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Career Guide: Becoming A Game Performer

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Recently here at AskAboutGames we've been sharing insights and advice about the various roles that can be part of the team that develop a video game, and what is needed to make a career from them. If you have a family member with a passion for games, thinking about a future working with games isn't just a way to inspire and focus school studies for now; it can lead to a personally rewarding, well-paid future making a living making games. Or maybe you're just interested to learn how games are made.

This week we're here to do that again, but we're looking at a rather less central role; that of the game performer.

Since games have become complex enough to include winding narratives, complex scripts, elaborate action scenes and lengthy spoken dialogue, there are now ample opportunities for actors, be it as a voice-over artist, motion-capture performer, or even as the foundation for a game's lead character.

The role:

The most common work for actors in games is providing voice over – or 'VO' – work. That often means visiting a special recording studio – of which there are many in the UK – and spending time in a voice over booth, delivering lines of dialogue. You might do this on your own, or with others. And you might even play the role of more than one character in a single game. That could mean hundreds of lines of dialogue as a central cast member. Or simply providing dozens grunts, groans and yelps of a background monster.

Then there is motion-capture  or 'mocap' work, where a performer provides movements which are captured using special cameras, and then reproduced in a game by an entirely graphical game character. Imagine a game where a monster jumps to the floor and does a forward roll. That might have originally been a human in a special mocap suit, performing the tumble in the real world, before having the nuance of their movement applied to a game character. Mocap acting is sometimes just like normal acting, where you might have to walk through a set talking with another character. But some mocap work is more comparable to stunt performing. Mocap can also cover capturing facial movements, or even hand movements. And there is 'full performance motion capture', where body movements, facial expression and spoken dialogue are all captured simultaneously.

Finally, a very few actors are lucky enough to really play and even shape the central character of the game. Take the case of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted games. The actor Nolan North provided the voice over and mocap work for Drake, but also provided the visual inspiration for the character and – over time – his performance started to influence how the character was written.

The opportunity:

Making a living as a performer can be tough. However, there is a sense in the video game industry that too many actors are missing out on the opportunity game performing brings, simply by not understanding how significant and varied that prospect is. While there is much competition for roles in film and TV, less actors seem to be seizing the opportunity of game performing.

As for the potential earnings, AskAboutGames wouldn't pretend to be an expert on actors' earnings. It is the case that most game actors also perform in film, TV, theatre, advertising and many other spaces as a freelancer - and there's a good chance adding games to that list will greatly increase your opportunity to thrive as an actor.

Games acting also offers a unique creative opportunity with many rewards for those keen to explore different types of performance. VO and mocap work rarely involves costume, make-up or even sets, and you may before a completely different creature that human – all without the encumbrance of getting dressed up. As such, it is a 'theatre of the mind' performance opportunity rarely offered in other acting jobs.

And numerous UK games developers make award-winning use of game performers, such as Ninja Theory, who innovated mocap in their games Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and Hellblade - the game you can see having its performance prepared in this article's image.

The challenge:

Game performance is surprisingly different from other acting forms. Scripts are often out of order; or, rather, in the order the game stores them, as they may be delivered in whatever order the player's actions dictate. And you may be filling in one half of a conversation without the other actors present. That will be very unfamiliar to traditional and conventional actors. Mocap is a very specific skill, requiring performing for capture, rather than an audience or camera – often wearing strange suits covered in capture markers; something that takes some getting used to.

And, of course, there's all the usual challenges that make performance a career with little guarantees of success or steady income.

The qualifications:

Again, here at AskAboutGames we're not experts in acting careers. Obviously drama qualification and training can help, and a demonstrable interest in both games and the creation of games will be a huge advantage, showing you know games as well as performance. And to transfer from other acting roles, numerous courses are now forming in the UK, such as those by the team at The Mocap Vaults, training by voice over and performance specialist OM, and the work of The Mocap Academy.

These courses are, of course, private, and provided here as examples rather than recommendations. Others are available.

IMAGE CREDIT: Ninja Theory, Hellblade capture.
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Will Freeman