Diverse Representation in Audio for Games

How inclusive writing, hiring and translating improves story and character development

Games creators increasingly want their storylines and characters to reflect societal diversity in a way that is both inclusive and authentic. This is partly due to a sense of social responsibility and values. But even putting that aside, insensitive character creation can be a risk to the success and reputation of a game. Lionbridge Gaming is proud to support initiatives that center diverse voices and stories. In fact, we have been shaking up our processes to do just that. 

Meeting New Studio Needs  

The global market is growing into new territories and Lionbridge Games continues to increase its studio footprint. Alongside new studios, a need is emerging to voice characters with native speakers from locations where no studio or local history of video game voice production exists.   

We recently recorded several talents for original version audio in a language that we first had to (ahem…) Google. To preserve authenticity, we went to record where the native-speaking talent lived. Outreach studio networks, remote studio-to-studio recording and even record from home solutions are important technologies to represent communities and cultures that have previously been underrepresented in games production.  

New Voice Talents Increase Diversity

Local pools of experienced games voice talents tend to reflect the work that has historically been available. Not surprisingly, these pools often display a profound lack of diversity.  

Recently, Lionbridge recorded non-binary and transgender voices in multiple languages. We agreed with the customers that to represent the LGBTQ+ community authentically, the roles needed to be voiced by members of the relevant group. 

To reach historically excluded voice talents, we needed to broaden our recruitment approach. So, we built relationships with minority communities and the organizations that represent them and adapted our processes to support the emerging talents as they gain experience.   

As none of our talents had yet self-identified as LGBTQ+ to us, our local casting teams reached out through personal connections or local groups, and they approached non-binary and transgender talents doing semi-professional work to assess their interest. Our voice coaches worked with the selected talents to help them understand the highly specialized techniques for games recording.  

We also had some learning to do. Directors and recording teams were prepped to ensure that they understood the artistic objectives, and that they were ready to manage the talent sensitively.  Audio engineers adjusted to working with vocal frequencies that fall outside of binary gender norms. It was a collective effort that will be refined and repeated as we build talent pools and recording teams to meet the growing demand for voice talent diversity.  

Appropriate Language  

Inclusiveness in games audio starts before a word has been spoken or recorded.  Scripts and sometimes the language itself are under scrutiny. Automated checks can capture offensive terminology, but only culturally sensitive writers, translators, reviewers and recording teams can ensure that the language used is truly inclusive.  

Lionbridge trains its teams to achieve this goal and teaches them techniques such as writing for gender neutrality and managing non-binary pronouns in target languages. Our audio teams are already familiar with managing multiple gender options for games that allow players to choose their character’s gender, and our recording technology is gearing up to better support multiple gender variants and non-normative gender.  

Is the Effort Worth It? 

In short, yes!

Meeting the challenges of inclusivity, diversity and authenticity in audio requires the participation of every team member during the whole production process. We are passing through a transition period where inclusiveness means active recruitment to override historical exclusion.   

Talents selected to voice these roles may feel pressure to represent their community while simultaneously enjoying a role and/or story that resonates strongly for them.  Even more than usual, a team effort is needed to ensure the environment and processes help the talent perform.  

It means more work, more process and the possibility that a newly minted voice talent may not deliver the performance of a Hollywood dubbing pro.    

But those risks and challenges are easily outweighed by the response from communities that saw and heard themselves authentically represented in video games.   

Lionbridge will continue to support this rich diversity of untapped talent. They have much to offer that we need. 

Lionbridge Games provides Culturalization, Geopolitical Review and Narrative Design services to help ensure customers’ games can cross linguistic and cultural borders with the intended impact. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your games.

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Nicolas Underwood and Simona Pelli with April M. Crehan