The Thing About American Accents In Video Games

American accents are everywhere in video games. Even when something is developed in Canada, or Britain, or Japan, the principal characters usually speak with one kind of American accent or another.

Ever wonder what the significance of that is? As in, why they're often used when they're used, and in what context? You probably haven't, but Mattie Brice has, in this interesting piece from Moving Pixels.

"Accents can be more than flavour for a game's aesthetics", Brice argues, "but also communicate cultural subtext that adds to the overall meaning of the game."

The Australian accents dropped into the middle of an American-populated Final Fantasy XIII are one example, the Southern accents in StarCraft II another of how using familiar American accents (or withholding them) can help convey a message as strongly as the colour of a character's skin or the design of their clothes.

Definitely worth a read if you've got a few minutes spare.

Speaking in Accents and the American Ethnocentrism in Video Games [Moving Pixels, via Gamasutra]


Comments

    I'd always thought that they would have to change what the Marines are called in SC2 if they changed the accents.

    A marine with an accent that isn't American just isn't a marine.

      I'm sure the Royal Marines might have something to say on that. They've been around a bit longer than the American Marine Corps.

      I agree that in some contexts accents do provide meaning in games, particularly when the developer is trying to convey a particular characters culture.
      I find best use of accent is in titles where characters related by occupation (i.e. groups of Marines in SC2 or Halo etc.) have different accents. I find it provides greater depth to the game world without needing to overly flesh out each characters background. Really great example was the range of accents in the squad in Halo Reach.

        I suppose that came off wrong. I meant a Space marine without an American accent just isnt a Space marine. Excluding, but sometimes including WH40K.

        The stereotypical view of the American Marine Corps is drawn from in SC2's portrayal of the Space Marines in-game. Gimme somethin' to shoot!

        For me, if they changed the accent to a British one, they would have to change the role of the unit, as the word Marine, as well as the grunt role that they play instantly reminds me of the American Marine Corps, owing - in part - to the gaming industry's fixation upon the USMC to the exclution of the RM in most recent popular FPSs.

        Now that I've successfully offended everyone, I'll be pulling my foot out of my mouth in the corner of the room over there.

          Once the Landing Helicopter Dock ships are completed in 2014, Australia will have specialist marines to stage out of the ships.

            And they will most likely not go by the name Marine. The RM is elite infantry, whereas the USMC needs to be justified to Congress every year by the boss man himself.

            That's after the fact, anyway. And really has nothing to do with that I said.

    I remember something about the fact that in Star Wars the imperial officers all had British Accents and the heroes were all American (I don't know what subtext that gives the stormtroopers). Apparently this was supposed to be symbolic of the war for independence.

    (In the EU the English accent is actually identified as Coruscanti and the American as Corellian)

      Also, the British accent was what you associate with more upper-class people, aristocrats and the like, while still maintaining a militaristic air. It's an accent that I always associate with authority and power when used in movies/games etc, and it served to accentuate that the Galactic Empire was very much a heirarchical entity.

      A misconception. The British accents were due to the fact that the original Star Wars movies were filmed in London lots and Tunisia and there were certain union regulations that required to employ a percentage of local actors. And for the sake of consistency, the Imperials were generally British, while the already-cast leads were American.

      I think they did a similar thing in movies from the 1950s and 60s. Take Ben Hur for example. All the Romans have British accents and the Hebrews have American accents (except the female lead, but I think she was Israeli-American). I think that was a bit more deliberate than Star Wars, though. The beard theory is way more interesting.

    Wierd accents can drop you out of the game just as easily though. Like the south african-sounding guardsmen in Skyrim, that really spun me out.

      That was actually one of the things I enjoyed most about Far Cry 2. Somehow killing people with South African accents is just more satisfying than killing people most other accents. Strange but true :P

        sadistic b*stard

      Bethesda should've gotten the guys from Mojang to do those voices for Skyrim, them being Swedish and Nordic and all... Oh, wait...

        Eh Notch would have gone on a tirade about how you don't swear in front of kid's when he recruited people to a convention that swear on their video's all the time. While he host's said convention in the city of sin

        And then be a stingy asshole and not pay anybody even though he's got several million's of dollars

      South African sounding guardsmen? what version/mod where you playing? They definitely sounded more Austrian than South African. It was like walking through a medieval skynet world

        How many times have i walked past a guard and think 'man thats a dodgy Arnie accent ... oh wait'

      Or Daisy's accent - and the accent of the woman on the loud-speaker during the Locust's assault on the CoG Fort - in Gears of War 3. Both of them made me go "urgh" and left an off-note ringing in my ears.

        That's Bernie - love me some Bernie, she's my character in MP. Makes me want to sit on the front porch and shoot anything that moves. ;)

          Bernie's accent is Australian-Sydney sider. She's never left Australia so just think, that's how we all sound!
          Sam however, yuck. Fake accent much? =(

            Claudia Black voices Sam (no connection, before someone makes that joke) in Gears 3 and last time I checked, she was Australian.

      the accents were kind of ambiguous to me, i just didn't focus on where they were from and let the game immerse me, its a skyrim accent!

      Funny I noticed that guard too!!

      Oh heck yes! If I could remove one accent from Skyrim, it would be that horrid south african sounding one most commonly employed by the guards/stormcloaks. It does break the feeling of immersion, plus all the corrupt Markarth guards have that accent and thus I tend to kill first first, pay bribes never. On principle I won't be shaken down by S.A. thugs.

      Btw- Negative Zero was Ash's last film in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, right? Too cool, my friend.

    I thought it wasn't really an American accent as such, but more of a neutral accent "western" accent. A bit like those people in the call centers.

    I always assumed that it was because a fair number of people in the US have trouble understanding foreign accents, while US accents are pretty widely understood due to the amount of television and cinema they export to the world.

    I love the american accent on the main character in Black Ops, fits in perfectly

    i am Australian and i find it INCREDIBLY jarring when a game character has an aussy accent, i don't know why.. like vanille i had to quit FF13 because of her, mostly because of the hyper--anime bullshit moaning and giggling she does, but the accent annoyed me too, also the girl in mass effect 2 with the aussy accent, it just makes them sound bogan to me LOL (forgot the characters now, i never played as her due to accent :/ )

      The Australian accent in general doesn't sound as dramatic in general, in my opnion. Americans can get away with the ultra serious dialogue where as when an Australian speaks it doesn't have the same impact. Maybe it's just me.

        Note to self: proof read you illerate fool!

          Another example right there. I'm out of here. :S

        Thought the main character in the latest SOCOM wasn't done too bad....wait...he was an Aussie right?

        The Australian accent is fine. When they aren't forcing it to be over-emphasized. Which is generally what happen's when american's get hold of it

        Halo 1's New Zealander Marines

      Miranda Lawson, played by Yvonne Strahovski.

      I nearly fell off my chair the first time she spoke. I really, really enjoyed having an Australian voice actor in a major seller.

      Plus it's a bit of national pride in the fact that an Aussie is so high up in Cerberus.

        more claudia black in my games please

          i could listen to her talk all night :D

            Oh this x100.

            It's like listening to black velvet, because everyone knows that it's smoother then all the other types of velvet.

              I agree on the Claudia Black front, but she's exceptional at playing quirky funny w/dark side characters. Like Vala. Remember Vala? :D

                vala mal'doran is what i know her as mainly :P

        Haha, and they got the man who used to be in the TV show Neighbours ( maybe as the original Dad character? He was the magazine owner on Ugly Betty as well) to play her father! Because he sounds Australian too... I'm a Kiwi and I find it jarring to hear over thick Aussie or Kiwi accents in games.

      I thought Fang's accent was better than Vanille's, even though Vanile had the Aussie VA.

        i thought i saw a video of vanilles voice actor, and she sounded pretty american

          Agreed, the real Australian put it on way more :/ that pretty much ruined the character for me, it was just painful listening to her even though she's normally the type of character I love (Rikku etc). Supremely disappointing.

        Yeah, was shocked at how great Fang's VA was.

        I'm told Vanille was such a train wreck because they specifically wanted her to be a genki girl, despite that archetype not really existing in the West. So she just comes off as forced and annoying.

      Couldn't agree more about ME2. Honestly, it felt like the accent was done by an aussie who had lost her accent due to being in too much american content, then trying to do the aussie accent. Didn't work.

    Yet i still cant help but think about Dead Island and there who knows what nationally trying to potray Australian accents ...

      I think they were meant to be Kiwi accents. The lifeguard guy had Maori facial tattoos and the island is in New Guinea.

      Either way, those icksints were tirrible MAITE

        I'm pretty sure the Maori guy was voiced by Steven Steve Blum.

        food for thought, I guess.

    I just remember one of the videos in the first Starcraft when I hear the southern accents. The one with the two guys that you can't really call anything but rednecks finding the zergling in their truck.

    The whole backwater Mar Sara/Southern accent just fit from that point.

      Ah think ya hit some poor fellers dog, Sarge.

    How do we explain all of the British vilagers in Assassins Creed then? lol

      Like those beggars.. man i just want to play that game to slaughter that fething beggars and drunks!

      You mean in Acre? I'm not a huge history buff, but from what I understand it was a Crusader city, and ruled by Richard the Lionheart (King of England). Since it was in the Holy Land I imagine many pilgrims would've moved there and populated it as a Christian stronghold in the middle of the Arab world.

    All I can think of when it comes to accent choices is how games always give the main character an American accent because they don't want to alienate their prime audience in the west. Like Resistance, where you're in England, surrounded by Englishmen, but the hero has to be a yank.

    i could use witcher 2 as an example, since geralt had an american accent, although the rest of the cast didn't, except for his girlfriend, i didn't understand that, i thought they were like "Geralt is a witcher, so the american accent is a part of being a witcher" but then his girlfriend had one as well, and i got confused

    Accents can make or break a character for me. It pretty much depends on how much they've avoided a cliché. Don't give a sleezy flirty man a Spanish accent. Don't give a suave charming man an English accent. Above all, don't give the villain a Russian/German accent. If the character is from Russia, and its not a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie, rewrite the character.

    ME2 Miranda is probably my favourite example of a good accent. There was no particular need to give her the accent, and its not like it was the obvious thing to do, but for me it added an interesting extra layer. I love that Vanille & Fang had Aussie accents too because it fit so perfectly. There's plenty of great non-aussie accents implemented too. WoW has some cool accents, Russian for Draenei, Jamaican for Trolls, etc.

    Some of the few acceptable cliche accents are: English accents in a medievil fantasy setting, Scottish accents on Dwarves and American accents on anything.

      all ze elves must be british.

    I think they just left Miranda's VA Yvonne use her normal accent rather than the 'neutral californian' she adopts on Chuck etc. I once auditioned for parts on US tv shows made in NZ and they ask for 'neutral Californian'... Because Americans simply can't understand non US English. Its so retarded... I was complimented on my accent! Haha. If it sounds like you've faked it, you've failed.

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