The news broke today that Bungie is parting ways with actor Peter Dinklage, opting to re-cast the voice of the Ghost with veteran video game talent Nolan North in Destiny‘s upcoming expansion, The Taken King. North (Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed) isn’t just picking up where Dinklage left off. Bungie hired the actor to re-record all of Dinklage’s lines, effectively removing all traces of the Ghost’s original actor from the entire game. If you haven’t played Destiny, the Ghost is the player’s helper along the way, feeding the payer data while assisting with complex computing tasks during firefights. It is a major role, and Dinklage, most famous for his current role in Game of Thrones, was major talent hired by Bungie for its latest blockbuster game. It is as yet unclear as to why Bungie made the change (officially). Is Dinklage’s voiceover service now beyond affordable? Did Bungie listen to the Internet chatter surrounding player opinion of Dinklage’s sleepy delivery of the Ghost’s lines? Is the split amicable? At this writing, there is no official statement from Bungie or from Dinklage.
So how does this fit in with archaeogaming?
One need not look too hard to discover dozens of instances of “damnatio memoriae” (Latin for “condemnation of memory”) where emperors and pharaohs would demand that images of their predecessors be stricken from all civic art and monuments and either left in a destroyed state, or recarved with the current ruler’s likeness. After the death of the Pharaoh Akhenaten (18th dynasty) who introduced the monotheistic worship of the new god Aten to Egypt, the last pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Horemheb, destroyed all images of his predecessor.
A similar instance occurred after the death of the Roman Emperor Domitian by his successor, Nerva, who famously had his portrait recut atop Domitian’s in the Cancellaria Reliefs. The goal of this defamation was to purge the images and memory of past rulers from the current population’s minds, as well as from history.
Fast-forward thousands of years, and we have possibly the first instance of damnatio memoriae in video games, where the voice of arguably THE main character in Destiny is being completely purged. Gamers new to Destiny will enter the game to the voice provided by North only, and many future players will be ignorant of Dinklage’s prior association with the game. They will have little or no idea of who came before. For some, the history of the actual game’s production won’t matter all that much. But for others, this will remain a memorable event, a kind of deposing, swapping one major talent for another.
Consider the game as an artifact for a moment. First, although the game is/was available on physical media, applying the expansion pack will wipe Dinklage’s work upon upgrading. New purchases will have North’s voice applied upon installation. For many gamers (myself included), the game and expansions were purchased via the Xbox or Playstation online store and downloaded directly to the console. It’s as if Dinklage’s voice never existed.
The only proof that Dinklage contributed to Destiny can be found via legacy gameplay videos on YouTube or Twitch, as well as on various news sites reporting on the switch of voice actors.
This then begs the question of how Bungie will archive Dinklage’s version of the game, and how it will preserve his voice as part of the history of the game, and of Bungie itself. This also leads to the larger question of video game archiving and preservation especially when dealing with media that exists only in the Cloud and not burned to disk. Who is responsible, if it’s not the company that created it, and will current copyright law allow for a third party to archive a game even if it is not the rights holder?
Archaeologists have been able to deduce why one ruler defaced the depictions of others, and it’s possible we can do the same with media and games in particular. The twist with Destiny is that North did not decide to replace Dinklage’s voice in the game. This was Bungie’s decision, a corporation deciding to alter its history in favor of producing something better while sweeping the past under the rug. In time, few will care about the switch, but it is noteworthy that it did happen, and opens the door to other companies doing the same thing with other games.
Have a listen, and see if you would have made the same choice.
-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming