#Voices4Devs: Voice Actors Give Online Support for Game Unionization

As more people working in video games try to form their own union, they’ve recently gotten another burst of online support. Apparently starting on April 2, voice actors united under the #Voices4Devs hashtag on Twitter to call attention to the developers they work with on games.

A wide variety of voice actors from AAA titles and indies have joined in:

Game Workers Unite, a key organization dedicated to the unionization movement, and others in the game development community have responded positively to the show of online support from voice actors:

SAG-AFTRA, whom Game Workers Unite appropriately mentioned as an influence, is the acting community’s union.

SAG-AFTRA is also a member of AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in America, and who shared a public statement with Kotaku that expressed support for game developers and their efforts to unionize in February.

Seeing voice actors give online support for game unionization might remind people of another time they took an even more active stand in the game industry. According to NPR, voice actors under SAG-AFTRA—including the prolific Jennifer Hale, whose roles include Mass Effect‘s female Commander Shepard—refused to work with many AAA game companies, going on a strike that started in 2016 and ended in 2017.

SAG-AFTRA isn’t the only union representing workers in a creative field. There is the Graphic Artists Guild and the Directors Guild of America. IATSE represents people working in a variety of creative disciplines, such as:

  • The Animation Guild (TAG, IATSE Local 839)
  • Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild (MUAHS, IATSE Local 706)
  • Art Directors Guild (ADG, IATSE Local 800)

There’s many more both within and outside of IATSE across the world.

The video game industry is another creative field just like them. From SAG-AFTRA to IATSE, they show that the unionization of creative industries is completely viable.

Last month at GDC, representatives from unions in other creative fields even participated in a session focused on giving more information about unionization. Speakers included SAG-AFTRA labor organizer Linda Dao, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler, and Justin Molito, the director of organizing at Writers Guild of America, East.

Shuler was the one who wrote the AFL-CIO’s public statement of support for game developers. In a follow-up interview with Polygon after Kotaku published her message, Shuler reflected on unionizing across multiple creative industries.

“It’s pretty incredible that games’ voice actors have union contracts through SAG-AFTRA, yet the folks building those games don’t enjoy the same protections,” Shuler said. “There’s a strong history of unionism in the entertainment industry, and it’s about time the fastest-growing part of that industry gains the rights and dignities that come with a union card.”

Steve Kaplan, an international representative of IATSE, told Polygon that the similarities the video game industry shares with other creative fields runs even deeper.

“We’ve had to tackle exactly the same workplace issues that I see the games industry having,” Kaplan said. “There’s a ton of crunch. There’s a lot of work time spent on days past 15 or 16 hours. This is something we continue to struggle with in the development of motion picture and episodic television. It’s all the same thing.”

Katie Watson, the national voiceover director for SAG-AFTRA in America, also spoke with Polygon, expanding even more on this common ground.

“Whether it’s movies, TV or games—these are all industries based on creativity and passion,” Watson said. “And as much as that is a fulfilling personal experience for everyone involved, those kind of industries are often also subject to worker exploitation.”

There are unions outside creative industries too, such as the American Postal Workers Union. According to one post on Twitter, industries traditionally considered “non-creative” have provided more benefits to former game developers:

The movement for game unionization made significant progress last year when Game Workers Unite UK was recognized as a union after it became a branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. And now this recent show of support from voice actors may add even more momentum to unionization efforts in the game industry.

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Alyssa Wejebe writes about games, reads about games, and plays them too. RPG, hack-and-slash, and fighting games are some of her favorite genres. She loves nonhuman characters. One of her earliest gaming memories center around battling her grandmother and younger brothers in “Super Bomberman 2” on the SNES.


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