Can You Hear Me Now?

While scrolling through the ELit blog page, I came across another ELit blog that caught my eye.  Shannotated wrote about the music in electronic literature (specifically, video games) and the significance it has.  This thought process struck a chord in me (get it?) and got me thinking about not just the music but all the sounds that go into a piece of electronic literature.

In video games, I considered how my experiences may have differed had there been a certain sound, or all the sounds, missing.  The ELit blog mentions the Legend of Zelda series, so I’ll bring that one into focus first.  One of the most well-known Zelda sounds is the ‘You Found…!’ noise that goes off when you open an extremely important chest or finally receive an item of utmost importance.  It is iconic to the Legend of Zelda series.  But what if there was no sound signifying an important action or discovery?  How would you know if you’re going in the right direction?  At points in the game, the only guiding light you have is the music.

I then began thinking of other electronic literature works, such as Colossal Cave Adventure.  It is just a text adventure and  thus lacking in any noise.  While playing through it, I found that I was never sure if I was going in the right direction.  I didn’t know if the items I picked up were important now, or if I needed to wait and come back for them, or if the item was important at all.  It made the game much more difficult than I originally thought it would be.  If, say, the Zelda series lacked that iconic ‘You Found…!’ noise, would that discover resonate as well as it does with the sound accompanying it?  In a way, the game industries are making it easier on the gamer by offering little hints like sound bites to tell you what to do next or that you just did something important.

In the Red Riding Hood piece that we explored for class, the jazzy music playing as you go through the story isn’t just fancy decoration.  I played through it the first time with the sound off, and while I understood the story and the theme behind it, it didn’t resonate with me.  When I played it again, speakers on, the music added a grungy feel that helped impose that feminist viewpoint.  The music has elements of jazz to it, but it also has a punk-ish style that emphasizes this new power Red has over the wolf.  She is tough, and grungy, and a punk, and will eat this wolf (or impregnate herself with him?) because she can.  With the music, the theme left an imprint on me that was unique to the feminine empowering message of this particular story.  Without it, it was just another feminist twist on an old fairytale.

Music plays such a role in electronic literature, beyond that of simply signifying important elements of a video game, that we don’t notice its effect until it’s gone.  You won’t realize that Link’s footsteps make different sounds on different surfaces until you can’t hear them anymore.  You don’t get the full meaning of Red Riding Hood until you hear the music playing in the background.  I never realized how satisfying it is to hear the crunch noise when you swing a hammer into  a guard’s face in Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood until I had to mute the sound.  Of course, it also goes both was.  Playing Colossal Cave Adventure with music playing in the background was strange.  It was distracting, because I was hearing songs so misplaced in the game’s context that I couldn’t focus on the words in front of me.  Electronic literature has come so far that it can implement music into our viewing/gaming experience, and the resulting effect is fantastic.  Not only does it play a significant role in telling us where to go, what to do, what we’ve been successful at, or what to feel, but it also makes the experience resonate.  It gives us an emotion to feel as we play, lyrics to expand on what we’re watching, background noise to an otherwise somewhat dull experience.

And, as with anything else, we associate between our senses.  Does the smell of clean laundry remind you of your mother?  If you have pasta for dinner, can you more easily remember the fancy Italian restaurant you went to last week?  If you hear a certain song, do you laugh because you remember it from a funny commercial?  If I hear that ‘You Found..!’ noise, I immediately smile or scowl depending on which memory of the game it brings to mind.  We hear the sound, we remember the game.  Maybe we’ll want to play the game again.  Maybe we’ll show it to a friend this time through, and they’ll like it so much that they’ll buy it.  It’s marketing genius, but more importantly it’s a sign that even the simplest sound in a game can affect our entire viewpoint on it.

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