Breaking the Game Silence

> Hello! I’m Philip, aka Snowchill. I work with Kelfecil for IGN Greece and he graciously invited me to start writing for his blog as well. For my first article, I thought I should talk about something that recently got my attention, sound in video games.

You might think sound is not really that important when it comes to video games. Every game review you read mentions sound in just a couple lines, if at all, unless we are talking about a musical masterpiece.  However, if you take your favourite game and mute it, it suddenly loses a part of  its charm. That’s because sound, in most cases, while barely noticeable, plays an instrumental role in how you feel when you play. This is true for both AAA and Indie games. Take, for example, Skyrim. In Skyrim, the sounds you hear are there to make you feel as if you truly are exploring a vast, frozen tundra. The winds blowing around you, the calm, slow music… Of course, the game’s sound can also pump you up for a fight. Everyone who has played Skyrim remembers its main theme, and for good reason. Now, imagine if, instead of that, you heard smooth jazz when fighting a dragon. It’s just not the same. Music in games is basically a series of buttons the developers push to change your emotions.

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Sound in general, in my opinion, might be the second most important thing in games when it comes to immersion, slightly behind the graphics. Sound makes a world feel alive, as if it truly exists. In Rocket League, you can hear fans cheering. In the Banner Saga games, you can hear the din of battle around you when you fight. These things make the game believable, they make it seem like our actions are not disconnected from the world, as if they are a part of it.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of sound in a video game is the voice acting. If a game’s music is not that good, you can ignore it. You cannot ignore the guy screaming in your ear with a bad accent. Games with good voice acting make it seem like you really are talking to a guy. Games with bad voice acting are jarring and weird. My favourite example of this is easily the first Witcher game. Man, the voice actors in that game were terrible. Sometimes they were so bad they were good. A line from that game that has always stuck with me was “Your mother sucks dwarf cock!”, uttered in a weird, kinda Welsh accent. Although lines such as this one remain funny, going back and listening to the rest of the cast is not a good experience.

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While every game utilizes sound in some way, there are some that rely on it more than the others. Most of those are in the horror genre. Just like in horror movies and TV shows, sound is what makes the experience scary. Just try and play a horror game with the sound muted. It’ll just seem awkward. My go to example for this is Dead by Daylight. Dead by Daylight is an asymmetrical multiplayer horror game, where one guy is the killer and four people are the victims, trying to escape a compound by completing some task. When I first saw the game, I thought it would be pretty fun, but certainly not scary. After all, I was playing with other people, maybe even my friends, not against AI. The AI can cheat and suddenly appear in front of you. People are a bit more predictable. I was very, very wrong. In my first game, I was just sitting in a corner, fixing a generator. Suddenly, I heard a scream that literally made me jump. It was the sound of one of my teammates dying on a hook.  Later on, I started hearing a heartbeat. This was the sound of the killer coming towards me, although I didn’t know that at the time. That heartbeat, combined with some ambient music that just kept rising made me extremely scared, even though in the end I never saw the killer.

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Finally, there are some games that are based around sound. While a lot of them are too gimmicky to be fun, there are some gems in there. For example, we have A Blind Legend. In A Blind Legend, you control Edward Blake, a knight. The catch, however, is that you are blind. You are guided around the game by your daughter, but you have to do many things, chief of which is fight. To do anything, you have to rely on sound, as the screen only shows a smoke effect. At some point, you fight a bear. To do that, you have to listen for audio queues for when to attack or defend. In general, A Blind Legend manages to take sound, something usually secondary in games, and make it the basis of its gameplay. This make the game different from anything else you’ve tried and also very fun.

To summarize, I really believe sound is the unsung hero of video games (get it?). Sound is that one guy in a group who doesn’t really contribute in a conversation, but is the thing keeping the group together. If he disappears, everything falls apart. So, next time you open up a game, stop for a bit and listen. You might hear some pretty interesting stuff.

-Philip “Snowchill” Alexandris

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