My Roommate Played a Character in a Videogame

The voice, image, and movements of Sage Mears are digitally transformed into the female lead of the latest Devil May Cry.

Sage in costume

We’re not five minutes into DmC: Devil May Cry, the latest in a series of action games from Capcom, and a vicious, Medusa-like demon blocks my character Dante’s path. Then a whip of a girl with unnaturally crystalline eyes fades in and out of view, not fully corporeal in this nightmare realm called Limbo, the place where the demons of the DmC universe reside.

“Dante! You’re gonna have to fight your way out of this one,” she says.

“I say that a lot,” says my friend, actress Sage Mears in her normal, sarcastic tone. She sits on the couch next to me, the doppelganger of the evanescent character Kat, whom she voices and plays (using motion capture technology). Kat is a mysterious medium bent on helping the game’s POV character, Dante, on his quest, so she’s full of advice and helpful hints to keep the story moving along. Forget Sage’s unbridled excitement next to me. I can’t help but freak out: this avatar version of my friend is pretty spot-on: her petite figure, oval-shaped face and its expressions are all perfectly captured. Well, minus the fact that her dark brown eyes are swapped for an inhumanly shade of blue and her virtual chest size is teetering on the unsustainable for her small frame. But still — awesome.

As Sage tackles the tutorial-heavy first level (“what does ‘RB to evade’ mean?”) and I wait for my crack at level two, I can’t help but be struck by the way the motion-capture technology records even the tiniest flicker of movement in her face — not to mention grander body gestures. I can tell that the small gathering of supporters here are also transfixed by the game’s realism. We spend a good few minutes prolonging a scene where Dante runs after Kat so we can giggle at Sage’s awkward run that is so perfectly translated on screen.

This is Sage’s first time playing the game (which was just released last month). Seeing her virtual self for the first time is entertainment enough, but the journey to enjoying the finished product on my couch over a bottle of wine might be more interesting still. When we lived together over a year and a half ago, Sage came home to report that she had booked “some videogame,” the details of which were heavily under wraps, even to the actors. It wasn’t until she was about to go to her first day of work when she was let in on the secret: she would be playing a major role in the prequel to the popular Devil May Cry franchise.

In the waiting room to audition, Sage talked with departing actresses about what to expect. Like she, everyone had prepared a random monologue, and the casting team asked them to perform a few bits of dialogue, still not even related to the game in the name of secrecy. So when Sage went in and was thanked after performing only her monologue, she figured what anyone else would have: that she didn’t get the role. After just a few hours, however, she got the call that reflects the reality of type-casting: they couldn’t necessarily verbalize why, but as soon as they saw her in the room, she just was Kat. They didn’t need to see more.

Like a good roommate, after shooting began, I grilled her on the ins and outs of her workday. She returned from the soundstage with gargantuan bruises and hilarious depictions of the difficulties of acting in a vacuum, with directors shouting out stage directions based on invisible obstacles. Her day would vary from drawing imaginary symbols with a figurative spray paint can (one of her character’s main tools) to making every variation of grunting sounds in an Automated Digital Recording (ADR) booth, without sounding too sexual — a nearly impossible feat, to say the least.

mocap mocap2

When we reach the first level’s boss, Sage’s character throws a grenade to immobilize the beast just long enough for the player to take him down, and Sage can’t help but interject with an anecdote from the set. From the beginning of production, one of her chief “complaints” was how the entire cast and crew — almost entirely male — never ceased to rib her for throwing like a girl. Though she countered with the fact that she was a girl, the jibe turned into quite the sport a number of times on set, when production would halt long enough for the entire crew to see where they sized up in the throwing department. Amidst all the testosterone, Sage always lost, but thankfully the scenes where she was required to throw something could be strategically edited to compensate for her lack of “manly” throwing skills.

Moments later my amusement is cut short when the controller is passed on to me — Sage has now died for the second time in ten minutes — and I feel a surge of adrenaline that I can only blame on the rhythmic pumping of the heavy metal score. My first move is to improve upon Dante’s newly acquired scythe, and as I run through a tutorial of the unlocked combination, I’m feeling pretty good about my skills.

Except this second level boss is no joke. I realize that’s because I have to use the arbiter-thingy to properly put him down — thank god someone in this room knows how to use an Xbox. After a minute or so of attempting elaborate “combos,” I take Sage’s advice, almost as if I’m Dante listening to Kat, and randomly mash buttons until the baddie finally goes down.

Nailed it.

My friends have a hard time taking back the controller after that. It seems I possess a bit of beginner’s luck when it comes to videogames — who knew? We celebrate with more wine and all I can think is that they better make a sequel and bring back Sage as Kat, because we all can’t wait to do this again.

Photo of Sage in costume by David Freid

Lauren Bagby started her stint in Los Angeles by paying her dues in the film and television industry, but now has a career working with individuals who more readily accept her sense of humor: teaching middle school. In her free time she still dabbles in screenwriting and lives vicariously through her very talented friends. You can visit her website.