Week 5: Soundscapes in Games


6:00 – 8:00PM

ARTS 103

“Three-dimensional, interactive, and synesthetic, perceived in the here and now of an embodied space, sound returns to the listener the very same qualities of being here now, of experiencing oneself as engulfed, enveloped, absorbed, enmeshed, in short, immersed in an environment. Sound surrounds.”

Frances Dyson, Sounding New Media (2009).

It is invariably the case that discussion around video games and their unique potential is through analysis of their visual content: how photorealism might affect our relationship to the characters in a gameworld; how pixels might forge certain kinds of aesthetic; how space in a gaming environment is perceived visually. Put simply, the main question tends to concern how visuals influence our experiences of a game.

This week’s Play/Pause aims to consider a broader sensory experience of gaming, focusing discussion on soundscapes in games. There’s a fair bit of criticism out there on sound in the film industry—about the ways sounds can enact ‘perceptual data’, standing in for the presence of objects and things which we maybe cannot see on the screen*. We want to draw these ideas into our game-based discussions.

The concept of the ‘soundscape’ is most commonly associated with the feeling(s) of ‘immersion’, whereby sounds play a vital part in giving us information about an environment and affects our relationship to it. Indeed, this idea can be problematic, and this is also worth thinking about (particularly as this was not necessarily a concern in 2D game design), but it is important to consider that sound may play a bigger part in our gaming experiences than we initially give it credit for. This week, we are interested in discussing further the ways in which sound orients our movements and actions within a game space.

The reading we will be looking at this week is ‘Sonic Mechanics: Audio as Gameplay’, by Aaron Oldenburg. It provides some useful analysis on the interdependence of experimental sound art and game development.


Alongside this, we will be playing Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky. The game’s entire premise antagonises the idea of ‘finitude’ within game environments. All of the sounds, environments, creatures and objects are procedurally generated (we will talk more about this in the seminar). Sound is not cited (explicitly) as an essentially central element of this game, but we will be using it alongside the reading to fuel discussion about sound and the gaming experience more generally.

Other supplementary YouTube viewings/listenings:

IGN, The Otherwordly Sounds of No Man’s Sky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUyQFRuXpfE

Bread, The Importance of Sound in Videogames (and the importance of how annoying voiceover definitely affects enjoyment of said video…)

Come armed with ideas about sound, immersion and your gaming experiences!

We look forward to seeing you there.

Vicki, Richard & Becky.

*(For a quick taster, the Virtual Barber Shop (Audio…use headphones, close ur eyes) provides an interesting binaural experience, and usefully highlights the importance of sound for implicating unseen things and spaces… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA)


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