5 Things To Know About Acting in Video Games

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Photo Source: “Ghost of Tsushima”/Sucker Punch Productions

The entertainment marketplace is always evolving and actors should pay attention to the multiple ways in which you can make a living. Video games are a major player in entertainment and worth seriously considering as a rich performance opportunity.  A Hollywood blockbuster making $1 billion dollars is a big deal, but the video game “Grand Theft Auto V” crossed $6 billion and Variety reported in 2019 that the video game market could reach $300 billion by 2025

It’s not just the technical capacity and accessibility around the world that’s growing this market. The storytelling and ability to capture real actor performances with astonishing detail, therefore delivering authentic, life-like human experiences to the audience, has come closer to a familiar cinematic experience and has been a major selling point for AAA games (the blockbusters of the gaming world). This tech is only getting better. So what do you need to know to enter the world of video games? Here are five things to keep in mind.

1. Motion Capture
Acting in a video game with motion capture can take some getting used to. Motion capture scenes require you to wear spandex style suits with tiny white balls attached all over your body to record your physical movements during scenes, plus running around in a blank space with nothing but tape lines or grey boxes to suggest the environment you’re in. This requires far more imagination and can feel a bit awkward at first. Actor Patrick Gallagher (“Ghost of Tsushima”) says, “You don’t get as much back and forth as you do in ‘regular acting.’ Be interesting. Make the right choices. Figure out the characters. A lot of the technical stuff is different. Which is therefore going to make the whole experience different. You need to imagine that you’re looking at a huge castle.”

2. Voice Acting
The voiceover part may feel more familiar to you and it’s used extensively in games. Voice does drive a lot of the performance. As good as visual technology is, the human voice can convey a wealth of nuance and emotional subtext. Additionally, with so many open-world games, there are a lot of variations of character interactions, a variety of people a player might meet in the game world, and, depending on when the encounter takes place in the storyline (before or after the player has done a particular event), the dialogue might change! Samantha Strelitz (“Red Dead Redemption 2”) points out that, “video games are the audience’s medium. You as the audience member are deciding where you go, what you do, and how you play.” That means you could record three or four different variations of the same scene to give a variety of options to the player depending on the circumstances. Certainly not the usual voiceover session.

3. Performance Capture
Performance capture in games combines voice and movement. In this case, specifically, an actor’s facial movements. For moments in games where the characters speak to each other and progress the story, developers are now creating cinematic scenes with close up shots, emotional moments, and playing with subtext. This is captured by having actors wear a head-mounted unit with small cameras and bright lights tracking reflective dots that have been painted on an actor’s face. It provides some incredible, life-like digital performances, but it does take some getting used to on the actor’s end. Daisuke Tsuji (“Ghost of Tsushima”) said of his experience, “It really is all about focusing on the other actor and listening that helped me get through and try not to think about all this stuff that is in the way of doing the scene.” These performances are what set modern games apart from previous generations, and this is where actors can truly provide an exceptional experience for players.

4. Fast Moving 
Video game productions don’t have to reset anything if they need to do another take. No extras getting back in place, no moving lights, or anything else. Just back to one and go! In fact, the scenes themselves will often play out more like theater with actors moving and acting from the beginning to the end of the scene and doing the whole thing again if they missed a line or need another take.

5. The Crossover
With the amount of digital tech shared between the game industry and the film and television industry, more familiarity performing alongside and in conjunction with this tech will only serve you as an actor no matter who hires you. Recently “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ has showcased digital technology which puts actors on a small soundstage set surrounded by a digital projected environment created in real-time using technology generated for video games by Unreal Games.

The extraordinary storytelling and capacity of a fully digital world, not to mention the worldwide attention large video game titles get, is sure to attract directors, producers, and writers from Hollywood. The reverse is possible as more producers and production companies see the impact directors and writers of games have on an audience and want them to put their talents to use on their productions, especially productions that incorporate this advanced filmmaking technology. When you remove more of the physical bounds of movie making, you need more people who think that way and are used to creating in a world with fewer limits.

While there are some challenges that professional performers and their unions should be aware of (like pay scale and residuals from these enormous worldwide sales), there are a wealth of opportunities for voice, stunt, combat, dance, and performance capture artists that cannot be overlooked. The high level of performance required to tell these increasingly ambitious stories means actors are a valuable part of the growing video game market and should consider it alongside any other acting work. 

Ready to level up your career? Check out these video game and video game-related listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Michael Moreno
Michael runs The Actor CEO Podcast and ActorCEO.com, connecting thousands of actors around the globe to industry pros, tools, and resources to help them treat their career like a business filling the gap between training and building a sustainable creative life. Michael empowers modern artists by contributing content to multiple online outlets, teaching industry business and marketing classes in drama schools around the country, and coaches creative professionals.
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