This article is about video games, but first we need to talk about the secret technique of advertising. A television or video ad on the internet needs to sell you a product in a few seconds. In just a moment, the brand should cause an impression, be printed in your memory to be the first on your mental list when you need to buy some soap, a television or any stuff. Do you feel like cookies? Think of a brand, the first one that came to your mind. That brand of cookies that you now have in your head is the one that has managed to position itself against the rest in your mental list. But how have they done it?

The secret in the advertisings

Let’s talk about the darkest secret of advertising, of the Investigator Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. The Russian researcher experimented and discovered the Classical Conditioning. He saw that he could associate two different stimuli, such as a bell and a steak. For a dog, a bell does not mean anything special. But Pavlov, every time he gave a succulent piece of meat to his dog, rang the bell. After several weeks, the brain of the dog had associated the bell to the fillet, and it salivated as soon as he heard it sound, became excited and became happy. This is called classical conditioning.

There is another type of conditioning that I call cognitive conditioning. What happens if a wafer full of sugar, palm fat and some cocoa we put in the background a music of sublime violins, which we associate with money, finesse, class? We will have a chocolate Lind tablet. Do not kid yourself, the chocolate tablet remains the same, but thanks to cognitive conditioning we have the feeling of being immersed in a more exclusive experience than with the rest of chocolates.

Music and conditioning

In video games there is no need to sell chocolate or detergent (by the moment), but cognitive conditioning can also be used to improve the user’s immersion. To add deeper meanings to situations, to characters, to areas of the video game map, etc.

For example, we want the villain of our video game to reveal a profound story, one of those characters that just by interacting with him makes you perceive that he has a tragic past and that he was once a different person. Well, all this must be explained with music, using cognitive conditioning. To express that once was a good person you could use instruments with a rounder and sweeter sound, like some marimbas.

Marimbas are associated in the West with ancient jazz and also with holidays. But if those marimbas play a shorter and more jumpy rhythm, they would mean skeletons.

There are hundreds of markers within the music that will lead us to associate a composition with one meaning or another. Through cognitive conditioning we can make players perceive much deeper and complex meanings without having to torture them with too explanatory dialogues. We can make the gamer unconsciously perceive the inner struggle of the hero for his goal, making the immersion in the game much bigger, creating a deeper connection and taking the sensations and narrativity to another level.

A good example of this technique is seen in a part of the soundtrack of “interstellar” by composer Hans Zimmer. In this example we can see how the hero has an internal struggle. A way with two consequences. On the one hand, travel to the confines of space and be a hero, symbolized with a melody in major mode. On the other hand and at the same time, abandon his daughter and be a bad father, symbolized with the same melody but in a minor mode. The major and minor modes are archetypes of the positive and the negative.

More immersion in the video game

Do you realize the possibilities this has? Video games have already equaled the Hollywood blockbusters, and will soon overcome them. The depth and narrative possibilities are enormous. The immersion in the game is assured, and the coherence between the images, the interaction and the music is absolute. More and more studios and producers pay more attention to this element so important for the immersion of the gamer. If the game is for children, and must express “nonviolence”, fun, adventure, why not also express it with music?

The immersion in the game is a determining factor for the success of it. And this secret that I just told you about is a key and fundamental element to achieve it. I am part of a new era of music composers pushing the established boundaries and taking composition to a new higher level. For exemple, recently, the video games music composer Olivier Derivière did an excellent work with the same philosophy of this article, the music of “Get Even” at http://olivierderiviere.com/.

If you have any question please contact me. I hope this article inspire you, and let’s start to create!

One thought on “Music and video games: The new era”

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