Posted March 2, 2017 by Mike Mineo in Features

How Does Music Affect Gaming?

Music and video games have a long and illustrious history, and no big budget video game is complete without a typically bombastic soundtrack to augment the onscreen action.

But whilst the use of sound effects might have obvious benefits for adding realism to a video game, it’s still not immediately apparent why a musical soundtrack is such an essential part of modern day gaming.

There are currently many acclaimed musicians who have become famous for their pioneering work in video games soundtracks. Whether it’s Jason Graves’ innovative works for titles such as Until Dawn and Far Cry Primal, or James Hannigan and his famous Soviet March theme for Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, it’s clear that music can really affect the mood of a video game.

What’s remarkable is how video games soundtracks seem to be getting more complex as our games become more sophisticated. Take last year’s Final Fantasy XV that used an innovative soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura that added a layered and interactive element that changed according to the user’s progression through the game.

The fact that this acclaimed soundtrack took a decade to create should surprise nobody, and many other gaming hits of 2016 also included detailed scores to add that all-important sense of atmosphere and realism to the onscreen action.

What better way for the Hitman assassin game to gain that glamorous sense of danger than through a soundtrack that took many motifs from the Henry Mancini-influenced spy movie realm. And similar musical themes could also add a touch of glamour to the Lucky Nugget Blackjack games for an air of real sophistication.

Whilst we can all agree that music can make a game feel more dramatic and engrossing, it’s still a mystery as to how it can affect our actual gameplay. Certain psychological studies have had widely differing results as to whether music can boost or inhibit a player’s performance, and it has been argued that we may learn a difficult game faster when we’re not being distracted by the in-game music.

But before you turn off the music in your next game of online blackjack, it’s also worth remembering that driving beats and propulsive rhythms can help motivate us and speed up our gaming behaviour. So just as there’s an endless range of games and soundtracks, it seems that there’s almost as many ways that a soundtrack can influence our gameplay.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].