Do You Play Better with In-Game Music Turned On or Off?

By Cynthia Grillo

Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Dark Souls 3

Have you ever considered playing an action-packed game such as Doom with only in game sounds like gunfire, footsteps, and bones crushing? The game would still be fun, but not as intense as it is with its fast-paced soundtrack that makes you almost as furious as the Doom Guy himself. Almost every game has a soundtrack accompanied with it and they are meant to enhance gameplay. Role playing games give you atmospheric music or climactic battle music. Multiplayer games give you musical sound queues that signify what is happening in game. Single player shooters can be silent throughout the entire game minus the engaging battle songs. But how does it affect your gameplay?

The purpose of a game soundtrack is to immerse a player into the world it has created. But does it affect you in any other way? You might find that some games seem better when you turn the in game music off, while other games you might be dying much more frequently when music is absent. Of course there are rhythm games, like Dance Dance Revolution, Osu, Crypt of the Necrodancer, or Guitar Hero that require music to play properly, but there are other games that have music that coincide with gameplay very fluidly.

I came across a video that gives a neat perspective on why the boss, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, from Dark Souls 3 is considered to be one of the most punishing bosses in the game. It gives a very unusual perspective on why people could struggle with a boss battle that isn’t even at the end of the game. To give a brief understanding of the game, the Dark Souls series is an RPG that depends on perfectly timed dodge-rolls to avoid damage and determining when and how to attack a weak point while taking minimal damage. The game has been popularized for its extreme difficulty. In the back of your mind, sure, rhythm can be important regarding when you time your attacks or rolls, but many don’t take into consideration that one different song can turn players off-kilter and send them on a losing streak.

The video goes on to explain different time signatures and how Dark Souls 3 utilizes it in its soundtrack. Put simply, a time signature is how many beats there are in each bar. One of the most common time signatures is a 4/4 time signature, and almost every Dark Souls 3 boss and enemy attacks in a 4/4 rhythm. Once you play enough Dark Souls 3, following this rhythm becomes second nature and you can even handle new enemies for the first time if you dodge and attack at a certain rhythm.

Once you get about 75% through the game you are forced to encounter the Dancer of the Boreal Valley. Nearly every single boss in Dark Souls 3 has climactic music that has a very discernable beat that the boss follows with its attacks. The Dancer of the Boreal Valley, on the other hand, has one of the calmest, slowest theme songs I have ever experienced in a game’s boss battle ever. The beat is not very discernable at all, but listened closely it is in a time signature not shared with any other boss in the game. It is in ¾ time signature, which does not comply with the game’s previous rhythm at all. Her attacks are even more sporadic which completely throw players off and send them loading saves again and possibly into a fit of rage.

Screenshot from Blizzard’s FPS, Overwatch

Examples like the Dancer of the Boreal Valley aren’t as common, but it does illustrate how important game music can be. According to a study done by Psychology Today, players new to the game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had a harder time playing the game with in game music playing. This is assumedly because of newer players being focused on visual elements, while experienced Zelda players prefer to keep the music on.

Opposite issues happen in Overwatch, the new multiplayer shooter by Blizzard Entertainment. Overwatch doesn’t really have an extensive soundtrack; it only plays music in the main menu and at key points in a match. For example, music plays briefly when the timer is running out, when your team or when the enemy team is close to reaching their destination. For newer players, these musical cues can easily alert newer players to pay attention to the timer or objective. For advanced or professional players on the other hand, the music can become a major distraction and can cause a death and a loss of that match. Advanced players heavily rely on sound queues in game, so if an enemy comes behind you while in game music is playing in the background, you can die. In a game where dying in less than a second is a staple, faint footsteps behind you are extremely important. The addition of in game music can stop you from hearing footsteps and abilities being called out, so many players are deciding to turn it off instead.

In-game music can be a blessing and a curse. Music can hinder new players and it can hinder veteran players. Though this is a possibility, video game soundtracks are thought out with the player experience in mind. Many soundtracks are almost required to allow the player to be even remotely efficient in game. Video game soundtracks can be iconic within themselves, but the way they affect players and their gameplay is the true importance of them.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Nimbly Aware’s story.