Video game characters are much more than the sum of their pixels. Behind the dialogue, grunts and cheers is a talented actor working hard to bring life to games’ tangible but distant worlds. Sometimes their names are front and center, like David Hayter’s next to Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid. Other times you may go through an entire game without connecting the dots.

In this new series, “Behind The Voice,” we peel back the curtain and give you a look into the life and career of the actors who voice the characters you play. We talk to them about their work in the games industry, as well as look beyond their resumes to talk about what they’re passionate about. Because just like characters are more than the sum of their pixels, actors are more than their voices.

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In our pilot episode we chat with Sarah Elmaleh, the voice behind Lizzie Carmine in Gears 5, Apollyon in Afterparty and Katie in Gone Home. Aside from her voice work, Sarah is an advocate and consultant in the games industry, working to promote healthy collaboration between actors and developers. She is the cofounder of the online, multilingual free games conference gamedev.world, and has acted as the recurring director and co-host of the IndieCade Awards.

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DISCUSSION

I’m always a bit torn about the growing spotlight on actors in games. I mean, all of this is super cool, don’t get me wrong. I agree with everything Elmaleh is saying here. I have zero issues with her take and her recommendations.

It’s just that voice actors are the only parts of game development that are consistently acting with representation and backing from a union, plus they are intrinsically more visible than the guys on the trenches. And they are freelancers, which means they normally have the ability to pop in and out of things and have less of a direct dependency on one company in the industry.

I fully acknowledge that this comes with its own not insignificant set of issues, and I am 100% in support of better, healthier practices for VO actors in games, but it also worries me that by the nature of the beast, you’d never do a “behind the level design” series featuring an individual designer or artist. Let alone a “behind the bug” highlight of a QA coordinator, let a lone a tester. In an industry where a whole slice of the workforce is remarkably unprotected and exposed I’m super wary of letting the TV and movie people (and I mean the rep agencies and guilds, not the actors) get too influential too soon before the in-house creatives have a chance to organize and set up a healthier set of norms themselves.

But that’s a systemic concern, to be absolutely clear. It has nothing to do with individual actors doing good work or trying to improve conditions or working processes for better results and safer employment. I have no issue with that. It’s just frustrating to see worldwide working practices and organization lagging behind for everybody else due to not having a pre-existing structure to take cues from, and the pre-existing structure from US TV and film industries suuuucks and should not be the model for anything.

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