Last week, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was finally released and apart from a few rough edges, it’s one of my contenders for Game of the Year. The subject of the game isn’t the game itself though, but the lady on the right. Dr. Vahlen leads the research division and has a few spoken parts in the game.
Her nationality isn’t explicitly stated, but it’s generally assumed she is German. In the first tutorial mission she has to talk to a German soldier, and I can confirm that her accent isn’t German, not even close. It’s eastern European, my best guess is Ukrainian, maybe Russian. She speaks English with an accent that is also not what I usually hear from Germans speaking English. During a later part of the game, she loudly exclaims “Nein!” which is German (rather than “Njet” which would be Russian). Now, the general consensus seems to be that it’s just the typical bad localized voice acting from AAA games (apparently the voice actress is British), but it got me thinking anyway.
I met quite a few people that spoke German like Dr. Vahlen did during the tutorial. These people were eastern European immigrants with a German citizenship. Immigration is the most normal thing in the world and even though we still associate accents with the country of it’s origin rather than the legal nationality of the person, in computer games we seem to expect a more clear-cut separation. When someone is German, we expect them to speak High/Standard German. If they speak with a Russian or Turkish accent (which, again, isn’t that uncommon) then somehow it feels “off” unless it’s explained as part of the story. Granted, the same is true for localized Games where accents are perceived as horribly out of place (the Saxony voice in the German Baldur’s Gate is legendary) or used for comedic effect (German StarCraft II’s Thor).
It would be interesting to see games that use foreigners with accents that are foreign to their nationality. I think this is usually done well with Hispanic accents on Americans, but those seem to be a sole exception.