Tabletop RPG actual play shows such as Critical Role and Dimension 20 have reported that the ongoing strikes amongst American television writers and - more recently - actors won’t directly affect their work, but multiple big names in the space have taken the opportunity to throw support behind those organising.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) since July 14th. Comprising a multitude of roles behind the camera, the union wants to secure better payment and professional security in an industry notorious for its churn, burn and invisible labour. Additionally, SAG-AFTRA expressed major concern over the future role of artificial intelligence in the industry and how executives may misuse it to replace creative labour en masse.
Production on a massive amount of ongoing projects in television and film have ground to a halt since the strike began, leaving many to wonder if a similar delay would affect tabletop actual play series that feature guests or recurring members who also work as professional actors. According to a recent piece by Polygon, the answer from some of the largest shows is a near unanimous ‘no’ with a few caveats.
Critical Role’s core cast - many of whom are SAG card carrying voice actors - own part of the company that produces the mega-popular actual play series, muddying how it should respond to the strike’s demands that actors not publicly promote current projects. It remains unclear whether Critical Role’s upcoming live show in the UK falls under this mandate, and the company has yet to offer a definitive statement on the matter.
“We fully support the strike and stand in solidarity with our fellow actors,” Critical Role reportedly told Polygon and Comicbook. “Currently, our release schedule is not impacted by the strike, but we will continue to evaluate and take the necessary steps should it be impacted in the future.”
Dimension 20, which is produced by Droupout, is a bit more complicated. As CEO Sam Reich explained in a Twitter thread, many of their shows are produced under SAG’s Electronic Media contract and have halted work until the company can receive the blessing of the union and willing participation by their performers - many of whom are SAG-AFTRA members. Reich mentions that Dimension 20 - and most other Dropout series - will apparently “have enough content in the can to last us a little past the end of the year.”
A thread about the strike and Dropout production:— Sam Reich (@samreich) July 15, 2023
“I am nothing but sympathetic to [the union’s] cause and outraged by the mafia-like behaviour of the major streamers and AMPTP. It is harder than ever to make a living in this industry, and that goes even for the lucky few of us who get to work on meaningful projects,” Reich wrote on Twitter. “Because we aren't associated with the AMPTP, it's possible we may be able to reach an interim agreement with SAG that allows us to continue to produce content during the strike. But we'll only do that, obviously, if we get the blessing of the union and the buy-in of our performers.”
Troy Lavallee, CEO of The Glass Cannon and SAG member, told Polygon that while his actual play series would continue production, he and the team “fully support making sure the little guy isn’t taken advantage of by the big guy.”
The world of actual play is larger than ever, but the relative recency of the streaming phenomenon means the entertainment industry hasn’t yet figured out how it fits alongside films, television and other older forms of media. Ironic as that may be given Hollywood executives’ flirtation with AI, the ongoing strike may yet carve out a better understanding as individual shows choose which side of the picket line they will occupy.