Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Bleep Blorp

A musing on the significance of sound in video games:

Sound plays a great deal more into video games than a lot of people realize, I think. Unlike the cinematic score in movies — music that punctuates the mood and tells the viewer how to feel — the music in video games is usually inconsequential to gameplay. That is, it just loops with the same melody onward to infinity, providing of course your character stays in the same area and there's no time limit. In spite of — or because of — this tendency, you hear the same music over and over again. I’d wager just about anybody kid under 25 and over 15 could hum the original Super Mario Bros. tune in an instance if you asked them to. But while the music and memory of it is just kind of a by-product of playing video games, the sound effects are very crucial, necessitating the player’s memorization and instant recognition of a whole vocabulary of sound effects to succeed in the game.

For instance, going back to Super Mario Bros., every noise has a distinct meaning: one for when Mario snags a coin, one for when he slides down a pipe, and one for when a Koopa shell ricochets off something, whether that be Mario’s foot or a wall or a warp pipe or whatever. Thus, in order to do well, the player would have to hear the noise of a recently-kicked shell bouncing off an upcoming obstacle and then prepare to have Mario jump over it as it comes sliding back. Or take a hit. Whatever.

And Super Mario Bros. is just a simple game, too. Newer games that have for complex sonic capabilities have hundreds of sound effects that people still learn to translate instantly. Funny that.

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