Keith Staskiewicz
December 20, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

There’s little precedent for the notion of a “videogame star.” Gaming’s earliest and most enduring characters are typically a laconic bunch; you never saw Pac-Man deliver a blistering soliloquy. Enter Troy Baker, whose work in three of this year’s hottest triple-A releases (as private investigator Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite, hardened survivor Joel in The Last of Us, and a cackling Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins) has made him one of the biggest names in a relatively small but rapidly growing profession. “At this point we pretty much all know each other,” says the 37-year-old actor. “But each day we’re seeing more and more fish in this pond.”

The gig they’re signing up for is not an easy one. To create Joel, one of two primary characters in The Last of Us who traverse the ruins of a zombie apocalypse, Baker spent nearly 80 days — comparable to most Hollywood productions — on a motion-capture stage, acting out the numerous scenes that make up the title’s 15-plus hours of gameplay. “Troy’s performances are so different from each other,” says Ken Levine, BioShock Infinite‘s creative director. “He’s not about creating a persona of ‘Troy Baker,’ but creating characters players can disappear into.”

An avid gamer himself, Baker confesses to having little interest in acting outside the medium. “I know I can do TV and film,” he says. “I know that I can go on a set in front of four or five cameras with the hair and makeup and props and deliver a performance there. My challenge to someone who has only done that is: Can you set foot on my stage? Here is your wardrobe: a spandex suit with [motion-capture] disco balls all over it. You have a camera six inches from your face, and you’re pantomiming everything. Go!”

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