I Love Bad Voice Acting In MMORPGs


I love bad voice acting in MMORPGs. When I talk to an NPC and he greets me like a sophomore stoner my ears perk up. There’s something magical about an unqualified actor making their video game debut. And MMORPGs are the one sphere of entertainment where I want bad voice acting to shine. Like watching a trainwreck B movie, I can’t help but grin with delight. If a village is brimming with NPCs reading lines off a legal pad I know I’m in for a treat. Two recent games, released months apart, had some great bad dubs. And I’ll never forget them.

I must have early onset dementia or visited Colorado too many times because I can’t remember the last game with good voice acting. Or, maybe it’s because competent voice acting blends into the background of an MMORPG’s world and rarely warrants a compliment. How many conversations start with, “Isn’t the voice acting in this game fantastic!” Instead, Discord bs-ing begins with,“Can you believe how much money they spent on voice actors? Can you believe they hired Gary Oldman and Mark Hamill?” Boy, if it wasn’t for those two my ability to feel immersed in Star Citizen’s riveting story would be in jeopardy.

When there’s a flashy narrative sequence with some sonorous vocal chords flapping, “Black spirits are ravaging the Eastern villages and decimating the landscape, unlocking the unstoppable evil of Beelzebub!” all I can think is the developers should’ve got someone in the office to read the lines. You don’t have to have a voice for NPR to recite dialogue. I’m going to go ahead and infer (scientifically) that there’s one developer whose voice doesn’t sound like screeching tires careening into an orphanage. Somebody must be acceptable. (Or is god dead?) Otherwise, throw in some text. It’s okay. I’ll forgive you.

Don’t even use actors. Just use text. I can read, and the kids who don’t like to read don’t deserve top talent actors. (Yea, they aren’t reading this article.) In fact, developers help out illiterate kids by forcing them to read in the only environment they care to pay attention. Imagine a world where literacy is increased because Blade and Soul didn’t bother hiring an old man at Starbucks to voice Hongmoon sensei Hong Sokyun. Do I smell a President’s Education Award? But alright, if you must have voice acting to motivate my viscera, just hire grandma to play wise-old-woman-number-two. I love to hear Agnes pronounce words with more than three syllables.

Why bother dishing out big bucks for star talent when awful voice acting is a delight? I normally don't pay attention to what NPC’s are saying. When I talk to the disheveled peasant I’m clicking that Next button like a Pavlovian experiment. All I care about is swinging my sword in Freudian fashion. Just because a sultry radio voice is explaining the finer points of blacksmithing, or how the imps are bad for business, doesn’t mean I care. That overpriced voice is a waste of money, and a minimum wage voice is an indicator that the development team has their priorities in order.

Bad voice acting is a great sign for a game. It means the developers didn't throw money at Morgan Freeman to recite lines about fantasy worlds he doesn’t understand, nor cares to. Instead they pulled some unsuspecting kid into a ramshackle studio, gave him a lollipop and $20 to say “Greetings travelers, you look like an adventurer.” And while the voice actor is off buying smack with his temporary wealth the developers can spend cash on environments, mechanics, classes, etc. They can throw money where it needs to be, and skip limiting bag space to annoy players into resentful microtransactions. Keep in mind, no MMORPG is selling itself on great acting alone.

This isn’t Final Fantasy. It’s MMORPGs. Give the people looking for a breakout career a chance. And if you’re worried about minimum wage actors reciting poor lines then give some more money to the writer to create acceptable dialogue (bias all the way). Or give him less money to make the dialogue worse. The only loss is an in-between, where dialogue is the sound of two styrofoam hands clapping. Voice acting either has to be amazing or amazingly awful to warrant any attention. And considering the enormous budgets for MMORPGs, make it awful.

In a genre where narrative often takes a backseat to systems and mechanics I don’t want to see top talent bathing in budget money to push story forward. And I hope I’m not projecting the wrong idea. Bad voice-acting isn’t music to my ears, more like a YouTube video of someone bombing stand-up comedy, condensed into an awkward soundbite. If you can’t make me cry, make me laugh.

Keep hiring bad voice actors and I’ll keep playing MMORPGs with delight, giddily looking forward to the next NPC that makes my ears bleed.

From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.