I recently had the opportunity to play through Bastion. A beautiful and engaging game, to be sure, but the method of narration led me to think about the impact of voice acting in games and more specifically its effect on dialogue. One of Bastion’s defining features is the curious lack of dialogue. Instead of lengthy blocks of text or detailed conversations between characters, the game’s narrator, Rucks, becomes the sole vehicle through which the story’s exposition is presented. He not only details the game’s events but he reacts to players’ actions so that it almost felt as if I were participating in a story rather than playing a game. In recent years, voice acting has become an integral part of the gaming experience and I find myself wondering what sort of impact this has had on me as a gamer. A prime example of this is Bioware’s Dragon Age series.
The transition from the first game’s lack of a voice for the main character to the second game’s inclusion of a voice directly impacted my gaming experience. In Dragon Age: Origins, the player character’s dialogue is entirely text based which leaves players to fill in the blanks. The character has no physical voice, as a result players are forced to step into the character’s shoes and provide their own. This allowed me the opportunity to directly respond to the game in an imaginative way. Without a voice of his own, my character depended on me to give him a voice and to flesh out a personality. The resulting experience can be related to the experience of reading a novel. The words are there on the page but it is up to the reader to breathe life into the characters and as a result no one experience is quite the same.
Dragon Age II, on the other hand, provided the player character with a physical voice. I was forced to take a step back and although my dialogue choices still impacted Hawke’s actions there was still a gap between us. Instead of stepping into Hawke’s shoes and breathing life into him as a character, I was merely an outside observer who had the good fortune to steer him in a direction of my choosing. Dragon Age II, then, was a much more cinematic gaming experience. I was a third party watching the story’s events unfold before me. I no longer had to work my imagination to provide the character a voice because Bioware so graciously provided one for me. Was this a negative experience? No, I still found myself invested in the story and the characters in the same way I care about the movies I watch. I just had to do far less work to get to that point.
One of my favorite aspects of Origins was the text-based dialogue, and the game had a lot of it. There was a great variety of dialogue choices that ranged from sarcastic to self-sacrificing, enough that I felt my choices were making a direct impact on the direction of the conversation. The conversations felt more natural and less like I was just asking the same questions over and over again in a slightly different manner. By necessity, Dragon Age II lost much of the subtlety and shades of gray that were available within its predecessor. The addition of a physical voice for Hawke by necessity limited the dialogue choices down to good, bad, neutral. Players would choose a generalized response and then Hawke would pick up the dialogue. As a result the conversations were simpler and faster-paced. It harkens back to my statement that Origins was like reading a novel and DA:II was like watching a movie, the latter was a much faster-paced experience than the former. Or, to put it in another way, Origins was a throwback to the more traditional RPG format like Baldur’s Gate, whereas DA:II was far more interested in advancing the action like the action RPGs that are becoming so popular.
In the end, they both work. My experience with voice acting in games has, on the whole, been a positive one. I look back at the days reading walls and walls of text and sometimes all I can do is cringe. On the other hand, I sometimes sit down to play a game where the majority of the dialogue is done through voice-actors and I feel as if I am not so much playing a game as I am experiencing an interactive movie. So, I put it to the loyal masses here at Lusipurr.com to relate their own experiences.