Tech by VICE

96 Percent of Video Game Voice Actors Want the Power to Strike

They want bonuses if games do well, better conditions, and "stunt pay."

by Emanuel Maiberg
Oct 8 2015, 1:15pm


An overwhelming majority of the actors who voice your favorite video game characters, from Mass Effect's Commander Shepard to Deus Ex's Adam Jensen, are in support of a strike.

On Tuesday, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the organization that represents actors, including video game voice actors, announced that 96.52 percent of SAG-AFTRA members voted to give it the authority to declare a strike. SAG-AFTRA called the vote a "resounding success."

This doesn't mean that the actors are going on strike quite yet. The vote just gives the National Board the authority to declare a strike if it wants, which means that SAG-AFTRA can seek further negotiation with more leverage.

SAG-AFTRA asked members to vote on the strike after its Interactive Committee failed to reach an agreement with game publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision on back end bonuses and a number of other issues.

"We believe our talent and contributions are worth a bonus payment, too."

If this stand-off reaches a point where the actors actually declare a strike, things will get interesting. Big video game productions that have a lot of voice actors are already prone to delays, and if actors can't come in to record their lines for a significant period of time, we could potentially see highly anticipated games being pushed back for as long as a strike lasts.

SAG-AFTRA's key issue is that, if a game makes a lot of money, voice actors want to see a cut, just like TV, movie actors, and publishing executives. "Last year, Activision's COO took home a bonus of $3,970,862," SAG-AFTRA said. "EA paid their executive chairman a bonus of $1.5 million. We applaud their success, and we believe our talent and contributions are worth a bonus payment, too."

However, SAG-AFTRA also believes actors should get stunt pay for vocally stressful recording sessions the same way actors get stunt pay for physically demanding roles, and fighting against what it has called "reckless and ill-advised" fines for actors being late or inattentive at recording sessions.

If you want to learn more about the physical and emotional toll of video game voice acting, and the conditions that so far game publishers have refused to negotiate on, actor Wil Wheaton has a detailed description of long days yelling until your sinuses are raw, and other issues in the industry. For example, at the moment, actors in motion capture sessions that translate their movement to in-game animations (you know, this body suits with ping-pong balls), don't get stunt safety coordinators to protect their well-being. Actors may also be asked to work on a project without knowing generally what it's about or even its name.

According to SAG-AFTRA, game publishers have refused to negotiate any of these issues.

Voice actors in favor of the strike rallied on Twitter last month with #PerformanceMatters. Phill Lamar, who voiced Vamp in Metal Gear Solid; Wil Wheaton, who voiced several characters in Grand Theft Auto and Fallout, and Ashly Burch, who voiced Tiny Tina in Borderlands, are just some of the actors who voted in favor of the strike.

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Wil Wheaton