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.