On Video Games
August 11, 2011 | by Josh Dzieza
On a recent balmy night, in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art, I watch a dozen adults hop excitedly between platters of white, gray, and black arrayed in a circle. They move at a waltzlike pace, stepping, stopping, pointing. This strange spectacle isn’t an art project, exactly, but a game: part of a one-night arcade organized by the magazine Kill Screen for MoMA’s exhibition of interactive objects, “Talk to Me.”
The game is called Starry Heaven, after Kant’s epigram that the two things that fill him with wonder and awe are “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The rules of Starry Heaven, however, are decidedly unfriendly to anyone following the moral law within him. As players move from disc to disc toward the center of the circle, they must conspire with each other to point at another player on an adjacent disk, banishing him. “It requires them to collaborate with their fellow players—and to stab them in the back,” says Eric Zimmerman, who designed the game with Nathalie Pozzi, an architect. “It tells a perverse moral fable.”
Another game, in the museum’s lobby, takes a more laissez-faire approach to pitting players against each other. It has only one rule—to follow the instructions that appear on a screen—but the game’s title, BUTTON, for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now, encourages players to break it. As I walk toward the five-foot-wide screen, it tells the four men standing in front of it that the first one to hit his button ten times will lose. They run, dive, grabbing their bucket-size rubber buttons from the floor—and then they stop, seemingly at a loss. Cautiously they press their own buttons, watching each other: a suicide pact. Then, one of them grabs his neighbor’s button and starts bashing it furiously. People in line cheer as the screen shows his competitor’s animal avatars blasted by lightening bolts. He walks away with his arms raised in triumph. Read More »
August 17, 2010 | by Colin Nissan
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. Read More »