Skyrim’s modding community is locked in an intense ethical debate about the use of AI voices

Some NPCs in Skyrim.

Some NPCs in Skyrim.

Modders have put an awful lot of effort into making sure Skyrim has continually evolved and expanded in the years since it was first released into the world.

Many of their works, especially those that send you off on fresh adventures to do things like become high priest of your own temple or earn some killer Daedric abilities while making tough choices, add fresh voice acting to the game in order to bring their stories and characters to life or add new dialogue to existing NPCs.

Historically, such mods have generally relied on real people, often either the modders themselves or voice actors of both the professional and amateur varieties, to deliver their lines, but, in recent months, a lot of works have begun to crop up that use AI voice generation to do this instead, causing some controversy.

Do you prefer Skyrim mods that use real actors over AI voices?

As you’re likely aware, Skyrim modding isn’t the only area of the games industry that’s been affected by the surge in popularity and usage of AI programs like ChatGPT and Elevenlabs to produce voice acting, and, in the most ethically dubious cases, mimic the tones of established voice actors or personalities.

Naturally, the latter has proven especially concerning to those in the professional voice acting business, whose income could be threatened by the rise of AI mimics.

Over the past few months, the world of Skyrim modding has come to form an interesting microcosm of this wider debate, with several mods that openly make use of programs like Elevenlabs to help add voice lines to characters in the game, including the Dragonborn, or imitate the cast of voice actors that portray the game’s vast population on NPCs, popping up and gaining traction.

This trend has sparked a lot of debate within the community regarding the ethical nature of using AI voices for mods, especially in mimic-based scenarios similar to the latter mod referenced above, with the latest of these taking the form of a mammoth discussion on the subreddit r/skyrimmods.

Outside of this and other threads dissecting the matter, some popular modders, such as JaySerpa, whose works include mods that add extra lines to in-game NPC groups like vampires or civil war soldiers by splicing together new lines from existing in-game voice files, have felt compelled to address AI voice usage.

“Putting two lines together from within the game files is quite different than training an AI network with another person's voice and having them say whatever you want.” says JaySerpa in the description of the vampire mod linked above, adding: “Voice cloning is probably going to get some pushback from the voice actors we know and love and will eventually be regulated, so even though I'm impressed, I'd rather take a cautious stance for now.”

Regardless of how you feel about the use of AI voices in Skyrim modding, make sure to follow us for more updates on The Elder Scrolls 6 and check out our mods of the month for March 2023.

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