Paradox of Voice Acting

It’s fascinating to me reading this Kotaku article about how BioShock Infinite’s Actors Berated Each Other to the Point of Tears to Get the Scene. Although I would agree with some critics that Bioshock 1 was worlds better than Bioshock 2, I was already pretty excited about Bioshock Infinite from its first trailer (assuming I can actually play it on my PC). Seeing the lengths (depths?) the voice actors go through to paint a scene makes me want it more.

But then… how important is good voice acting to begin with?

Games have had voice acting for decades now, and I am not entirely sure I can even remember particularly good performances. Sure, bad voice acting tends to stand out, if only because it pulls us out of the narrative flow. But is that not the paradox of good or even amazing voice acting? The better the voice acting is, the less we remember it. This lies is stark contrast to amazing soundtracks which you tend to vividly recall.

Perhaps this is some sort of physiological thing insofar as in these games we are not concentrating on how well the actor sounds, but rather what sort of information they are conveying – we remember the words, the story, the way the narrative makes us feel, but we lose their voice in the process. And maybe that in itself, the ability of spoken words to immerse you in the narrative instead of jarring you out of it, is the mark of quality acting. That just seems… cosmically tragic, as opposed to how other forms of art usually work.

Honestly, I am trying to remember any of the voice acting in games I have played.

  • War… war never changes.” Fallout narrator.
  • “James!” The wife of the protagonist of Silent Hill 2, but mainly for that one specific (but hidden) exclamation.
  • Thrall and Aggra during the Call of the World-Shaman questline. The dialog is pretty bad (aside from Thrall’s Fire speech clips), but the emotion got through. In fact, Thrall’s voice acting and dialog during the Flame segment is the best I have heard in WoW and many other games.
  • Well, I thought King Terenas’ acting was rather brilliant in WotLK’s intro and ending segments.

I am starting to wonder if I remember WoW’s actors more simply due to repetition than quality (although they have it too in the above examples); the Fallout narrator is the same from all the Fallouts, and each time he says that catchphrase. In any case do you typically remember quality voice acting in the games you play? Do you have favorites?

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Posted on August 28, 2011, in Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Personally, I’ve never cared at all for voice acting. As you said, bad voice acting really takes away from the experience of the game. And good voice acting goes largely unappreciated. Personally, I’ve always been perfectly fine with good old dialog boxes, and I don’t know that I believe that good voice acting particularly adds to the experience any more than a dialog box does, while you certainly are risking screwing the whole thing up if your voice acting sucks.

    Of course, even when you do have good voice acting, you then have a problem with being too good as well, sometimes. One of the reasons I prefer watching movies at home to in a theatre is because I can turn on subtitles, because I’ll be damned if I can understand anyone talking with some sort of accent, especially when they’re talking about sci-fi or fantasy things that aren’t even real words. And if you’re already using subtitles…

    Plus, I read faster than someone can give a Shatner-esque monologue. Waiting for the damn actor to finish talking about something I already read is distracting and irritating.

  2. Since you mentioned Silent Hill 2, the prison scene between Maria and James was very memorable for me, especially the part where Maria says “I’m not your Mary!”. The way her tone changes suddenly to deliver that line… It just gives me the chills!

  3. I always loved the voiced narrative between acts in Diablo 2 — it was always like a little reward for beating the current act’s boss, even though I played D2 for years and heard those lines several hundred times.

  4. @Kurono: You know, pretty much that entire game is amazing. Some of the lines are bad, but it really transmits the feeling that they are real people trying to make sense of the bizarre circumstances they found themselves in.

    @John Andrew: Ah, Deckard Cain. “Stay a while, and listen.” He definitely deserves a spot on the list.