Does Spike's VGAs undermine the voice acting profession?

  After reading about the recent Video Game Awards on Spike, I found myself questioning some of the categories presented at the show. The categories in question are “Best Performance by a Human Male” and “Best Performance by a Human Female” and their nominees.

First off, I would like to say that I am thrilled that voice actors are getting more and more recognition. I think it is, to put it lightly, a very unappreciated profession and great performances are often taken for granted. I'm glad that people with an interest in different media are starting to notice the importance of a voice actor's work and that they are taken more and more seriously. This is something I am so passionate about that I have just started my studies in Drama and Theatre with the ambition of doing voice work professionally.

I know you might be asking yourself why I think that the act of celebrating the best voice performance in the year 2010 is wrong. Honestly, I don't. The concept of naming the best in the field is great and might introduce people to this type of performing. The way Spike has gone through with this, however, seems like a step backwards. Instead of actually looking into prominent voice actors and naming them, they seem to have simply chosen known screen actors. Most of the actors nominated don't even play very major characters, which makes me wonder if the categories should in fact have been called “Best supporting performance by a human male/female”.

I do realize that the category is named “Best Performance” and not “Best Voice Actor”, but I strongly feel that actors who do voice for a living should be entitled to be nominated and not just screen actors who occasionally does an 'appearance' as a voice over. I also realize that most performances on the list is actually quite good but, as stated before, it is the fact that almost all of them are famous screen actors.
To illustrate, let's look closer at the nominees:

Best Male Performance

Daniel Craig as James Bond (James Bond 007: Blood Stone)

I haven't played this game, so I can't say if Craig does a good job in it or not. He is, however, bound by contract to participate in games based on the James Bond franchise for as long as he plays the character in the films. If he did the voice for this game because he was forced to or because he was actually interested, I cannot say. Apart from the Bond games though, he hasn't got a single performance in any game attached to his name. There is one animated film from 2006, but that seems to be the only thing he has voiced of his own choice. I somehow doubt that he would have appeared in any games as all if not for the Bond contract.

Gary Oldman as Sgt. Reznov (Call of Duty: Black Ops)

Ah, how I love this actor! He has done a few video games over the years and a few animated films. Despite this, I find him to be out of place in this category. He is more a screen actor that occasionally does an appearance in voice over. I haven't played Black Ops, so I have no idea how big his character is or how his performance sounds.

John Cleese as Jasper (Fable 3)

Cleese has quite a few voice over performances attached to his name. Most of these are animated films, but a voice performance is a voice performance. He is mostly known for his live action films and his time in Monthy Python. Fable 3 is on my 'to play' list, but from my impression so far Cleese plays your butler and stays in your sanctuary when you are adventuring in the world. You can access the sanctuary at any time, and Cleese will be there to inform you of any updates and what you can do next. In other words his voice work is present throughout the game. A decent nominee, but still a big Hollywood name that 'pulls crowds'.

Martin Sheen as The Illusive Man (Mass Effect 2)

Another astonishing screen actor makes the list. Aside from a few narrator voices in live action films, this his his first venture into the world of voice acting. If this was because he was really interested or because Bioware offered him a large sum of money (or both) I won't speculate further into. His performance was definitely a good one and from what I have seen of Behind the Scenes footage, he took his role seriously and did his best. I understand that he was nominated as the character was very interesting, but there are other characters in Mass Effect 2 that I think had more impressive voice overs and might have been nominated if their names were more known.

Nathan Fillion as Sergeant Edward Buck (Halo Reach)

The first guy on the list that I fully approve of being here. He has voiced a few animated shows and films as well as video games (and does a good job of it too). Judging from his interest in the media, I doubt it will be the last that we hear from him. My problem with this nomination, however, is that Buck is such a small character in the game. To nominate him as “Best Supporting” (if that existed)? Yes. Overall best of the year? Not quite. Halo Reach has a lot of personality, and the main characters in the team are very well presented with their voicing. What bothers me is that those main actors who did a great job through the majority of the game were completely overlooked and the minor character with the celebrity voice gets the nomination. Performances that stick by you after you finish the game should be nominated and Buck is sadly not one of those.

Neil Patrick Harris as Peter Parker/Spider-man (Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions)

Another game I haven't played, so I can't talk about his performance in this particular part. Harris has long experience with voice over in animated shows. He has voiced Spider-man in several episodes of the MTV cartoon before so it is only natural that they bring him on board to portray the character again. In the game, you can get to play four different versions of Spidey, and Harris portrays only one of these. The other three are voiced by different voice actors who also have experience in voicing Spidey in different cartoons. I don't know it Harris does a much better job than the other 3 or if he has been chosen because of the mainstream popularity he has earned through his role in How I Met Your Mother.

Rob Wiethoff as John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)

Another actor I fully support making the list. Finding any information on him seems near impossible though. Seems he is just starting out in the acting business. This was his first big role on a short list of 4! I hope we get to hear more from him as a voice over though. Red Dead had solid voice work all the way through and Wiethoff made the character come to life on screen. A wonderful performance in one of the best games of the year was by a 'no name'. Almost like a Cinderella story in voice acting. (Yes, I get carried away...)

Sam Worthington as Alex Mason (Call of Duty: Black Ops)

Worthington's career as moved at rocket speed the last few years. Black Ops is his first ever voice over job (Hm, seems to be a few of those on this list.). The game has a few big names attached to it, so why not hire the latest rising star in action and adventure films. I said earlier that I haven't played this game, so I haven't heard his performance. I did ask someone who had played parts of the game about Worthington's performance. The answer I got was that the voice over was decent but not noteworthy. Giant Bomb also noted that his voice work in the game was monotone and 'flat'. If this is true, why was he nominated for best of the year?

Best Female Performace

Dame Judi Dench as M (James Bond 007: Blood Stone)

This is Daniel Craig all over again. She doesn't have any games attached to her name except for James Bond titles and the only other voiced character I can find is an animated short from 2004. Her performance might be good but I doubt she would ever have appeared in any game if not forced by contract.

Danica Patrick as Herself (Blur)

Best performance as HERSELF? You have got to be kidding me. As a drama student, I know that you can perform as yourself. Performance does not necessarily mean that you act a different character. I still think that this is a bit insulting to the rest of the nominees that have done their best to make their characters come to life for us. Unlike most of the nominees she is not a screen actor but a celebrity race car driver. She has appeared on many late night shows and such as herself and the only acting gig I can find is an appearance in CSI: New York.

Emmanuelle Chriqui as The Numbers Lady (Call of Duty: Black Ops)

Chriqui might not be a very known name but she has appeared in live action films and TV shows since 1995. She is probably mostly known for her role in Entourage, where she played Sloan McQuewick. The only other voice job she has in her resume is the character Aoki in the anime Vampire Princess Miyu from 1997. For the third time, I have not played Black Ops (the game has quite a few famous nominees!) so I don't know how her performance sounds. She might not be the most famous on the list, but a screen actress none the less.

Felicia Day as Veronica Santangelo (Fallout: New Vegas)

Day is best known for her live action appearances, especially her web series The Guild. She has only recently started appearing in video games but has already got a few performances attached to her name. I do support her being on the list as a starting voice actress because I have no doubt that we will hear more from her in the future. She also cares about her voice acting and takes pride in her job. Another reason why I think this nominee is justified is because the character she plays is present at most parts of the game. Veronica is a companion that stays with the main character. She has a well developed background story and personality that you can get to know through interactions with her and completing quests.

Jennifer Hale as Commander Sheppard (Mass Effect 2)

Finally a professional voice actor makes the list! Hale is maybe one of the most prominent female voice actors, especially in gaming. She has been an active voice over since 1994 and has earned a solid fanbase over the years. She is known to play strong women in a lot of her work and Commander Sheppard is the latest of such characters. I know people who choose to play the female Sheppard over the male just to hear Hale's work. Sheppard is the main character in Mass Effect 2 (if you choose to play as a female), but she is not simply one character. Depending on the player's choices, the character can be friendly or aggressive (or something in between) and Hale has recorded the voice work for all of the different approaches you can take. Going from one approach to another in one conversation is also possible, and Hale's excellent performance makes it sound seamless.

Kristen Bell as Lucy Stillman (Assassins Creed: Brotherhood)

Bell is maybe mostly known for her show Veronica Mars and her appearance in Heroes. She has also been the voice over narrator in Gossip Girl and is not a rare face to see in live action films. There hasn't been many voice acting jobs though: the Assassins Creed games and Astro Boy being the only games I can find. In other words: a known screen actress. What bothers me the most about this nomination though, is that her performance wasn't really that great. When she is supposed to sound sad about blaming herself for what happened to another character she simply doesn't convey that emotion well. She is also a minor character in the background. If they are nominating minor characters from this game, why not nominate Shaun? He pulled me in as soon as he started talking, whereas Bell sounds a bit awkward and stiff.

Tricia Helfer as Sarah Kerrigan (Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty)

Helfer is undoubtedly mostly known for her role as Caprica on Battlestar Galactica. She has been in a few video games and I have no doubt that she will appear in more over the years. What really bothers me is the fact that Kerrigan is hardly in game at all! The other characters talk a lot about her and her presence is felt throughout the story mode, but the voice is only heard a few times. I don't understand how this performance is nominated when there is almost no performance to speak of at all.

Yvonne Strahovski as Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect 2)

Mass Effect 2 is Strahovski's first venture into the voice acting profession. After ME2 she has appeared in a Lego adventure game. Not only does she lend her voice to Miranda but the character's features is also based on Strahovski's looks. The character is one of the central characters in ME2 and if you choose to, you can bring her with you as you explore the universe. As a male character she can also turn out to be a romantic interest. Her performance as Miranda is quite good and I look forward to hearing her in future games. I do, however, feel that there are other female performance in game that made a much bigger impression on me than her and, as with Martin Sheen, I think they might have been nominated if their names were more famous. This is just my personal opinion though.

The first question that hits me is “Why?”. Why were these people nominated? There have been so many great performances in games this year. What caused them to go almost exclusively with actors that are mostly known for their on screen performances? Is it because they feel this will make more people interested? If a person that is a huge fan of Sam Worthington heard that he was nominated for an award for his voice work, would they start looking as voice performances differently? Has Spike used big names to try to gain a broader audience for their VGA ceremony? I certainly don't think they have used them to get people to understand how important good voicing is. If anything, they have illustrated that Hollywood names are more important than the quality a professional voice actor can deliver.

What also strikes me is that the games nominated on this list are mostly mainstream titles. It almost seems as if they have made a list of the ten most popular games of 2010 and only chose the most famous names from those. It can sound a bit harsh, but it is the impression I'm left with.

Just of the top of my head I can think of a few big titles with names that deserved to be nominated. Mass Effect 2 already has two characters nominated in the female category, but there are some deserving male performances as well. How about Keythe Farley as Thane? His performance certainly captivated me as he abruptly interrupted his conversations by retelling the vivid memories of his past. Another favourite of mine is Brandon Keener as Garrus. Seth Green as Joker is also a worthy mention (Yes, I know he is a known screen actor as well, but if you take a look at his CV you can see that he mostly makes his living now as a vo for his own stop motion show and in Family Guy).

T.C. Carson as Kratos in God of War 3 is probably one of the most iconic voices of this gaming generation. How is it that he hasn't been nominated? The way he embodies the rage and hate of Kratos is flawless and is one of the reasons why this character has become so popular.

Bioshock is one of the games I have the most fond memories of when it comes to good voice acting. The second game in the series didn't disappoint either. What about nominating Anne Bobby as Tenenbaum? She certainly got to me as I tried to figure out her characters true goals.

Starcraft 2 was nominated for one of it's more supportive characters. What about Robert Clotworthy as Jim Raynor?

Several other big titles were released in 2010. Final Fantasy 13, Alan Wake, Resident Evil 5, Darksiders, Enslaved and Heavy Rain to name a few. Do any of these have noteworthy voice acting that should have been nominated? How do you feel about the nominees this year? What performances would you have liked to see being recognized?

I for one would like to see the day when a popular event such as the Spike VGAs finally see beyond the shiny Hollywood names and discover a world of incredible voice work by people who are truly worthy of recognition.