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Sound Affects DOOM

Sound off or sound on?

Turns out that music makes better DOOM–or, more precisely, players of that first-person video shooter game score a lot higher with the sound (music and effects) on … at least according to one study.

Associate Professor of Psychology Siu-Lan Tan joined renowned video game composer Sascha Dikiciyan (Sonic Mayhem) to give an interview on the psychological effects of video game music. The interview occurred on the blog Consequence of Sound, a.k.a. CoS. That interview went live a couple days ago and is nearing 1,500 views on YouTube.

In order to tell the rest of the science behind the story, Professor Tan used her Psychology Today blog to post a related piece: “Video Games: Do you play better with sound on or off?

Turns out the science is complicated. The results of the aforementioned DOOM study were seemingly contradicted by a study of Ridge Racer V, which found that gamers with the fastest lap times had the music off.

And it gets more complicated than that. Professor Tan’s K research (a collaboration with her SIP student John Baxa ’09) studied gamers playing Twilight Princess-Legend of Zelda (ya gotta love these names!). In the Twilight study, the worst performers played with both music and sound effects off. And the study found that the more the game’s audio was incrementally added, the more performance improved. And yet (in another wrinkle) the best performances occured to background music UNRELATED TO THE GAME (!) … think boombox across the room. A closer examination suggested more nuances based on game familiarity and gaming skill. Turns out that average skill level newbies tune out the audio to focus exclusively on visual cues when first navigating the game. Not so for high skill level players, new to the game or not. These players are skilled, in part, because they pay attention–and effectively integrate–auditory and visual cues, both of which provide feedback for the best moves.

Tan writes: “I’m also reminded of what a participant in our study expressed so well: ’There’s more to a game than just high scores. It’s also about being transported and immersed in another world, and music and sound effects are what bring you there.’”

Indeed, writes Tan, “When you have a great soundtrack, music can be the soul of a game.”  NOTE: Tan and Baxa (along with Matt Sprackman) published their music/video game research in 2010 and 2012. Baxa said it aided his entrance to graduate school for study on video games. He is currently a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University.

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