Last month David White, national executive director of the SAG-AFTRA actors' guild, published an open letter to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) requesting a meeting on -- and investigation into -- the video game voice acting industry.
The letter is fueled by reports of vocal stress from an unknown number of SAG-AFTRA members, reports which the union sought in a February request for details of such incidents that had occurred "while voice acting in video games due to employers pushing too hard or not providing adequate safety measures."
In his letter to the California state regulator for workplace safety, White says that the volume of reports from members who have claimed to suffer short- or long-term vocal chord damage from video game voice acting gigs is increasing, and that many actors are unable to adequately defend themselves because they fear being dropped from a project.
"For up to four hours, actors are asked to perform not just voices, but noises, death screams, creature voices, combat yelling and other sounds, with so much force and explosive vibration, that they are causing internal damage to their vocal cords," writes White, adding that some medical professionals have noted vocal stress from video game voice acting can lead to injuries that require surgery and vocal therapy.
"That strain is preventable, as employers often know the vocal content and the extent of the vocal stress prior to a session," continues White. "Still, they often deny this information to the actor. Members have also reported that employers will continue to push actors in a vocally stressful session, even though there are audible signs of vocal distress. In fact, we have had reports from members that some employers are offering special numbing candies so that the actors can power through the session without feeling the damage they are doing to their vocal chords."
The SAG-AFTRA exec goes on to request Cal/OSHA open an investigation into the workplace conditions of video game voice acting, and makes the concrete request that "vocally stressful sessions" see reduced duration -- without any cuts in compensation.
Late last year the union got very close to -- but has yet to actually go for -- a full-on strike over its negotations with the video game industry, which include a limit on "vocally stressful" recording sessions and "stunt pay" for its members.