Music and Sound in World of Warcraft

Last night, I played WoW for about an hour with the sound on. The sounds of the game aren’t necessarily important for play, but I believe that they are interesting and I would like a chance to talk about them in the context of this class. Below are a few of my observations and analyses about the sounds in the game. If anyone else has thoughts on the topic, please comment!

1) Your character talks to you. 

I’m not kidding. I didn’t realize this during the first several times I played, but my character has a voice that is only used to communicate with the operator. The only things she says are “I can’t do that” or “I need a target” or similar phrases that are also communicated with writing on the screen*. I actually wasn’t a fan of this aspect of the game’s sound. Maybe it’s just that my character’s voice is really annoying, but I found it unnecessary and even frustrating.

2) It’s more violent than you think. 

When killing enemies with the sound turned off, it’s easy to stab and shoot and slice without really thinking about it. You’re just concentrating on making their health bar* go down and making sure yours doesn’t do the same.

With the sound on, you can hear every violent action you take as well as the yelps and groans of pain from your enemy. It never made me think twice about attacking something, but it was pretty unnerving. Being able to hear the sounds of the (simulated) violence that I was committing affected me much more than any of the visual action.

3) The music makes no sense. 

Music in the game, in my experience, is always nondiagetic. I’ve never seen a source for any of the music, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were diagetic music sources somewhere in Azeroth.

While I enjoyed the music for the most part, a lot of it seemed inappropriate for the visual action that it was accompanying. I heard a grandiose, heroic tune while getting killed and then running back to my body, and a dark, ominous tune at the happy moment when I completed a dungeon. I’m not sure what triggers the music, but it definitely has some issues with placement. The music also seemed to start and stop randomly, which was strange for me because I’m used to studying films where music is inserted with extreme precision. The unpredictability of it annoyed me, but I did enjoy hearing it when it felt appropriate to my situation.

While the music in WoW was unpredictable and the nondiagetic character-to-operator speech was annoying, I do appreciate the amount of detail that went into designing this completely unnecessary aspect of the game. Sound is a significant part of many forms of virtual media, and it’s been interesting to experience WoW with and without it.

* I don’t have much experience with this game so I’m not sure about some of the vocabulary. I apologize if I’ve used the wrong term, and if you’re not sure what I mean then please ask!

(Edit: Just realized that this almost fits the criteria for the third blog post. This is not my third blog post, just something I wanted to talk about.)

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10 Responses to Music and Sound in World of Warcraft

  1. Steph Roman says:

    You make a few pretty poignant observations here–it is extremely shocking to play with the sound on after normally playing in silence. And if you don’t have any other ideas, I think this could be a pretty good start for your third blog post, if you feel like revising it.

    More than anything, I find the character’s speech to the operator annoying, especially when you’re in dungeons and trying to spam abilities. But it does create this weird feeling that the character is talking to YOU–I’m sure some kind of interpretation can be applied to this if I think on it some more.

    Secondly, I believe the background music loops intermittently. It doesn’t loop repeatedly, which is sometimes lame because you’ll be traveling for a long time in utter silence and then the music starts playing as soon as you’re ready to log off. Which also indicates to its nondiegesis. In other games, music is chosen much more carefully, but in WoW, each person experiences moments at completely different times, so there’s no way to situate the music to apply to all of those actions.

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    • epiratequeen says:

      It hadn’t occurred to me that the music is played for every player simultaneously (though in hindsight, it’s obvious). Thanks for clearing that up!

      You’re right, it is weird when your character talks to you. I’m not sure I understand the point of it, actually. I spent most of the time with the sound on doing dungeons, so I was getting a lot of flack from my character for not having a target because other members of my party had already killed it and things like that. That aspect was also weird for me because it definitely lowered my level of engagement with the game. It made it clear that the operator (me) is separate from the character, that I am not actually killing monsters in a dungeon, I am sitting in front of my computer pressing “2” and “3” over and over again.

      This actually just occurred to me, but it actually reminds me of a moment in Gamer. I don’t have time to look through the film for the exact moment, but I do remember a scene where Kable shouted something to Simon (before they were able to speak to each other). Since Gamer is (at the surface level, at least) a critique of gaming culture, it’s actually kind of shocking to see the same thing from my WoW character.

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  2. amd197 says:

    It’s funny to me that you touch on the actual sound effects of the game after playing the game in silence for a good amount of time, because I found myself noticing the same exact things just a few days ago when I first played with the sound on as well. While I agree that the sounds associated with the violent acts in the game can be somewhat disturbing and gruesome at times, I think that they add an interesting aspect to the game. Those sounds of battle add an intense feeling to the game and for me, they actually ended up drawing me even further into the game as I completed those fierce tasks.

    Another sound effect from the game that caught my attention was the fact that you can hear the actions of the other players throughout the game, along with your own. While hearing your own actions take place and your own character utter phrases doesn’t seem all that interesting, I felt that being able to hear things brought on by someone that is potentially halfway across the world is fascinating. Just standing in the Trade District, you are able to hear the sound of other players’ horses trot by, or the sound of them landing on the ground after jumping in the air. To me, that was the most interesting aspect of the sound effects offered by the game. I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one that noticed a great difference in the gameplay with and without the sound!

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    • epiratequeen says:

      I hadn’t considered that at all! You’re absolutely right, you can hear the sounds made by the other characters/operators, and that’s what makes those sounds diagetic. It really is fascinating whenever you notice the scope of the game, and hearing the sounds made by other players definitely helps with that.

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  3. zucconi says:

    It definitely seems like your character is talking to you which takes away from the immersion of the game. The character decided to perform the action, not you, so for a second it seems that the character is separate from the controller. To me, it’s more of Blizzard reminding you of their protocol by having the character think out loud. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this would be a machine diegetic act. If Blizzard didn’t use your character to tell you this and instead had words pop up on the screen or in the chat box, then it would be non-diegetic.

    Also, I find it hard to pay attention to the chat box as I get into what I’m doing in-game. In other words, I pay more attention to and focus on the diegetic game space then the non-diegetic. So Blizzard is taking advantage of this because I would probably ignore multiple chat box posts and continue spamming my attack keys with no selected target.

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  4. wuchimane says:

    I got very tired of the sounds of the game early on, and choose to mostly play with my headphones into a soundtrack of my choosing. I think that it’s inevitable that the game’s music would become tedious given the lengthy nature of Warcraft. The talking also very much takes me out of the meditative trance of gameplay, and is especially annoying when he is telling me that I can’t preform spells over and over. I wonder if the gameplay would be more effective without a soundtrack at all, but strictly ambient, diegetic sound? This, to me, would enhance the atmospheric quality of the world of Azeroth much more while leaving less room for complications of sound mismatch as you described.

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  5. vespoli57 says:

    I completely agree that the music is ridiculous. I usually play the game on mute because it actual distracts me from the things I need to do and almost gives me a little anxiety.

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  6. danwillisdan says:

    I almost always play while listening to other music and I find that my behavior is often determined by the music that’s playing. Like I’m much more inclined to do nonviolent quests when I’m listening to calm music. Do you think the developers are trying to persuade you into particular actions with the music, or match the actions you are likely to perform in certain areas with certain musics? Is the soundtrack determined by location or behavior?

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    • epiratequeen says:

      As Steph said above, it seems like the music is the same for everyone in the game, regardless of what they’re doing. While that connection is kind of cool, I don’t think it’s worth the haphazardness I mentioned in my post.

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