Most of the time, video game developers hire voice actors to provide the voice over work for their games. If you listen to podcasts or interviews with voice actors, they’re swear up and down that voice acting is a whole other beast form on-camera acting. It’s a different kind of skill, and one doesn’t always translate well to the other. Despite that, sometimes games will stunt cast a famous actor in a role or two and advertise that as an extra way to get the game some publicity. Example: Peter Dinklage in Destiny. Generally, this results in a lacking performance due to the actor being out of their element, and the game being poked fun at in retrospective. See recent David Cage games for examples. One video game “auteur” has previously dabbled in stunt casting, and is presently diving right in. That person is Hideo Kojima, and I’m referring to Death Stranding.
We still don’t know much about Death Stranding. Essentially, we know Kojima is director on the project, it’s being extravagantly bankrolled by Sony, and a whole bunch of Hollywood personalities are both playing voice roles and providing their likenesses to those characters. Otherwise it’s been a bunch of wacky trailers, scant gameplay footage, and people going batty because of the monumental pedestal Hideo Kojima stands on in the gaming industry and community.
It’s clear to me the focus right now, the primary selling strategy for this game, is the “Kojima-ness” of it, and the cast. This includes Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Lindsay Wagner, and of course Guillermo del Toro. Reedus and del Toro in particular are getting a lot of attention, due to the Silent Hills saga, in which Kojima had a very public falling out with Konami in the midst of collaborating with the two on a new horror game. That attention added to the mystique of Death Stranding and combined with all the pictures out there of Kojima hanging out with the cast, it feels weird and like a part of the marketing too.
I’m not the only one who has noticed how weird this whole thing is. In an interview with the Telegraph, Kojima was asked about the motivations behind the game’s high-profile casting. He was asked if it was an effort to “legitimize” the game, which is a concern after David Cage’s reputation has put a real funk on the concept of stunt casting in games. (That's bad). Kojima said it wasn’t, but did have an interesting response all the same.
To his credit, Kojima said something that made me think. He said that in the past, characters in video games were just created, equating the process to anime. Then, he talked about how as technology has progressed, games have been lacking in organic elements. He said having these actors featured in the game helps to achieve a “chemical reaction.” Reading between the lines, I think he’s talking about “uncanny valley” problems that come from games that just sort of create human-looking characters, and that the intensive mo-capping and likeness work in games (also seen in stuff like The Last of Us) go the extra mile to help close that gap and engage audiences in games’ storytelling.
I’m down with that; it makes sense. There’s nothing like serious storytelling bogged down by technological limitations. It’s fine in games that don’t really strive for realism (hence Kojima’s anime comparison), but when you’re working with cutting-edge technology and pseudo-realistic visuals, it could very well help boost the game in that organic way to use and leverage familiar faces. To add to this, the marketing people probably also don’t have much of a choice but to focus on the cast and the Kojima factor, since nobody knows what the heck the game is or what it’s about yet, even after multiple conference appearances.