Do Video Games Need Movie Stars?

I’ve been watching a lot of the pre-release footage of Halo 5: Guardians, which comes out tonight. I also just finished playing Until Dawn. One noteworthy feature these video games have in common is that some of their characters are based on real-world, recognizable actors. Not just their voices — their entire faces.

In Halo 5, the character Buck looks just like actor Nathan Fillion, who voices him. Locke looks just like his actor Mike Colter. Until Dawn features the likenesses of actors like Hayden Panettiere. The facial structure and expressions look great… but I’m not sure that I like the idea of video games utilizing movie stars in the future, if this becomes a trend.

Some of my favorite voice actors are near-unknowns outside of their industry. If you know a lot about games, you’ve probably heard of Jennifer Hale, Nolan North, and Troy Baker, three of the superstars of video game voice work. They are fantastic at what they do, and they’re actors just like any other — except that they weren’t actually seen on a screen.

Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page motion capture for
Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page motion capture for “Beyond: Two Souls”

However, Troy Baker (for example) did extensive motion capture work for the game The Last of Us. And then you have some actors you might have seen in TV and films also voicing (and motion capturing) game characters. For example, when Sleeping Dogs came out, voicing one of the side characters was well-known actress Emma Stone. Beyond: Two Souls features Ellen Page as the protagonist. The list goes on.

Voice acting work is fair game for any actors, whether they’re in TV and films or not. So is motion capture work, for that matter. As long as there’s still a place for great voice actors who don’t have a presence elsewhere, I’m cool with any actor using their skills in video games, even if I know them from other mediums.

I just don’t know that I need to see their likenesses in video games. It makes me feel like I’m getting a movie experience, with bankable stars. Now that games can recreate actors in the virtual world with a high degree of accuracy, it’s starting to feel like a more produced experience. Movie stars are cool — they’re just not what I’m looking for in video games.

Nathan Fillion as Buck in
Nathan Fillion as Buck in “Halo 5”

Now, when I see Buck in Halo 5 I think “Nathan Fillion.” That can be cool, since I’m a big fan of Nathan Fillion, and I have nothing against him doing great work in games. It’s just that my familiarity with him is a big part of the reason playing Halo 5 may feel less like escapism and more like watching a produced “movie” to me now. It wasn’t so obvious in Halo 3: ODST, when the character didn’t look quite like the actor simply due to the limitations of creating likenesses in video games.

I realize it might not be fair for me to say all this. Actors are actors. And some games have featured the likenesses of actors who aren’t that recognizable. (I’m thinking of Yvonne Strahovski as Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect, for example.) There shouldn’t be a problem with bringing the actors’ faces to video games along with their voices… It’s just not my favorite choice.

It’s the same reason one of my biggest pet peeves is seeing book covers that showcase the movies based on them. When I bought Cloud Atlas on my Kindle, I loved the cover — and then the movie came out, and they auto-updated it to reflect the movie with the actors on the cover. Nothing against the actors, nothing against the film… but I really liked that old cover that had to do with the story and not Hollywood or celebrities or movies.

In short, I just don’t want to see every video game character looking like a movie star I already know. I want the imagination to remain. Alien races. New faces that make me want to know the characters behind them. A variety of appearances that don’t necessarily match our society’s ideals of what a movie star should look like.

We’ll see how things go.


4 thoughts on “Do Video Games Need Movie Stars?”

  1. I thought the exact same thing when I saw Nathan Fillion in the new trailer. I didn’t think “Hey, it’s Buck from ODST,” at all, which is what the trailer should have been shooting for. Looking back at ODST screenshots, I guess they were always trying to make him look like Nathan Fillion, but the limits of the technology at the time made him look different enough that it wasn’t too distracting (plus he wore his helmet most of the time).

    I feel like playing Halo 5 I’m going to thinking more “I’m playing a game with Nathan Fillion” than “I’m a badass space marine hunting Master Chief.” Or whatever teh story will end up being.

    I sort of had the same response to seeing Gary Oldman’s character in the Star Citizen cutscene.

    1. Yeah, exactly! It’s not a terrible thing, I guess, but I just find it distracting. I kind of saw Nathan Fillion in ODST but like you said, it wasn’t as distracting back then! And I wouldn’t like it if video games start banking on movie stars either…

  2. We have the capacity now to motion capture in such a way that I think it is believable to have the actor’s likeness without sacrificing a whole lot.

    That said, I don’t like it at all. Imagine if animation suddenly decided that every character should look like their voice actor too. That would both be horrifying AND stifle creativity. Video games allow the freedom to create characters independent of those who play those characters, and I think that’s certainly something that should be protected. The Mario voice actor wouldn’t make a great Mario mocap, but I’ll be damned if his voice isn’t perfect.

  3. I agree. I think it’s a little distracting to start seeing the likenesses of the real actor voicing the character in video games. It certainly is cool, but at the same time it’s all about playing a video game and not so much watching a movie. There needs to be a distinction between the two very different entertainment mediums. I don’t really want this to be too widespread of a trend, but sadly, it looks like it may very well go in that direction in the future.

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