Creating Expectations for Voices

Today, we talked a lot about the creation of fictional characters and their identities through voice and speech. What I distilled from everyone’s comments was that a character is instantiated through their voice in three steps:

  1. First comes the player’s expectation of how their voice will sound and which speech patterns they will employ. This step is probably the most important because people’s expectations largely influence both what they create and what they perceive.
  2. Next comes the reality of what that character’s voice actually sound like. A fictional character’s voice is created through a series of processes meant to make that voice mean something to the listener. By definition, writers and voice actors rely on “standard” conceptions of what certain forms of speech mean to drive aspects of a character’s identity. For example, if a writer wants a character to seem shy, they will make the voice actor speak softly.
  3. Finally, the player’s perception of a voice is the combination of their previous expectations with what they actually heard. What matched with what you expected? What didn’t? This new perception will slightly alter the player’s general thoughts on voice and speech, influencing their future expectations. Even though I grew up around Portuguese and Cuban accents, I nonetheless expect Latino characters to sound Mexican because that’s almost always what they sound like in popular media, regardless of whether the character is actually Mexican or Chilean or Puerto Rican.

Thinking about vocal identity in this way shows how reliant we are on our previous knowledge and expectations of how voice is related to physical appearance, personality traits, nationality, intelligence, and so on. This invariably brings me back to an old question we discussed in class, who owns knowledge? What is the common consciousness? What information is allowed to be “common knowledge”?

We identified that, in terms of voice and speech, much of our expectations of what characters will sound like come from media itself. So then, when is voice acting disruptive? When does a character’s voice make or break a player’s immersion?

0 thoughts on “Creating Expectations for Voices

  1. The character’s voice breaks a player’s immersion when he or she realizes that the voice is somehow problematic, which could happen if it were the voice were a negative stereotype of the character’s ethnicity or class, or the accent does not match up with the character’s race. For example, if a Chilean character has a Mexican accent, this generates an inherently unrealistic character. In a 2014 column, “Jeopardy!” winner Arthur Chu explored the dilemmas that Chinese voice actors often face when assigned a Chinese-American character, because although these accents are not “blatantly offensive,” they usually cause actors discomfort because they feel pressured to imitate their own parents’ accents:

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