Celebrities in Video Games: Yay or Nay?

Keith David as "Keith David?" You don't say?

Some people just have good voices. You’ve heard those people before. Whether they have great range or a certain resonance that makes you want to listen, they just have very distinct, interesting voices. I’ve heard those kinds of voices a lot while I play video games. I can now pick out different voice actors even if they do bit parts on unnamed NPCs.

People with these kinds of voices can appear in all sorts of different mediums, from movies to video games to cartoons. Consider Keith David, who gave me this idea by appearing in Saints Row 4 in the character of Keith David, your running mate. I’ve seen him in movies, television, and several video games; and he voices one of my favorite characters in all of gaming, Admiral Anderson in the Mass Effect series. It’s easy to see why: The man has a great voice!

However, there’s a difference between those sorts of actors and celebrities who show up in video games. The other person who motivated me to write this was Burt Reynolds, who also shows up in the Saints Row series. He’s himself as the mayor of Steelport, the town in both 3 and 4. Try to picture the sort of person who would recognize Burt Reynolds as an actor who plays badasses. Now picture the typical player of a comedic crime sandbox game which came out in 2011. Are you seeing a lot of overlap there? If you are, could you explain it to me?

I think celebrity voice cameos can only work if knowing who they are isn’t part of the joke. It was fine in Saints Row 2 when Neil Patrick Harris voiced a DJ/drug dealer, because knowing it was him was only an added joke. It’s not so fine in 4 when Rowdy Roddy Piper shows up and I’m expected to remember the specific movie they’re referencing.

Addendum: Consider the case of The Legend of Spyro. A reboot to the series featuring my favorite dragon of all time, the main characters are voiced by recognizable names: David Spade, Elijah Wood, and Gary Oldman.

There’s really no putting this gently: The voice acting is bad. At best, it adds nothing to the game, and, at worst, it’s a drag to have to listen to it. Now consider the kind of game they could have made if they didn’t have to spend a lot of money paying for those voices, how much better would the game have been.

Okay, bad example. No way was that game ever going to turn out well.

I'm the daughter of a veteran who spent my childhood in Killeen. As of 2013, I have a degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin. I'm a critic of books, films, television, and video games. Find me on Twitter: @rachel_knows

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