STRIKE WHILE THE IRON’S HOT: After almost an entire year on strike, SAG-AFTRA and the studios it named in its grievance have come to a tentative deal, thusly ending the video game voice actors’ strike. But what was agreed to? What does this mean for the future of voice actors and game development going forward? Andrew and D. Bethel talk it out.
It may surprise some reading this that the voice actor’s strike against the video game industry is still in effect. We discussed it back in October on Episode 112, around when it started, and even though the media coverage around it has died down, many voice actors are still struggling to get their voices heard, pardon the pun. In fact, the loudest spike I’ve heard on the incident since that initial furor was at the beginning of December during the 2016 Video Game Awards. Video game voice actor monolith, Nolan North, won the award for Best Performance through his work on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and had some choice words to say about the strike, albeit in vague––and, perhaps, surprising––terms:
Ian William’s article highlights the major developments that have happened since the strike began, but a point relevant to North’s speech stuck out to me. This strike is not about voice actor vs. developer––let’s be honest, each needs the other. However, North sees it this way, as do many others, and it makes me wonder if this narrative is constructed by certain parties or one that organically surfaced due to the limited media attention as well as general reader ignorance of how games are made. Perhaps it’s both. Either way, this false conflict between developer and performer isn’t good for either side and, especially, for the creative side of the industry as a whole:
“I know who wins the battle between game developers and voice actors. It’s the game corporations.” -Keythe Farley, National Chair of the Interactive Negotiating Committee
While the plight of voice actors in video games have been only recently brought to light through the strike (and mostly forgotten), a highly visible topic over the last five years or so has been the rather horrible working conditions developers have to slog through to get games done. From the frightening revelations of the dying giant, Konami, to the recent issue of Crytek employees not getting paid for months only to have the company shut down a bunch of its studios once the news went public (which highly reeked of the almost immediate implosion that was 38 Studios). However, if the voice actors can get the deals they need to be able to do their best work, it could be the first step the industry needs to reconstruct as a whole. The squeaky wheels get the grease, but a smart mechanic realizes it may be indicative of a larger problem.
Not to get somber, but Bill Coberly’s article hits on something I think we’re only going to see more of as, especially, my generation extends into old(er) age. A big aspect of our parents’ culture that my culture (basically Generation X and Millennials) have rejected is the idea that the things which brought us joy as children must be abandoned to be successful or healthy as adults. Some people fully embrace all of nerd culture and plaster their homes and themselves completely in things that they loved as children (tattoos of cartoon characters, clothes patterned with triforces, or shelves lined with Marvel toys, for example), others have that one activity––playing video games, reading comic books, loving science fiction––that they bring with them into adulthood, expectations be damned. As time moves on, more and more people will have experiences like Coberly did with his father. “My Name is Ozymandias” is a touching piece about Coberly finding save files for Civilization IV on his father’s computer after his father died. His dad was a “normal” guy whose “quirk” (by old world standards, that is) was that he loved strategy games and RPGS, and apparently played Civ IV nigh obsessively. The piece is a powerful reflection on their relationship, how games unite father and son, and what to do with the digital data left behind for survivors.
This last aspect is incredibly interesting because save files are, in essence, verbs in stasis. They are records of us doing something and stopping so that we can come back later and pick up from where we left off to continue to do. In this case, the “do” is to play Civ IV.
Coberly inadvertently points to a larger cultural place video games (and other sundry nerdy things) will inevitably play in family relations. There may be, if not games, then franchises or love for a genre that may be passed on from parent to child. Or, perhaps, even save files. I think of games built around crafting and creation––can servers of Minecraft be part of a heritage? Can we inherit the hard drive with my mother’s Steam library downloaded on to it?
While not involving a death, I have had a moment where video games, in this case, played a particularly powerful role in my relationship with my father. My dad is decidedly “old school.” He does not dalliance with video games beyond Tetris or Spider Solitaire. When he was young, he buried himself in the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ross Macdonald‘s world of crime and detection and expressed himself by drawing Martian vistas and alien women in gauzy veils that hugged their curves. But he abandoned most of that with maturity. By the time he was my father, he was an academic of philosophy and history, and was nerdy about them as long as they were huge books with full indices and academic references.
I took a chance one day as he was up visiting my wife and me for a weekend. As mentioned, my dad is a history buff, especially of California transportation––especially of Los Angeles, where he was born and raised. Having played through Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, and knowing how much effort they put into recreating late 1940s Los Angeles, I figured he would at least have fun tearing it apart as I drove around in old cars and showed him a digitized version of his former home.
My dad was born in 1940 in Hollywood, CA. Late 1940s & 1950s L.A. was his stomping ground and he remembers it fondly. He became a professor of philosophy and taught that for forty years before retiring to become a professional historian of none other than 1920s-1950s L.A. When he drives through L.A., he sees none of the modern desolation that has descended upon that city. Instead, he still sees bright trolley cars clanging their bells down the street and dudes who wear fedoras and three-piece suits while Duesenbergs and Hudsons grumble down the street in jet-black finishes.
Basically, my dad still imagines an L.A. Noire world. So, having played the game extensively, I nervously asked him if he wanted to see a video game I owned last time he visited. He begrudgingly agreed and as soon as the game loaded and the city opened up on my television, any hint of skepticism evaporated. We looked at as many cars as possible and he drove me around the city on memory alone. We wandered through the lobby of Union Station and even got up to the rail yards. We scoped out the Hall of Records and tried to get into the Roosevelt Hotel, but couldn’t. While it isn’t an exact replica of the city (we tried to find his aunt’s house, to no avail), it was pretty damned good, enough for an old man to nearly be brought to tears by it, as if he were looking out a younger pair of his own eyes at the city he once saw so clearly and now only sees in nostalgic visits. If I had any complaints about the game (which were very few), they lost any validity because of the game’s ability to make my dad experience something he never thought he’d get a chance to do again.
While not a lineage passed down from one generation to the next like Coberly experienced, this is an instance of a “new” technology, a “nerd” technology, one pushed off as “childish” and “immature” really helped strengthen the bond between father and son in a way––and I say this without hyperbole––no other medium could have done and it will be something I never forget.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew steps into a new reality when he tries out PlaystationVR with the help and aid of friend-of-the-show, Taylor Katcher, while Dan starts watching ABC’s new procedural show, Conviction, which he instead considers to be a time-travel continuation of Agent Carter, which also starred Hayley Atwell.
SWITCHEROO: Nintendo released a trailer for their long-speculated, highly anticipated new console, the Nintendo Switch. Andrew and Dan examine the possibilities that seem to be promised in the trailer and whether Nintendo can make good on them.
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Dan mentioned that his webcomic, Long John, would be finishing up its second chapter on Tuesday. Head on over and check it out. If you like it, share it! Even better, buy a book!
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Sogno di Volare (‘The Dream of Flight’)” by Christopher Tin (from Civilization VI)
-“Troops March On” by Nobuo Uematsu (from Final Fantasy VI)
-“Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)” by White Denim
-“The End (Reprise)” by Jack Wall & Sam Hulick (from Mass Effect)