Games get bigger and more cinematic every year. Although a lot of 2016’s best games have gameplay as its priority, games like Uncharted 4 definitely feel like an interactive movie, rather than a game. A lot goes into the production of any form of media. A production requires hundreds of individuals all with differing skill sets. A large production is a stressful job, and yet, some positions get neglected in favour of others. I’m sure you can tell by the title who I advocate for.
Steve Blum, the voice of many characters like Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, has put up a voice actor strike called “Game Actors For All” against multiple video game companies. He claims that voice actors undergo a lot of strenuous work with little breaks, appreciation, and pay. All of this, in my opinion, is true. It may sound silly; voice actors on strike for a video game? But they’re games, not movies! Well, as I said earlier, games are becoming more and more cinematic. That means a stronger push for big name actors to provide their voices, and more importantly, motion captured movement. As technology progresses and graphical capabilities increase, so does the demand for motion captured and “life-like” performances. Well, as life-like as this:
Regardless, appearances sell. To the casual gamer, visuals are very important. Looking good is how a game can market itself it a wide audience. This means that every worker on a game must be producing at peak performance. The video game industry is notorious for setting unrealistic deadlines that require absurd amounts of overtime hours to meet. Again, games are incredibly expensive to make, are they are in a volatile market. If a big budget, 80 million dollar production sells less than 2 million copies, it is deemed a flop, and hundreds lose their jobs. This discourages entertainment and further contributes to the homogenization of big budget games. In other words, all games feel the same because that is what is safe.
Production takes longer than ever before. This increases pressure on voice actors and requires them to do a lot of stressful vocal work, potentially hundreds of times to get the perfect take. Voice acting for gaming even requires voice actors to learn traditional acting. This contributes to a work culture that requires older voice actors to adapt fast. Games evolve VERY quickly, as groundbreaking titles can become obsolete within 2-3 years. The shift between console generations is becoming blurrier with each subsequent generation, as technology improves at an astounding rate. Voice actors require ideal working conditions to perform to this increasing standard.
Going on strike is a dangerous task, as there are plenty of budding voice actors eager to take on major roles. Can you blame the college graduate who wants to make a name for themselves taking a role that may be incredibly crushing on their soul? Can you blame the starving student looking for their big chance and ignoring this strike without any supplemental income? I don’t condemn the voice actors for not abiding by Blum’s strike. It is their personal decision to work where they can find work.
Game companies do not care for voice actors. Interestingly, Japan has multiple schools solely dedicated to voice acting. That country has a completely different outlook on the importance of voice acting. I honestly believe that voice acting can even be harder than traditional acting. More than half of all communication is non-verbal, so voice actors are seriously limited in their portrayals. Emoting with a voice is an incredibly difficult task, and not everybody can do it. I wish North American game companies valued the skill of voice acting as much as Japan does, as, without it, video games and cartoons would collapse.