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We’ve all felt it: we’re playing a great game, getting absorbed into the story and scenery, feeling like a part of the world that we’re interacting with, and suddenly, a snippet of jarring voice acting or a bad soundtrack choice tears us from our experience. Sound and music in games is one of the biggest deciding factors on how immersive our time spent with a video game can be. Good sound work can draw us in, working with the graphics and story of a game to captivate our eyes and ears. Awful sound work can have the opposite effect, sometimes even ruining an otherwise great package.
Take Fallout 3 for example. Set in the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., the game creates one of the most exciting and interesting world in a video game in recent memory1. The wonderful sound and music helps to draw the player in. The rattle of gunfire, the cries of Super Mutants and raiders, the iconic announcing voice of Three Dog, and music drawn from the 30’s and 40’s all work together to create a very convincing world.
Another fine game with great sound quality is the original Bioshock. The city of Rapture is quite literally falling apart when the protagonist arrives after a plane crash, evidenced by both sights and sounds2. The dripping of water, the screams and moans of Splicers and Big Daddies, the sounds of phonographs playing the music of the period, and great voice acting helped elevate this game above the rest in the sound department. The sound here helped players to become drawn in and invested in the world of Rapture and the interesting events that took place within.
The game Flower uses music and sounds to create a very tranquil and serene environment3. The sounds of grass swaying in the gentle breeze are very calming. The subdued soundtrack also factors into the general sense of peace, a welcome change from a good many of the video games out there.
A recent study was conducted to show the link of player immersion and the inclusion of music and sound in a video game. Using the game Half-Life 2, the researches used measurements minute changes in facial expression and conducted a survey to show the correlation between immersion and sound4. While the study showed no changes in the physical aspects of a player when playing a game with the sound on or off, players reported more positive feelings when playing the game with the sound on. The research concluded that game sound seemed crucial for a more subjective and positive experience with a game4.
(A Table from the Research)
Table 3. Averages (standard deviations) of GEQ responses.4
|Music on||Music off||Music on||Music off|
|Immersion||1.53 (1.08)||1.51 (1.01)||1.13 (.95)||.85 (.79)|
|Flow||2.10 (1.28)||2.37 (.94)||1.72 (1.32)||1.50 (1.12)|
|Competence||2.18 (1.21)||2.24 (.93)||1.88 (1.10)||1.57 (1.06)|
|Positive affect||2.06 (1.11)||2.16 (.93)||1.61 (.93)||1.49 (1.00)|
|Tension||.97 (1.12)||1.41 (.81)||1.94 (1.13)||1.57 (1.13)|
|Challenge||2.18 (1.08)||2.19 (.69)||1.96 (.85)||1.60 (.81)|
|Negative affect||.86 (.86)||1.06 (.62)||1.63 (1.02)||1.71 (1.10)|
Note. Each GEQ dimension listed above contains five items (except immersion with six items), each item consists of a statement on a five-point scale ranging from 0 (not agreeing with the statement) to 4 (completely agreeing with the statement).
Sound has grown to be one of the most important aspects of video games and video game design. Video games are reaching a point where graphics can only do so much to instill a sense of fun and immersion in what we play. This holds especially true with the many 2-D downloadable titles that hearken back to the earlier days of video games. There is a specific void in terms of immersion that glossy and beautiful graphics can only go so far to fill. This is a void that can and has been filled with music. Music can take a mediocre experience and make it a far more enjoyable one. Music in a video game can be endearing, charming, and can move the senses. While graphics can become outdated in a matter of years, the themes of the original Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda still enchant listeners today. The growth of the music in the video games we play has not only lead to how we interact with both video games and music in general, it has also created memorable experiences and a fan base that cannot be denied.
1. Fallout 3. Bethesda Game Studios: 2008.
2. Bioshock. 2K Boston/2K Australia: 2007.
3. Flower. thatgamecompany: 2009.
4. Nacke, Lennart, Mark Grimshaw, and Craig Lindley. "More than a feeling: Measurement of sonic user experience and psychophysiology in a first-person shooter game." Interacting with Computers 22.5 (2010): 336-343. Web. 28 Nov 2010.
"Fallout 3." XSp.. Web. 28 Nov 2010. <http://xspblog.com/2008/08/29/fallout-3/>.
Trailer of New PS3 game called Flower from TGS 2007. Web. 28 Nov 2010. <http://www.product-reviews.net/2007/09/20/trailer-of-new-ps3-game-called-flower-from-tgs-2007/>.
"Bioshock Gameplay (Part 1)." youtube.com. Web. 28 Nov 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCnsSiBqybc&feature=related>.
"Flower gameplay video PS3." youtube.com. Web. 28 Nov 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNWcoO3u0pU>