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Published December 10, 2016

“Wow, Nolan didn’t you just write about the mistreatment of voice actors in video games?” 

Yes, I did. Voice actors are incredibly important to AAA games. A big budget game with tons of marketing not having a voice acting team is unheard of. Voice acting connotes a level of polish, a representation of gaming trying to be like movies. But, video games are games, not movies. And voice acting limits the potential of narratives in games.

Having a game like Wasteland 2, or Planescape: Torment that have massive narratives influenced by player choice require way too much work with voice acting. More choice in a game means more variables to accounts for. More variables mean more lines that actors will have to dub over. With the rate that games need to be pushed out now and the poor working conditions for voice actors, the narrative aspect of games has been relatively stagnant for the last 10 years. If you look at the dialogue system from Mass Effect compared to a 1998 PC game, there are still the relatively same amount of choices. Big Budget video games are caught in a vicious system that discourages experimentation and creative freedom. As the cost for games increase, so does the inability to experiment.

The dreaded “sarcasm” option in Fallout 4

This problem of voice acting harming narrative became apparent to me in Fallout 4. The dialogue system in that game is bad. You will always be presented with four incredibly vague choices, and these choices will be spoken by the main character, who has a voice now. In previous Fallout games, the main character had no voice. Because of this, there was a greater capacity for role-playing in the older Fallouts. Your character in Fallout: New Vegas would usually have many options. Sometimes new options presented themselves depending on what skills you had. It was a great system that worked because there was no voice acting. The player could assume whatever type of role they wanted, and it was amazing. Sometimes there were 10 dialogue options, and sometimes there were just 2. There was flexibility.

Games offer the player choice, which can tell narratives that no other medium can. The player can explore areas of their own volition, which can be deliberately designed to accommodate this freedom. Although voice acting does show a level of polish and care, the strengths of video game storytelling can be emphasized by more freedom and variety. The entire game does not need to be voice acted; there can be silent cutscenes and that can work well for freedom of choice. All I’m saying is not everything needs to have ridiculous production values, as gameplay and enjoyment for the player should take priority over move-like cutscenes.

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