Sound, the most underrated sense in gaming

When discussing games, I often find myself looking closely at the narrative, the depth of the story (if there is one), the graphics and the playability of the game. It’s not all too often that I find myself paying a massive amount of attention to the sounds and noises within the games I play. Which may be down to a psychological approach of sound being processed automatically or  maybe I take it for granted being more associated as a background atmospheric, I don’t know.

As the title suggests, I believe sound is something within games that is totally underrated. When I say this, I don’t mean it in relation to the major scenes where music is key, i.e the change of tempo, or silence to create tension. I am talking on a closer note. As there will be moments in games where the attention to detail with graphics can really capture a moment or create a wow factor, but we often don’t notice it when it comes to the sound. Because with all this going on at once, I feel sounds get put in the background, when in fact they make the games we play what they are, they add to the worlds we play subconsciously.

The games that have truly made me realise this come in the form of Transistor and The Last Of US. I could name many more, but these are ones where there is subtle moments that make me freeze within the game, ceasing to move and just forcing me to take it in. These are moments such as the humming within Transistor, where all is hell and broken, and yet when the fight scenes are over and you are exploring. The sheer power of staying still and having Red hum along to the background music is touching to the soul, or the individual noises that the enemies make that distinguish them from from one another. Within The Last of Us it comes in many forms, with experiences that stand out the most being the most simple. I am sure I am not the only one who has been creeping along, kicked a bottle laying on the floor only to jump out of my skin thinking it’s a runner that’s somehow creeped behind me. Another example which to this day I don’t know why it impressed me was during a raining scene. Not just a small amount of rain but it’s pouring down, there are soldiers all about and you’re stealthily navigating your way through the game. A container comes up and as you step through, all turns quiet besides the pitter patter of rain hitting the steel hull of the container. It brought a true sense of realism to the game, that for a moment, there was peace and tranquillity. Until you appear out the other side and the crashing noise of thunder strikes out, voices of nearby soldiers are around the corner. I was blown away.

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Based on said games I now find that when playing anything new, I like to sit and listen to what is happening about me. Just to see if the developers have taken the time to appreciate the power of music and sound and how much it influences and creates the ambience that we all experience when entering a new digital world.

Although as much as sound does have an impact on the way we appreciate games, I also have found that it actually can provide a massive advantage within gaming both on and offline. There has been several occasions when playing an online shooter where, by honing in on the sounds around you, I have heard some sneaky ninja trying to creep up behind me by the rustle of their footsteps, turned around in time to get a surprisingly knife reversal kill. Probably to the yells of “HACKER” from the opposing player, or to be outright dumbfounded. I know it’s happened to me once or twice.

Which than leads onto my last point. If you’re playing games, the best way to experience the world around you is either with a beefy surround sound system to immerse yourself, or simply by jamming on some headphones. Nothing puts you more into the experience than a closed door, lights off and headphones on to get you truly into the zone.  It goes without saying that for those games which do take the time to make the sounds within, no matter how small, they are the ones that pull you into their world the most.