The real question should be “why do people give more importance to sound in horror games than in other game genres?”
Why does horror only get this privileged consideration?
Sorry, I think just opened Pandora’s box, but this point needs some clarification. How did we arrive at this common belief? We all know how a horror soundtrack can impact a player’s experience. And players of the genre are always quick to say, “you gotta play in the dark with great headphones and pump-up the volume”. Yeah, I fully agree, but why aren’t we doing this for all games? Why does horror only get this privileged consideration?
I’ve worked in the game industry for almost 10 years now, and as a Sound Designer (and sometimes Composer), I don’t ever think to put more effort or more careful attention on sound just because it’s a horror production. All the games I am involved in get the same treatment. I do not consider my craft on Steep or Trackmania: Turbo, any less important than my work on Outlast, The Conjuring House (now named The Dark Occult) or Visage. I don’t consider these games as being less complex either (actually, it’s pretty much the opposite). My goal is always to reach the best quality and immersive sound experience for the player, regardless the game genre.
Is feeling the strength of wind while riding, or hearing the snow cracking under our board (reference to Steep) less “important” than being scared by a sub-drone or some other high pitched strings (reference to Visage)?
It’s a serious question, and yes, we can compare them. The role of sound, in those two examples, is to immerse the player – make them feel something. Stir an emotion. In the first case we are talking about freedom and speed, in the second one, fear and tension. The function is the same function, just the reaction is different. Then, why is “fear” considered more important than the sense of speed, freedom or cold? We shouldn’t favor one emotion over the other, should we?
Horror games should not get the exclusive privilege.
So, I’m wondering, why do I still hear that players are listening to music while gaming? The sadder thing is that even game professionals, like those smart folks working in dev, have this bad habit. While talking with colleagues I often take cinema as an example (yes I know it is not the same medium) to finger point their non-sensical behaviour: would you listen to your music while watching Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, or Transformers, etc? The answer is simply “no”, they won’t -because they want to be immersed. They want to hear the crack of Indy’s whip in the air and Williams’s epic theme. They want to be blasted by all the iconic and juicy sound design by Ben Burtt.
They want to hear the power of the Lamborghini’s V12 as Vin Diesel drives it to oblivion. They want to hear and feel how powerful and loud Optimus Prime is while transforming into a huge gleaming truck. Educate, teaching (and sometimes fighting), is probably the best we can change this culture of indifference. Explain to your family, friends, colleagues and fellow gamers all that they are missing by playing with no sound. Horror games should not get the exclusive privilege to be played with a great sound set-up. All games deserve this pleasure.