Ashly Burch is an actor, voice artist and writer best known for playing Tiny Tina in Borderlands and a terrifying version of herself in web sketch series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? More recently she took on the roles of Chloe in Life Is Strange and Orendi in Battleborn. Here's her talking about her life with video games.
How did Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? come about?
Anthony [Burch, Ashly’s brother] wanted to make a documentary about indie games around 2007/8. So he bought a camera and we started doing sketches so he could figure out how to use it. They became popular, got on GameTrailers, and he never made the documentary! Early on in the Hey Ash days I was too nervous to write, but it was such an organic development that over time I got more and more comfortable with the idea of being a contributor, and now we mostly write all of our scripts together.
Did you and your brother bond over games from a young age?
Our mum saw Anthony at his first school play, in which he was supposed to skip, but he couldn’t. So she literally thought, ‘Well, he’s never going to be coordinated so I’m going to have to get him a fallback.’ And she bought him his first video game system! He’s two years older than me, so video games were just in my life. It was also a big inspiration and motivator for my creativity. For example, I would bring the manuals for Final Fantasy VII through X, or whatever, to elementary school. They had character bios in the front, and I’d show them to my girlfriends and we’d act out Final Fantasy.
People have always said games stifle the imagination, but presumably your parents were more progressive.
Yeah. Mum immigrated from Thailand, and didn’t even speak English, but she was very aware of how important technology was going to be. We got the Internet and cellphones – I mean, really crappy ones – probably earlier than many of my peers because of that.
Did having a brother in the video game industry push you into wanting to be a part of it, too?
Well, my first character was Tiny Tina in Borderlands, which Anthony wrote. He was writing the character and realised he wanted me to play her, but also felt like a jackass for getting hired and then being like, “Put my sister in the game!” So I submitted my audition without a name attached and they ended up picking mine. But apart from that, Hey Ash is a huge reason I’ve gotten a lot of the gigs I’ve gotten. I got my role in Mortal Kombat because of it; I’m Miss Pauling in Team Fortress 2 because of it. People were more aware of my work on Hey Ash than anything else.
Are you able to enjoy games in the same way you used to before Hey Ash? Presumably you’re continually looking for sketch opportunities.
To be honest, it’s usually that we go, “Oh, fuck, we need to write some Hey Ash episodes,” and then start going through our Rolodexes trying to remember what games we’ve played. We start thinking about what themes we want to hit, or what cultural things have happened in the industry that we want to talk about. I don’t know what the experience for Anthony and Justin is so much, but for me I honestly just play the games and then later realise, “Oh, shit, we need to write an entire season of a web series now.”
What are you playing right now?
I’m really enjoying multiplayer and cooperative experiences. So I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny: The Taken King and Rocket League. But I’m also so fascinated by the amount of female protagonists that are being featured in the games coming out. I think it’s a really encouraging shift from the trend of mostly white male protagonists. I think we still need to up our game in terms of representation of minority characters, but it feels like there’s a shift happening in the triple-A scene and more women are being included.
And how about your favourite game?
I have generalised anxiety disorder, and it was very acute when I was a child. It was hard for me to eat, I constantly felt nauseous, and I had anxiety attacks all the time. I was a ball of stress, and the only thing that would calm me down was playing Harvest Moon 64. And for that reason it is, and probably forever will be, my favourite game. I just adored it.