Music has always played an important role in video games. Hearing the soundtrack of your favorite video game from childhood triggers a massive wave of nostalgia, even if you wouldn’t normally remember how it sounded. Some video game music and sound effects have become so deeply embedded in our pop culture that they’re recognizable even if you have never played the game – the Super Mario theme song is the most obvious example of this.
As video games moved from simple side scrollers to more involved games that required more hours to play through, their music became more complicated and elaborate. At the same time, video games entered the mainstream culture to a greater extent than they ever had done before.
Those two factors combined led to video game soundtracks finally being seen as real music and not just background sound. We’re now seeing big names in the music world, such as Ariana Grande and Katy Perry, contributing songs to video game soundtracks. These artists each contributed a song to the mobile game Final Fantasy Brave Exvius.
Mobile games are designed to be playable in silence, since that is how many people play them, but they also use music and sound to enhance the player experience. Music and sound are important parts of the mobile gaming experience. Here are four of the ways in which they make the experience better:
Immersion can be hard to achieve with mobile games – without the big screen monitor or a full headset, it can be harder to feel like you’re fully in the game. Music and sound can make up for the small screen to an extent and help players feel more immersed in the game. Mobile casino games are a great example of this.
Playing casino games on mobile can feel a million miles away from actually being on the casino floor. Music and sound effects can go a huge way to bridging that gap and increasing the immersion that casino gamers feel. The music in slot games gives them an added layer, while the sound effects when a reel hits on the right symbols helps to capture the feeling of the bells and sirens going off when a slot machine hits a big score in a traditional land-based casino.
Most video game music is relatively incidental – it is the background soundtrack to the game as a whole. Most games also have music or sound effects that let a player know when they’re in danger. This could be when an enemy is close, when time is about to run out or when a life bar is nearly drained.
Having the right music or sounds in those moments can spur players to play better. It can improve player decision-making if they begin to associate certain musical cues with certain enemies. We all know that the extra kick of adrenaline you get from hearing the warning music start can really send your fingers flying.
There is a subset of mobile games that are focused on helping people develop their mindfulness skills and improve their mood. Music plays an important role in these games, especially in the area of improving mood and promoting relaxation.
The prime example of this is the game I Love Hue Too. It is a fairly basic game where players rearrange colored tiles to replicate color patterns. Part of the mindfulness aspect is the repetitive nature of the game – it allows you to focus without becoming stressed. As each level is passed, players receive positive affirmations. These are coupled with a calming soundtrack. Altogether, the game uses its game mechanic and soundtrack to create an environment that improves player's mood.
Music to tell the story
The soundtrack in video games can be used to help the developers tell the story and give it more emotional impact for players. There is plenty of research on how music affects our emotions, so it’s no surprise that game developers would want to incorporate that power into their games.
As a player moves through a mobile RPG, for example, the music that they hear helps to carry the story along. As it changes, players are given a subconscious cue that something is about to happen. This can add tension before a boss battle or inspire a player to keep going when they reach a new level. It can make sad parts of the storyline have a greater impact, and make victories feel even better. The variety of work a soundtrack can do for a story is impressive.
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