On October 24th, a couple of hundred members of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) assembled outside of the main Southern California offices of video game giant Electronic Arts, located in Playa Vista.
The SAG-AFTRA action against Electronic Arts is part of concerted union effort in solidarity with video game actors. The demonstration was a display of a classic workers’ strike, complete with picket signs, slogans and t-shirts emblazoned with the cause: residual payments, compensation, and contract negotiation.
This labor dispute involves 11 major video game publishers; Electronic Arts happens to be one of the most visible and thus picket lines formed outside their headquarters office.
According to statements issued by SAG-AFTRA, the strike currently affects about 100 titles in various stages of productions. Some of the most notable include Call of Duty 4 by Activision, American Football 17 by Electronic Arts and Brothers in Arms by up-and-coming studio Formosa Interactive.
Most video game enthusiasts are not familiar with the people behind the voices and digital characters of their favorite titles. These are the actors and actresses who lend professional voices that make video games come alive. Their appearance is often digitized, and their physical presence is often the subject of motion capture (MoCap). The only exceptions to this rule are when Hollywood personalities are involved; for example, actor Ray Liotta famously lent his voice to the main character of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
The striking video game actors have been trying to negotiate a contract with major studios over the last two years. Most of their demands are in line to what screen and stage actors would call for in this situation. An interesting demand calls for an end to the secrecy involving the participation of actors working in a major title; this is one reason why video game enthusiasts never get to know the actors. The actors also complain that their contracts lack the secondary and residual payments that are standard in film and television productions.
The law firm representing the 11 studios affected has issued statements that suggest they are ready to sit down with SAG-AFTRA again. In the meantime, actors and writers are showing solidarity by joining the video game workers at the picket lines.