great blog! only one small gripe--in the title, it should be '...and the effect it has on the player.' affect is a verb, effect is a noun. otherwise i loved it.
What is the importance of music in media art forms? The conventions of music in film has been integral for decades and as gaming evolves rapidly year after year it's reliance on music to portray emotions, set scene and cast it´s power over the human brain for all manner of suggestibility, is more present than ever. Music has become so powerful in gaming that many games are given identity solely from the songs they produce. The theme tune for Super Mario Bros is whistled and hummed around the world. Some of the people i've heard chirping along to Koji Kondo´s classic haven't even played the game itself, they just know it´s the theme for Mario. This is a tribute to the dynamism of music in gaming.
Music in essence draws out mood. Depending on the notes used, the tempo and genre, music can bring about varying associations. A thrashing guitar riff, accompanied by a drummer whose arms could only be explained if they were powered by a traction engine, implies that some action is afoot. Similarly then, if through the speakers came some piercing, ambient strings, it would resemble an ominous danger ahead. If you open that door where the music builds to it´s crescendo, there will be nothing but trauma for everyone involved. I know, i opened it. An example of this in a game can be seen in a survival horror such as Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly.
For the most part Project Zero is dank and silent, enouncing nothing but the haunting sounds of your own feet, clip clopping painfully slowly down decrepit hallways. Then, just when the tension is too much to bear and something extra terrifying happens, a bell or a chime would sound and in a way only these Japanese survival horrors can muster, every hair on your body stands on end. Then the pause button gets a frequent seeing to in the disillusioned belief that the menu screen will come to your aid. But it doesn´t come to your aid, it only prolongs your impending doom.
A consequence of the connotations conjured up in video game soundtracks can be the manner in which the player reacts to the connections they make. With certain music portraying particular images and memories in a player´s brain, game developers can use music as a weapon for clairvoyance. In video games an air of suggestibility is often cleverly used to sway a player´s decisions. With video games today fixated on player interaction and the vast majority of RPGs having their stories revolve around the whims of the player, this seemingly unconscious tool can manipulate and reprimand free will in ways unknown to the player. In Fallout 3 the radio station an NPC is listening to can determine their character. If i come across an old man in a shack somewhere who wants me to join his crew but i discover that buzzing away in the background, emitting itself shamelessly from the radio, is the brainwashing propaganda of the Enclave, i´m going to turn him down and walk away. That is if i´m in a good mood. If on the way in, a Giant Rad Scorpion has had it's wicked way with my shin bones, i might be more inclined to slip a grenade in his pocket and grin at him as i swing the unfastened pin on the end of my finger.
More important features of music are to paint a picture, set the scene and work in cohesion with the visuals at hand. Adjusting the tone of an area in a video game is vital to lull the player into believing in what they´re playing. If the scene is a quiet little village and the player is attending the funeral of his recently lost accomplice, the background music cannot be an accordion or some up tempo jazz, it just wouldn´t fit. To set the scene of something different like a boss´s castle, you would have an ill foreboding organ and that´s because it is the most effective instrument for the foretelling of danger. It´s a simple as that, some instruments have their emotional calling and this is a factor exacted on in good games. If the music fits the setting then the game makers have done their task to fully submerge their audience.
In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time you ascend a seemingly never ending set of stairs in Ganons Castle. It's the final dungeon of the game, you've just slain that guy in the armour on his throne and the final Boss awaits. As Link trudges up the stairs you hear an organ playing. It sounds like doom personified and the further you climb, the louder it gets. It becomes obvious at this point that it's Gannondorf himself tinkering on the keys and for the briefest of moments, despite all the atrocities he has committed and the trials you've suffered through to get to his throat, you kind of regret having to see such a talent go to waste. Why did he have to opt for the career path of Gerudo thief and ruler of Hyrule? Digression overcome, the tension you feel in the game at this point is due to the organ and the relevence of that sound with power and climax thus making the build up to this classic battle between Link and Gannon more effective.
Gaming, for me, is the ultimate door in the wall. The most vivid and beautifully crafted games offer escapism of the likes no other art form can comprehend. A large part of this is down to the use of music convincing the player in the world he/she is set to explore. Let´s look at one game in particular that paralyses the need for reality: Shadow of the Colossus. With the originality and ingenuity of the game aside, the music had me completely unwilling to return to my normal life outside the screen. When you first scale the hairy achilles heel of colossus number one and The Opened Way blasts out timpani drums and violins in all their glory, you realise something;- this is the most epic and exciting thing you will ever do. But once the colossus falls and the choir voices chant their angelic song, whispering that perhaps you've commited some unholy act, You lament destroying such a phenomonal creature. No other media can make you feel this contradiction of emotions in such a short space of time. I´ve never finished listening to a pop song and sat there feeling simultaneously Godlike and felonious. Katy Perry just doesn´t bring to life those emotions for me i´m afraid, call me shallow but it's true.
Looking at how far music in gaming has come to this present day is also a testament to it´s importance within the industry. Music no longer acts solely as a background feature. With a flurry of titles such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band sweeping across the market, music takes a primary stance. Control pads are being replaced with plastic guitars and drum sets in a simulation of playing in your favorite bands. A combination of player interactivity and musical control could see the future of gaming shaped much to the liking of the consumers themselves. It´s conceivable that the unforesseable choices of the player could render preassumed soundtracks absolete. A soundtrack made in order to keep up with these intangible set of circumstances would have to be sculpted in such a way that every possible scenario is accounted for. With this in mind we can see how unbelievably difficult it is for game developers to adapt their themes to represent the predicaments faced in their games and how well they're managing to do so.
Consider a game's main protagonist is meandering gleefully through a meadow (each player´s approach to gaming is unique to them, we shall not judge) picking up geraniums and petting deers at will. The music, to fulfill it's atmospheric obligations, would assume a pleasant note. Perhaps a guitar being plucked by an Angel whilst swinging in a hammock made from the rainbow, i´m not Koji Kondo i don´t know. Then suddenly out of nowhere, one broody looking deer takes the grooming the wrong way, mistakes the genteel smile of the protagonist for a leer and attacks. The music is altered, the pace quickens, some drumming is introduced. The whole outlook of the scene has changed in an instant and the music is the vessel for that transition. In many open world RPGs the situation is akin to this. At any given time in an elder scrolls game an enemy could sprout from the foliage looking to relieve you of your HP. It´s a contemporary matter that sound teams across the board are doing incredibly well to overcome.
The importance of music in gaming and the affects it has on the players is beyond count. Time after time i've listened to old tracks from my favorite games and almost broken into tears awash with nostalgia. The power of music in video games to drag you away from the drabness of existence and into dimensions of fiction is simply unparralelled in my eyes and hopefully i´m not the only one.
Great blog! BGM is something that many gamers take for granted--And yet it's often one of the most important parts of the experience. I see I've found a fellow SotC fan--Although I've got to say, I like Ico better. And "You Were There"? Amazing song that really made the ending of that game something amazing. Have you played it? Anyway, once again, great blog and I hope to see more of you soon.
@nintendo-naut Yeah i prefer Ico too tbh but i'm always preaching to people about how amazing it is so i decided to reference SOTC instead. The Ico ending is the best ending to a game ever, the part on the beach killed me. Did you hear that Ueda has dropped out of Team Ico? The Last Guardian better still make an appearance, i've been waiting for too long.
@UniversalSigh Oh yeah. Ico's ending is insane.
Yeah it's a shame Ueda is out--And TLG development is starting to look sketchy. It's unfortunate. :/