Voice Actor Zach Hanks Shares His Experiences – Part Three

This is the second part of Analog Addiction’s interview with video game voice actor Zach Hanks. To view the previous two parts of the interviews, click on part one and part two.

Q What has been your favorite role so far – voice acting or not?

A Being a teacher. As much joy, gratitude, money, attention and satisfaction as I’ve derived from acting and particular from voice acting – which I thought I’ll never stop being a voice actor full-time – it only took me five years to start looking for something new to do. Particularly teaching full-time, teaching undergrads acting, has brought out the best in my character and has challenged me in ways that I’ve never been challenged. As a teacher, I’ve never felt more valuable, and I’ve never felt like my existence on this planet had that much meaning until I started teaching at SFA – without a doubt. Knowing the stuff that I’m teaching them is practical because I’ve been out in the field, but I think more than anything, inspiring them to take chances, to be vulnerable without fear, and to find a happy medium between living wisely and living with wild abandon, which I think is what actors do to an extent.

Q Even though this is going in the complete opposite direction of where we are now, I can’t interview a video game voice actor and not ask this question, especially with the [time] that we’re in: PlayStation 4 or Xbox One?

A [laughs] That reminds me of one of my favorite questions to ask people, especially if I’m doing some kind of an interview. Always conclude with “Macaroni and cheese: Kraft or Velveeta,” and whatever answer they give, I respond with “I’m sorry, but your answer is incorrect,” and leave them like that just to see what they do.

I’m actually going to go ahead and give the answer that people will probably rage to and say is wrong, and the answer is neither. The answer is PC. [laughs]

There’s a couple of reasons though. My favorite type of game is RTS (real-time strategy), and RTS pretty much never translates well to console. I liken the experience of playing RTS’ to different drug experiences. I’ve read there’s three different drug experiences: fantasy, stimulation, sedation. The alcoholic is going for sedation; the crackhead is going for stimulation; the pothead or the guy who takes acid is going for fantasy, like a hallucinatory altered reality. With World of Warcraft, you get fantasy and sedation, with maybe the occasional stimulation on a raid. You play World of Warcraft [more relaxed]. Have you ever seen the South Park episode of World of Warcraft?

Q [laughs] Oh yeah! And he’s just sitting back like that.

A Yeah, and he’s just cocked to one side the whole time. The RTS player plays [very intensely]. My wife said when I play RTS games, veins would pop out on my head. I looked enraged when I was playing, but I would just sit motionless.

Q Have you ever rage-quit at any time?

A I don’t know. I don’t rage quit because of losing or because of circumstances. If I were to react negatively, it’s because of other player’s bad behavior, saying things like racial or homophobic slurs. The illogical responses make my brain blow a gasket, things like when I beat someone and they respond with L2P (learn to play), and I’m like “What are you talking about? I just beat you, like I really ruined you,” and they go “Pft, noob.” I don’t know how to respond, but in fact they’re completely owning me in the chat because they’re making me flip out, which is exactly what they want you to do. Those are the only times I get upset though – or about gimmick wins.

But yeah, PC largely because I’m an RTS player, and that’s where I got into gaming. I haven’t owned a console since the Sega Genesis. I also don’t own a television. I haven’t owned a television in half a decade. Investing in a good TV, good sound system and a console is not cheap. I have to have a computer, so I may as well just game on the computer than use a few hundred bucks on a system that’s powerful enough.

Q The Call of Duty series has evolved a lot since you voiced Captain Macmillan in Call of Duty 4. What do you think of the series’ overall evolution?

A I don’t play the game. I don’t keep up with the nuances of narrative, gameplay, graphics or anything else about it. The only thing I’m disappointed about with the direction is if I weren’t the voice actor that I am for Infinity Ward, and it’s a very smart direction for them to go in, is that Activision is pumping a lot into the franchise, which means there’s more money for celebrities. With leads like Captain Macmillan, it’s far less likely for me to book them. It’s much more likely that when I do book, I’m going to play roles like Marine No. 2, which is mostly what I do, and I’m grateful for them. The only thing that’s a bummer for me is that I’ll probably never play another Captain Macmillan in Call of Duty because Captain Macmillan will be played by a higher-end actor or celebrity.

Call of Duty 4 was 2007. My first two years in the game industry was just lead after lead after lead after lead. It was Captain Macmillan; it was Thor in an untitled Marvel fighting game that EA Chicago was doing before it was closed. I was the antagonist in The Saboteur, but my performance and the script got “producerized,” so I didn’t make it into the final game, but I still booked the lead. I was Lars Halford in Brutal Legend. I had really solid roles in Dragon Age. I was one of the two playable characters in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. This was 2007/2008.

By 2012, the year that I left LA to transition into academia full-time, with the exception of the Pendleton Twins in Dishonored, which was fairly short, my characters didn’t have names anymore. It was Marine No. 2, Seal No. 3, Black Ops No. 4, Helicopter Pilot. It was nameless faceless soldier after nameless faceless soldier. I’m happy for the work, and I love being able to participate on the games, but Marine in Call of Duty and Navy Seal in Medal of Honor: Warfigher and Soldier in Battlefield-whatever; they all have the same lines: “Contact!” “We’ve got contact!” “Grenade!” Frag out!” “Medic!” “I need a mag!” It’s the same character over and over again. On that level, it starts to get dull, and after yelling your guts out after half a decade, it starts to get painful. My voice doesn’t pop back like it used to, and since we don’t get residuals, I could just see the writing on the wall. If I didn’t book a national car campaign or more [work in] animation, I never had to worry about paying next month’s rent, but I always worried about paying the month after, and I didn’t want to spend my life like that anymore.

Q Do you think video games cause as much violence as the media often portrays?

A Not at all. It is absolutely absurd. I do think it desensitizes us to seeing images of violence. If I’m desensitized by the violent scenes in Grand Theft Auto, I will not be as powerfully affected by the violent scenes in Saw VII. But we need data to make the claim that seeing violent scenes in video games causes us to do violence, or somehow ignore real violence. It’s like saying that reading a Stephen King book is going turn a murderer or supernatural clown. I think a person that wants to go out and start shooting people might play Call of Duty. A person who plays Call of Duty doesn’t necessarily want to go out and start shooting people. Even if there was a correlation, correlation still does not equal causation. You’ve got to prove causation – if the game causes people to do harm.

I don’t hear much about video game players getting involved in acts of violent rape or gang rape. We hear a lot about athletes doing it though, particularly at the academic level like high school and college. I don’t hear anybody saying football turns people into rapists. Furthermore, if violence increases in the culture, you’re going to need to provide data and research saying that it’s video games.