Why Game Acting Sucks So Badly

I was already thinking of the legitimacy of games as art following on from yesterday’s post, when I came across this video preview for BioWare’s highly-anticipated sci-fi RPG Mass Effect for the XBox 360. It’s quite clear that developers are really pushing not only the boundaries of the hardware, but also the skills of their artists as this video and also the recent footage from E3 showcasing Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword will testify.

However, whilst it’s evident that the artists at BioWare have been staying late after school to hone their skills in order to produce the stunning visuals that we can expect to enjoy in November, it would appear that the writers in charge of dialog and the voice actors themselves have been skipping school to hang out in food courts, menacing passers by with their upturned collars and long hair. The interaction between Shepherd and the lonely researcher alien and the opening voice-over are two of my ‘favorite’ examples of the truly terrible acting that seems to be prevalent in Mass Effect; “Sounds dangerous…..and lonely.” Come on…..

As we all know, this is far from unusual in many games; from Capcom’s legendary voice-acting in the Resident Evil series that dragged acting in games down to Ed Wood standards (without the strangely-endearing cardboard gravestones we all know and love from Plan 9…), to Solid Snake’s painfully-deliberate line of questioning used as a plot-advancement tool in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, game acting has never been up to much – but why?

The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that, quite frankly, developers just don’t give a shit. Sounds harsh, but then again so is including sub-standard voice-acting in a game that, in all other regards, seems pretty damn impressive. How so much attention can be lavished on the visuals, sound, design, gameplay and every other aspect of a triple-A title when so little care has gone into how a game’s characters vocally interact with each other, and further engage the player is beyond me.

In the video, Casey Hudson (BioWare’s project director for Mass Effect) says that their aim was to achieve a sense of immersion in a classic science-fiction environment in a cinematic way. If you were deaf or couldn’t otherwise understand English, they would have succeeded – in my opinion, with the kind of dialog and voice-acting taking place in Mass Effect as evidenced by this video, true immersion will be near-impossible to achieve. Which is a damn shame, considering how much love they’ve poured into the other aspects of the game that will no doubt have a more profound financial impact on Mass Effect’s success. When will developers start taking voice-acting and decent scriptwriting seriously?

Or is it me? Am I just expecting too much?

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2 responses to “Why Game Acting Sucks So Badly

  1. Marcus

    I think you’re right – they just don’t care. But then again nobody is really expecting much, not any longer.

  2. It’s nice to hear someone else point this out. I have been skeptical about Bioshock and many other games for the same reason. I cringe when I hear Solid Snake’s voice in the MGS games, but I cringe even more when I hear people praising the series’ cutscenes and their “excellent” VA work.

    I would agree, developers don’t really give a shit…though perhaps an alternate way to put it is that they simply can’t afford to spend the money it would cost to get really good actors. Why don’t they care, and why isn’t it in the budget? Because gamers don’t care; like the developers many of them are too obsessed with the polygon count of the visuals to notice what the game sounds like, or they’re so deep in fanboy dilution that they’ll deny any shortcomings in their favorite games to the end of time.

    The quality of acting in games won’t improve until the quality of gamers’ tastes improves. And given how easily impressed many gamers are, we could be in for a LONG wait.

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