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Video game voice actors often have no idea what they’re working on

by Eric Frederiksen | December 10, 2016December 10, 2016 11:00 am PDT

Voice actor strike

What if you were part of one of the biggest entertainment products in recent history and had no idea? That, apparently, is the case for many game voice actors, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Any time an actor is cast as a beloved superhero or long-running character, we have an expectation that they’ll know the character inside-and-out. Shortly after Brie Larson was cast as Captain Marvel, she posted a photo of herself reading the books to Instagram as a sort of proof that she cares about the role and wants to do right by the character and fans. It’s normal for actors to get inside the heads of their characters, to learn how they feel and why they feel that way.

Video game actors often don’t even know the title of their game they’re working on, even after they finish their work. They don’t even know what their character will be ahead of time, which has led to actors leaving roles due to personal and moral concerns.

“The video game world is the only industry I know where you’re told nothing,” said Los Angeles talent agent Sandie Schnarr. “I have actors who’ve worked on a game for two and a half years and in that time we had no idea what game they were working on.

“It’s all so cloak and dagger-y,” said Colleen O’Shaughnessey (no relation to the principal from Key and Peele), who didn’t know she’d worked on Fallout 4 until a fan asked her for an autograph.

This is, in part, what has led to the ongoing strike of video game voice actors. In this particular situation, both sides of the debate have good (and sometimes not-so-good) reasons for their stances.

“It’s all so cloak and dagger-y”

Early leaks of video game information can be devastating to companies. Announcements are timed around stuff like quarterly reports and fiscal years, and an early leak can throw off that information or send investors scrambling. Earlier this year, the actor behind Watch Dogs 2‘s protagonist leaked an image of his character via Instagram. With Ubisoft fighting for its freedom, leaks like this are far from ideal.

Actors, as mentioned earlier, can provide better performances and do a better job of selecting appropriate roles if they have a good understanding of what they’re going into ahead of time. When the company provides only the most vague of character profiles, it can be difficult for the actor to give their best audition, and can lead to companies picking one actor over another not baesd on skill, but on the sheer chance of one actor giving a more character-appropriate audition than the other.

In the middle lies pay. Voice actor Erin Fitzgerald compared it to accepting at job “at the mailroom rate” only to find you’re running the company. It’s difficult for actors to negotiate more pay when they have no idea what’s involved, and that makes it easier for companies to lowball them. As WSJ notes, actors don’t get residuals from video games.

In the middle lies the consumer – we want good work from the voice actors, especially when it comes to characters we’re already fans of or characters in game franchises we feel deeply attached to. We want those actors to be able ot research their parts and give their all. By protecting their business interests, it seems to us like the game companies are harming the end product and our experience with it.

Check out the original piece in the source link below for more interviews with voice actors in similar spots to O’Shaughnessey.


Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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