Voice Actors Are Striking: Why You Should Care

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For the last couple of weeks SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents many voice actors in the video games industry, have been picketing and striking outside of major video game developers and tomorrow, Nov.17th, they plan to picket Insomniac Games in Burbank. Many of the biggest voice actors in the industry have come out in support of the strike, including Sarah Palmer and Roger Craig Smith.

Essentially the union is fighting for more protection and wages for their actors, citing that many video game developers/publishers do not adequately pay or support their actors. Additionally, the union is fighting for voice actors to receive residual payments for their works that go-on to have long life spans.With game’s rapidly expanding to become more and more immersive experiences, voice actors play a huge part in creating these worlds and it’s only natural that actors need to be compensated and treated fairly with this growing trend.

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SAG-AFTRA released these statements:

“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.

“In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.

“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.

“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”

Gamespot has a great article that goes into a considerable more deal than I can, but I think it’s important to note why labor movements are important in both society and the gaming industry. Fair and equitable relations within jobs have long histories of fighting for rights, and we often overlook just how important labor fights are to our history. We tend to forget this history because we live in a time in which unions aren’t as prevalent because of the privatization of many industries and years of smear campaigns against them, but unions still very much help and work in many industries and they make substantive change for many people.

So go support SAG-AFTRA, urge your favorite developers to support and work with them, and next time you boot up your favorite game take a moment to think  about the people performing the voices of the characters.

You can support the cause by tweeting #PerformanceMatters

 

Apple Rejects Game About War-Stricken Gaza, Citing it as a Non-Game

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Apple’s appstore has seen some backlash over their rejection of game about a girl in war-time Gaza looking for her family. They rejected the game on the grounds that it  doesn’t meet the criteria of a what constitutes a”game” for their games category, a seemingly arbitrary categorization on Apple’s part. Liyla and the Shadows of War, a independent title from developer Rasheed Abueideh, tells the story of a young Palestinian girls who is trying to rescue her family during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. In terms of gameplay, the game is a mix of puzzles and platforming with the player having to solve different puzzles to accomplish the game’s goal. The game expresses the grim realities of war and what people in war-stricken locations are faced with. If players make it to the end of the game they are given the actual numbers of how many people lost their lives during the conflict, as well as other facts about the conflict that express the nature of conflict.

The game, which has received some level of praise on the google playstore, was rejected this week by apple:

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I refer to the game as a game because it’s undeniably a game; anyone who sees or plays the game would immediately contend that it functions like a game, and yet Apple rejected it for their games category. This comes as a result of Apple’s very strict policy of what they consider a game, one that many believe to be outdated and backwards. It stems from the appstore not allowing for games that have controversial messages to be in their game category.

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store. – Apple App store Guidelines

 

Liyla’s rejection likely comes from the game featuring the real life statistics in its conclusion, which is quite absurd given that it’s such a small part of the overall game. This isn’t the first time that the apple app store has rejected would be titles on similar grounds, as they also rejected the 2011 title “Sweatshop” because the game held a message about the grim realities of sweatshop work.  These rejections are indicators of a larger issue with Apple’s categorization of what constitutes a game, as rejecting a game merely because it has a controversial or political message has the potential to censor and withhold numerous worthy games from reaching an incredibly large audience. The line as to what dictates the content of what they allow on their appstore also seems tremendously arbitrary, as there are numerous games that straddle or even go over the conceivable line on the appstore. As video games become tools to convey social messages and educate others to real world issues and ideas, it’s unfortunate that Apple is acting as a behind-the-times gatekeeper to the general population of gamers. Video games are evolving to be more than just passive entertainment; more and more we’re seeing developers harness the power of the medium to instill real messages. If Apple can’t evolve their definition of  a game then maybe we need to rethink their platform as an avenue of play.

Luckily, Liyla and The Shadows of War can be played through the Google Play Store.

ESA: Essential Facts About Gamers and Politics

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Oh Electronic Software Association, you’ve given me an early Christmas present. The ESA is the foremost data collector of statistics and data on video game consumption, usage, and attitudes.  Annually this blog reports on their essential facts about video game consumption, but today they’ve released a special report on their findings on how politically engaged gamers are. They’ve created a easy to read infographic of all of these statistics that I will be pulling from.

Now that were are officially a year away from the 2016 election, such statistics are as timely as ever. Spoiler alert: Most gamers  don’t think America’s leadership is a monarchy ruled by Princess Zelda.

votingThe results are overwhelmingly positive: gamers are very politically engaged. In a survey that asked whether or not they would vote in the 2016 election, 80% of gamers said they were going to exercise their right to vote. This is in comparison to non-gamers, which had a percentage of 75% respondents saying they were going to vote in next years election.

“100 million gamers will vote next year…Gamers are engaged, informed and hold strong opinions on critical issues. From both sides of the aisle, and in every state across the country, they will influence the course of our nation’s future.”

partyIn terms of political party, gamers are split even with an equal amount identifying as
Republican and Demographics. This doesn’t surprise me all that much, as it closely represents the general demographics on the United States, further showing that gamers are the general population. That said, significantly more gamers identify as conservative than liberal. Why gamers skew heavily social conservative is beyond me, and on what issues they lean conservative isn’t specified

Lastly the survey looked at what gamers think about specific issues.

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There’s some really interesting insights into how they fall on issues and this is really one of the first studies to actually ask these specific questions.  Despite the majority classifying themselves as “conservative” their political leanings on issues definitely have some socially liberal slants.

With the statistics out of the way, we can hypothesize as to why gamers tend to be more politically active than non-gamers (or at least say they are). It could certainly have something to do with their connection to online communities; video game communities are gathering places for people to discuss on-going issues. Places like NeoGaf’s off-topic forums ignite intellectual debates in their threads, and this creates public awareness for issues people may not typically come across in their daily lives. Whatever the reason for this political engagement, it’s a beautiful thing to see gamers getting politically active. There are issues out there that concern all gamers; A more politically engaged community is one that has a greater voice.

I think Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, says it best in the ESA press release:

What is so striking about this research is how deeply mainstreamed video games have become in our culture…The views of gamers are as diverse as the nation itself, and there can be little doubt now that playing video games is a near universal activity at the very core now of the national experience in the U.S.”

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been saying that for years…Yeah, I’m cool.

Please head over the ESA website and support this type of research. We need more of this stuff, it really does make for a more educated and informed video game community.