Most of the people I talk to about video games are constantly drooling over the cutting edge graphics of new titles. After all, we aren’t used to the new generation yet, and many of the games I’ve seen for the 360, PS3, and high end PCs are graphically beautiful. As I haven’t played much on any of the new systems, I’ll reserve judgment for how good those games are overall until later. That isn’t really the point, other than to say I understand, they look awesome.
However, aesthetically, there is something I care about more than how a game looks. I care how a game sounds. Music helps set the mood for a game, and low quality or improper music can fall short of the this huge responsibility. If a game is supposed to make you feel like a hero, the score had better be suitably epic. If it’s telling a story, then the music needs to match the mood at each point, just as it does in a movie. If it’s just to chill out and have a good time, the music may be more uplifting, happy, or just plain catchy. Think Super Mario Bros. for an idea of catchy done right, even back in the 8-bit era.
Sound effects are just as important. When someone falls to the ground, a timely thud makes it all feel right. Imagine if every time someone hit the ground, you heard a squeak instead of an appropriate sounding thud. This would likely kill the immersion because it isn’t what you expect, and would likely be hard to acclimate to. I know it would make it much harder for me to enjoy a game. Realistic sound effects keep us immersed in the game.
A well composed or put together soundtrack will keep me playing a game regardless of it’s graphical quality, as long as the controls are even halfway decent. Good sound quality enhances the experience that much for me. If it’s a plot based game, like most rpgs, a high quality soundtrack will make even a mediocre story seem very good, and I will play through to the end just to see the predictable ending because the music got me into the experience. For an action game, a suitably intense, epic, or otherwise immersive score will keep me playing to the end just because it’ll help keep me feeling like I am that awesome action hero, even if the game isn’t very deep or challenging. I think you get the idea from here.
Now pair that music up with a game that has a high quality plot and gameplay that was very well designed and executed, and you have a game I can’t tear myself away from. Graphics are icing on the cake.
If you don’t agree, try this sometime. Pick out your favorite game, pop it in, and turn the volume on your TV down. Then play. I think you’ll find the experience significantly lessened. After that, feel free to add in your own favorite cd, just to have something to fill the silence. I think you’ll still find the experience wanting without the sound designed specifically to immerse you in the game, unless your music is similar to that found in the game you chose. Even then, you’ll find the sound effects missing, which can be jarring when you expect to hear the thud of Mario hitting a brick or the shattering glass and crunching metal of a car crash.
Then again, maybe it’s just me. Either way, music plays a huge role in gaming for me, and in my experience of the game.