DON’T WANNA READ? THEN LISTEN!:
Ever get the feeling that you’re losing power in your industry? I thought about this in light of an incident revolving around one of my favorite video games growing up…”Silent Hill 2,” released in 2001. Sure, it’s a game, but I remember it–and highly recommend it–mostly because of its compelling story. James Sunderland receives a mysterious letter from his wife, Mary, who supposedly died three years prior, telling him that she is waiting for him at their “special place” in the quiet Maine town of Silent Hill. When he arrives, he encounters a woman that he has never met named Maria…who, very unnervingly, resembles his dead wife in appearance and seems to be aware of some of their most private memories. While a tad depressing, it has one of the most complex stories and some of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen. I’m not alone either, as many fans believe that game to be a masterpiece. So much so that, when video game company Konami announced that they would be re-doing all of the voice acting for the HD re-release in 2012, a long and bitter war of words erupted on the internet.
Since I’m a voice actor myself, I don’t want to intensify this war by taking sides or mis-quoting the specifics of a situation that, by the public admission of all parties involved, got to be very messy. However, to be absurdly short and basic, Konami claimed that they could not re-use the audio of the old voice cast due to legal issues. This resulted in a massive four-way battle of words between the original cast, Konami, the fans, and the new cast. It got worse when Konami released a “preview clip” of the new voice acting on YouTube, which only served to make fans of the old cast even more angry. Personally, I think it was more overzealous anger over the behind-the-scenes situation than it was disapproval of the new cast, but that’s besides the point. Angry fingers of blame were being pointed everywhere, to the point where somebody (we’re not sure who) gave in. The old cast ended up signing waivers giving Konami permission to re-use their audio for the 2012 HD re-release. However, the new voice acting had already been recorded, which prompted Konami to include both of the casts. When you begin the game, you are now prompted to choose between “Original Voices” and “New Voices.”
Like I said, I’m not about to take sides, especially since I’ve now heard the performances of both casts, and…quite frankly, think they’re both good! To me, one of cool things about going to see a play with different casts is that you get to see the different artistic choices that the different casts make, so it was interesting to see that concept applied to a video game. Sure, you’ll probably like some choices more than others, but in the case of Silent Hill 2, I can confidently say that both casts made artistic decisions in their acting that–while different–were all valid and completely enjoyable. People like me experienced the ultimate win-win situation being able to select either cast, and we are VERY grateful to Konami for their efforts. I can either hear the good ol’ performances I grew up with, or hear a refreshing new spin on an old classic!
Grateful as I am, though, the question I ask is…did Konami really have to do that?
Some fans saw the inclusion of both casts as a necessity. They saw it as, “this is what we want, so do it!”…and when Konami complied, the fans felt that Konami had done what was necessary. I see it quite differently…from my point of view, Konami was under no obligation to use both casts, and they all but bent over backwards to coordinate everything so that all groups would be satisfied. Despite that, when it was announced that both casts would be available for people to listen to, the expressions of “gratitude” among the fans were relatively minimal. That’s not to say that they were non-existent, but the most common expression heard among the fans was, “okay good, they did their job.” To be honest, I was a little put off by that.
The question that this event raised throughout the voice acting industry was this: to what extent is it a company’s job to do what they feel is right, and to what extent is it a company’s job to please their customers? The internet proved to be a powerful tool for fans influencing a company in this case, rather than the other way around. I’d have to imagine that if this situation had happened before the internet, and most certainly before social media, that Konami would have just re-recorded the dialogue and not even offered an explanation as to why, because they wouldn’t deem a public explanation necessary. However, when Konami and the original cast started to speak online about the situation, where their thoughts and opinions were immediately accessible, fans took notice, and the demanding began in large numbers. Large enough that Konami caved in and gave them what they wanted.
The implications for this are interesting. Granted, this is a unique situation in which the fans had an original cast to compare the new one to…but what if this incident has set a precedent for a business model in which the fans, not the artistic directors and game companies, are in control? What if this means that when companies put out “preview clips” of the voice acting on the internet, and the fans respond negatively, they re-cast the entire production?
I’m not sure I like that prospect. On the one hand, it’s a pretty basic fact that production companies want to please their customers, but on the other hand, I don’t like the idea of their creativity and their business decisions being under the mercy of people who are not doing what the companies do day-in and day-out. Many–not all–but many of the angry fans who complained were people who have never directed voice actors, never cast anything, never made business decisions on a grand scale like Konami has…and yet these are the people who more or less decided the outcome of this ordeal.
To me, this has sent a very powerful message about who’s really in charge nowadays: the consumers. The customers. The fans. I have devoted myself to my business, I do devote myself to my business, and I always will devote myself to my business. However, if there is anything that “Silent Hill 2gate” has taught me–well, okay, not taught, but reminded me–it’s that we only have so much control over our business. That’s not an excuse not to try, but it’s important (in my opinion of course) to be mindful of the fact that there will always be factors beyond our control, and that those factors are growing in power.
P.S.: I didn’t realize until today that this would be published on April 1st, so, for clarification’s sake, NO, this is NOT an April Fool’s joke–this did legitimately happen.
P.S.S.: For fun’s sake, here’s a video showing the intro of the game as it was heard with the original cast, and a video of how it was heard with the new cast. Please note, only the beginning and end of each video feature voices.
ORIGINAL CAST (2001, clip features actors Monica Hogan and Guy Cihi):
NEW CAST (2012, clip features actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker):