Let's Discuss Voice Actors in the Gaming Industry

So I recently read an interesting article from Polygon (a site I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't yet taken notice):

Polygon - Why Aren't Video Game Actors Treated Like Stars

I originally made a status linking to the article and followed it up with a comment to share my opinions on it. As I was writing it out, I realised there's a lot here to discuss - I've not been concise and probably not particularly articulate, I'm just writing my thoughts as they come to me.

Personally, I think I'd have to agree with Nathan Fillion and Jen Taylor, in regard that voice actors are never going to have the status power as to dictate terms in a contract to include a percentage share of game sale profits. I honestly think it's a good thing that voice actors aren't treated like celebrities, that we can see them as people that just work hard for an industry we love. I find celebrity worship rather disgusting and whilst I can appreciate their talents and creativity, I do find it sickening how much they can be paid for their trade - same thing with sports players - but I suppose that's just capitalism and the reality of our society.

Whilst voice actors certainly don't have as much power as an actor at the negotiation table, I think they can still make a name for themselves. I don't know anyone who is interested in the medium who doesn't know the names Nolan North and Jennifer Hale and I don't think it's a problem that people outside the industry might not. When someone says Snake, you think of David Hayter. When someone says Sam Fisher, you think of Michael Ironside (unless you're really young). I was watching a Youtube video recently of Elias Toufexis discussing his work in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and he pointed out that despite his stints into TV and film, he is probably best known for his work as the voice of Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution (although I quite enjoyed him on Alphas).

I do think perhaps voice actors as a whole could be better recognised though. I think the one thing MGS did for David Hayter's reputation as a voice actor that other games don't do enough is put their names in the starting segment of games similar to TV shows or even as characters are introduced.

Not only does it give the game a bit of a cinematic feeling to it but it helps reinforce the name of the characters in the game as well as make a connection between the character and the voice actor to the player. For the longest time, whenever I heard Cam Clarke's voice in video games, I thought that's "James Flinders" because he used it as his acting name for Liquid Snake and I made that mental connection between the voice, the game character and the voice actor. 

There are a lot of well recognised voice actors within the working community of the industry but as consumers, there are probably a lot of people who recognise the voice but don't associate it with any name. For example, if I was to say Emily Rose, would you be able to tell me the gaming role she probably is most well known for? If you recognised the name and know who she is, was it because of her work in the Uncharted Series or was it because of her work in the TV series Haven? Do you know who Yuri Lowenthal is? How about Raphael Sbarge? Or Michael Bell? Troy Baker? These are voice actors who have worked just as long within the industry as Nolan North and Jennifer Hale and have probably been in just as many projects and even worked together numerous times. Do you know who the voice actors for Mass Effect's Garrus, Tali, Liara, Wrex are? I am willing to bet there are more people that know who the voice actors for "Joker" and The Illusive Man are purely because of their celebrity status.

I don't think voice actors need star power and I don't believe they should be held up to the point that they get paid large sums of money or game studios try to cater to them to have that triple A voice talent. I do think, however, they should be recognised for their work and the way MGS did it really helps a voice actor in getting that recognition. Perhaps actors need to get paid more but I can't really speak on the matter because I don't know the work and wages involved and the cost of games is ever increasing.

Then comes the question, why do they deserve the recognition over the countless other people involved in the game's development? What about the writers and the programmers and other developers? I think the medium does serve some writers and developers better than others. We know Ken Levine, we know Casey Hudson, we know Hideo Kojima, I myself am a big fan of Amy Hennig. These writers have their names well publicised and attached to the products they work on, their names are even in the starting credits at times but what about those other games we loved and enjoyed who's works were not publicized in anyway? I honestly don't know who the writers for Red Dead Redemption were.

Do we even want credit outside of the ending? Perhaps some of you think it is harmful to immersion to not only have a name shown to you mid-game but also to make a mental association that this voice you're hearing is of a real person outside this game. Should it be our prerogative to find out who worked on these games or should the industry help bring recognition to them more easily?

Anyway, I'd really like to hear the community's opinions and discussions on the article and on the points I hopefully raised. Perhaps you have your own ideas on how to go about recognising the work of people in games. Speak out and let your voice be heard!

Views: 87

Tags: Deus, Gear, MGS, Metal, Polygon, acting, actor, celebrities, celebrity, credit, More…developer, development, director, immersion, star, voice, writer

Comment by Docwoor on April 3, 2013 at 5:17am

Actually I always look up the voice actors in a game I like, especially dialogue heavy games.  Which would include pretty much everything from bioware then games like starcraft, fallout skyrim etc... there are some really recognizable names in there from the movie industry.

Why I think voice actors aren't as celebrated is because they are not recognizable. While Nolan North and Jennifer Hale are instantly recognizable because they play lead roles and mostly sound the same in every game. Most voice actors play vastly different roles even in the same game, sometimes it's really hard to tell that 2 characters are voiced by the same actor. Maybe its just my problem.

Then there is the fact that you don't physically see them, only their in game characters. So you can't really recognize them in the next game by their looks.

Same goes for writers. If I like the story I check the writer and look up if they've written anything else I might like. I actually blame the writers more than anyone else for the disaster that was Mass Effect 3.It was written by a bunch of different writers, none of whom was Drew Karpyshyn.

Well for me games were a gateway with some actors and writers and I've checked out their work outside the gaming industry as well. But it is rare to find anything outside the gaming industry for these artists. It mostly works the other way, i see a name from the movies acting in a game and i check it out because of that. 

Comment by Richard N on April 3, 2013 at 10:51am

As someone who's watched anime since, jeez... the days of VHS I've come to be proud of my very geeky knowledge of voice actors. Because half the time in Anime they don't even list the voice actors at the end and I would always have to figure it out myself somehow. I've come to respect and admire voice actors due to anime and still do when I hear a voice I recognize in a video game or otherwise. I remember when Steven Blum was mainly just known for Spike Spiegel and a few anime here and there and then he gets the role of Wolverine and BOOM suddenly everyone knows him. And that's the case for most of my beloved actors, after all these years I really do think things have gotten better for them. Not hugely, but it did thanks to like the article said modern technology and conventions.

One argument though that I didn't come up with, about why voice actors aren't as popular compared to celebs; is that movies and tv they are all about the actor and the character the actor is playing. The whole plot, the whole purpose of the program revolves around these few main characters and are the main focus. While video games, they aren't really so much about the characters as they are about the player and the enjoyment the player gets. Now of course video games as well have a main character to revolve the plot around and honestly I think most people will atleast be able to answer who the main character is voiced by. But when an average player isn't focused on characters and the relationship between the cast and just wants to go around and shoot hookers, then it's no surprise when the question on the actor's name for said hooker doesn't even come up.

Movie and tv is still medium that solely relies on the acting artform, so it makes sense that those actor's names are on the posters. (also for whatever reason, society seems to dictate they're more important than government officials, but that's a whole 'nother argument) In video games, even if the acting was incredibly well done, sometimes I don't play a video game to admire the acting and fall in love with the characters, I just want to roll around a Katamari a bit and call it a day. Half the time, if I'm looking up information on a game I don't look up who the characters are being voice by, I'm looking up the gameplay which will always comes first.

Overall, I believe it's because video games in general is still a very unique/growing medium like we keep saying. We don't really know how to describe it and we don't really know where it's going. We try to copy what Hollywood does, yet that doesn't seem quite right in many cases. In that regard I agree with Docwoor, in that selfishly I don't want voice actors to be all super glamorous like lucky A-List celebrities who always have a camera shoved in their face. It may not seem voice actors are loved whatsoever, but go to any anime convention and you'll see that the amount of fans and love some of the VAs get is undoubtedly on par with some big name celebrity.

Give it time however, as video games become to be more and more accepted into the general public, I can't see why a little kid wouldn't ask his parents who is voicing Mario.

Comment by Docwoor on April 3, 2013 at 11:33am

I believe it would help if "internet personalities" would interview those actors as well. I've never seen an interview outside of a convention panel. I'd love to see some of those actors talk to you tubers that actually care about the games.

Comment by Roburt on April 3, 2013 at 2:39pm

When you enter a profession because you want attention, I don't agree with that. Great movie stars didn't enter the business to be the most popular movie stars, they enter the business to be great actors. 

Nobody recognizes the AI programmer, or the sound effects guys, or even many of the writers. People make games because they're passionate about what they do, not because of the fame and glamour.

Money compensation on the other hand, is a whole other issue.

Comment by crazyjackal (Jimmy Jones) on April 4, 2013 at 6:14am

I'd agree with that Roburt. None of them should be entering the profession for any intention of seeking recognition and fame. The article even states,

"While voice actors continue to disagree on whether they'll ever become as celebrated as the games they help create, there's one area where they all agree: They love their job. It's fun, it's flexible, it pays well enough to live a life of comfort and it has rewards that go far beyond a paycheck."

I think that should be enough. That's why I don't really agree that any of them should be striving for celebrity (if any of them are). I think if you do something you love and can earn a decent life of comfort from it - you've done well. 

I think it's great that actors I looked up personally and appreciated are becoming more known for the work they've done over the years to a more general populace. There's clearly a trend that supports that recognition of writers, directors and actors in the video gaming industry is improving with time but I believe if such a thing wasn't happening, they shouldn't complain.

Money compensation is a tough one but it's open for discussion here since the article addresses it. Do I think an actor should be entitled to a quarter per cent of first week sales on a game that does well as Troy Baker suggests? He's talking about a lot of money for a success. One job and they should be financially secure (assuming non-negligent spending). I know (well-off) top aerospace engineers who'd make annually under one to two tenths of that lump sum he's talking about. They do have better job stability however over a voice actor.

Studios get bonuses based on reception but I'm not entirely sure the development staff do as a reward for their efforts. I think most love their jobs and are exceptionally pleased when their efforts and works are well received in a game they've put out.


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