THE ACTOR’S NIGHTMARE, 2.0

I’ve been working in a weird realm of show business lately, very new to me: the world of video games…

Actually, even “video game” seems like an archaic, last century way of talking about it, because the “video” part of it is so unimportant.  It’s all about the GAME.

Basically, when I get hired to act in one of these things, (and by the way, I am contractually bound hand and foot about mentioning anything specific about games, they are such a closely guarded, non-disclosure form requiring, BIG secret) I’m basically hired for my ability to act with my body’s joints and hinges.  They aren’t interested in my height, weight, age, color, girth, hair (luckily) or the length of my nose.  They just hire me for my voice, and my ability to operate my limbs and head.

Acting, yes… but in a weird way.

It’s almost like a medical procedure.  Especially when you walk onto the “stage” with its racks of sensors emitting a low-level light invisible to the human eye to bounce off the performers.  It’s like being in some kind of alien airline security chamber.

But that’s all fine; that’s just technology.  I can dig that.  What I find off-putting and sort of sad is what has been leached out of the actor’s overall work experience.

If they remove one more level of artistic involvement from an actor, they’ll just be sticking us in an MRI and having us do all our acting from in there, where every molecule of the performance can be recorded, to be manipulated later by faceless players.

Geez, do I sound bitter?

Here’s the deal: a lot of the excitement in Hollywood moviemaking used to be made up of much of what has been totally eliminated in the gaming world.  Like costumes, for instance; actors love to put on the costumes of characters, the shoes the helmets, the shirts with the big puffy sleeves.  If you are lucky, the white cowboy hat.  On a game shoot?  All gone.

In lieu of costumes, the actor gets ONE outfit, usually communal, always more or less the same: a tight, embarrassingly form-fitting black body suit festooned with velcro straps and tiny round reflective knobs.  It’s like being a vertical Gulliver covered with Lilliputians clinging from straps.

Sometimes you even have to have a few dozen reflective rubber dots about the size of a picture framing nail head, glued to your face, even on the tip of your nose.  If your facial performance is REALLY critical, you have to wear a rig around your head with a mini camera AND a small bright LED light pointing directly at you from about eight inches away. It’s like trying to act while being interrogated under a hot lamp by miniature detectives.

All of this ritual inconvenience has evolved in an effort to provide the final game character with an  armature that guides his motions in a realistic way, while he runs, fights, and blasts his way thru the particular universe of the game.  The character, fully rendered, comes with whatever outfit that he has been designed to wear, and the actor never even gets to touch it– it doesn’t exist in this universe, it’s a part of that whole ‘nuther world.

Props used to be a pleasure to hold, to handle; now when you are required to hold a prop, it’s Day-Glo orange, and only approximates what it represents; a cylinder for a rifle, a box for just about anything.  The fun props in all their glory exist only in that other universe.  That universe that also has all the interesting locations.

Locations in movie making have always held a lot of  glamour.  Stars would relish in saying things like, “I’m going to Istanbul to shoot Merchant of Venice II”.  Now even the location is in some file, and they can slide it under your avatar like a barber’s dustpan sliding under a pile of hair.  Boom, there’s the wharf, or the alleyway, or some other sector of some post apocalyptic environment.

(And by the way, WHEN did we all agree that our current culture is a PRE apocalyptic one?  Kind of negative, don’t you think?)

So, no costumes, no props, no locations… what else was attractive about being an actor?

Oh, well, a little thing called RECOGNITION, the chance for an audience to get to know a performer… well, that’s pretty much impossible if one looks totally different  from how he looks in this current universe of ours.

For instance if you happen to see me in the game I just worked on, which shall remain nameless (that’s actually the title of the game: Nameless.  It’s about a post apocalyptic time when government employees all mysteriously lose their ID badges) then you will see a totally different looking human being than myself; Someone taller, broader, stronger, meaner… and much less handsome than I.

Who’s going to know it’s me?  Nobody’s going to walk up to me on the street and say, “Didn’t you play Unidentified Employee #3 in Nameless?”

So, the romantic connection to the theater, that same theater that inspired so many actors to perfect their ability to convey the rich panorama of human emotions, that connection is virtually severed by video game methodology.

All the things upon which actors thrive, costumes, props, locations, recognition, (completely aside from grand ideas, delicious dialogue and lofty concepts not to mention a live audience) ALL these are tossed out in favor of monetizing our performances, and cashing in on our joints and hinges.

Begging the question, what is an actor in the 21st century to do?  If so little is really demanded of him, how much is he worth?  And if so little is demanded of him, how much of him is wasted?  And how much inspiration will actors be permitted to deliver, if the popular stories most consumed by players consist of how quickly soldiers, criminals and zombies can be lethally perforated by pistols, lasers and semiautomatic weapons?

And do we really have no better tales with which to amuse one another than with these relentless and bloody modern version of cowboys and indians?

You think of things like this when you are being fitted into a skin-tight black spandex suit with dozens of small plastic knobs sticking out of your significant physical landmarks.

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Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 9:53 am  Comments (16)  

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  1. Like the lyric of the song, “Secret Agent Man” (They’ve given you a number and taken away your name).

    It is the dehumanizing of society and us as individuals. Invasive patdowns and seraches at airports, the mandated sign the arbitration agreement or you’re fired (which means the arbutration company your company at work hires will decide every problem you have in your employers favor) like it or not, and the dumbing down of our school systems to the lowest common denominator is becoming the norm.

    So where does art go in all of the desensitizing of our culture…it goes!

    By the way, nice article, Jim! Well written!

    Mark Edgemon

  2. BRAVO! If you could see me, you’d also get the standing ovation.

    You’ve managed to pinpoint all the reasons I wanted to be in the theatre and why I (temporarily) gave that up to teach.

    There is nothing like a live theatrical experience. You cannot feel the aesthetic wavelength through the X Box console. You can get an adrenaline rush, and I’m all for that, but there is no connection with the human condition (unless your idea of a good time is to play re-runs of your days in the Roman Colosseum in your head. Which, I have learned, is not very productive.)

    So while I admit that I enjoy a good video game or two, it will never replace the hours I spend in the theatre, concert hall and, yes, the live sports arena.

    For adrenaline and inspiration that will encourage you to create better conditions for yourself and loved ones, I’ll take LIVE action any day.

    Thanks, Jimbo!

    I’ll sit down now. My palms and throat hurt.

    xoSisu

  3. WoW. Thanks for the info and I will say that even with all the ‘negatives’ it still looks and sounds exciting!

  4. I must take the other side of the argument, my friend— since I am here in LA for the express purpose of acting for video games!
    I view the work in mo-cap suits as being like a modern Bunraku puppeteer. And our voices are the rocket fuel of the performance, so the character may not look like us, but it is the breath of our spirit that gives him “life” on the screen.
    Acting is illusion— same as it ever was, thank the gods and stars.

    With Great Affection,
    Deirdre

    • True, true… it’s all part of the grand, long conversation between mankind and mankind. And I omitted to mention the voice aspect, which is of course how I got the job in the first place. That’s always fun.
      Acting is illusion, you are right. I’m just wary of an ever more materialistic society’s tendency to jettison the human part of the humanities, in favor of the swift, the harsh and the inexpensive.
      But I wish you good fortune! And, truth be told, I’m not passing up any of this work at the moment myself! Heck, no!

  5. Excellent. I consider most videogames to be a horrible negative influence on our culture, although I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with a videogame as a medium or pastime. It seems the more a game tries to be realistic and have acting, the more destructive it is, while the games that are the most fantastic and forgo acting are the ones with positive energy. I’ll stick to my Nintendo games with no dialog and cute characters doing fun relatively light hearted things while other gamers indulge themselves with monsters and criminals…only to become more like them.

    • …while other gamers indulge themselves with monsters and criminals…only to become more like them.

      Wow, I never considered that! An astute observation!

      • Really, you guys?
        What about the fake warfare of sport?

        Or “violent” toys?
        I played with toy guns all my childhood and I’m not a car thief or murderer.
        Playing GTA may make me laff with incendiary glee, but it doesn’t make me want to go out and shoot people.

      • Well DB, you’re a better person than most. Look up the studies that show that video games are making young people (especially young males) insensitive to violence. Yeah, sports can do that too, so do a host of other influences in society. Doesn’t make them right either, and doesn’t get the video game industry and the “voices” that help fuel the violence of the hook either.

  6. This will rock your world. It takes everything one step further.

    • Sorry— tried to post a link.

      use this in YouTube: watch?v=DTXO7KGHtjI

      • Deirdre

        Okay, I saw the You Tube clip and my world is officially rocked! It was a fascinating hollogram performance with the Japanese audience responding and interacting as if it was a live artist on stage.

        It was impressive!

        I had not seen this level of technology applied before in such a superb way and I will admit there was artistry in this performance.

        I believe there is a high level of merit to what Jim is saying about the individual artist not receiving their due recognition in the video game industry and that video games as a whole is more about the adrenaline rush for most teens today than presenting a performance of live action individuals they can relate to.

        With most gamers finding an easy escapism in gaming, they are not challenged in life to do something with their minds and bodies and create for themselves. They merely enter in to a technological world of other people’s creation.

        I think Lance was saying that after a young impressionable kid has pulled the trigger in a video game a thousand times without consequence, in the real world they become anesthetized to an extent that trying it in a “Columbine” type of reality is for them the next step.

        But art should not take a back seat to technology and I see in your video, it is enhanced, so good!

        Mark Edgemon

        P. S. Here is the You Tube clip complete address for those who are interested:

  7. Well, I’m learning a lot here… thanks everybody for engaging.

  8. We live in an interesting world. Blaming our troubles on others is simply the American way. Years ago, concerned individuals seemed to want to blame roadrunner and Bugs Bunny cartoons for violence and desensitising individuals.
    Personally, I’m not a big fan of Judy Chicago, but I don’t think she’s responsible for lesbianism.

    As for the rest of it. Acting is a job. Maybe iut’s a cool job, but it is a job. And actors have had to deal with crap since the beginning of time. Ever think how actors on the silent screen felt about not being able to act with vocalizations?

    complaining about holding a day glow orange stick or dots on your face makes about as mcuh sense as complaining about motion pictures replacing vaudeville.

    As an a actor I try to embrace these things and enjoy the unique acting experience that comes form it. Acting for games takes a unique understanding of many things, including non-linear story development. Voice acting in general means using everything you can to produce a rich, emotional vocalization.

    15 years ago I had to play several characters in a video game called Obsidian, whereby us actors literally had to have our heads placed inside a device that completely imobiilized us. How exciting that despite being completely frozen, we could rise to the challenge and use our acting abilities to overcome tis obstacle and deliver a rich performance.

    As for the nobody knowing who you are, I’ve done voices in around 400 games and probably less people know who I am than you.

  9. Wow, quite a dialogue on this…fascinating subject.

    Personally, I think that all breakdowns in society stem from breakdowns in parenting. It does seem that this gaming thing has opened up a new market for actors, meanwhile, short-selling society by creating a universe that seems to envelop and enthrall it’s participants in such a way as to take them out of communication with the “real world”, or worse, confuse the two. Movies and television are now riding in the backseat of that wagon, where once they were driving it. Before that there were comic books and radio, and long before that children would run away to join the circus! Before that, I guess we all went to church, and the theatre and worked, and loved and played cards…

    Creation seems to bear consequences, and depending on the short-sightedness of the creators, possibly dire consequences. To be able to live life without social, economic and other forms of despair apparently is a privilege. What some people will do out of desperation to make money, to have fun, be popular, etc…(despite themselves), or worse, what some do out of sheer contempt or really, really worse, lack of empathy, and there are countless examples of these and some very historic examples, (Hitler), as well as examples of people failing to stand up against these. Just…yuck! Depravity is not a friend of man.

    Ultimately, I think Mr. Meskimen makes a valid point, and sheds light on the fact that there are individuals working together to create these new realities, which seem to reduce humanity, not just for those who participate in the reality created, but for those who participate in the creation of that reality itself. Apparently neither reality is a social one, and at the end of the day, after creating images and relationships and scenes that will be burned into the minds of those who engage them, and arguably offer no mental, spiritual or physical profit to the participants of those universes and those who create them, one has to wonder what are the difference between Video Games, Pornography, and other forms of idolatry…and who is the profiteer?

    For a developed man, an enlightened man, a secure man, perhaps these realities are harmless. A very old Maharaj-ji once took the psychedelic drug LSD from one of his followers, who were using it in their meditations. He took many pills at once to no effect. Then he directed his follower that he did not need this method, the pills, and that everything was within him. Certainly those pills would have effected a majority of people, causing health problems to say the least.

    I choose not to participate in gaming. I know that when I involve myself in a reality, I commit to it and I experience it. That is one reason I don’t watch horror movies, and one reason I love Jim Meskimen!

  10. I’m sure that in 50 years from now, there will be something else to worry about and people will look back at this period of live as the “good old days”.
    Parenting, I believe is a big part of it, or the lack thereof. I also think that information and misinformation overload and the constent existential hum are making it difficult for lots of people.

    Eistein’s quote after we dropped the first atomic bomb, seems to still be pretty relevant today, “Everything about us is changing, except for the way that we think.”

    And thank you Jim for both being an exceptional actor who is inspiring, but also someone who shares his truth in this open forum.


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