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Disabled voice actors in the Gaming industry

Mathila in Warframe

In the world of gaming we are rarely introduced to the humans behind the pixels, which is why most of us wouldn’t be aware there are a number of disabled voiceovers coming out of our console speakers.

A number of disabled people working in the games industry took time off from behind the microphone to speak to WIRED - and it probably won’t come as any surprise that none of them have a speech impediment!

Sara Secora is a voice actress, voice-over director and a casting director. She’s the voice behind Mathila in Warframe [pictured above], Dunyarzad in Geshin Impact and Esther Winchester in Cuphead.

“I have an invisible disability—which makes it almost harder sometimes because people invalidate that—but my disabilities are agoraphobia and panic disorder,” Secora explained. 

“Being in the Detroit area, when all the hubs of the world for voice-over are in New York, LA, even Texas, I’m so far from it. And before the pandemic, everyone said you just had to live in those locations to do this job. I can’t. I can’t even travel there.”

Secora’s conditions started around 20 years ago, being in crowded spaces could trigger attacks. So it was a blessing in disguise when lockdown kicked in.

When employees were forced to work from home it made such environments more accessible for people like Secora, who now works for an AAA [Triple A] studio, an informal classification used to categorise video games produced and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher.

“Before the pandemic, AAA studios weren’t as interested in working with me because they were like ‘Why won’t you come here? We need you here,’” she recalls.

“When the pandemic happened, that started to go away for a period of time.” She says some studios are now reverting to that mindset. “It’s really disheartening because there is nothing I can do. Without accessibility, I worry this is going to go back to the old ways where everybody must be physically there, in which case I just won’t work again.”

Christina Assaf-Costello voice over credits include Genshin Impact, Path to Nowhere and Bang Bang.

Living with congenital pulmonary lymphangiectasia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and endometriosis it’s crucial Assaf-Costello is never far from a medical team, when businesses moved to remote working - it was perfect for her.

“I tell people that I’m basically doing this on ‘hard mode,’ in all honesty,” Assaf-Costello told WIRED. 

“I originally pursued on-camera work, and it was so hard on my body I couldn’t keep up. Eventually, when the pandemic hit, it opened voice-over to remote, which allowed me to get my foot in the door. For myself, my medical team is in Boston, so I’m unable to move to a big hub right now. The position I’m in is basically hoping that companies are willing to do remote for me or travelling as jobs need me to.”  

We have heard how TV and film productions are gradually moving forward hiring disabled talent, Assaf-Costello believes it's about time the game industry starts to follow suit.

“While Hollywood actors are trained actors, some of them don’t have experience in voice-over,” she highlighted. 

“This is something specialized, and we’ve all spent a long time perfecting our craft. For accessibility purposes, often those of us who are disabled aren’t getting these big opportunities from Hollywood, so it feels like if they stick with casting who they know, we won’t have a turn, so to speak. I think there just needs to be a balance of new and well-known, in my opinion, so that everyone is getting these opportunities and the playing field is levelled.”

Isabella “Izzy” Tugman’s CV is quite eye-catching - artist, singer, film producer, voice-over artist, it’s no wonder AAA studios snapped her up for mobile games such as GnollHack and Marvel Snap.

“When I was really sick several years ago, I had to take a lot of naps and struggled to get through more than a couple hours of being up and about,” Tugman told the publication. 

“Taking care of your health when you have a condition is like managing an additional full-time job on top of all of life’s other responsibilities. It’s expensive, stressful, painful, exhausting, and time-consuming. Remote work is a huge advantage for voice actors with disabilities. It allows us the resources, comfort, and flexibility we need to do our best work. In this day and age, we can have top-notch recording studios at home with no real need to come into a studio.”

She realises it’s a competitive market in the gaming industry, but thankful services are out there to support people like herself.

“I’m happy to say there is a disabled voice actors database for casting directors to pull from,” she told the publication. 

“It meant a lot to me that I was recently sent an audition for an audiobook where the protagonist was a little girl struggling with chronic illness. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a young teen, and I would have felt more seen and understood to have a book like that back then. I was honoured to know that the casting directors recognized that I could bring my own personal experience to the telling of that story. The power of storytelling is what I’m most passionate about in life, and it’s an incredible tool to help us as humans connect and empathize with each other and hear from voices that have often been silenced.”

The gaming industry is becoming more accessible, disabled people are being employed by AAA studios, even though there is still a long way to go, it’s not game over.

[ Minecraft is the most popular video game which sales north of 238,000,000 ]

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