David Hayter needs little introduction among hardened gamers: he’s the man behind the Metal Gear Solid protagonist’s iconic, perpetually laryngitic rasp. He’s also said to be one of the few voice actors from the series to have finished the games he stars in. Hayter is much more than just a voice, though: when he’s not dabbling with videogames, he’s an accomplished actor (Guyver: Dark Hero), screenwriter (X-Men), and producer (Lost In Oz).
What’s your comfort-food equivalent in terms of games?
I discovered Okami not too long ago, which was a PS2 game. I just thought it was so beautiful. I went to high school in Japan and lived there for a while, and that game was so Japanese, so lyrical, weird and cool. So that was pretty amazing. And I love Grand Theft Auto III.
What did you think was special about that particular GTA?
When it came out, I was in England working on the Watchmen movie – the version Paul Greengrass was going to direct. So I spent months in a hotel room writing, which can be depressing, as can being sequestered in rainy London. So I had the studio buy me a PS2, and I got GTAIII just to pretend I was back in Los Angeles and driving around. So I’ve got very fond memories of that game.
Didn’t you find yourself getting distracted by videogames?
No, you can only do so much writing in a day. You do five hours and your brain leaks from your ears. Eight, and you want to kill yourself. I did what I needed to, but I had a lot of downtime in the hotel room.
In GTAIII, do you stick to the missions or go off and cause mischief?
It depends. I play the missions and then, when I’m tired and I want to kick off, I’ll steal a car, rampage through the streets and try to cause as big a conflagration and police chase as I can until they take me down in a fiery hail of bullets.
In a blaze of glory?
That’s my preferred mode of death.
Going back to Okami, did it resonate more deeply with you because of growing up in Japan?
In terms of the legends? I don’t know. I think a lot of stuff was made up for the game, but it all felt so authentic to what Japan is like. They’re a tough, tenacious people, but also extremely sweet. The fact that you play a character who has to restore nature and beauty to each area and get rid of evil spirits – that was beautiful and inspiring. I loved the slash technique where you freeze your enemy, take the calligraphy brush, and go [makes swooshing sound] and slice them in half. It was such a unique mix of Japanese calligraphy and sword work.
It’s almost the polar opposite of GTA, spreading destruction and corruption.
I think Grand Theft Auto is about the American dream and experience. It’s a little more brutal and a lot more cynical. There’s more direct taking hold of your environment, making it do what you like. It asks: what’s it worth to you to become rich and powerful?
If you filtered those questions through Okami, what would the answers be?
Okami is a more classic hero’s journey. It’s about restoring your balance with nature. GTA is about my success and how I’ll cut down anyone in my way. Okami’s message is more worthy, but GTA is so OTT, violent and ridiculous that I think it makes the same point: is this what you’d do to become successful? You play it so you don’t actually have to go out and murder hookers or steal old people’s cars and randomly shoot people in the streets. You can do that on your console and then walk away.
And go and read a book.
Or give some money to charity or some other damn thing instead.
Is that what you do?
I give money to the Police Association because they send you a little sticker you put up in your window, and then cops won’t give you tickets. That may come from my Grand Theft Auto side of personal justification. [Laughs.]
OK, what’s your favourite game?
I’m not sure. Probably Grand Theft Auto III! It stages some interesting moral dilemmas and does so in a really beautifully executed way.