Written by Cameron Allan
As a gamer myself, I can say with confidence that voice actors are some of, if not the most, important people in creating an emotionally captivating, memorable and relatedly human gaming experience. Take a second and ask where interactive entertainment would be without the booming, resonating voice of the laconic super soldier Master Chief, or the sweet, high pitched commentary of the red and blue clad Italian plumber, Mario?
When it comes to the talented people who embody the unique flavor behind these legendary voices, you may be hard pressed to recognize their face from a crowd, rhyme off some of their quirky public mannerisms, or see them slandered in the media, but their voices are so pronounced that they’re almost impossible to not recognize.
For these reasons, voice acting in all realms, but especially in gaming, has always fascinated me. As such, I was especially excited to speak with Ellen Dubin, a born and raised Canadian whose acting prowess and richly powerful voice has landed her gigs in some of the most renowned gaming franchises like, the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and the Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: Uprising and most recently, Fallout 4.
From her humble beginnings growing up as a wannabe Italian in the multicultural epicenter of Toronto, Ellen has solidified her standing in the star-studded world of the performing arts through hard work and dedication. Although, she doesn’t miss the freezing cold of Canadian winters, Ellen believes being Canadian has helped her gain a broad amount of acting, and voice acting experience, “Canadians are so used to having to do so many genres of work from commercials, to plays, film, television, narration and tons of voice work. We are ready for almost anything. There isn’t a whole lot of money in one thing here, and so we need to excel in all realms of acting.”
As a proud Canadian, Ellen believes that we should not consider ourselves as the little fish in the big pond. In fact, she acts as a shining example that a presupposition like that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ellen has enjoyed a very multifaceted acting career, finding herself on the nominee list for both the Voice Arts Awards and the Gemini Awards, for her exceptional performances in video games and television series.
Her journey into becoming a gaming thespian involved traversing through multiple steps, “I started off as a dancer where I performed in a lot of musicals and theatre, and then I got into film and television. My commercial agent in LA said I had a really powerful voice and suggested I do voice work. So the first audition I went to was for a little game called Skyrim, and I got the part,” says Dubin.
Through hard work and a spectacular first role as “common woman” in Skyrim, Ellen marked the beginning of her robust career in voice work. She may have played a common woman, but she most certainly isn’t one in reality. She discusses how being a prominent female voice actress illustrates a broader paradigm shift in the way gender diversity presents itself in gaming, “we as women are really starting to gain some head way in the game world. Writers are starting to include powerful female characters, and so there is plenty more opportunity. We’re not completely there yet, but I think I’m in a very good time to be doing video games for women right now.”
With an increase in the female core gaming audience (yes, they play more than just candy crush), women like Ellen act as role models in making way for social change. Even though we may not actively consider it, the conventional image of whom and what a gamer is, is in a constant state of change. Hopefully, we can eventually reach a point where gamers are united solely by our undying passion to play.
However, if fans are looking to turn that fiery passion for gaming into a full time career, it may be slightly less within reach than once thought. As we all know, gaining a career in the video game industry is close to impossible, due to its overly competitive nature. Although there are tons of varying success stories, Ellen believes that her strong presence as an actress allowed for her voice acting talent to emerge, “people keep asking me, how do I become a video game actor? I always say, you have to act first. You can go off and have a deep or mellifluent voice, but in a video game, you have to know how to create a scene, a relationship, or a backstory, and all these things come with acting training.”
With enough perfection of the acting craft, a whole lot of practice, and the willingness to never give up, you too can reach video game voice acting stardom. Who knows, you might even find yourself on the same cast list as Ellen some day!
Whether they’re the soothing voice that guides you through the deepest depths of the rainforest in a wildlife documentary, the excitable commercial voice that entices you to purchase a new revolutionary product or in Ellen’s case, a tour guide on a journey through the intricacies of a game characters life and mind, one thing is for certain. Voice actors are essential players in adding just a little more character to our boring, everyday lives.