February 4, 2015
One of the most enjoyable voice acting jobs I’ve done to date was voicing a video game character for a teaching game for little kids about the brain.
It was sponsored by the National Institutes of Mental Health, and it didn’t have any weapons, explosions or graphic violence. I had a lot of fun with it, because I was able to just let loose, be a goofy character and bring a script to life.
Best of all (for me), the game developers needed a mature female voice.
FEWER FEMALE CHARACTERS
Do you have any idea how rare it is for a mature female to appear in a video game?
Less than 15% of video game characters are female, and most of them are written to please the (30-something, male) game developer’s sensibilities. That’s an optimistic estimate, by the way, based on data from six years ago when fewer than one in 10 video game characters were female.
These days, the only video game role I’m regularly asked to play is an orc queen. I love playing a villain as much as the next person, but unfortunately, those menacing, gravelly tones are just on the edge of my range, and very tough on my throat. I have to block out a week for recovery after a job like that. (Needless to say, I don’t seek this kind of work.)
Am I just a whiner? Or does something need to change? Obviously, I think something needs to change, and here’s why.
THE 'AVERAGE' GAMER IS WHO?
Do you think you know the average gamer? Think again!
When you hear the word "gamer,” what mental image does that conjure up in your mind? For me, it’s a teenage boy glued to a video screen, both hands on a keyboard or console.
You might be as surprised as I was to learn that that image is a stereotype – and it doesn’t reflect the actual gaming public.
Statistics published in 2014 by the Entertainment Software Association identify typical gamers as follows:
So that means a gamer is twice as likely to be a young woman as a teenage boy. And "my” demographic is one of the fastest growing in the industry.
'FEMALE CHARACTERS COST MORE'
Despite these shifts in the gaming public, the gaming industry has to been slow to recognize and accommodate its new female players.
There are several reasons for this, but one that hits us where we live is the (erroneous) notion that it’s more expensive to hire female voice talent.
"Adding female characters doubles the art budget.”I’m guessing the source of this common misconception is projects where one actor is hired to play several characters.
The fallacy, of course, is that a double budget does not apply to unique capture performances (where each character is voiced by a different actor). If a game requires four unique character voices, and one of them is female, her rates will be comparable to her male counterparts, not more expensive.
Also, the character budget component of a game’s art budget is usually relatively small.
$21 BILLION INDUSTRY
Why should gender equity in gaming matter to voice actors, both male and female? Because the video-game industry is HUGE - $21.53 billion per year.
Opportunities for a wider cross-section of us to work in this industry are growing. When games have vivid and diverse characters of both genders and all ages, they increase the odds that the gaming public will grow beyond traditional demographics. More consumers means more games sold, and more work for everyone.
Plus, it’s just plain fun.
For more on the Computer and Video Game Industry, click here for essential facts from the Entertainment Software Association.
Elizabeth Holmes is a writer, voice actor, and staff editor at VoiceOverXtra, based in Northern California. She is also editor of VoiceOverXtra's book division, including Voice Over Legal, by voice actor / attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia.
Earlier Sounds Odd Columns: http://bit.ly/SoundsOddColumns
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