Treading The Boards: Game Characters Vs. Movie Actors

Being Nickelodeon's Golden Girl for five years came with inevitable perks, such as limos, an Xbox 360 in my dressing room, free Spongebob DVDs, and opportunities to engage in hand-to-hand combat with those Disney Channel kids at publicity events.

When I wasn't washing green slime out of every crevice of my body, I spent my time cheating my way to first place at celebrity bowling tournaments (Tell no one.) and schooling Aaron Carter at foosball (Tell everyone.). As glamorous as that was, I took a break from acting for educational purposes and soon landed my first "real life" job: A Game Advisor position at GameStop.


I quickly learned a few things about working there:

1. Men reserve more games when I wear low-cut shirts. Women, not so much.
2. Children may urinate, defecate, and/or vomit on the store carpet, resulting in me cleaning up said unholy bodily substance before realizing I could have tricked my co-workers into doing it.
3. Every attempt by mouth-breathing fanboys to lock horns about how much GameStop sucks while I'm ringing them up for $500 worth of peripherals ends with me choking on my own drool because I care so little.

Whenever a customer recognized me, they would immediately ask why I went from humiliating myself on television to humiliating myself at a game store. The answer was simple: It was a block away from my condo.

…Which segued into my REAL answer: I am infatuated with video games.

As a game enthusiast, I love not only playing games, but the history of gaming, the storylines, the soundtracks, the voiceover acting, and discussing them for hours with other gamers. But being an actor first and a gamer second, the things I love most about games are the characters, and their capability to stir up genuine emotional reactions from players.


Movie characters are roles performed by real, living actors. Game characters, while voiced by living actors, are simply computer creations. With today's graphical technology flirting with Uncanny Valley along with ever-improving game dialog, do characters in video games have the same ability to conjure up feeling from the viewer/player as actors in motion pictures?


On one hand, video games consume more of your time than simply a trip to the movie theater. The more time you spend with your computer-generated lead, the closer you two become. You can almost feel an imaginary high-five from your character after overcoming a treacherous obstacle, like getting past that unreasonably strong white-haired assassin in No More Heroes or finally showing Zeus the meaning of the phrase "Kratos Smash!" Most often, I will walk out of a two-hour movie and feel somewhat familiar with the characters, but not enough to say I really know them. I rarely reference the leading man or lady from some blockbuster-of-the-week in the days following my viewing of the film, while I will spend the rest of my life remembering my seven(plus)-hour journey with Dante and Nero from Devil May Cry 4 or Nathan from the Uncharted series, and how good it felt to be part of the victory instead of just an observer. Finishing Odin Sphere after over seventy hours of gameplay, and realizing my adventure with the amazing characters was over, left me with an empty feeling. From this perspective, video game characters connect better with humans than those in movies.


On the other hand, the remembrance of your long journey may not necessarily be a positive one. An extended meet-and-greet with characters in games may cause your mind to associate negative traits with these heroes. For example, sure, the Prince from Prince of Persia 4 had some incredible moves and fought like a badass, but why did he have to communicate like every arrogant frat boy I've ever met and immediately wanted to punch in the mouth? (Okay, that's from a chick's perspective. Get off me.)

On the living and breathing side of things, actors have been evoking audience emotion since nearly the dawn of film. From Rick and Ilsa's tragic romance in Casablanca to the heart-wrenching performances at the end of Saving Private Ryan, a superbly acted role can conjure up laughter, tears, and reflection from the audience. Perhaps the reason for this stems from the old saying that less is more. Unlike a game, where you can explore environments, talk to other characters, and sometimes choose even what your character says, a movie gives the audience just enough information about the characters to understand the story – no more, no less. The rest is left to the imagination.


Picture Casablanca as a video game. Gameplay would force you to be with your main character, Rick (Humphrey Bogart), for a long period as you navigate through the game. As a result, you would develop a kinship with Rick, like you do in the movie – just in a different way. With ten times more dialogue, you would more fully understand his way of thinking and relationships with the other characters at the same time you are running him into walls, getting him killed by Nazis, and yelling at him to reload faster. Pretty standard for a game.


Then you get on the tarmac. Your digitally rendered Humphrey is grasping Ingrid Bergman by the shoulders, telling her to get on that plane. However, Humphrey's motions are stiff, his eyes are too glossy, his teeth are…weird, and his arms keep magically passing through Ingrid's shoulder. The scene would still play out in a melancholy fashion, but you wouldn't quite feel their pain and passion the same way as in the film, where you can literally see into the souls of the actors.

When I was thirteen, my acting coach refused to give me comedic scenes to perform because they were too easy for me. She'd give me scenes where I'd have to cry. I struggled for months, and even tried cheating by pinching the crap out of my eyelids when my coach turned her back. Turns out she could see the pinch marks. (GOOD IDEA, THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD LISA.) But one day I figured it out. Crying took preparation. I had to take a few moments, think about something tragic I'd been through, and get into a state of mind that made me pale in the face and ran chills up my spine. Not only did the camera see the tears, but it picked up the pain in my eyes, and the subtext of a discontent, troubled mind. I became relatable to the audience.


Digital characters, no matter how good the graphics, cannot get in a state of mind. They can't draw from experience – only real, living actors can do that. While voiceover actors have that ability, their emotion can only go so far when they're talking through a computer creation. From this perspective, movie characters connect better with humans than game characters.


Movies connect with audiences because of the actors, who are real people with real pasts. Video games connect with players by making them part of the story. If the thought of Elena being dead caused me to tear up the same way Armageddon did, I'm going to go ahead and say these two art forms are finally on an even playing field.


Obviously, in the end, video games are supposed to be a form of entertainment! I mean, who really cares about emotion when we can have infinite rocket launchers? Anyone?

Lisa Foiles landed a role on Nickelodeon's primetime sketch comedy series, All That, in 2005 after the show held a nationwide casting call. Aside from hosting countless Nickelodeon shows, such as On-Air Dares and Snick's Sleepover Jam, Lisa's other memorable roles include a recurring part on Disney Channel's Even Stevens and FOX's Malcolm in the Middle. Lisa currently works as a graphics/web designer in Portland, OR where she acts in various Portland-based commercials, such as the recent campaign for Raving Rabbids TV Party. Her free time is spent riding sport motorcycles, writing for Save Point (, and of course, playing video games.


For more information, visit Lisa's official website.

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