In a move that demonstrates how far the industry has shifted, SAG-AFTRA members have voted over 98% in favor of authorizing video game st. While the union has no obligation to call a strike, the vote allows its National Executive Board the option of doing so if it can’t reach a contract with the signatory companies of the Interactive Media Agreement (video game work). This would be in addition to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike that has impacted the film and TV industries since May 2, and marks the first time that actors and writers have simultaneously gone on strike in Hollywood history.
The main issues in this particular dispute center around wages that keep up with inflation, health care for on-camera performers and protections against unrestrained use of artificial intelligence in the production process. These concerns mirror those raised by the WGA in its broader contract fight with the AMPTP.
However, the specifics of SAG-AFTRA’s stance on these issues are what sets this strike apart from the WGA’s. Unlike the writers, SAG-AFTRA’s demands on video games focus more heavily on technology and less so on traditional issues like residuals. For example, the union is seeking more pay for its motion capture performers who perform on set to provide facial and body movements for digital characters in video games. The union is also seeking better medical coverage and breaks for these workers who have to spend long periods of time in suits with cameras pointed at their faces.
As of now, SAG-AFTRA has only offered its video game signatory companies “interim agreements” to address some of these concerns, which have been largely ignored by the companies in exchange for the perks that come with signing an interim agreement. The union claims that it will continue to negotiate in good faith with the signatory companies until it is able to reach a deal that it feels reflects the importance of video game work for its membership.
But this approach, which essentially spits in the face of its own membership’s will and desire to be treated in a way that is at least remotely fair, may backfire. Rather than bringing the negotiating parties closer together, it is likely to push them further apart, and could ultimately lead to a full-blown strike that will have even more of an impact on the entertainment industry and its ability to attract viewers and subscribers to streaming services.
In light of the tremendous support the actors’ and writers’ strikes have received, it is clear that if the AMPTP wants to avoid a lengthy strike—which could cost them billions in lost revenue—it is going to have to take more serious, creative risks. Hopefully, the next step in this historic struggle will involve building independent rank-and-file committees that can unite both actors and writers as well as other sections of the working class to stand with them in their fight against a system that is increasingly putting all forms of media out of reach for most people.