Another day, another instance of some people critiquing a minor element in a video game, with an aim to improve the overall industry. And of course, even though a developer does the right thing, people are angry that they acknowledged the problem at all. And if you need to know what I’m talking about, just read the responses to Wargroove developer Chucklefish’s apology over the recent voice actor controversy. Not only are there dozens of responses that claim the developer promising to “to continue to support the work of all those pushing for better representation of people of color in the industry,” is unwarranted. There’s even a couple utterances of some blatant white supremacist dog whistles buried in there. In short, you probably shouldn’t read the comments.
Anyway, what am I talking about? Well, Chucklefish, developer of fantasy turn-based tactics game Wargroove, was criticized for casting white voice actors to play three different POC characters within the new Wargroove DLC. In the Double Trouble DLC. Adrian Vaughn, Eileen Montgomery, Vivien Taylor, and Jessica Straus were revealed to be the voices of the new commanders. All of these actors are white, and three of the characters are people of color. Some responded by pointing out the lack of diversity. Which can definitely be a problem, especially at a time when game publishers and developers are hard-pressed to deal with harassment, crunch culture and myriad other issues. And to make it clear that they’re going to work on making things better, the company even explained how they hire VAs.
Voice actor Sean Chiplock summarised the problem with voice acting and representation in video games while discussing something of a different issue. “POC actors get excluded from auditions for ‘white’ roles with concerning frequency, but the same isn’t true for white actors and POC roles,” says Chiplock.
Chucklefish says they tried to prevent this kind of bias by using blind auditions for characters in the DLC. Which could be a good idea, if there had not been the potential for bias in the third-party casting agency the developer worked with. It could be that the agency decided to send their top names in the talent pool first, which usually prioritizes how often people successfully get jobs. This can normally work just fine, but if you don’t select for some VAs that match the race of the character as well, controversies like this can flare up. In short, talent pools for VAs sent to developers should include more diversity. And it sounds like there are some basic refinements to be made for the casting process to prevent this in the future, not a big deal.
“We sincerely apologise for the harm we have caused,” said the developer. “We appreciate everybody who took the time to share their concerns and educate us,” Chucklefish said.
This is not the first time Chucklefish has landed in hot water though, as the company previously was criticized for allegedly abusing the eagerness of volunteer developers to finish some of their games. Chucklefish, the publishing company behind popular retro-esque Starbound, was hit with accusations alleging major abuses of workers. This led to some developers and fans publicly criticizing the company and pushing them away.