On Monday, “geeks” and “nerds” alike ushered into Miami University’s Hall Auditorium, eagerly waiting for voice actor and dungeon master Matthew Mercer to share his thoughts on how to create unique and engaging narratives and turn a passion into a lifestyle.
Prior to the evening’s talk, organized by Miami’s Lecture Series Committee, Mercer toured Miami’s campus and attended a few more intimate events, including a Q&A panel with various campus organizations, an interview with Miami Television Network (MTN) and a catered dinner in Armstrong Student Center.
The lecture opened with the announcer listing off some projects Mercer has participated in, such as Overwatch and “The Legend of Vox Machina,” as well as his “critical part” in “Critical Role,” a live streamed show of Mercer’s friends and fellow voice actors playing “Dungeons & Dragons.”
As Mercer walked onto the stage, the crowd erupted into applause and cheers. After realizing he had come on stage too early, Mercer quickly ran backstage and dramatically reentered, causing the audience to burst into laughter.
Throughout the lecture, Mercer gave insightful answers while also throwing in jokes and witty answers that kept the audience laughing and entertained.
Mercer answered a series of questions about working in the entertainment industry. He emphasized how important it was to have good intentions and a good heart and encouraged students not to be embarrassed about their passions.
“More and more good people are proving that you can be both talented and decent and be successful,” Mercer said. “And guess what? You're not a PR disaster in five years.”
This friendly but thoughtful demeanor extended to Mercer’s interactions during his time at Miami.
During the Q&A panel, many of the questions came from big fans of Mercer’s work. Fans asked questions about specifics of “Critical Role,” Mercer’s various voice acting roles and his experience in the industry. He answered all questions with enthusiasm and often went into great detail.
In an interview earlier in the day, Mercer talked specifically about some of the other projects he’s been involved in, such as “Attack on Titan,” as well as his thoughts on the Screen Actors Guild strike, of which Mercer is a member.
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“We’ve been fighting for some sort of shared prosperity,” Mercer said. “If a game does extremely well, say a $100 million budget — which is still huge for a video game — and it makes $2 billion, to be like, ‘Hey, it’d be cool to get like a small extra couple grand kickback for the 70 hours of recording we did for you,’ and they’re like, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Mercer said his “secret origin story” began with his grandmother on his dad’s side, who introduced him to the fantasy genre at a young age. Growing up, they bonded over fantasy novels and Nintendo game trading.
“She felt like she kind of had this little secret part of herself and didn't know who to talk to about it, so she kind of saw me as this opportunity to share something that she kept secret for so long,” Mercer said.
For a while, Mercer made friends by hosting “Dungeons & Dragons” sessions, saying, “That was my secret way of bonding with people.”
Mercer loves seeing someone’s first experience with roleplay games because he enjoys watching them, “begin to grasp the creative flexibility and seeing that kind of sparkle in their eyes like ‘Oh, I can do anything.’”
When the choice was made to bring his and his friend's private “Dungeons & Dragons” campaign to a public audience, many new responsibilities came along with that decision. The group had hard conversations, and everyone agreed that no matter what, “friendships come first.” They turned down many offers from big companies who wanted to take ownership of their content and potentially exploit them and their audiences.
“I hope that in some way, what we're doing helps inspire somebody else to continue that trend, to be better than we ever were, and continue to show that you can succeed and be good people,” Mercer said.
Zeke Day, a first-year student, found the lecture insightful, especially when Mercer talked about working with Dark Horse Comics, a company Day wants to work with. He liked hearing Mercer talk about the different graphic novels and video games Day knows him from.
“I love how he voice acts, how he creates and how it all works,” Day said.
Zara Zitko, a first-year psychology student, thought Mercer’s answers were very informative and gave her insight into the entertainment industry. She enjoyed hearing Mercer talk about how he and his friends were able to turn their hobby into a passion and lifestyle and commented on his authenticity.
“He seems like a really genuine person and I think that's hard to find sometimes,” Zitko said.