The Witcher voice actor Doug Cockle has expressed caution and frustration at the growing presence of artificial intelligence within the video game industry, calling it “inevitable” but “dangerous”.
Cockle, who voices Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher game series and upcoming Netflix film Sirens of the Deep, told IGN that his main concern isn’t with AI itself, but people using it for nefarious purposes.
“AI is inevitable and developers will use AI. We are not 100% sure exactly what that means,” Cockle said. “They’re already doing it in various ways, filling in background, NPC voices, and things like that, which is unfortunate because those voices were all human beings at one point, and the voices are all modelled on human beings. So they have taken someone’s voice, put it into their database, digitized it and are using it to say things that the individual never said. There’s something unethical about that and so there’s a lot of debate going on.”
Cockle was contacted by an AI company a few years ago who wanted to upload his Geralt voice to its database. “And I said no, and I still say no. But that’s not because I don’t like AI,” he said.
“It’s because I think with voice actors, particularly with voice actors who do main character roles, it is a reality that people are ripping our voices off. That’s happening. It’s happened to me on multiple occasions. I can’t even police it because I would spend all my time policing this stupid stuff.”
Even if people are using the voice with good intentions, like genuine fans making Witcher mods, it directly impacts voice actors, Cockle said. “Every time somebody does that, they’re effectively robbing me of income, and not just me, any other voice actor who they do it with,” he said. “We’re all watching our voices get used in ways that we would rather they weren’t.”
It’s when those using AI do have illicit purposes that it gets really scary though. “This is the bit that we really don’t like about AI, is that if they can do it for things that are just commercially questionable, then they can do it with things that are politically or ethically bad,” Cockle said.
“Somebody could use AI to produce something racist using Geralt’s voice, using my voice, or just something against anything that most normal people think is good. That’s where the AI gets dangerous. Fake news, false news, false opinions. We’re seeing it with politicians now. People are putting things out there. So AI is not the problem. It’s the people using AI.”
Cockle continued: “It’s changed a lot as well, because when The Witcher 3 came out, I don’t think that people playing games, not that they weren’t interested, but they didn’t really think about who was voicing these characters. It wasn’t something that was of great interest. But I’ve watched over the years, it has become more and more interesting to players and to fans who the people are behind these voices, and that’s a fantastic thing. But it also means that those voices are much more personalized. It’s not just Geralt. That is my voice.”
The Witcher 3 PlayStation 5 Next-Gen Update Screenshots.
Cissy Jones, a voice actor known for her roles in Disney’s Owl House, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, Shin Megami Tensei 5, and more, has started a company called Morpheme.ai to let voice actors embrace AI and gain control of their own voices going forward. Cockle has spoken with Jones about the idea and is fully on board.
“If they’re going to do this, if this is going to happen, then we need to create a way for the actors to control how their voice is used,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a number of AI developers who are interested in doing a similar kind of thing. So there are people out there who are aware of the potential problem here and are working towards some kind of a solution that will make people happy.
“Because I think modders are great. It’s not that I want to punish modders. What they put out is, for the most part, interesting, cool fan-made stuff that just celebrates the world that they love, and that’s to be celebrated. But there’s a line there somewhere, and where exactly that line is what the AI debate is really, really starting to tease out of the industry.”
Video games have already endured a particularly complicated relationship with AI. Embark Studios, the developer of smash hit shooter The Finals, was criticised for using AI voiceovers by myriad actors and even other developers, for example. Embark told IGN that “making games without actors isn’t an end goal” and claimed it uses a mix of both recorded audio voices and audio generated via AI text to speech tools for its games, however.
Video game voice actors previously called out AI-generated explicit Skyrim mods, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate voice actress Victoria Atkin called AI-generated mods the “invisible enemy we’re fighting right now” after discovering her voice was used by cloning software. Paul Eiding, the voice actor behind Colonel Campbell in the Metal Gear Solid series, also condemned its use.
Ironically, the biggest developer to use AI for voice acting so far is The Witcher studio CD Projekt Red, though this was only done to replace a deceased voice actor after gaining permission from the family.
Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelance reporter. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.