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Game (voice)over: actors turn to video game work during pandemic | Games

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It was not only audiences that turned to video games during the pandemic. With theatres closed, and TV and film production on hiatus, British actors chose work they could do from isolation – and the booming gaming industry was ready to fill the gap.

“The minute the pandemic hit, it was just everyone asking me: ‘What mic should I get? How do you set up a home studio?’” says Cassie Layton, an actor and musician from south-west London. “I was lucky in that I had worked doing voice acting for a few years before the pandemic hit. But every single actor, I think, either had the thought or took the action to set up a home studio.”

Voiceover work has been a part of many actors’ repertoire for longer than just the pandemic. But in the last year, more than half of all British adults played a video game, according to Ofcom, spending a total of £7bn in the process.

The launch of new consoles from Microsoft and Sony has focused even more attention than usual to the blockbuster “AAA” end of the market, where lavishly animated and acted portrayals are the norm and production budgets can easily outstrip those of a Hollywood movie. All of which has increased the demand for voice actors, and provided a boon for workers whose other sources of income dried up.

Not that it was purely driven by cold economic reality. “Many more actors could be actually playing games themselves and consuming content and being like: ‘You know what, this is actually pretty awesome – I’d love to do this,’” says Sam Hughes, a British voice actor based in Finland. “And then some people, who always had an interest but were too busy doing other forms of acting, were like: ‘Oh, I can finally dive into voice acting properly now.’”

There are few statistics on the scale of the video game voice acting business. The ONS does not collect data on what actors do, and Equity, the actors’ union, has been trying for years to encourage more cooperation and communication between studios and the union – to mixed success.

“It’s partly because there isn’t a trade body that we can negotiate with,” says Shannon Sailing, industrial official for audio, new media and games, “but also because it’s a fresh area of work. We’re in talks with some of the major voice studios in the UK, to try and get a collective agreement.”

But the scale of what a game is can vary. At one end, massive blockbuster productions are effectively mini computer-generated movies – and, after a 2017 strike from Hollywood’s Sag-Aftra union, often come with similar levels of protection. For games such as 2020’s Last of Us Part II, actors perform in full motion-capture suits, a camera trained on their faces to capture their expressions for digitisation.

Layton’s first game role, as De Sardet, the protagonist of 2019 fantasy role-playing game Greedfall, was larger than most – but still just a voice performance. “They got me in to read for the audition, and I think I only read five lines – but that got me a video game role that was … I think we recorded over 100 hours of it. It was quite intense.

“We did it over two years, in blocks of a couple of weeks coming in and recording for maybe four hours a day. Then there’d be a three-month gap, and then you’d have another session. If you’re lucky – and I was – they’ve recorded everyone else’s lines before, so you can act off other people.”

For Hughes, a bulky recent project stands out as the exact opposite experience. Working on what he simply calls “the spreadsheet game”, he was emailed an Excel spreadsheet with 600 lines of dialogue every six months or so. “That was an arduous one,” he says with a laugh. “They don’t give you much direction, they’re lower paid, and it was kind of tedious because I was basically doing the same character twice – once in an American accent, and once as English.”

Sometimes, “tedious” would be a blessing. Layton recalls one job performing as a zombie. “They paid me for an hour. But an hour of screaming your head off is like an eternity in hell on earth. It’s so painful, and also, as an actor, your voice is your instrument; it’s part of your livelihood. I was a bit of a novice when I agreed to do it: I saw the price for an hours’ work and thought: ‘I can do this, this is fine.’ But you can get permanent vocal damage, or something that takes a long time to recover.”

It’s that risk of damage that Equity is trying to protect against by pushing for a standard union contract. Other pitfalls can also take actors by surprise, Sailing says. “There can be an issue that they’re not told up front what it is that they’re going to be voicing. People could be asked to do sex scenes, say racial slurs and so on, which can put them in a very uncomfortable position.”

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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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