The player

 

Is Stephen Merchant’s the first West Country English accent to star in a videogame? JOE GRIFFINlistens closely

PORTAL 2HAS been the subject of some rave reviews, but one innovation seems to have escaped critics: the villain’s voice is American and one of the sympathetic voices is English. This is very rare.

As in mainstream movies, if an American voice is the hero of a game, the villain’s accent is frequently English. The reasons for this seem traditional: the English accent has long been associated with stuffiness, education and superiority. Despite the proliferation of reality TV that shows more class diversity among the Brits, many games developers are still peddling the old stereotypes.

Take Killzone 3, which is set on a colonised planet, so the evil Helghast should theoretically have a similar accent to the Earthlings they’re at war with. But no: the heroes are all-American, and their enemies are voiced by the likes of Patrick Stewart (whose character resembles Lenin) and villain-for-hire Malcolm McDowell.

Perhaps by necessity, the fantasy and role-playing genres are stuffed with European voices, which makes sense because they’re set in times that pre-date Australia and America. Also, if it’s down to English or subtitled Elvish, I know which I’d prefer.

Rules, however, are made to be broken. In the ancient epic God of War III, the accents are not uniformly British. Hercules, indeed, is voiced by American actor Kevin Sorbo (reprising his TV role).

Varied accents add colour to a game, but they bring their own set of problems. When introducing a foreign character, there’s an implicit responsibility to portray them fairly. It’s not a huge deal in the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, which revels in political incorrectness, but games such as Resident Evil 5are more problematic. The latter shows South Africans in a patronising light at best.

The Scots seem to be well-represented, with Kevin McKidd’s Captain “Soap” MacTavish in the Call of Dutyseries providing the gruff but loveable voice of a soldier. McKidd told the New York Postthat the makers were looking for a “rough, Scottish actor in Hollywood. They probably couldn’t get Gerard Butler, so they got the No 2 Gerard Butler . . . me!”

How do the Irish fare? Well and bad: the star of the WWII adventure The Saboteuris a heroic Irishman but, sadly, his accent is ropey. In Red Dead Redemption, one character is voiced with a pretty convincing Irish brogue. Still, it would have been nice if that character wasn’t a conniving drunk.

theplayer@irishtimes.com