Report: Gaming Actors Say Fan Support Has Grown During Strikes
Jul 30, 2023
Actors including Yuri Lowenthal and Cissy Jones tell us that fans have responded well to their complaints, and are largely supportive of strikes.
Earlier this year, Persona 5 voice actor Erica Lindbeck deleted her Twitter after she asked fans to stop using her voice in AI-generated content. The fanbase was split, with many coming to her defence, while others claimed she was wrong to call out fans who are just having fun with AI. After all, they weren’t stealing her job or making money, so what’s the problem?
In July, we spoke to a range of actors in video games who told us that it isn’t just about the money.
Related: Report: Your Favourite Gaming Actors Want You To Stop AI Generating Their Voices
“The big deal is consent,” Spider-Man’s Yuri Lowenthal told me at the time. “You’re essentially appropriating someone’s identity and making them do something without their consent, and that’s not okay.”
Roger Clark, who played the lead in Red Dead Redemption 2, agreed. “It is at best defamatory and at worse theft.”
Since then, many actors across film and television have been on strike (video game work has not been struck), and public perception seems to be shifting. Rather than Lindbeck being run off Twitter for complaining about AI, we’ve seen social media users go after actors they feel aren’t supporting the strike enough. The Arrowverse's Stephen Amell is perhaps the most high-profile example, coming under fire following his criticism of the strike. He eventually walked back these comments, even appearing on the SAG-AFTRA picket line.
We recently saw a similar thing occur in the Star Trek fandom, after its biggest convention went ahead while trying to adhere to SAG-AFTRA rules. For the most part, it worked. However, Robert Beltran, who played Commander Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager, then seemed to purposely break strike rules, name-dropping characters and TV shows he had worked on at a convention, where other actors had purposely avoided doing this. He faced intense backlash as a consequence.
What both of these occurrences have in common is how they each unfolded at conventions. The ongoing strikes prevent actors from speaking about or promoting their work, or outright banning them from attending such events altogether, so it would be assumed that some fans would sour on SAG-AFTRA’s industrial action. However, according to video game actors, this hasn’t been the case.
“I've been happy to see, as fans learn more and more about the situation and what we're really fighting for, that they're mostly in agreement with us,” says Lowenthal, speaking to me again over email. “Nobody likes a strike, actors and fans alike, but I'm glad to see that we're all in this together and hopefully we'll come to a resolution soon.”
Courtenay Taylor, who played Jack from Mass Effect and the Sole Survivor in Fallout 4, says she’s seen this too.
“On social media, I'm seeing devs, fans, and folks outside of our industry sharing support for actors and writers,” says Taylor. “Please keep it up, it's much appreciated.
“I'm hopeful that intellectual property holders will start using their legal power to stop voice cloning and tackle pornographic and hateful content in particular, swiftly and decisively. It starts and ends with them.
“Fans, please, refrain from using voices and likenesses that you don't have express permission to use. It may feel innocuous, but it isn't.”
Cissy Jones, who is set to appear in Starfield as one of its main companion characters, does feel that fans are getting this message.
“Fan response has been hugely supportive,” Jones says. “Through various panel presentations, like at [San Diego Comic Con], people are really hearing our concerns and to be honest, a lot of people have similar worries in their own industries so I think it's been a bit of fresh air to see another group standing up for their rights and future uses.
“There are always trolls of course, but they are far outnumbered by the supportive voices.”
In one of the most dramatic changes, Tom Schalk - a voice-over actor who has appeared in System Shock and various Star Wars shows - shared how, prior to the strikes taking place, his opposition to AI acting had resulted in him being doxxed by a troll.
“It isn't a terribly frequent response from what I can tell, which is what made it surprising,” says Schalk. “The ones responsible seem to have come from somewhere like 4Chan, where for a time, there were irritable attitudes towards actors speaking against AI.”
Even if doxing is rare, it isn’t the first time actors have faced pushback for being anti-AI voice work. “For the most part, I think people supporting AI voice work are just more excited for the technology than spiteful against actors, but fail to fully understand the implications of the tech being brought into the creative industry.”
Much like others in the industry, Schalk feels that the strikes are the only way to combat AI in acting. “AI isn't going to completely take over acting or writing without a fight, and the fight is happening and won't slow down so long as performers like myself want to perform.
“This is all a matter of consent. I'm not one to bank on the idea that AI is ‘here to stay’ because it doesn't have to. We have the chance to keep it from invading the acting space, and it requires everybody to be involved.”
Now that so many are on the picket lines, Schalk has noticed a change in attitude. He cites a recent example of a hobby animator using AI-generated voice acting, saying that the backlash the creator faced was probably “more aggressive [...] than probably necessary.” In the end, Schalk says they were receptive to feedback and have since redubbed their work with real actors.
From what the actors on the ground are saying, it seems that the strike is working in the court of public opinion. As projects are pushed back or released with minimal participation from actors and writers, it remains to be seen if this public support continues. But right now, actors are hopeful that their fans will pull through and keep fighting the good fight.
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Rhiannon is the Deputy News Lead at TheGamer, and can often be found starting yet another playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins. Otherwise, she's watching Star Trek, or caring about the Sonic series way too much.