Sarah Elmaleh on Developers' Unionization

Reported on Thursday, April 11th 2019
Sarah Elmaleh on Developers' Unionization

Sarah Elmaleh, the female player voice in Bioware's recently released Anthem, has a lot to say on the revelations regarding the game's oppressive crunch of a development process, which has made headlines in the game industry and beyond.

Elmaleh was recently one of the key pioneers behind SAG-AFTRA's new low-budget game agreement, so unions are a matter of utmost importance to her. Interviewed by Variety, here are some of the things she had to say regarding the struggles faced by game developers, who lack a union of their own to fight against the often difficult pressures placed upon them by upper management.

I personally loved working with everyone on the performance aspect –  all of them passionate, intelligent, talented, committed – and I’m proud of what we achieved, embracing the story, characters, and relationships as they evolved over the years. But I also feel kinship and gratitude for everyone I didn’t get a chance to meet and thank in person for their work, and pain that they should have to suffer so much to create something fun and meaningful for all of us.

Since I moved to LA I’ve seen such a shift in the way that the union approaches games that I’ve gotten excited and involved with union organizing essentially around games contracts. I was really, really involved in helping with the new low-budget contract and get that to the place it’s in, which means that union actors can now work on indie games, which they hadn’t been able to do before. There’s many multiple new contracts coming in that will cover more areas of games than before. The contracts reps at the union are extremely energized and available in a way that I think we maybe hadn’t seen from the past relationships between the union and the developers.

I’m happy to see that that’s moving in a closer, more like closely knitted direction. I’ve been really excited to see the SAG-AFTRA union organizers working closely with the Game Workers Unite folks and being really involved in supporting developers as they try to figure out how to kind of harness their leverage and advocate for themselves to increase better working conditions. SAG-AFTRA can’t organize developers — that’s on them to do — but we’re available and we’re supportive and we can provide our advice.

What I hear is a lot of the time that there are ways of doing this, of shuffling folks, of scaling up and scaling down that are more sustainable, that allow people to build, to make plans in their lives or continue their healthcare. I don’t have the solutions and it’s not for me to sound the horn about what exactly is going on in those places. But I will be listening and sharing all of those calls to action or all of those experiences, concerns as much as I can because voice actors are part of this creation process.

Our struggles may differ but our purpose is shared. I’ve always felt a collaborative obligation to seek out developers’ insights and experiences, to try to grasp the bigger picture of how games are made and what all they can be – and any advocacy I’m involved in comes from that investment. All advocacy requires listening and caring, first and foremost. I can’t advocate for, or even conceive of, ideal interactive performance models, for example, without also hearing developers’ voices when they express their own process needs, when they advocate for their own well-being, for best practices, kind ecosystems, and sustainable working conditions within development at large.

Variety's full piece can be read at the source.



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