Video game actors vote to authorize strike

Video Game Industry Safety Protocols for Performers

It’s not difficult for most people to crawl on all fours, according to Zeke Alton, a well-known voice actor and motion capture artist in the gaming industry. However, Alton emphasizes that doing so for four continuous hours is an Olympic-level feat. Unlike the safety measures implemented in Hollywood, the video game industry has fallen behind in ensuring performer safety.

The Lack of Safety Measures for Video Game Performers

Alton explains that video game performances do not involve the same level of wardrobe changes, lighting adjustments, or set preparations as seen in TV stunts. Instead, video game performers are expected to repeat physically demanding actions, such as falling and diving through a table, for eight-hour stretches without breaks or proper coordination.

SAG-AFTRA Negotiations for Safety and Fairness

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) represents video game performers and is currently in negotiations for a new contract. The negotiations aim to address concerns regarding wage increases, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in games, and the implementation of basic safety precautions, including breaks and the presence of stunt coordinators on set. These safety measures are not always provided for video game performers.

The Strike Authorization for Fair Treatment

Video game voice actors affiliated with SAG-AFTRA have expressed their readiness to strike if necessary. The union leadership has requested a strike authorization vote from its members as a means to demonstrate the seriousness of their demands for a fair contract. It is important to note that a “yes” vote does not guarantee a strike will occur, but it sends a clear message to the 10 video game companies involved in bargaining.

Escalation of Negotiations

Negotiating chair Sarah Elmaleh, known for her work in games such as Gone Home, Hi-Fi Rush, and Gears 5, explains that this escalation is intended to motivate the companies to engage in the negotiating process more actively. The goal is to achieve a fair deal that benefits all video game performers.

Objectives and Voting Results

The union seeks to secure fair minimum contracts for the approximately 2,600 performers who work under the Interactive Media Agreement each year. The strike authorization vote was made available to all active SAG-AFTRA members, as their participation in the video game industry could be affected by the outcome of the negotiations. Out of the 34,687 members who voted (27.47% of eligible members), a majority expressed their support for the strike authorization.

Continued Negotiations

The negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the 10 video game companies, including Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Epic Games, will resume this week. While some tentative agreements have already been reached on more than half of the Interactive Media Agreement contract proposals, several issues remain unresolved, according to SAG-AFTRA.

The Importance of Performers in Video Games

Video games rely on actors to bring characters to life through their voices and performances. Zeke Alton, a member of the bargaining committee, emphasizes that these performances are often licensed as work for hire, generating revenue for the companies. The issue arises when artificial intelligence is used to create new performances without involving the original actors, potentially threatening their livelihoods and autonomy. While SAG-AFTRA is not advocating for a complete restriction on AI, they are seeking protections to ensure that actors are included in the process.

Demand for Consent, Transparency, and Compensation

Alton highlights three key demands: consent for the use of actors’ performances, transparency regarding how AI is utilized, and fair compensation for such use. These demands aim to protect performers and ensure their rights are respected, not only in the video game industry but in the broader labor force as well.

Safety Measures and Professional Direction

SAG-AFTRA’s Interactive Media bargaining unit is also seeking to implement standard safety measures prevalent in Hollywood, such as five-minute breaks per hour. Additionally, the union aims to address the lack of professional directors overseeing actor performances in video games. Alton explains that actors often receive direction from animators, coders, or writers who may not fully understand the physical limitations involved in certain actions.

Health Issues Faced by Performers

Elmaleh sheds light on the health risks faced by video game performers, including bloody fingers and repetitive stress injuries. These injuries often result from performing physically demanding actions repeatedly, such as lifting realistically weighted props for extended periods.

The Future of Negotiations

The ongoing negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and video game companies are slated to continue until Thursday. The possibility of a strike remains uncertain, but the strike authorization serves as a tool to emphasize the determination of union members. Alton urges individuals to pay attention to this situation, as its outcome could impact workers in various industries and serve as a reminder of the importance of unions in protecting workers’ rights.

Elmaleh concludes by stating that companies will closely observe the developments in these negotiations. The solidarity and support shown by workers and consumers have a significant influence on the outcome and future treatment of individuals in the video game industry.