It’s becoming more and more frequent seeing famous film actors lending their voices for video games.  To some, this is a touchy subject; to others, it goes rather unnoticed with little care.  This isn’t a brand new concept but it is becoming more noticeable.  I have to admit, personally, I’m not a big fan of this.  That doesn’t mean this editorial is me screaming to the masses for dramatic recourse and change to stop a devastating tragedy from occurring.  I’m not that broken up about it, I simply feel it deserves a dialog to discuss the particulars. The question is: is this a good thing or are film actors overstepping their boundaries?

Let’s break it down to the simple factors involved.  What’s the point of voice acting?  To give life to a character, it (supposedly) will make the game more enjoyable and draw the gamer in.  This isn’t necessary of course, Link from the Legend of Zelda series is a favorite among gamers and he hasn’t spoken besides the occasional yell as he plummets downward into an infinite abyss. So voice acting isn’t necessary, but it’s still preferred in almost all video games.  (This is not to debate whether voice acting in general is good or bad, that could be another whole discussion so let’s leave it aside for now).

Okay, so voice acting is supposed to provide a more vivid personality to a character.  Just like film acting, the actor is trying to bring a character to life.  This is why a voice actor is considered skilled when they have multiple voices to use or are able to change their voice willingly to better fit a character. The point isn’t for the gamer to instantly recognize the voice actor but to only think about the character that has been given a voice.  However, there are obvious times when a voice actor is recognizable.  Names like Nolan North and Jennifer Hale can be thrown out and will most likely be recognized rather easily.  That does not mean they are bad voice actors, they still know how to change their vocal tones and pitches to give each character a different feel.

There are hundreds of voice actors out there, some are easily recognizable while others are able to change their voices almost too well.  I’ll use Laura Bailey as an example since she’s the best one I know.  Her most recent famous work is Serah from Final Fantasy XIII / XIII-2.  She is able to change her voice expertly to give a completely different vibe to the character she plays.  (I’m sticking to video game examples only here, I’m sure there are many other examples that could prove this point even better). In Tales of Graces f she voiced Cheria, as a little girl and when she grew older.  This doesn’t sound difficult, but even though it was the same character, there were obvious differences in the voice between the younger and older version.  She could manipulate her voice to give off different ages of the same character which is a lot harder than it sounds.  She voiced a seductive woman in Catherine which requires more slight tweaking of vocals.  She also voiced Faye Lee in Binary Domain.  This is the one that I find the most incredible, because I didn’t know it was her until the credits rolled.  Faye Lee was a Chinese agent that spoke English with a thick accent.  Not only was Laura Bailey speaking with a Chinese accent the entire game, but it didn’t sound remotely like her regular voice, meaning she was changing her tone while accounting for an accent.  This is what a skilled voice actor is, someone that can change their voice to better fit the character.  When you don’t recognize a famous voice actor in a game, that means they did their job well.

Now, film actors are not brought into video games to change their voice to blend into a character.  It’s the opposite.  They are expected to speak with their regular voice so the gamer will go “Oh hey, that’s so-and-so!” At its basic premise, it’s a marketing scheme.  Want evidence?  Just imagine this conversation, “Hey, you hear of that game coming out called Beyond Two Souls?”  “Oh you mean the one with Ellen Page?”  It’s almost impossible to bring up Beyond Two Souls without the immediate response mentioning Ellen Page.  I’m half surprised the cover of the game doesn’t read ‘Ellen Page presents Beyond Two Souls’.  Who can blame them?  It’s brought on so much attention and media coverage as game is highly anticipated. I have nothing against Ellen Page and the game itself looks amazing, but I think we all see the point I’m trying to make here.

I was playing Sleeping Dogs the other day and initiated a side-quest involving some woman. Turns out that woman was voiced by Emma Stone.  I can’t tell you what the character’s name is or what the character is like, because all I remember is Emma Stone.  My friend even asked me if I did the ‘Emma Stone side quest’.  It’s certainly not called that in the game, but that’s how we recognize it because the celebrity status takes away from the diegesis of the game by breaking down the fourth wall.  Admittedly, it was a very small side-quest that had almost nothing to do with the actual plot, which makes it even more random why she was in the game.  It couldn’t have been just so the creators could technically state Emma Stone was in their game, could it?

This isn’t all bad, not every film actor’s voice sticks out so poorly it ruins the game.  Martin Sheen in the Mass Effect series plays the Illusive man and that was very well done.  He was good but also very recognizable because, again, it’s very important that every gamer knows Martin Sheen is in this game! This is when it almost becomes casting to fill a role created in mind for an actor.  Instead of the actor bringing the character to life, it is almost in reverse. The character has been formatted around the actor.  This isn’t true for everyone, there are actors who voice a character yet don’t stick out.  A great example is Gary Oldman who played Viktor Reznoz in Call of duty: Black Ops, as well as the extremely famous Andy Serkis in Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey To the West.

There are also more serious business and financial complaints involving this matter. Voice actors are notably upset because they work hard to be able to work with their voice. To change it as needed to bring characters to life.  Many voice actors work for years to perfect their skills to become better in hopes of landing that one big role.  Then, a famous film actor that has no ‘voice’ talent is brought in because they happen to be a celebrity.  They get paid a lot more money and many believe they don’t have to work as hard since it’s expected that they use their own recognizable voice.  It’s understandable to see how this would upset some people.

This isn’t some dire situation that is going to ruin the world of video games.  To some people, this isn’t a problem at all.  There are definite plus sides to famous film actors getting involved in video games.  It means more attention is being drawn to video games, making the world take video games more seriously. (Something every gamer is secretly hoping for). I’m not completely against film actors getting involved in video games and I don’t believe everyone has to be able to change their voice either. I simply wish more was taken into consideration for a part. For example, Beyond Two Souls may be completely centered around Ellen Page, but there isn’t anything wrong with that since she will probably work perfectly for the character which will in-turn make the game even more enjoyable. (Especially because it seems Beyond Two Souls is trying to go for a very cinematic experience). If the film actor can play the character well without distracting from the game because their voice doesn’t stick out, then that’s great. However, if their voice isn’t working but they happen to be famous, then they shouldn’t just simply be given the role.

About The Author

Neil has had a passion for video games ever since the Atari entered his life so many years ago. He's been writing about them for over two years and sees no end in sight. Reach out to him on twitter @nconnors13

  • ArthouseConverter

    This was a great article. You really covered every angle on the voice actor business except one or two things I will address.
    1) Some voice actors are not that good and really hurt in the transition from Japanese to English voice acting, but it is not like they bring someone terrible like Adam Sandler or Anna Faris into a voice acting role to market the game.
    2) I do sort of see voice actors getting pushed out of video game roles in the future as blue screen and motion capture technology capture actors interactions with environments and how they present themselves as a full bodied actor/actress. Voice actors may not have that experience and it will hurt them on motion capture resumes.

    • Nconnors13

      I appreciate the comment and I’m glad you brought up those points. The topic is very broad and I was trying to keep it narrow which will undoubtedly cause me to miss a couple things. Most importantly the motion capture. Motion Capture is being used more and more for video games. It would be very easy to see film actors adapting easier to this than voice actors, so that’s an excellent point.

      • Joe Marchese, Editor in Chief

        You have his picture in your column but Nolan North is an interesting conundrum since he is a voice actor and a screen actor as well. The man is basically Nathan Drake, yet when it came to making an Uncharted movie he was overlooked for the part. It seems like the creators of these franchises traditionally looked for a voice and put a look to the voice. Now, as video games move further into the mainstream, they are looking to those that already have a look and a persona, which they now have the tech to recreate in digital, to fill those acting roles. Interesting article!

  • Ryley R

    Great article.

    However, I feel that the established voice actors (such as Nolan North) have adapted to suit other personas. Although now they may be put in just so the devs can say Nolan is in their game, at one point the voice actor had to have established myriad convincing characters and that is what grants them the ability to just show up and perform their still quality, but not over-the-top execution in terms of voice and acting.