Embracing the world of video games with sound

Courtesy of LE Morgan via Creative Commons

The act of video game design is, in a sense, the act of world building and creating. Game designers are creating worlds ruled by their parameters, inhabited by the characters crafted by their minds, and painted with the terrains they imagine. The worlds of the games they create are not meant to only be inhabited by what they program into the game, but also for the real life people playing them, who are similar to worshipers. Games are meant for the enjoyment of players, and for some, to act as an escape from reality. However, there must first be the triggering event to allow them to get sucked into these worlds and imagine themselves in them.

This is where sound comes in. The sound of the game plays a crucial part in a gamer being able to embrace the world he is entering. Yes, the visual aspect of the games play an important role in establishing the world of the game, but it is the sound that draws them in and helps them escape from their lives for the duration of their playing time.

This can best explained by drawing a metaphor with Mathew Engelke’s A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in a African Church. During Engleke’s observation of apostlics in Zimbabwe, he notes how important sound is in their belief, and how it can help them escape from some of the harsh realities of life.

Engleke says “Verses are said to effect physical and metaphysical changes in the religious subject. Apostolics were constantly telling me what singing “does” to them: ‘We don’t notice the heat when we sing’: ‘We don’t mind the rain when we sing’: My pain go away when I sing.’ The diminishment of physical and spiritual discomfort is attributed to the qualities of the sound.”

This example shows the power of sound once it is experienced and expressed. When you first hear the music, the dialogue between characters, and the sound of the environment in the game’s world, it allows for one to ignore (to an extent) their surroundings, and simply enjoy the game, and almost seem yourself as the character you are playing as.

Take for example a game like Madden NFL or NBA2k, you hear the roar of the crowd, the play by play from announcers, the ball falling through the hoop, players tackling one another, the audio of the game almost makes it feel like you are not just a video game player, but the football or basketball player of the game you are playing. The way the sound of a hard hitting tackle is captured, it can be hard not to cringe a bit as it happens.

To further expand upon Engleke’s example, many of us have been in the situation where we are home sick, so we decide to play a video game to pass the time. We put in the game, turn the volume up, and suddenly we are so engrossed in the experience of the game, we almost forget we were so sick we had to stay home from school or work.

In the quote from Engleke, he went on to elaborate the reason behind singing having such a large impact by saying that “Ideally, the louder the verse the better. The logic behind this is that volume is a gauge of spiritual presence; the louder one sings, the closer God comes.”

So, in a sense, the louder the game is, the more you are paying attention to the game (as sound can be such a demanding sense), and thus feeling closer to the world of the game you are playing, making it an important aspect for designers to consider when creating a game.