Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Serious and Personal Take On The Voice Actors Strike

Brace yourselves, this will contain an appeal to emotion.

There looms upon the horizon of the video game development world a strike amongst the voice actors. Negotiations between the union that represents them and the various powerhouse publishers seems to have stalled, and it's starting to look like some of the biggest names in the voice business are going to down tools shortly. What impact this is going to have on upcoming releases is unknown, but in my own selfish indulgence, at least it means Fallout 4 won't be delayed as that game is now little more than a month away.

I find myself strongly supporting this strike. I'm going to set aside the issue of unions as I'm sure I can find a dozen differing opinions on that topic (which have been discussed by some more knowledgeable than I), and it's not what I want to discuss here. In my years of gaming, I've seen the medium grow from little more than crude platform jumping with the barest of excuses being transmitted through text on-screen (if you were even that lucky – I used to play the hell out of Jumpman and I still don't know what the story behind that game was) to a point where games are rivaling – and even surpassing – film and television in their ability to keep you in suspense, touch your heart, scare you, and leave you in tears. I wouldn't have such a wistful smile when remembering my relationship with a cat-bird-lizard-alien if it weren't for Jennifer Hale and Brandon Keener. I wouldn't have sobbed my eyes out at the pain of realization of the real relationship if it weren't for Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper.

Voice acting in games has become such an amazingly versatile and essential storytelling tool, and it has to be done right. Professional voice actors are considered professional for a reason: you can't just slot someone in there who can't do the job properly. This was recently demonstrated with Peter Dinklage in the gloriously overbudgeted Destiny. Dinklage is not a voice actor

Don't get me wrong, Dinklage is amazing on-screen. He gesticulates and articulates and gives facial expressions that work absolute magic. His portrayal of Tyrion Lannister will be remembered for years to come, but acting isn't voice acting. You've got to carry everything in your voice, even if you've got a rendered face on-screen, and he just wasn't capable of doing that in Destiny. I liken voice acting in games to old-fashioned radio drama. Big Finish, for example, was the first light that Doctor Who fans had since the oft-derided Paul McGann movie, and they were audio-only stories that still managed to convey a sense of scale and wonder that even the show has trouble matching at times, with scenes carried by often naught more than the voices of the characters.

Game voice work has to be even harder, especially if you're doing a Mass Effect, a Dragon Age, or a Witcher where there's potentially hundreds of hours of content and a ton of storytelling that will depend on player choice, variable genders or species of characters, or simply where you walk in a world.

So, personally, I support this. Even if it brings the industry to a grinding halt until its resolved. They games industry can take a year off if it has to. We can live without next year's Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty if it means that the people providing the heart of the story don't work their voices into early failure to get there.

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