Paige FTW: The Art Of The Celebrity Cameo

While the much-loved celebrity cameo is a staple of movies and television, it’s much harder to successfully pull off in a video game.

“Wow, Ariana Grande in Final Fantasy!” sounds like a joke, not a serious thing that actually happened. (It happened in Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, a mobile title that saw a little bunny-eared Ariana killing monsters as a fairly powerful character, plus she came with a rather nice remix of Touch It.)

Yet that isn’t even the series’ first foray into the celebrity cameo. The songstress Lenne from Final Fantasy X-2 was visually based on and voiced by Japanese pop queen Kumi Koda. It would have been lost on American audiences, of course, but it was kind of a big flippin’ deal, as was rock superstar Gackt serving a similar role for Genesis in multiple Compilation of Final Fantasy VII titles.

Then again, America produced a short sequence in Call of Duty where you can play President John F. Kennedy mowing down zombies while spouting various witticisms in his distinctive Bostonian accent. And Ellen Page leant her face to Jodie in Beyond: Two Souls. So the celebrity cameo clearly comes in many flavors.

But what makes one successful? And why do video games have such a hard time with them?

First, video games have a hurdle that film does not: uncanny valley. It looks like JFK, but it’s not quite right, cognitive dissonance of him killing zombies aside. The result is that it feels forced unless the person is entering a highly stylized title, in which case they don’t look very much like themselves anymore, and it hardly feels like a cameo by then.

Second, agency makes it weird. It’s one thing to see JFK as a story character who speaks to yours (as he does in Call of Duty). It’s another when you are JFK. Something just feels sketchy about that.

Then again, if anyone is going to pull this off, it’s gonna be Hideo Kojima, because Death Stranding is all cameo all the time. Time, it seems, will tell.