'Wargroove' Dev Responds to Criticism for Casting White Actors to Portray Characters of Color

Developer claims "blind" casting lead them in this direction, with a predictable "promise to do better" in the future.
December 6, 2019, 5:37pm
Wargroove developer responds to criticism for casting white actors to portray characters of color.
Image courtesy of Chucklefish

Wargroove, a pretty great Advance Wars-inspired strategy game from earlier this year, is getting some downloadable content soon. That downloadable content, dubbed Double Trouble, also includes some new characters to enter battle with. Part of Wargroove’s charm is that its characters are full of personality, fueled by the voice actors bringing them to life. That continues with Double Trouble, which is why the game’s developer, Chucklefish, published a tweet highlighting the folks joining the game’s roster recently:

You might notice what others did, which is that Wargroove is adding three characters of color voiced by white voice actors.

Chucklefish published this tweet weeks ago, but it only recently picked up steam on places like Twitter, which eventually prompted Chucklefish to issue a public response this morning:

In casting these characters for Wargroove, Chucklefish said it reached out to an external casting agency to avoid having “unconscious biases impact who we hired to work on Wargroove, and to handle the auditions blindly.” In other words, they chose the actors based on the samples they submitted, without looking at who they are or their specific background.

Such an approach falls neatly in line with the common refrain and excuse given for a lack of diversity in all manners of employment: it’s about finding the “best person for the job.” Such approaches often incorporate biases in how they define “best” and conveniently ignore how difficult it is for marginalized groups to even be in a position to be considered to be the “best person for the job,” and so the cycle continues. In this case, the process determined that the best people to voice and help bring to life Black characters were white people.

“We also understand that posting photos of our voice actors besides characters of colour without acknowledgement of the systemic problem of representation in the industry was insensitive and poorly communicated,” continued the statement.

Chucklefish also said it told the casting agency the characters were non-white, but noted that “ultimately the decision and responsibility to blind cast was on us, not them.”

The choice of blind auditions meant they were likely picking from a pool of mostly white actors, because like many industries, that represents the majority of working actors. If you want diverse options, you need to explicitly put in the work to find and hire such people.

It’s not the only time something similar has come up in games. For Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Naughty Dog hired white voice actress Laura Bailey to play a Black, South African character named Nadine Ross. The choice was explicit, and Naughty Dog defended it.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” said Uncharted 4 creative director Neil Druckmann at a panel discussing the game in 2015, as transcribed by Kotaku. “That, to me, is what’s so awesome about our medium.”

In casting Nadine Ross, Druckmann said Naughty Dog solicited auditions from a lot of different people, including apparently South African actors, but Bailey “just killed it.”

“I’m so proud of Laura’s performance,” said Druckmann at the time, “and I hope none of this takes away from what she was able to accomplish.”

In the case of Wargroove, the developers at Chucklefish haven’t indicated they will be changing the voice casting for the game, but did “promise to do better going forward.”

We hear lines like a “promise to do better” a lot. At some point, you need to actually do it.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).