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The Role of Music in Video Games

The Role of Music in Video Games

Regardless of whether you’re a gamer in today’s day and age, there are some video game soundtracks that are impossible to forget. From Super Mario Bros. to Tetris, Pokémon Gold and Silver to Halo or even The Legend of Zelda – video game soundtracks are a staple of every game and yet, they’re not talked about as much.

Similar to films, music in video games serve as a tool that controls and establishes the tone of the story being told. It sets a foundation for the storytelling narrative and creates an immersive experience for the player. But here’s the difference: unlike films, you are the hero in every game you play. The player controls what happens next instead of playing spectator to everything happening. So, for a video game soundtrack to really capture a player’s attention, it is vital for the developer/composer to create a soundtrack that mirrors the themes of the video game.

From brawlers to dungeon crawlers – whatever kind of gamer you are, you have to know that there’s more to video games than their life-like graphics and ever-changing controls. Music shapes the gaming experience. It can transform in seconds, from a soothing melody when you’re gazing at a snow-capped mountainside to heavy machinery, grunts, and drums the second you’re under attack or about to engage in combat.

It doesn’t have to be a complex soundtrack – it just has to communicate the appropriate information to the player. Over the years, many music sequences have become more memorable than the games they were made for. (Examples: Resident Evil 6, Final Fantasy XIII, Contrast)

Music is best when it’s not intrusive but yet complements the gameplay. Auditory cues in the form of sound effects can help a player associate with incoming threats, which would otherwise make the playing process difficult. Music has a responsibility – to create a new world for the user to escape to no matter where they find themselves. It is a key feature in the video gaming experience and has the power to significantly contribute to the player’s performance. Music promotion via video games is also growing rapidly today.

How Music Affects Player Performance

Music in Video Games

Music and sound effects can impact and enhance a player’s performance or diminish it – depending on how the player perceives it. Here’s something to ponder over: “Tafalla (2007) found that male gamers scored almost twice as many points while playing the first-person shooter game DOOM with the sound on (chilling music, weapon fire, screams, and labored breathing) compared to those playing with the sound off.”

Hearing music in video games builds an intense environment, enhances aesthetic continuity, and cultivates the theme of the game. It doesn’t just provide an audio compliment to the on-screen action but also helps create a sense of a real, physical space. This is why a lot of musicians today are collaborating with gamers to create gaming montages. Click here to learn more about the best songs for video game montages.

Music usually exists in the background in games such as Grand Theft Auto when a player is racing their car down the street. Most times, a player won’t even notice the music is there – until it stops or changes pace. It’s a pivotal part of the gaming experience which would be very different if left unaccompanied by music. And gamers are always on the lookout for the best background music for gaming videos which can draw more viewers to their work. 

Background music is one of the most important features of a video game because it causes and creates emotional responses. It is designed very particularly, with the aim to motivate players all while staying in the background. It sets the mood and tone of the game, keeps up a good rhythm all while encouraging the players instead of distracting them from the game’s objectives. In many cases, these sound effects help players predict threats, violence or competition within the gameplay and help with enhancing their performance.

As per video game music composer Winifred Philips (who crafted scores for games including God of War, Assassin’s Creed: Liberations, and Spyder) music composition has a special connection to gameplay. “Gameplay is, for a composer, very much a structure that we wrap our music around,” said Philips. “There is an inherent energy level and a visual kinetic rhythm to gameplay that as a composer I try to pay very close attention to. If I’m doing my job correctly, my music is going to kind of jigsaw well into the overall visual rhythm of gameplay, it’s going to feel like it really marries well to the energy level and promotes the players’ immersion and involvement.”

Video game music has unique traits which assist players with understanding the environment they’re playing in. Of course, games aren’t created with the music alone, but it is the understated hero that adds depth to the gaming experience. Video games wouldn’t be the same without their theme music, the need for these ever-changing melodies is more prevalent than ever today. It is integral to the way entertainment is experienced, and the gaming industry knows that well. 

There is no feeling that music cannot translate: survival, shock, horror, tragedy, disaster – you name it. It can combine all of them into one tune, take Naughty Dog’s tour de force; The Last of Us. Argentine Composer Gustavo Santaolalla created a timeless, unforgettable soundtrack for the game. The music reflects the narrative’s tragedy from the very onset of the dystopian story and sets a foundation for each character (and by default, each player) in its dark and gritty universe. The range of emotions, the character development, the precepts of tragedy all have their place in the game’s rousing score, as does the glimmer of hope softly lurking in the background. You don’t know it’s there until it’s gone.

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