Voice Actors Say Video Games Are Damaging Their Voices

The North American video game voice actors’ guild (SAG-AFTRA) has called for California's occupational health and safety regulator to investigate the video game industry, arguing that their health and livelihoods are being damaged through overuse and excessively demanding sessions.

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In the now-public letter, David P. White said the 160,000 members of the guild were concerned that "voice-over actors are being asked to perform vocal sounds that go way beyond a safe pitch zone". The voices and sounds actors are being asked to perform for games are becoming increasingly strenuous, to the point where actors are risking long-term damage to their vocal cords.

"For up to four hours, actors are asked to perform not just voices, but noises, death screams, creature voices, combat yelling and other sounds, with so much force and explosive vibration, that they are causing internal damage to their vocal cords."

The letter, addressed to the regional manager of California Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (Cal/OSHA) Monrovian office, goes on to reference two speech pathologists who have worked with voice actors and documented the medical problems that have arisen from overwork, including cysts, cord haemorrhaging, polyps and vocal nodules.

"The speech-language pathologists at Nancy Sedat & Associates say it is possible that just one session that is too vocally demanding could cause damage to an actor’s vocal cords, possibly enough to need surgery and/or voice therapy," the guild's national executive wrote.

A particular concern for the union is that most voice actors are employed as contractors, lacking the rights and protections that would enable them to raise concerns about excessive sessions to their employers. Actors have also complained about being given insufficient time to warm up their voices, according to White.

"Actors have limited ways of protecting themselves on the job independently. Our members fear retaliation for letting employers know if a session is becoming too vocally stressful. As actors are freelance employees, and are rarely signed to a contract for any single game, the performers can be let go if the employer feels unsatisfied with a session."

The letter ends with a request for a meeting with Cal/OSHA so the union can "explain in more detail how vocal stress is putting actors' health and livelihoods at risk". Kotaku Australia has contacted the Monrovian office for comment, but did not receive a reply prior to publication.


Comments

    This have anything to do with the now-private discussions between the voice actors (union or otherwise) and the industry as a whole for more rights, and share of proceeds, etc?

    It's definitely a concern, at least with animation, you're in a controlled environment with people who understand the science of acting, and exactly what a person can and can't do during a sustained performance. Video game developers and publishers would definitely think of them simply as cattle, overall.

      It was definitely one of the primary concerns initially raised as part of the discussions around compensation and working conditions. It all sort of goes hand-in-hand. The uncertainty of job security, vagaries of contracts, are a factor behind continuing past the point of pain/harm.

      I don't know how the negotiations are going - poorly or well - I've got to believe that this call for investigation is having some kind of influence on the discussion.

    Typical actors, always complaining. It's like their whole life is drama.

      Hey, I got it.

        ...I didn't. :/ What is reference?

          Whole life is drama.

          Because they're actors.

          And acting is dr- never mind you've got it now

          I wasn't sure on it at first either, but then I saw it was Dr Neeson so I figured it must be ok :P

      Sometimes I just don't even know them anymore. It's like they're a completely different person.

    Not surprising, saw Kevin Conroy (Batman) talk a few years ago and he said he'd done RL acting, Animation voice and now game voice acting and the game was by far the most difficult - but he enjoyed it a lot still.

    Voices get damaged, i guess it depends on the situation, But that is kinda the whole point of voice acting isn't it?.
    To voice out scenes and to act the desired emotion during the scene. Like with real acting just without movement.
    You can't just talk it out otherwise the characters will sound dull.

      Yeah, but there's ways about it. Splitting into smaller sessions, or allowing vocal warm up etc, will still produce the same end result without actors having to damage their voices.

        I guess, honestly i blame deadlines on this one every AAA game has been announcing their release date in advance and hell theres a assassin creed every year, call of duty every year, Battlefield... sometimes, So to do all that they must have one month of voice acting

          Despite later most likely adding changes to the script

          But nothing says they can't split a 4 hour session into two two hour sessions- they can bring in more than one actor a day.

          Part of the problem, too, is that video games a) have more dialogue than an animated film or TV show- only behind an audiobook in terms of hours recorded, I'd wager and b) require strained stuff- as the article says, yelling, screaming, growling - over a long period. That takes a toll.

            But thats the problem with Triple AAA their not afraid to force their workers overtime if deadlines are not met.
            These deadlines they try to make only harms production.
            So if voice acting is not met, they will make them overtime it if it has to be done.
            I not defending Video game management. But its been like this for a while.
            It should be changed so its more lax in terms of scheduling. At least that way people don't feel pressured or worried.
            Voice acting in particular needs better consideration especially since they need to talk or yell for a while. But i don't think they are given that luxury, i think the only thing they do for them is place a water bottle in front of their studio.

    God knows any time I run daily multi-session training which mostly consists of me talking at people, I wreck my voice for the rest of the day at least. After a few weeks it sure starts feeling like it's built up. I've done some reading on 'vocal endurance' and there's a disturbing amount of argument from doctors out there claiming that the idea of training vocal endurance is a myth.

      I've done some reading on 'vocal endurance' and there's a disturbing amount of argument from doctors out there claiming that the idea of training vocal endurance is a myth.

      Maybe they should have a chat with Frank Welker, Billy West, John DiMaggio and Dan Castellaneta. The four of them would easily prove not only that it exists but one needs such endurance to last long as they have. Especially Welker who has worked with Mel Blanc and one of his earliest roles is Fred from Scooby-Doo.

      Last edited 07/06/16 3:00 pm

        (What, no Hank Azaria in that list?) Most likely from being prolific. The stuff I've read is mostly contesting the idea that you can 'endurance train' the vocal folds the same way that you'd train your muscles, and trying to get through the idea that 'working through the pain' actually does a lot more harm than good, unlike your other muscles.

          There are a lot of voice actors I don't know or forget about; so I try to at least keep track of the big names.

          Even then that doesn't work.

          Last edited 07/06/16 3:19 pm

          Just a follow up, I've only done a five second search on vocal folds and it hints at them being membranes and not actual muscle.

          My guess is some actually think they are muscles and strengthen with use when in reality membranes need rest or they tear like tendons.

          Even muscles need rest as depending on what one does it needs to be done so that the volume of damage for use is less than what can be healed in a recovery window.

          Either way, when work dies down I might look at it as it would be interesting to read about and possibly learn why some are great at being Mel Blanc while others can only two one or two voices that sound similar to each other.

    These people would hate being in a metal band. Sounds like a lot of QQ to me.

      They typically don't play for 4 hours. 2 tops.

        id hazzard to guess that a Metal Band Lead singer wouldnt be working as hard as often as a voice actor/actress either

          idk guys.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmnsdRkkjNI

          performing that for 2 hours every night for 60 days straight, of course this isn't counting rehearsals and the months-long recording process sounds far more stressful than this job.

    If screaming is too much work for them then they should get Jens Kidman from Meshuggah to fill in the gaps.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSdUbSPYOBo

    :)

    Are you freaking kidding me? I'm a voiceover actor. It's been my job for more than 20 years. I'm a member of SAG/AFTRA. If those folks in Cali don't like what they're doing - they're free to step down and let New York City talent take their places. And if they complain to much the industry will do what they're always done in the past. They either hire non-union talent or they'll use digital effects. Voice synthesis is better than ever. No one puts a gun to the heads of these actors, they don't have to do a 4 hr session unless they want to. They are free to leave. They pay is usually pretty good, they get a pension contribution and credit towards insurance through the union. So quit your bitching. I'll take your gig in a hot minute. And I'm fucking amazing.

      You're kind of proving their point. Fear of being replaced IS the gun being put to their heads to make them do 4hr sessions. Because if they don't endure the 4hrs of grunting and screaming, they'll be replaced by New York City talent 'in a hot minute', or a non-union talent, or digital effects.

      Last edited 07/06/16 3:08 pm

        This is basically how the music industry works.

        This is basically how the music industry works.

        @xylo: The music industry also works with constant repetition, :-P

          I hit submit one TIME and kotaku loses its mind. :D

            Again, just like the music industry, :-P

            Just so we are clear, I'm not picking on you; the similarities between the current bug were are seeing and the nonsense in the music industry are both coincidental and funny. At least for me.

      It's been my job for 20 years to sweep up asbestos dust with a broom. If these guys don't like cleaning I'll happily take their job.

    It's delved into it a bit in this doco called 'I Know That Voice.' They describe video game voice acting as making a lot of guttural grunts over and over, because quite often gaming is about people getting bludgeoned in some way.

    Possibly need vocal therapy? Possibly?? It should have been in use the whole time, amateurs.

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