Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Sounds of Gaming


I’ve seen other bloggers mention music at their gaming sessions. Sometimes it just seemed to be something that was playing in the background, other times people choose it as a sort of game soundtrack. I don’t know how widespread either of these practices are; Neither have been common in groups I’ve played in, but I don’t know that I have a big sample.

It would seem to me that music might break immersion in the game at times--at least popular music--as it might have very different associations for a person or take them out of the game at hand. Then again, immersion isn’t terribly important to all people or all games at all times--and it’s not like plenty of other distractions don’t present themselves that have no possiblity of game enhancement.

I can think of one game I ran where we did use music and sound effects where it very much enhanced everyone’s enjoyment. In a FASA Star Trek game back in the nineties (when dinosaurs ruled the Earth) we approached the sessions as if they were episodes of a Trek TV series. We would begin with a teaser or cold open to sort of get the adventure started, then my friend whose house we played at would cue up the theme song on his computer. Periodically, we’d also interject appropriate turbolift, transporter, or computer sounds--not always, but enough to remind us of the sensory environment of the world we were trying to emulate.

Those touches and a group of players who were all knowledgeable Star Trek fans made that the best media property based game I’ve played. I’ve dabbled in a fair number of licensed rpgs over the years, but none of the have ever come close.

So what about you guys: experiences good, bad, or otherwise with music and sound effects in games?

17 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

For painting sessions we play a lot of movie inspired music, in gaming it's usually started by one of the players doing the sounds effects of explosions and gunfire until he's hit in the head with a couple of well aimed dice but I could understand it more for an RPG where atmosphere is king.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I've played around with using music in the games I've run. Its pretty easy to set up.

Just take a look at your adventure and then use various bits from film scores and the like.. build a playlist in Windows Media player.. I imagine it would be even easier on an Ipad or Android if it weren't for their tinny speakers.

Anything with lyrics though is straight out.

Grendelwulf said...

I don't use music as often as I used too. It depends on my players and how serious it seems the game may be.

I would use medieval sounding music whenever the players reached a city, or classical if they went to see a king or noble, etc. And how could one not play almost anything from John WIlliams when a big baddie was coming? Jaws main theme and Imperial March never grow dull.

Porky said...

There's an opening, a help for bigger publishers in justifing higher costs - they could add soundtracks and effects in an electronic audio file, assuming they don't already.

BigMike said...

I just love the idea of playing out an episode of a TV show as a game session...

Risus Monkey said...

We've done the theme for Buffy to introduce our Buffy RPG sessions 9though we haven't done it in a while). The best use of music for us was playing Ennio Morricone during our weird western games. Back in the day, I played various goth-industrial artists during Vampire but some players found it distracting.

christian said...

Generally, I just turn on one of the XM radio stations on the TV while we game. Usually, you can find a channel to suit the game at hand.

Pool Fool said...

i think sometime the sounds are wrong for what happens

Joshua LH Burnett said...

I don't use it as much as I used to, but music used to be a huge part of my gaming experience. Back when I played "Nightlife" (a 1990's urban horror splatterpunk RPG) we made great use of the "Crow" and "Demon Knight" soundtracks. For AD&D we played a lot of Queen.

My current group still uses music occasionally. Johnny Cash and The Raconteurs played behind a few of our "Dogs in the Vineyard" games, and the "Last Night on Earth" boad game comes with it's own soundtrack.

Trey said...

Sounds like most are one the pro-music side of things, which is sort of what I expect.

@Porky - That's a good idea. I wonder if they think it's too gimmicky. Well, I would wonder that if we weren't talking about rpg companies, so I can't explain it. ;)

Malakor said...

Our group almost always uses music. I often put together session specific playlists when I'm running, which helps a bit.

A few years back I had fun with doing 'environmental' sounds in the background, and I had a remote for the playback unit. It took a while for the players to realize that when the crickets and birds when silent, something was wrong, and then it became one of those 'oh crap' moments when they'd notice it.

Harald said...

When we play, we most often have music playing in the background, but we usually don't make it into a big deal. The way we do it, we try to find some music that works with what we're playing. Often the game ends up adapting to what what we're playing.

I think my rule of thumb is that music is important, but that the type of music isn't wrong is more important than it being "right."

Logan said...

I use three playlist:
- A Mixture of Conan, the Barbarian, World of Warcraft and God of War for Fantasy sessions.
- A Mixture of Silent Hill, Hellraiser, the Ring and other horror tracks for Horror sessions.
- A Mixture of Matrix, Ghost in the Shell and Gears of War for SF-Session.

We use background music permanently for gaming. In the older days we used more metal, but music with singing disrupts the playing very often. So we uses soundtracks as favorite gaming music.

Trey said...

@Malakor - Heh. That sounds cool.

@Harald - Sounds like good advice.

@Logan - Some fine choices there. Basil Poledouris' soundtrack for the first Conan film is great.

Canageek said...

I normally don't use music, as it is way too much of a hassel, but I've played games at a local game store that piped it into the gaming rooms (Yes, it has four well lit gaming rooms with large tables and computer chairs. One has a full wall-window, all have open doors to the main area and windows to it. Best. Gaming. Shop. Ever.) anyway, it is good as long as it doesn't make it hard to hear the players ( a common complaint I have).

I also had a recent beer & pretzels (well, without the beer) type game were we each picked a song in turn. Went ok, was good for the lighthearted mood.

Regina said...

Back when I was running on a very regular basis, I used background music. I also used sound effects tapes (nighttime, thunderstorms, etc).

Man, you grab the wrong music, though, you send a waaaay different message than you intended to. :-D But yeah, I found it really did help with the immersive effect I was going for.

Trey said...

Ha! Good point.