The silent protagonist trope works surprisingly well for GTA Online for a number of reasons.
Silent protagonists are sometimes hated for lack of personality. Some players may find this endearing particularly if they possess a level of charisma that transcends mere words. More often than not, games tend to execute silent protagonists quite poorly. Fortunately, GTA Online does a good job in making them entertaining.
The GTA Online Protagonist is an avatar character for the player to project themselves into. Nothing more, nothing less, and that works phenomenally in GTA Online's favor. With so much customization in the game, it's only fair to allow players to immerse themselves into the character. Ultimately, the GTA Online Protagonist is an extension of the player, and it's hard to hate that.
Five reasons why a silent protagonist works for GTA Online
#5 - It's played for laughs
It's a minor reason, but it's still a valid reason nonetheless. Other characters in GTA Online reference the oddity of the protagonist being silent, which makes it a lot better than if they just ignored the strange behavior.
Sometimes, the player could get a good chuckle out of the absurdity of some of these situations. It's better to take matters lightly than to take it too seriously, and GTA Online knows that.
On the plus side, it is amusing to think that a mute could save the world and rob a large drug kingpin in the same game.
#4 - Can't be annoying
Other players can be annoying, but the protagonist cannot be annoying on their own. They don't have stupid catchphrases or make silly sounds that get annoying after hearing it for a while. The only quirk of the protagonists in GTA Online is that they're silent, which isn't much of a thing to be annoyed about.
By comparison, some players could find certain traits of other GTA protagonists to be annoying. Likewise, other online games might also feature protagonists that get grating on the player's ears too much. It's nice to have a simple protagonist that only does what the player makes them do.
#3 - It's a good change of pace
All protagonists after Claude in GTA III had a mind of their own. It's fantastic for storytelling purposes, but it also limits some players' ability to insert themselves into some of these characters. It's not a major deal-breaker by any means, but it does make the GTA franchise feel more diverse by including a silent protagonist in GTA Online.
GTA 6 will likely return to a named protagonist that has a preset personality, so it's nice to change up the formula a bit beforehand. If anything, the silent protagonist trope could be improved upon in future GTA Online titles.
#2 - Rockstar doesn't have to do as much work
GTA Online protagonists have several factors that would make them annoying for voice-acting reasons. First, they can be either male or female. That's not so bad on its own, but then one would have to consider the ethnicity of the character. For example, an Irish man sounds a lot different than a Russian man.
But players wonder why there is only one voice for a select demographic, and it quickly becomes apparent how much of a nightmare it will be for Rockstar. All of those voice actors would have to be called in whenever an update happens, which would be far too inconvenient for Rockstar.
If just one of those voice actors couldn't do the new work, then it would be jarring to hear an unfamiliar voice in a new mission. Players might not care about this reason too much, but Rockstar shouldn't waste money for the sake of spending it.
#1 - The player is the protagonist
Unlike other games with a silent protagonist, the GTA Online Protagonist is an extension of the player's self. They don't have to be physically similar to the player, but they are a manifestation of the player's desires in one way or another. As a result, the player can legitimately speak for them without it seeming too weird.
GTA Online has voice chat, so it's not like the GTA Online Protagonist has to speak to get the point across. It would feel weird if Rockstar made them speak in a way that the player, themselves, would never do.
There are many players in GTA Online, so the protagonist could never realistically represent everybody if they were voiced. By comparison, Claude in GTA III is a specific character and not one the player can project themselves onto as easily.
Note: This article reflects the writer’s personal views.