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Ashly Burch on voice acting, LGBT characters and how video games are becoming more diverse

My friends and I have a small game that we play whenever there’s a female LGBT character involved in anything we watch or play together. It’s called ‘is that Ashly Burch?’ and has often led us to wonder if there is perhaps some sort of conspiracy theory where Burch is magnetically pulled towards LGBT characters within mainstream media.

However, according to Burch herself, the answer is simpler than any theory out there.

“I don’t even know most of the time that the character I’m going to play is LGBTQIA+ and then a couple of sessions in I discover that they are!” Burch told Gayming Magazine, “I don’t know if it’s sort of a wonderful coincidence, or if I’m being cast with that in mind. But I think the majority of the characters I play at this point are LGBTQIA+. Possibly purely by coincidence.”

Burch is known for roles such as voicing the hot-headed Chloe Price from Life is Strange, the fierce and determined Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and even Tiny Tina from Borderlands 3. But she hasn’t stopped just at video games, voicing one of my own favourite characters, Enid from O.K K.O and Sasha Braus from Attack on Titan.

Speaking of Life is Strange, I couldn’t help but ask an age old question to Burch: who do you feel Chloe is more suitable for? Max or Rachel?

“I think that anyone’s interpretation of any permutation of those relationships is absolutely valid. I think Chloe is completely capable of loving more than one person, and I think either person is completely viable as a romantic interest.” Burch clarified that, “for me, I performed Chloe with Rachel as the primary romantic interest and Max as more of a question mark. I think she was definitely attracted to Max and probably very confused by that because she was: a) grieving, b) hurt by Max’s absence in her life, and c) they’ve also known each other forever, so that’s inevitably going to be a bit confusing/awkward.”

Recently she’s voiced Sam from Afterparty, and Parvati from The Outer Worlds, an asexual character who many of us here at Gayming Magazine has fallen in love with. It’s easy to see why, both characters are incredibly written and strong, but it’s not just the strength of these women that draws Burch to them.

Pavarti from The Outer Worlds (screenshot)

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to read for characters with such depth and dimension. And that’s a big reason that they’re so resonant and why I respond to them so much.” She continued, “these characters can all be funny or sweet or tough on the surface level, but they have deep and complex personal lives that really make them feel like living, breathing people.”

And it’s clear that all of these characters mean something deeply personal. Chloe, Parvati, Aloy, Sam, and so much more have been a humbling experience in her career, with Burch saying “there really is a part of me in characters like Chloe and Parvati and Aloy. They’re like my horcruxes.”

When I asked further about the complications of her job, Burch told me that voice acting in video games is a little different from TV and film. Burch tells us that this is because when voicing video game characters, you often get a higher volume of auditions and you record for all of them.

Still, there is some level of variety and being able to pick and choose which characters you like the sound of. For example, Burch told us that she doesn’t think she could swing playing a “damsel-y character” that needed to be rescued all the time and couldn’t fend for herself.

On the other hand, there are still characters, that Burch has yet to explore for herself. Mass Effect, for example, is her favourite game series and boasts a number of characters that are all incredibly unique. For Burch, Mass Effect 2 is her ultimate favourite, and while she wouldn’t want to change any of the voice actors there is a certain character that she would love to voice.

“I would love to voice a character like Mordin one day.” She told us, referring to the lovable Salarian scientist who plays a key role in either the destruction or saving of the genophage in both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. Let’s hope that Burch also gets the chance to sing like Mordin too, because c’mon, we’d pay to see it.

(photo by Kim Newmoney)

But beyond voice acting, the response to Burch’s characters has been enormous. Queer women specifically are often drawn to Burch’s characters such as Chloe and Pavarti, which can be narrowed down to the writing of queer stories that feel authentic yes, but also in how Burch portrays these women in ways that directly speaks to the queer audience that loves them.

The grieving, but tough as nails, Chloe Price is often one of the characters that queer women feel a kinship too, myself among them. Sure she’s a punk, but the emotional vulnerability behind Chloe is difficult to ignore. She’s terrified of losing her best friend, Max, her old girlfriend is missing – presumed to be dead – and her father died in a car crash years ago.

Chloe Price from Life is Strange (screenshot)

Not only does Chloe lash out and adopt a tough exterior to hide her vulnerabilities, but doing so makes her an ‘outsider’ in a way that the LGBT community, unfortunately, can relate to. It’s a part of what draws us to Burch’s characters, an understanding of being different from what society considers the ‘norm’.

But not all is lost, there’s always hope for the majority of the characters that Burch voices such as Sam from Afterparty, who develops a family of her own (a trope that Burch loves) while in Hell, and Parvati who embraces her asexuality and finds love thanks to the help of the player character. Even Chloe can get a happy ending if you make the right choices. Queer characters in video games are finally becoming more prominent as times goes on, however, as we’ve talked about previously with The Last Of Us, queer characters happiness is rare.

Yet things are improving and audiences are becoming more accepting of queer narratives and characters, something Burch agrees with, referring to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey during our talk together.

“I was joking with someone the other day about how they had sex with everyone they could in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. But even that is a remarkable step forward.” She continued. “For such a long time, there were either no homosexual romantic relationships available in games at all – or if there were, they were only with certain people. And usually very rarely were those relationships between two men. And now you can hop around Greece having consensual sex with whomever you choose!” Burch also referred to how voice acting itself was becoming more diverse too. “[There is] an increasing amount of audition sides that have asked specifically for non-binary actors. So I do think things are changing.”

As our interview came to an end, Burch did say one thing that we hope the video game industry takes particular note of.

“I would really love to see developers focus on greater racial diversity in games. I’m very proud of Guerrilla, because the cast of Horizon is extremely diverse. But I think we can always keep pushing in that regard. I’d love to see another RPG like Horizon with a pre-determined protagonist that is a person of color.”

The video game industry is a very white place, and while progress is happening towards more POC characters, it’s rare to see them as main protagonists. Yet with people like Burch, as well as organizations such as I Need Diverse Games, POC in Play and Out Making Games, we’re optimistic that video games – and voice acting – will become more diverse as time goes on.

Bring on 2020!

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