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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 projectible 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 the most generic personality possible. They end up being a prop, 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.

Examples of Cipher Scything include:
  • 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 protagonist of the Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito game is replaced by the minor character Hazuki.
  • Koihime Musou does this with Kazuto Hongo, the male protagonist from the games for the anime adaptation.
  • 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 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 Mar Sara Magistrate and UED Captain both vanish into the ether, though the Captain 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.
  • Commander Shepard in Mass Effect novels and comics, despite the potential to just use Default Shepard as the main character (Male Soldier Shepard).
  • Meine Liebe
  • 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 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 developed from an Featureless Protagonist to provide his/her own character dynamic to the companions.
  • 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.
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