This is a response to an interview/article, which can be read here! Nothing but respect to the person who wrote it, but I disagree vehemently.
Why do I disagree so strongly? Let’s go on a journey together. The tale of a gamer who learned she was very, very wrong in regard to voice acting in video games.
To start, let me say that I am a hardcore roleplayer. The obvious conclusion you can draw there is that I’m also an RPG fan. BioWare in particular has been a favorite developer of mine for years, starting with Neverwinter Nights. That said, for years I was against the idea of a voiced player character. I felt like Knights of the Old Republic got it right: you could imagine whatever voice you wanted and that really helped you shape your character. When BioWare announced Mass Effect and touted their voiced player character, but with choices, my mind was blown…and not in the good way. I was terrified. How dare they take my character away from me and give them a voice I may not like? Voices in games like Final Fantasy, where you don’t have a choice in the overall story is fine, but to take a character whose story is supposed to be mine? I was quite displeased.
I stuck with KOTOR and linear games with little choice or little character voicing (Final Fantasy, Morrowind/Oblivion). I wasn’t really into sci fi video games, anyway. So whatever! Dragon Age: Origins came out, with a non-voiced PC. I was ecstatic and preordered it immediately. Picked it up, played the ever-living crap out of it. I was super pumped for the next installment – until I discovered they were adding voice to my character. I proceeded to walk around, proclaiming it would be “Dragon Age Effect” and how I was so very disappointed that they were adding in one of the main reasons I never touched Mass Effect.
In the end, my love for the Dragon Age universe and faith in BioWare’s fantasy writing won out. When the demo was released, I promised to give the game one “final shot” to convince me to buy it. The combat looked too “console-y” and they were voicing things; I was more than a little skeptical. The opening cut scenes popped off my screen; the combat was actually better animated; I actually liked the voice acting of my character. I preordered it that night.
I have played Dragon Age 2 more than Dragon Age: Origins at this point. I feel a far deeper connection with Hawke than I do with the Warden. The world became more alive when I was able to actually see my character talk and react with more than just a line of text. It was an eye-opener for me. Shortly after my second or third play through, BioWare announced their sequel celebration: everyone who bought a copy of Dragon Age 2 would get a free copy of Mass Effect 2! Even then, I figured I wouldn’t want to play it…but it was a free game. Who turns down a free game?
My spring was full of a lot of free time. I got bored one day and decided: hell, I’m going to play Mass Effect 2. Even if I don’t enjoy it, I’ll manage to sink a day or two with some good old fashioned explosions. Win-win in the “won’t be quite as bored” category. Didn’t bother playing the first one, since I knew the gist of it: bad guys were trying to destroy the galaxy and I stopped them with big explosions in space. I already knew the big opening scene “surprise” that awaited me, so I wasn’t really expecting to be drawn into it much. (Spoiler: the Normandy blows up and Shepard dies.) Within an hour, I was hooked. I had an epiphany, much like the one during the DA2 demo: I actually liked my character’s voice. It was drawing me into the universe and game in a way I never thought possible. Her reactions to things pulled reactions from me. When she yelled at someone, I was pumping my fist behind the keyboard.
I beat Mass Effect 2 in short order, and immediately – immediately – bought/downloaded Mass Effect. I had to see what came before this. The Asari who talked to my Shepard on Illium, the Rachni Queen; who was that? What decision was made? I personally didn’t find any of the romance options intriguing enough to go for, so I decided to “stay loyal” to Kaidan. I didn’t really know who he was, but I figured if there was an option to stay loyal…well, there was probably a good reason for that. I had to know who he was. I felt a need to see what brought about these “plot flags.” I played Mass Effect nearly without stopping. I was pretty much full-blown addicted (seriously: see my tweet chronicling my attempt to actually play it without stopping). After I beat ME1, I loaded up ME2 and imported that Shepard. My Shepard: paragade with a protect-my-crew-at-all-costs violent streak. Savior of the Council, appointer of Anderson, seducer of biotic lieutenants. I had already seen ME2’s opening. I was expecting nothing different this time around; I was so very wrong.
I cried. I already knew what was coming, the entire overall plot of the game I was about to play, and I cried when my Kaelia Shepard got spaced. There was a connection to this character, this Commander of the Alliance, that I had never had before in a video game. Sure, I loved my Warden, my Exile, my Revan; but none of them had grabbed my attention like Commander Shepard.
Why have I just spilled my gamer guts in the name of showing how I came to realize that hating voiced player characters was very wrong? Because it shows how deeply I disagree with the article linked at the top of this post. Voice actors more than just enhance a game. In games that are fully voiced, the actors who bring these roles to life are the game. To say that voice actors can’t or shouldn’t be given the same treatment as traditional actors is, frankly, ludicrous to my mind. If I ever meet Jennifer Hale at a convention, I’m going to have my female Commander Shepard shirt in hand and I’m going to squeak like a fan girl as I ask her to sign it for me. I’ll ask for a picture together. I’ve specifically looked up other games in which she’s voiced characters so I could hear more of her work. I am far from the only person to do so, either. Her immense talent and drive to bring Commander Shepard to life ignited a truly fierce love for the female version of that character. It’s such an intense attachment that the final installment of the franchise is getting a “femShep” trailer and showcasing her on the box. Voice acting clearly is a driving force in games.
This video on the official EA YouTube channel showcases perfectly how important voice actors are to some games. You could easily switch out the in-game scenes for clips from a movie or TV show, and the in-studio shots for behind the scenes footage – you’d think it was just a movie/TV trailer that highlights the actors. That’s a rather common thing in the film industry these days: trying to tout names and introduce new faces to the audience in advance. Why would voice actors deserve any less recognition or “star power” than their cohorts on screen? They have just as much talent and clearly love what they do. Video games are an integral part of my life and to me, the actors who take these characters and breathe life into them are possibly the most important element in a game. They make you laugh, cry, and get angry for them. Good writing can make a game amazing (NWN, KOTOR, and DA:O certainly proved that); but superb voice acting can take that writing and elevate it to a new art form. Truly interactive art.
So I disagree. Excellent voice actors can, and should, be stars.
(Usual disclaimer: all the above are my own opinions and no one else’s!)