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Ashly Burch
Ashly BurchVoice Actor/Writer
Sarah Elmaleh
Sarah ElmalehActor

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An Actor’s Truth, the Future of Indies and the End of the AAA Everyman

It’s a thrilling time for independent games: leading the medium in formal experimentation and diversity of representation, they are rapidly expanding our perception of what games can be, and who can both make and be depicted in them. In recent years, they’ve swiped peer-given award nominations from bigger, more established developers, many of whom cite indies as inspiration for their work – or for going indie themselves. Many independent games have even become household names, as widely recognizable as Call of Duty or Halo.

At the heart of this revolution is bravery and a faith that the colorful, the offbeat, and the particular will resonate with players – more so than a fear-based, marketing department-driven emphasis on the familiar, the bland and the catchall. This is particularly evident in the recent generation of indie game protagonists.
Where AAA has too often defaulted to a flawed conception of a hypergeneric ‘everyman’ – usually a stoic, gun-toting, thirty-something white male brunette – indies’ motley crew of heroes embrace boldly specific character detail as the basis for human (player) connection.

Sarah and Ash would like to point out that indies’ special commitment to the specific over the generic is also the long-standing foundation to creating a good performance as an actor.

We will share aspects of our performance and character development process to connect strong acting decisions with this principle of inviting specificity. We’ll discuss the principle at play in modern successful indies with previously underrepresented protagonists, such as Gone Home, Mainichi and others. We’ll take a look back to debunk the legacy of games as exclusive purview of white male teenagers, and explore the impact of genre trends on representation – tying the current fracturing, reimagining and cross-pollination of genres to the flourishing of character diversity.

The future of indies is the future of games, which looks much like the present and in some ways the past – but even more fearlessly, joyfully crowded with diverse empathic opportunities.

Ashly Burch and Sarah Elmaleh are actors and game voiceover artists/siblings. Ashly is lead actress and co-writer/creator of hit web series Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’? and can be heard in games such as Borderlands 2 and Gravity Ghost, Children of Liberty, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Saints Row 4, Awesomenauts, Towerfall and Guided Fate Paradox. You can also hear her goofin’ in cartoons such as Adventure Time, Bee and Puppy Cat and Attack on Titan. Sarah’s indie game roles include goody two-shoes older sisters, often to Ash (Gone Home, Gravity Ghost, Children of Liberty), a strong-yet-vulnerable Latina doctor (Resonance), a cranky flapper (Blackwell Epiphany), an eager British spy handler (Codename Cygnus), fiercely opposing Japanese goddesses (Skulls of the Shogun), and your classic insidious shipboard computers (Gemini Rue and Redshirt).

Ashly Burch is a voice actor, writer and raps about representation and issues of gender and identity in the games industry. Well, she doesn’t actually rap, she just speaks about it. She thought saying the word “rap” would make her culturally relevant. She realizes she’s failing. Ashly is best known as the star, writer and co-creator for the web series “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” and as the voice of Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2. She is also the voice of Sasha Braus in Attack on Titan. You can (or will soon be able to) hear her in these other fine pieces of entertainment: Adventure Time, Bee and Puppy Cat, Awesomenauts, Chainsaw Richard, Saints Row 4, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Guided Fate Paradox, Gravity Ghost, Children of Liberty, and Seedlings. You can see her flail about on screen in Baked Goods, Board With Life, and School of Thrones.

Sarah Elmaleh is an actor who loves to voice games, and also chat animatedly about them. (That’s not a pun. She sees now how it could look like one, but she would never do that to you on purpose.) She can be heard in a motley collection of indie titles including Gone Home, Skulls of the Shogun, Johann Sebastian Joust, Redshirt, Resonance, Gemini Rue, Codename Cygnus, Children of Liberty, and soon, Gravity Ghost. She’s also written about games at outlets such as Kill Screen and Kotaku, helped curate Boston FIG and Kill Screen’s OUYA contest, and spoken about games and voiceover at the Tribeca Film Festival, the SAG Foundation, PAX Prime, and the NJ Institute of Technology.

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