- The use of AI in the entertainment industry, including Hollywood and the video game industry, is a growing concern for artists who fear that their work could be replaced by computers.
- Five Nights at Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon is taking a stand against fan projects that use AI to replicate his voice, emphasizing the importance of respect and consent in the use of AI technology.
As a light seems to be appearing at the end of the tunnel for striking actors, the creator of one of the most celebrated indie game series of all time is taking his own stand against one of the key issues leading to the SAG-AFTRA strike in the first place. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has been on strike since mid-July, seems like it might be reaching an agreement with studio heads in Hollywood, according to a recent article in The Verge, although the vote won’t be coming until December 5. According to that story, the terms of the agreement include requiring studios to acquire “informed consent” before using AI to digitally replicate actors, whether living or dead, and to provide compensation for the use of those likenesses.
With major technological advances in the field of artificial intelligence in recent years, it’s become a bogeyman for artists of all kinds, and it’s been one of the most talked about points for both SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America, which ended its strike in late September after 148 days on the picket line.
But it’s not just Hollywood and its multi-million-dollar projects that have been affected by the looming threat of computers replacing living, breathing artists — that fear is alive and well in the video game industry, and it seems to be mainly centered around the world of fan projects. That’s the case with this most recent issue, as Five Nights at Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon seems to be taking action against a fan game that uses AI to replicate his own voice, which appears in the games as “the phone guy.”
“They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I do not consider this to be true when people use AI or AI filters to duplicate someone else’s voice without their consent,” Cawthon wrote recently on Reddit regarding the takedowns, under the handle animdude. “I feel that it is very disrespectful, and I don’t want to hear it in fangames. That doesn’t just go for my voice, but any of my voice actors that I’ve used in the past, like Kellen [Goff], Heather [Masters], Michella [Moss], Marta [Svetek], etc. So for fangame developers out there, please be respectful of others and only use AI in this manner with someone else’s consent.”
Oracle Weighing In
Cawthon is far from the first person in the games industry to speak out against AI being used in a way that could be detrimental to the performers it replicates. Well-known voice actor Erica Lindbeck was seemingly bullied off X (formerly Twitter) in July after she spoke out against a fan-created cover of Bo Burnham’s song Welcome to the Internet that used AI to replicate her voice in the role of Futaba Sakura (which she played in Persona 5 and its spinoffs) as the singer. The reasons she gave for leaving weren’t tied to that specific song, but she clarified “I’ve had a content creator make an AI video of my character saying disparaging remarks about the show I was on. Literally putting words in my mouth that could easily be taken as mine. As an artist, that is so terrifying.”
After the story gained popularity, Lindbeck was more than redeemed in the court of public opinion, as an overwhelming majority of gaming fans seemed to flock to her defense. But that’s not the point. The point is that she never should have been in a position of scrutiny in the first place. Artists have a reputation to uphold — their image is pretty much all they have to sell — and when a computer program can faithfully recreate an actor’s physical likeness or vocal tone to the point that it’s indistinguishable from the genuine article, they’ve got a right to protect that image.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I do not consider this to be true when people use AI or AI filters to duplicate someone else’s voice without their consent. – Scott Cawthon
Cawthon’s got even more at stake than most. Aside from being one of the most celebrated indie creators around, the recent movie adaptation of his first three games was the hit of the Halloween season, setting video game movie opening weekend sales that have fallen second only to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, grossing over $227 million so far (per The Numbers), and seeming primed as the first in a trilogy, so there’s still plenty left to explore in the world of film.
And for their part, Cawthon’s crew seems to have been playing ball with the actors’ union pretty well — Goff waited weeks after the FNAF movie’s release and got all the proper permissions before announcing that he voiced Foxy the Pirate Fox’s “diddleedums” for the film.
It’s Not Easy Having A Good Time
All that said, I can see why it can be frustrating for gamers not to be sure whether it’s okay to geek out over a piece of fan-created content. I spend a lot of car trips jamming out to fan-made FNAF songs, and one of my favorites is Kyle Allen Music’s Lights On, a song in which the singers faithfully impersonate Sun and Moon from Security Breach (two more characters played by Kellen Goff! That dude’s everywhere.) The music video on YouTube, which has been viewed more than 31.8 million times, includes computer-generated images that resemble Sun, Moon, Gregory, Glamrock Freddy (hi again, Kellen), and other background animatronics
I’m pretty sure it’s okay that I enjoy this one, since fan music doesn’t seem to have come into Cawthon’s crosshairs. Heck, the guy consulted on and helped produce the movie, and The Living Tombstone’s Five Nights At Freddy’s 1 Song played over the end credits, which was about the most fanservicy thing the people behind the movie could have done.
I guess the best we can do as gaming fans is to take in whatever fan-made content we want, but if the creator raises a stink, don’t push the issue — it’s their property to protect, after all. That especially holds true for Cawthon. The guy’s built a multimedia empire, and he’s at the top of the creative world right now partially because he’s embraced his fan community and its enthusiasm for expanding on his world. So if there’s a fan game, a fan song, a fan whatever, don’t be afraid to geek over it. Just be respectful if the person who built the brand in the first place says no.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
- August 8, 2014
- Scott Cawthon