I, the relationship between the protagonists depends solely on how they physically express themselves to one another, whether it’s to ask for help, warn each other of danger, or simply share a smile of relief once the peril has passed.
After the destruction of Otto’s home, he has nobody to turn to but his new troll companion as they flee from a band of bloodthirsty hunters. Their destinies intertwine as it becomes clear that their unique skills—Otto’s nimbleness and talent with weapons alongside Troll’s brute strength and magical abilities—are what they need to survive. Where Otto is weak, Troll is strong, and where Troll can’t go, Otto can. The gameplay reinforces their relationship, encouraging the player to think of them as two parts of a whole.
Because each character balances the other, their relationship is stronger. While they may not be having audible conversations, with touch, hand signals, and facial expressions, they’re able to understand each other and strengthen their bond.
Story and Plot Encourage Empathy
Story, too, is a crucial part of creating empathy for Troll despite his inability to speak with Otto. The two characters are drawn together by circumstances beyond their control, each one inexperienced in various aspects of life. Otto, though he’s lived an isolated existence in Northern Europe, doesn’t know how to survive in the wilderness, while Troll’s inability to verbally communicate and inexperience with humans make him vulnerable to the hunters’ pursuit.
These same weaknesses help make them accessible to players. Otto’s vulnerability makes us worry for him, while we gain empathy for Troll despite his monstrous appearance not because he convinces Otto of his trustworthiness with spoken promises or assurances, but because he demonstrates it through gestures and acts of kindness.
None of this would be possible without the story. It’s easy to convey friendship between two humans, but what Troll and I does is significantly more difficult. But that’s what makes it interesting—their relationships develops naturally, silently, creating a bond that’s deeper and more emotional than many we see portrayed in video games today.
Troll and I Creates Empathy Creatively
When we think of building relationships, we often imagine long conversations and friendly chatter, but talking is just one form of communication. Brought together by circumstances beyond their control, Troll and Otto are forced to find other ways to get along to ensure their survival, and learn to work together not through traditional speech but rather other, more nuanced means of expression.
It takes creativity to create a believable relationship between two characters who can’t speak to one another, and that’s where Troll and I shines. By exploring Troll and Otto’s friendship through story and gameplay, you’re able to experience the subtle growth of their bond firsthand, leading them down a path of greater understanding that’s told through gestures, companionship, and actions, not words.
Troll and I‘s incredible story of friendship is matched with puzzle and action-driven combat, providing the perfect blend of narrative and gameplay. Preorder your copy today!