So often, we get caught up in the story and mechanics of a game that we forget another member of the complete family: music. Sometimes, the right melody can seal a memorable experience. I truly believe that music is an important part of any good game as it can hit your senses in a whole new manner. Without it, you get a game that may not be the full meal you’re looking for.
Now, at this point, I’d normally talk about my go-to game for all things amazing, Metal Gear. Especially when it comes to talking about music. But I won’t. There are many other examples of music enhancing the gameplay experience. One series that stands out to me is the Modern Warfare titles of Call of Duty. Specifically, the certain times when you’re in a hopeless situation, surrounded by so many bad guys and running out of ammo. I remember there always being a solemn track playing in the background that made me feel like I wasn’t getting out of this one. Not sure if this happened to other gamers, but hearing that music in the situation just clicked a switch for me, making me actually not worry about dying so much and just getting it done. It was these times that made me appreciate the campaign much more.
In college, I worked toward getting my minor in dance. My last year in school, I participated in a student-choreographed concert, and I created a piece based off of music from Mass Effect 3. I think if you’ve played the game, you’ll remember the emotionally touching ending theme, after you make Shepard’s final choice. Yep, that’s the one I used. Without going into detail about how the piece worked, I was able to find inspiration out of the song, without even having the game in front of me. That’s a testament to how powerful music is, when you can hear it outside of the medium it’s from and have it still affect the heart.
Even when I was a kid, music held a special place for me, and one of those prime examples was from Final Fantasy VIII. My first real experience with the series, VIII introduced me to amazing fantasy scenes with a touching orchestra behind them. Even with the stop and go action of the classic RPG gameplay, I still felt like I was accomplishing something special. I think that that’s one reason why that title was my favorite; that one and Final Fantasy X, of course. Both enhance the story with their musical accompaniment.
I think that with these examples, I’ve brought up two good points about what music can do. First, it allows for stories to have deeper meaning. I’m sure everyone has examples of a good score in a story. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been as scared of Outlast as I was if the music was super creepy, so thanks to developer Red Barrels for that. The other point I’ve made is that the music can actually drive performance in a game. Dubstep and rock have always been my friends during some of my best Battlefield matches. Just like athletes pre-game with their favorite tracks, many gamers pump up their adrenaline and focus with all kinds of music. It certainly has a motivating effect.
Before I end this, I have one more thought. So far we’ve discussed the effect of music. But, what happens in the absence of music during crucial moments? Does that make scene better? Normally, I would say no. But I do remember several times during The Last of Us when I was completely absorbed in the task at the time, and there was no music involved, or needed. Creeping around the infected and hearing their breathing and screeches was enough to show what the developers were wanting you to experience. I think that it’s really a case by case basis on that front.
So, the next time you play something, take a second to just listen. Does the music make sense? How does it hit you? I’m all for exploring the lesser seen aspects of any game, and music is one of those that affect the overall gameplay for me. It’s my hope that you’ll start listening more and figure out ways that the music helps or hinders your time with the characters.