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Arts & Culture

Searching For Me

August 17, 2010 | by

A modern tale of heartbreak and video games.

For years I’ve enjoyed a mildly successful career as a voice actor. Specifically, an advertising announcer, which means I get paid to say things like, “Get into a Saturn for just $299 a month.” I’ve hawked everything from cars and credit cards to hotels and beer, all with a tone that rarely deviates from that of a pilot announcing a plane’s gradual descent over the intercom.

I recently asked my agent if I could try auditioning for video game character voices. I thought it would be fun and maybe even legitimize the fact that I play more video games than a forty-year-old who has been laid probably should.

I went on a few auditions. Regrettably, and I’d like to think, understandably, I failed to convince anyone that I was a Latino mercenary, a Korean soldier, or a homicidal Midwestern drifter. I frantically practiced accents in anticipation of what might come next. My German sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger. My French, like Pepé Le Pew.

Thankfully the next audition turned out to be for neither, but for an old, foul-mouthed lawman in a game set on the American frontier called Red Dead Redemption. My agent called. I got it.

A week later, I went into Rockstar Games in Soho for the recording and screamed two hours of lines as Marshall Leigh Johnson. I threatened, chased, arrested, and killed people. I even died. I didn’t just die, I died with an accent. I was in the freaking zone. After signing my paperwork, I left, sweating, voiceless, and thrilled to bid farewell to my voice-over innocence. A new day had dawned for me and my badass larynx.

A month later, New York City was covered in promotions for the game. Subways, buses, sides of buildings. It was the most highly-anticipated game in years. I couldn’t contain my gravelly chuckle as I walked past posters of myself, or the under-my-breath “hee-ya” when a police horse crossed my path.

I imagined kids rushing toward me at Comic-Con begging me to do the voice.

“Sorry, I can’t,” I’d say. (in the voice)

“It IS you!” They’d scream.

“That’s right,” I’d reply, “Now go on and git!”

I’d sign posters right across the yellowed whiskers of my beard. I’d sign the breasts of the kids’ moms. I’d draw the barrel of a pistol as the “i” of my signature. It would be my thing.

I monitored the game’s Web site for the latest news. With the release two months away they put out a trailer that, to my confusion, didn’t feature my voice when the Marshall spoke. I asked my agent about it, she told me not to worry and that it was typical to use different voices specifically for the trailers.

A month later another trailer came out. Still not my voice. IMDB released credits for the game. I wasn’t listed. My agent maintained her position. They must have used the name of the trailer voice actor by mistake, she said. I no longer shared her optimism, but knew where I needed to go for the answer: the GameStop in Park Slope, May 18th at midnight.

I passed by the store early that day to confirm the pickup time for the big release night. During an extremely short lull while chatting with two whitehead-ravaged clerks, I succumbed to a confusing urge to tell them who I was.

“You’re the Marshall?” they said in disbelief.

“That’s what the badge says.” Dear God, celebrity had already wreaked havoc on me.

Not that I expected a banner when I arrived later that night, but I figured the Marshall deserved a cut in line, maybe a free T-shirt. Instead I stood behind dozens of pasty, callous-thumbed virgins on rare leave from their Hot Pocket-scented catacombs. One of the clerks acknowledged me with a tiny wave from behind the counter, I guess it would be our little secret.

I got home at 1 A.M., put the game in, and set out on a journey to find myself. To find the truth. A quest that was greatly exacerbated by a series of lengthy and compulsory tutorials. How to ride a horse, how to fire a gun, how to lasso a cow.

2 A.M. I rode into dusty towns, Blackwater, Port Elizabeth, Cholla Springs. I exchanged pleasantries with townsfolk. 3 A.M. Still no sign of the Marshall. I entered saloons and general stores, swinging open door after creaky hinged door, searching for one man in a frontier of thousands. 4 A.M. I consulted the giant foldout map that came with the game, which only confirmed the reality that this world was massive and that I had only galloped through a tiny fraction of it. I was exhausted. My horse was exhausted. I literally had to tie her to a hitching post so she could recharge. 5 A.M.

And that’s when I met Bonnie. Beautiful Bonnie MacFarlane. The woman who would utter the words I’d been waiting to hear for months, “You should go see Marshall Johnson over in Armadillo.” If there was a button for it, I would have kissed her right on her parched, frontier lips.

I mounted my horse and rode like the wind, due west with newfound purpose. I was close, the silhouette of Armadillo rose in the distance. I slowed my horse to a trot—the town was quiet, small, worn. The sun blazed in Armadillo and was just moments from rising in Brooklyn.

I hitched my horse and walked toward the local jail. Inside a prisoner lay in a rusty cell, a deputy napped in a chair, and still no sign of the Marshall. So I waited. And waited. Finally, I heard footsteps along the creaky floor behind me, and just like that, there he was. Standing before my very eyes, Marshall Leigh-Motherfucking-Johnson. Strong and weathered with a tarnished, pixelated star on his barrel chest, a little taller, and dare I say, more handsome than I had imagined. I felt actual nausea.

Say something you crusty son of a bitch. Speak!

He did.

“Well what do we have here?” he asked.

The controller went limp in my hands. My heart sunk.

It wasn’t me.

At that moment, something came over me. Something dark. All the months of frustration came rushing through me, I pulled out my gun and stared at him. He stared back at me. “Be careful with that thing,” he said. And with that final confirmation of this stranger’s voice, I pointed at his chest and pulled the trigger.

I needed closure. More importantly, I needed to know if this son of a bitch died better than me. He owed me that.

But it seems our story wasn’t meant to end this way because an unseen force redirected my point-blank bullets to miss him by a mile. I unloaded every bullet I had into him, they all missed. It turns out my character wasn’t allowed to kill him because they were allies in the game and friendly fire was prohibited.

I holstered my empty gun and shut the game off. Not only was I robbed of justice in the real world, but now in the fake one as well.

The game sat on my shelf for weeks, untouched, until one day in one residual gasp of frustration, I Googled myself and the game. Like a mirage on the arid plains I’d come to know so well, I saw a result. My palms began to sweat. I was listed in the credits, not as the Marshall, but amongst literally hundreds of other names as an anonymous member of the game’s “local population.” A frantic look at the printed booklet that came with the game provided confirmation. I was in the game. But how? Where? Who?

There were so many unanswered questions, but I knew in my heart what it was time to do. Saddle up and continue my search. Just my faithful horse and the shred of hope that some cowhand or stagecoach driver might turn around and say howdy in a voice that I recognized. A needle in a haystack? Sure. But that’s okay, on the frontier you ain’t got nothin’ but time.

Colin Nissan writes TV commercials and humor essays for places like McSweeney's. He also records a legitimate voice-over every now and then.

46 COMMENTS

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40 Comments

  1. Mary Lee | August 17, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Please don’t leave us hanging! let us know as soon as you find yourself!!

  2. James Killick | August 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Great and amusing post – trying to hunt yourself down in a virtual world. Hope I haven’t gunned you down by accident.

  3. John | August 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    It’s Armadillo not Amarillo.

  4. Milan Mijatovic | August 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I found this to be a clever little story. I don’t think I’ve ever been as enthralled reading something while at work. Well done!

  5. Nunya Bizness | August 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Coming from Reddit, where we’ve concluded you are a liar and that you can go jump off a damn bridge for calling gamers virginal, pimply losers: http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/d277i/a_voice_actor_tries_to_find_his_character_in_red/

  6. Thessaly La Force | August 17, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you, John, for the correction.

  7. man with no name | August 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    @milan. really? this qualifies as a clever little story? mr. nissan cast insults, all of which were unprovoked, upon the very audience that he did the voice-over for. was this a necessary element for his “clever” little story?

    to aid his overly dramatic tale he simply engrossed in exaggerated claims about the game itself. you would think that he would have done the voice-over for the artistic value it provides to the game, and that he would at least attempt in playing the game longer than a few minutes to get a feel for the fantastic game as a whole. instead, he’s simply looking for his pat on the back.

    if he can’t be truthful about facts on the game, which can be fact-checked in just a few google searches, how are we supposed to believe that rockstar ever intended to use his voice for anything other than a passerby?

    (p.s. amarillo still appears in the text.)

  8. tamat | August 17, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    he is lying! everybody knows you cant visit Blackwater till the end of the game…

    I’m kidding, nice story. :)

  9. irving rutherford | August 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Regardless of the insults to gamers (which seems to be going around a bit more frequently and viscerally than usual lately), this is a well-written, emotionally laden story. Interesting, even.

    But I think it’s probably fairly common for voice actors to be cast for one thing and then utilized for something else instead. I can just imagine them casting the author for the Marshall and then finding someone better, or someone whose voice had greater contrast with other characters in pitch and style… If the author’s voice was used, I’m sure he was paid (he doesn’t state that he wasn’t) and beyond this being an interesting story, why does it matter?

  10. Squeaker | August 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Best of luck, and keep us updated!!

  11. Nunya Bizness | August 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Also, derpity derp derp.

  12. Dogman | August 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Cracking article. Ignore the pasty, callous-thumbed virgins bleating from their Hot Pocket-scented catacombs. I hope you find yourself in the most literal sense!

  13. Wally | August 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    to man with no name:

    Get a grip dude, and get out more. Maybe even get laid, although you sound too pitiful to accomplish that.

    The Internet

  14. Derp Touto | August 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    The Reddit comments has certainly convinced me of one thing: The stereotypical nerd jokes he made are completely true.

  15. StupidIrony | August 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    On behalf of Reddit: we are not a collective, and most of us certainly aren’t as rude as Nunya. Stop talking for all of us, asshat.

  16. Nunya Bizness: Fat | August 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Nunya Bizness doesn’t speak for Reddit, shut up you pasty virgin bitch.

  17. Reddit | August 17, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    HI REDDIT! (you pimply, crust laden supermen)

  18. DIGG | August 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Hai guys, I just wanted to give a shoutout to my bros and bro-ettes at Digg, the greatest place on earth. We may be pimply-faced geeks, but at least we can accept it.

  19. Edh | August 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Nice article. I have more interest in voice actors than a person who knows real actors and non-failures should.

  20. Youtuber | August 17, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Sup youtube

  21. Champ McKlucksky | August 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Audition for the next Bethesda game. God knows they could use the variety in voice actors.

  22. man with no name | August 17, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    it’s really not that clever, and gamer insults aside, the piece takes liberty with the game itself (for no reason!). the timeline and events he discusses about the game make little sense, but everyone seems okay with him looking like a fool. for instance, lassoing a cow? this never takes place in the game, so why make it up? it’s really confusing to me. these weird untruths appear for no reason, because he could’ve have just described the game as it happens, and that would’ve been perfectly okay. it’s just annoying he makes up these weird facts. why would i believe anything else this guy has to say. more than likely, he was supposed to be a mere pedestrian from the start, and he couldn’t hear this because of his internal ego being so loud.

    i have an even bigger problem in that he is more concerned with giving himself a reach around than being proud to even participate in making a game like this. mr. nissan should show some humility is all, which can be done while still writing a clever piece.

    i read an article of the guy who did john marston’s voice, and the guy was much more respectful and humble. oh, but i guess i missed understood mr. nissan’s, as it is oh so clever.

  23. Johnathan Doesforth | August 17, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    You’re voice probably wasn’t good enough, evident by your multiple failures beforehand. Try harder next time.

  24. Johnathan Doesforth | August 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Your* god damn.

  25. oddjob | August 18, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I had a similar experience with a player model I made for the PC version of Jedi Outcast getting put into the Xbox and Gamecube versions of the game. Lucas Arts sent me a copy of the game and I finished the whole thing and unlocked every multiplayer character I could searching for my Bouush(Heh) and ultimately didn’t find it anywhere. They were still nice enough to put my name in the credits though, which is kinda nifty…

  26. On behalf of reddit.com | August 18, 2010 at 2:07 am

    We would like to not associate with this Mr.”Nunya Bizness.”

    Thanks for the article, it was an entertaining read. And I hope you find your voice. :P

  27. Pippin | August 18, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Have to agree with “man with no name” – it’s bizzare that this piece makes so many really blatant errors with regards to how Red Redemption Plays out. I can’t see a reason for it being necessary relative to the story the author wanted to tell, either, which makes the errors seem a touch suspicious.

    You don’t lasso cows. You don’t get to Blackwater until late in the game. You meet Bonnie McFarlane before you do all the tutorial stuff. You don’t need to tie the horse to a post to “recharge” it.

    I’d ask the author why the story came out this way? Some of it could be a mental lapse (cow lassoing), some of it could be not understanding the game (horse recharging), but others don’t make sense, and cumulatively it comes across as problematic.

    So… why?

  28. Anon | August 18, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Either Rockstar recognized the arrogance in your attitude or the worthlessness in your talent. Don’t lose that charming personality or you won’t have much left.

  29. NickName | August 18, 2010 at 6:43 am

    I like how a few people here are more focused on slinging insults around and generally being dickwads rather than seeing what might be problematic about lending creative talent to a company, then being potentially deceived about your role as a contributor.

    I think we all need to step back for a moment to gather ourselves about what this really should mean to us.

    If you’ve got beef with his perceived personal insults at you, that’s one thing entirely. But to miss the entire point of the article just to single out a tiny aspect of it in order to settle a personal vendetta, well I’d say that’s selfish, ignorant, and no better than the scum you claim to rise above.

  30. Ian Cheong | August 18, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Did some kid from reddit just attack your excellent write-up simply because he disagreed with your perspective of gamers? It would seem so. He’s not exactly doing the rest of the site any favors by trying to speak on behalf of it.

    Anyway, you wrote a damn fine article which I damn well enjoyed.

  31. Sean C | August 18, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    “I like how a few people here are more focused on slinging insults around and generally being dickwads rather than seeing what might be problematic about lending creative talent to a company, then being potentially deceived about your role as a contributor.” -NickName

    NickName makes an important point about this circus. I fully agree that this sounds like there might be an important underlying issue regarding voice actors being jerked around by whoever hires them. The problem is that by using such uncalled for insults and trite cliches, Colin has undermined any point he might have been trying to make.

    If he would have left out the unnecessary jabs, we’d be able to focus on what could be an interesting discussion on the plight of voice-over actors. Instead, the majority of the comments are the internet’s finest trolls from reddit/digg/wherever posting lowest common denominator comments and the smug holier-than-thou replies from Paris Review readers. Neither of those things do a damn thing to further a real conversation and just serve to make both groups look like idiots.

    Perhaps Collin’s “all gamers are losers… oh, except for me” is just a bitter response to the letdown of his experience with Rockstar Games. Perhaps it was just an attention grab, which based on the reaction, worked. One thing it does do though is completely overshadow any point or good writing ability Collin might have. I see glimmers of a great storyteller in this article, it’s a shame that he “hogtied” himself by attacking gamers.

  32. Douglas | August 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    “Instead I stood behind dozens of pasty, callous-thumbed virgins on rare leave from their Hot Pocket-scented catacombs.”

    This is 2010. Video games are no longer a niche hobby, enjoyed only by those who are not too busy having sex. Thus, congratulations on insulting the very people who might have cared about your mild personal drama.

  33. Derp Touto | August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I will agree that the article has multiple obnoxious flaws, but it’s funny just seeing people completely overreact to the insults, ignoring the rest of the problems.

  34. man with no name | August 21, 2010 at 4:56 am

    i agree that the insults and jabs take away from the real problems, and i was guilty of that myself. in addition to pointing out the glaring blunders, a little nerd-rage crept in there. so, my bad. :)

    although, another weird thing about the article is why he chose to wait weeks before trying to find out whether his voice was actually used or not. this plays into my guess that this article is a self-“pat on the back” because he obviously was more concerned that he wasn’t a main voice than the fact that his voice recordings were used elsewhere or not at all. it just seems odd that any time he references the game there’s an inaccuracy, there’s an inappropriate and unneeded reference to his getting laid versus video game playing ratio, the low-blows towards gamers (i like satire, but this wasn’t satire), and then he really doesn’t seem concerned about rockstar’s use or misuse of his voice recordings. in the end, how are we supposed to believe he was ever told he was going to be the marshal if he can’t be truthful on mundane and easily checked facts? i don’t see any commentary on the game industry’s misuse of voice actors; rather i see a misguided attempt at self-promoting. why would this be misuse anyway? it’s their game, product, and art, so they are free to pick and choose as they please.

    why do i care? it’s just plain annoying such blatant errors, false claims, and sophomoric insults were made in a supposedly professional humor essay, but yet people came in glowing over this piece.

    p.s.: the run-ons and fragments in the article aren’t something i’d expect in a professionally submitted piece.

  35. The Jackel | August 23, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Colin, I know the feeling. I was a voice actor in Red Steel 2. However, as much as I would have liked to play the game and get a bit of ego boost by hearing my work, I don’t own a Wii and had to content myself with watching on-line trailers and walk-throughs and listening carefully. It was certainly nice to hear my voice as the first voice in the game, even if I wasn’t a major character.

    Doing voices for games is tiring but fun and much more satisfying than commercials, Internet video narrations, and e-learning modules. And that was the heart of the article… not game reviewing, game walk-through, or game criticism, as some commentators seem to think.

    Congratulations, and I hope more of these great opportunities come along to spice up the voice acting side of your career.

  36. RotBot | August 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    This reminds me of what happened to Yvette Nicole Brown, who currently plays Shirley on Community. She blogged about voicing Moya in the game Infamous, but the part was later recast without her knowledge.

    I don’t think she bothered to play the game to find out, as she tweeted about her part after the game’s release in response to another actor’s audition for the yet unannounced Infamous 2.

    Of course, lazy videogame journalists writing about the Infamous 2 story didn’t bother to fact-check and listed her scrapped credit.

  37. Markybugs | August 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    F–king hilarious piece. Love it! You’ll always be Marshall Johnson to me!

  38. Grover | August 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Yes, congratulations everyone coming here to complain about one tiny, throwaway joke that was meant to be self-depricating. You’ve just proven that, if anything, you deserve to be mocked.

    Great read, thanks for posting.

  39. MaTr3o | September 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Nice writting, this is a great article, too bad it’s true.

  40. Bobbi | September 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Oh Man – Great article!! Great reading! It’s certainly making the rounds on the VO groups and boards – And yes – those sessions are tough – 2-3 hours of a workout – you definitely don’t need to go to a gym after that!!
    I recently voiced a character in the upcoming World of Warcraft – Cataclysm – And now I’m scared – I hope I don’t get cut out!! – i really really feel for you!! – But congrats anyway!!

6 Pingbacks

  1. […] Searching For Me For years I’ve enjoyed a mildly successful career as a voice actor. Specifically, an advertising announcer, which means I get paid to say things like, “Get into a Saturn for just $299 a month.” I’ve hawked everything from cars and credit cards to hotels and beer, all with a tone that rarely deviates from that of a pilot announcing a plane’s gradual descent over the intercom. […]

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