Musicology in the Flesh: Papa Sangre Explorations

Audio Games and Listening Practices

On Audio and Video Game “Space”

This is my final post and I thought I’d conclude by analyzing some of my findings over the past few weeks.  Yesterday I conducted my sensory practice at a pizza shop downtown, and through that experience I made some important realizations. As I navigated through the level, I was concerned that the noise from the other customers would prevent me from hearing important details as well as clearly distinguishing where each musical note lay for me to capture. Whenever I had played Papa Sangre prior to this experience, I had always played in the privacy of my apartment. Being in a new and noisy environment allowed me to think about the gaming experience in different ways.  First, I realized that I have begun to think of the game as a part of my body, operating within the same framework of rules that applies to sound in the “real world.” When the voices in the pizza shop became too loud, I started leaning closer to the screen as if that would increase the volume, until I remembered that I could only make the volume of the in-game sounds louder by moving closer to certain objects within the virtual space.

This episode led me to think about the actual “space” within which the world of Papa Sangre exists. I am realizing that what makes the audio gaming experience seem so different from the experience of playing video games is the perception that the virtual space, the game itself, only exists through me. The “space” filled by the levels and characters within the game only exists between my ears after it is projected through the headphones and then I extend this world through my limbs to my extremities, which feeds back into the game through the touch screen interface, moving in a loop like an electric current. At one point I attempted to go back through the game and replay all the levels with no headphones, but found that on the later levels, where precision is critical to success, I couldn’t make the types of sonic distinctions that were necessary for my survival. Headphones are truly a necessity in order to beat the game, and in putting them on, the user becomes the engine through which the game comes to life.

I hesitate to say that there is an actual difference between playing audio and video games as it relates to these issues of “space”, hence my use of the word “perception” earlier. When I play video games, even the ones that utilize a first-person perspective, I feel like the game space exists outside of me, or rather ahead of me, and it is through the controller that I am able to project my limbs forward into the game world, which in turn structures how I orient my body. Video game spaces of course, do not exist outside of me, as I need my eyes and ears to interpret the light waves and sound waves that travel back from the screen, but I suppose what matters here is not what is actually happening, but how what is happening is perceived by the user. Audio games have the potential to engender completely different gaming experiences because they make the user feel like he or she is the platform through which the game-space is actualized. Perhaps the development of games that utilize different sensorial configurations like the Nintendo Wii or the Microsoft Kinect, which operate directly based on the movements of their users, is an attempt to create the sense that the user is more fully integrated into the game play than ever before. I cannot help but wonder what kinds of new gaming experiences await around the corner. Perhaps we are not far off from the development of a gaming medium through which users feel so immersed that they cannot distinguish between reality and the game-world.


Level 25: Elysium

I do not want to spoil the game for anybody who reads this blog and may want to play it, so I will suffice it to say that this was one of the most exciting games I have played in a long time. I have always been awe-struck by two aspects of game-play: the graphics and the music. For a game that featured little of either of these two elements, I was pleasantly surprised by my level of investment even after playing just a few times. I realize how my own biases regarding  the importance of graphics in gameplay shaped my understanding of how the experience of playing an audio game was going to be, prior to my playing Papa Sangre. Perhaps the hardest part of getting audio games to become as financially successful as video games will not be designing the games themselves but getting gamers who are biased about the perceived deficiencies of a video game with no video to pick up these types of games!

Level 24: The Fate Bell

Large deep horns that slowly rise fill the background as Catherine Zeta Jones begins to advise me: “Listen carefully for the fate bell. It peals the sound of the slight. Walk into it and ring (sound of a bell ringing slowly). It vanishes and reappears (the sound of bell ringing quickly and crazed laughter). Ring three times to open the door to the light (sound of the sparkling exit), but beware the fake bells (the sound of a bell producing odd tones which I’ll call a bizzaro bell).  They bring Papa to your side and he’ll tape you (sound of tape being stretched) and nail you (sound of hammering) and burn you to hell.” As the level starts I am met with a variety of bell sounds. Directly to my right and on my left side I hear the bizzaro bells;  in front of me I hear the banging of one of the fate bells. I take a step forward to see how each of these sounds changes. As I take two steps forward, the fate bell bangs in front of me, getting louder and louder. I take two more steps forward and collect the bell. As I do, I hear the cackling of Papa Sangre. I walk forward again on what sounds like a wood service, scared to stay in one place and leaving the bizzaro sound ing bells in the distance on either side of my ears. I wander around the room, as the bizzaro bells and another fate bell rings in my ears. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish their different locations because they ring loudly in both ears and change directions in the same way as I turn. I inch forward, and as I do I am able to make subtle distinctions between the loctaion of the fate bell and the bizzaro bell. I move forward again until the fate bell is clearly in both ears and collect it. Papa Sangre giggles again and I pause the game to take a moment and calm my nerves. I am so close to reaching the final level, but there’s no way it can be this easy, can it? As I unpause the game I turn and hear the third fate bell in my right ear and I immediately turn in that direction until I can hear it chiming loudly in both ears. I walk swiftly toward the sound and collect the bell as Papa laughs. Now all I have to do is find the exit! I am nervous because it has all happened so quickly. It seems like there has to be a catch. I hear the exit sound glittering right behind me. I turn around and walk towards the exit sound until it is ringing loudly in both ears and then raise toward the exit. Suddenly I hear the sound of bells moving all around me. I hear a knocking sound and the creaking of a door that opens. Suddenly I hear the beautiful sound of violins playing softly between two major chords.  I hear birds chirping and a quick  fluttering whistle sound as if I am being whisked off somewhere. The level ends with the sound of birds whistling. Is this it? Nobody has said anything….

Level 23: The Ice Lake

The background is a glass whistling sound, with a hollow wind as the undertone. Catherine Zeta Jones paints a picture of the scenery around me:  “Next to you, chickens. Ahead of you a vast ice lake. “ I stand forward for a moment to survey the area around me in my head.  As I move forward slowly across the snow, I can hear the sound of the chickens in the distance, the musical note to my right and past the chicken cage, and finally I make note of some snuffle hogs on my left side. Before opening the chicken cage, I note where exactly I think the musical note lies, so that I can immediately maneuver in that direction as soon as the snuffle hogs begin approaching. I seem to locate the musical note’s exact location I open up the chicken cage and I quickly pivot to the right. As I move forward, I realize I must walk slowly over the ice. As I step on ice I hear the sound of it slowly cracking underneath me as well as the howling of the siren in the distance. I collect the musical note and then walk slowly across the frozen lake in order to find the next note, forgetting that I am supposed to lure the hogs to another chickens before attempting to get another note. As I move forward and slip on the ice, the voice of the siren overtakes both sets of headphones and I am unable to hear anything above her odd howling noises. She moves back and forth between notes in a dizzying way as I hear the snuffle hogs racing towards me. Unable to distinguish the direction from which they’re coming, I stand helplessly as they finally come in for the kill. When I am reincarnated, I move as I did earlier, except after I capture the first musical note, I turn around towards the snow bank from which I descended and listen for the next batch of chickens. I can hear the chickens to my left and I slowly move in that direction, as I make note of the snuffle hogs behind me. Again I open the chicken cage and then turn around toward the ice lake to collect the second note. In this way I’m able to collect each of the musical notes and find my way to the sparkling exit before the snuffle hogs get to me. As I complete the level, the voice of Papa Sangre interrupts everything and I am suddenly filled with fear and anxiety: “It is later than you think! You are in the palace of Papa Sangre. Here the soul most precious to you is in grave danger.  You are a brave soul inside my palace completely!”

Level 22: The Blizzard

As I begin the Blizzard level, Catherine Zeta Jones informs me of what I will need to do to survive: “A herd of hogs are trotting fast through the icy wind. Listen hard for the notes and escape before you’re trampled.”  The sound of the wind howling seems to overpower every other noise. I hear the snarling of the snuffle hogs and can barely make out the blinking sound of the musical note in the distance. As I run forward it is completely unclear to me where the snuffle hogs are. As I move toward the musical note, I recognize that the snuffle hog is very close by. I stand fora moment, trying to distinguish between the location of the musical note and the location of the snuffle hog. If I get too close, I know I will be devoured, but perhaps there is no other way to get the musical note than to get close. I try to move closer as I am trampled and devoured by a snuffle hog from my left side. As I am reincarnated I again move cautiously. The howling wind combined with the loud sound of my feet trudging through the snow and my heavy breathing, makes it very hard to distinguish any of the sounds that I need to succeed. I take a step, pause and think about where the notes are. For the first time, I draw a concept map as I run, indicating in which direction I turn in order to locate each note. Using this map and adding to it as I get successively farther with each attempt I am able to trace out a map that I use throughout each level. As I complete the level, Catherine Zeta Jones chimes in with advice about the next level.  “If you were not blinded by the darkness, you could see the palace of Papa Sangre from here. On the other side of the lake there is a siren sings to you, pleading to be rescued.”

Level 21: Glass Cathedral

“A hog roams the glass cathedral. Scattered across the floor is broken glass from three smashed chandeliers. You must walk slowly. Three cages of chicken may feed the hog.” In the background I hear howling, hollow sounds, that swell every few seconds almost as if a cold winter wind was blowing rapidly through a set of chimes. As I start the level I hear the chickens clucking almost directly ahead of me and the musical note, which sounds like a bell, pulsing in the distance. I walk towards the chickens and immediately open the cage as the snuffle hogs run towards me. I race forward to the sound of the musical note, as Catherine Zeta Jones whispers, “Be careful.” I approach some of the crunchy glass and as I crunch over it, I slip and fall. The snuffle hogs are still feasting on the chickens so I move slowly forward until my feet are no longer crunching on the broken glass. I hear the sound of more chickens in the distance as the sound of the snuffle hogs feeding on the previous chickens dies down. As I move forward, she whispers, “Be careful.” I race forward, recognizing that if I step on the broken glass and have not opened up a new cage of chickens, I could become dinner for the snuffle hogs. I race towards the sound of the clucking chickens as I step on the shattered glass and hear the roar of the snuffle hogs behind me. I sigh with relief as I hear the sound of the chicken latch opening. I am able to collect the next musical note, and using the same technique am able to capture the final musical note. As I walk through the exit, Catherine Zeta Jones exclaims “Congratulations. You are really at the gates of Papa Sangre but a blizzard descends.” The sound of howling wind fills my headphones as I am transported to the next level.

Level 20: Zoo

A zoo. This zoo is snowed over. There are two awful things behind you. A snuffle hog and a giggling reaper. You wish they were in a cage.  A strip of ice in front of you runs from left to right. Stepping on it will make the hog charge.” I can hear the hog growling in front of me and the reaper moving back and forth on my left side. I hear the note on my right side. As I try to make some sense of where I should be, I hear the sound of the reaper approaching. Immediately I am devoured by the snuffle hog as she says, “Gobbled up by the animals of the zoo. Spewed once more.” The second time I begin the level, I move about quickly, trying to avoid the reaper’s laughter and the growling of the snuffle hog. Running about frantically I am somehow able to collect each of the notes. I’m wondering if the ease with which I now navigate the level is related to the development of my hand-ear coordination. This level is not taking me nearly as long as some levels prior to complete. After just two tries, I successfully collect the musical notes and enter into the exit. Again I hear the sound of wiping again, and then the sound of glass shattering as Catherine Zeta Jones instructs me for the next level:  “You survived the glass manger. Here is a cathedral. A ruined vault with noisy glass and smashed chandelier littering the floor.”

Level 19: Frozen River – Listening for Multiple Sounds

There is no music, just the wind howling as the level starts. “Outside the trail continues through snow (the sound of footsteps walking in deep snow). Frozen rivers. The ice is noisy (the sound of a footstep on ice and a crack emerging). Release the chickens to attract the hogs, so you can cross the ice.” At first, I’m not sure how to approach this level. I walk forward through the snow for two steps, somehow feeling colder as it wasn’t very long ago since I was doing the same thing in real life. At this moment I realize how incredible are the sound effects in this game. I hear the chickens clucking just ahead of me, and the beeping of the musical note to my right, which instead of sounding like a BRASS drum, sounds again like a sanza note, I mentioned in this post. I realize that this level will require an even more sophisticated ear, because I will have to keep track of not only where the chickens are, but must also recall and keep track of where the beeping musical note is, so that I can reach it before the snuffle hogs are done feasting. There are so many different elements of listening that I am picking up from this game. As I move towards the chickens and the sound of their clucking increases while the beeping of the musical note diminishes, I try to keep a mental map of where I heard the song and how I will have to spin the wheel to be facing the note. I reach the chicken cage and hear the sound of the hatch opening. As the hogs race in, I panic, unable to hear the music note above the sound of the melee and begin to wander, slipping and falling on ice several times and eventually running right into a snuffle hog. The guide exclaims, “Crash, bang, snuffled…again!”

When I am reincarnated, I do the same thing I did last time, only somehow trying to listen harder for the sound of the first musical note. This time, I surmise that I must wipe the screen from left to right, to turn toward the musical note and then move slowly, but carefully as there is ice in unexpected places. After releasing the chickens a second time I follow my plan, taking one step after the other, slowly as I walk over the ice and hear the sound of a thin crack. I collect the musical note and hear the sound of more chickens to be released for the second music note. Again, as I approach the chickens I try to keep track of the direction from which I hear the musical note pulsing. As I unlatch the chicken coop, I turn from left to right, and walk carefully and slowly toward the note, stopping in order to see if the note is closer or further away. I’m much closer so I move forward in the same direction. After collecting the note, I turn around to find the sparkling sound of the exit. I hear a snuffle hog in the distance and turn around until I can locate the sound between both ears. As soon as I can, I race to the exit. Upon completing the level I hear a wiping sound and some crunching as if someone is walking on ice. Suddenly I hear glass breaking after a pulling sound that I can only compare to a cork being pulled from a bottle. “Next in the palace of glass is Papa’s petting zoo. A palace of ice and snow with an appalling menagerie,” says Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Level 18: Little Girl

Per usual, Catherine Zeta Jones begins the level by instructing me how to navigate: “Its a narrow wooden bridge with some loud metal strips. There’s a little girl. Save her or lave her but if you carry her too close to the hog she will scream.” As I start the level I hear the musical note in the distance and the hog nearby. I attempt to get the musical note several times (and get killed in the process) before I’m finally able to collect the note and avoid the snuffle hog just barely. As I make it to the other side of the bridge and search for the second musical note, I can hear the sound of a little girl, with a slight British accent asking, “Is anyone there? Hello? I can hear you!” I can’t distinguish where the second musical note is, but as I navigate I accidentally run into the little girl, whom I end up picking up. Her loud voice overpowers my ability to hear anything. The musical note fades into the distance as she alternates between saying, “Ow you’re hurting me!” and “Thank you very very very much!” I race around the level but am unable to distinguish where the snuffle hog is and as I run past it, she screams loudly. Immediately the snuffle hog devours both of us. The second time I play, I make the same moves, but this time, when I hear the little girl in the distance I walk in the opposite direction. I am able to collect all of the musical notes and as I walk to the exit, I hear the voice of the man I now presume to be Papa Sangre: ” You’re learning that charity may get in the way.Go across th ice and though crystal catherdarals to the palace. Buenos Noches.”

Level 17: Papa Sangre Says

A steady beat plays softly in the background as Catherine Zeta Jones instructs me:  “Stay on the narrow path or the hog will come for you. The path twists and turns but I will be there to guide you. Follow me in the darkness. Of course you can trust me, I only speak what Papa Sangre says.” As the level starts I can faintly hear a snuffle hog, as well as her voice beckoning me. “Come to me,” she says, just ahead of me. After reaching her voice, which is echoed by a brass musical note, she changes position to the left and behind me, calling out, “This is the safe path.” After I successfully walk towards her she changes location. “Walk towards me,” she says, from somewhere ahead of me and to the left. I inch towards her, stopping several times to make sure she is directly in front of me. As I walk into her voice she changes position again. “This is the way,” she says from the right.  I turn and walk towards her, collecting the next musical note. “Follow me, over here,” she says from what seems like just in front of me. I test by spinning the wheel and find the point past which, the sound is only in my left ear and then reverse to hear when the sound is only in my right ear. Then I pivot to somewhere in between and try to find where the sound is the most balanced. I am successful and as I reach the next musical note, she says, “Come here,” from the right. I inch toward her again. She issues out a series of commands for the rest of the level as I walk slowly toward her, making sure she is directly ahead. For a moment I am concerned that the snuffle hog has heard me, his loud growling in my left ear, but as I move forward I see that I have made it through undetected. As I complete the level I notice something somehow sinister in Catherine Zeta Jones’ voice. I wonder if I can trust her, realizing that I have no option. On cue, she chimes in and prepares me for the next stage: “The last chamber is on the bridge. You will find a little girl lost. What to do?”

Level 16: Xylophone Road

This level does not have any music, just a low and cavernous hum. “You’re at the bottom of an enormous xylophone and play it as you move. Some steps please the hogs (I hear the sound of two steps on the brass playing notes, one higher than the next) but beware those which crash like cymbals (sound of a cymbal crashing).” As the level starts I use my knowledge gained from the last level to use the light bell sound to locate where the musical instrument will be. I turn to face the direction from which I heard the initial sound and I can hear a brass musical note directly in front of me, with a snuffle hog grunting in the distance between my left and right. I rush forward and after two musical steps, the next three produce large crashing sounds. I rush forward and capture the first musical note, unsure of where the snuffle hog currently is. I stop for a moment and hear the snuffle hog to my right as well as the next musical note. I walk forward cautiously, and I’m able to get the next note, without stepping on one that sounds like a cymbal. Finally I turn toward the final note, but I completely miscalculate how far away the snuffle hog is. As  I run forward, the snarling gets louder in my left ear until I am killed by the hog. Catherine Zeta Jones chimes in snidely: “Crash, bang, snuffled. encore.” As I try again, I maneuver more carefully this time, taking a step and then listening, taking another step and then listening again. Using this technique I am able to capture all the notes and avoid the snuffle hog. As I complete the level, I again hear the vacuum sound and the thud that has followed completino of the prior levels. Catherine Zeta Jones congratulates me: “Well done it is difficult to see with your ears. you’re learning quickly. To the next chamber.”

Level 15: Feeding Time – (Major Break Through)

In the background I can hear a song that consists of a hollow dark sound, with an almost ritual like drum beating, and a dark choir bellowing at every step. Catherine Zeta-Jones chimes in, “A floor entirely in brass. Two hogs. Some chickens in a cage. Run to release them. The hogs will feast on them. Collect the loads and escape before the chickens are eaten up.”

Perhaps because this is the first level on which a time-limit has been imposed, as well the fact that the ground is so noisy, I make a major break-through today that may significantly improve my performance. I had concerns that I would not be able to hear the brass notes as well as the other musical notes because I was walking on metal, so after I release the chickens, which I find by walking towards the clucking sound nearly straight ahead, I stand silent to hear above the sound of my footsteps and the snuffle hogs feeding. I hear a light bell sound coming from just left of center for about two seconds. I turn toward that direction and as I move closer I realize that I am walking toward the first musical note. As I capture it, I hear a similar light bell sound coming from just right of center. I follow the direction that sound seemed to come from and arrive at the next musical note. For whatever reason, I had not realized that the sound effect that played right after I captured a note, or started a level (depending on the nature of the level) was an indication of where I would have to go to retrieve the next note, or find the exit. Using this information this level proves easy to navigate and I arrive at the end in a short amount of time. I only made this realization when I listened in a quiet environment and then established patterns between what I was hearing and where I needed to go. As the level ends, Catherine Zeta-Jones congratulates me. “You served them well. Now leave to the xylophone road. Its musical steps mostly to the hogs, but some notes crash so loudly evil pigs will hate you for stepping on them.”

Level 14: Chessboard

This level begins with a swelling horn that emerges over a low, hollow rumble in the background and tapers out slowly. Catherine Zeta-Jones begins: “Papa’s giant chessboard. The silent squares are wood and the noisy squares are metal. If you step on wood, you can lose the hog. He won’t hear your steps.” As I move forward on the wood, I look around for the notes. This is one of the easier levels, because I just have to maintain a pace that is fast enough to escape, but not so fast that I trip and fall. As I move forward, I step onto the metal and immediately begin running. To test whether she was correct in saying that I can lose the hog on a wooden square, I stop running as soon as my foot hits a wooden board. I hear the hog running behind me but then sliding to a halt. His growling is still close to me and I can hear it as I turn around and try to hear the first musical note. Eventually after running across the board a number of times, I locate the first brassy sounding musical note. By running quickly from wood panel to wood panel, I’m able to stave off the hog until running into the exit. As I again hear a large vaccuum sound and then the thud of something hitting the floor, Catherine Zeta-Jones asks, “Feeling chicken? you should. for now its feeding time in the palace of brass, a cage of fowl can been released as a snack to distract the hungry hogs.”

Hearing Tests Revisited

Playing Papa Sangre has made me think a lot about my hearing and the hearing tests I used to take as a child through which I would raise my hand when I heard a particular frequency. I stumbled on this hearing test online, which I hope to share with the class. I could hear a rumbling at 20 HZ but could not make out a real note until about 40 HZ. My ears started to hurt and I started getting dizzy around 70 Hz so I had to start turning down the volume.

Level 13: Pathway of Pain

As the level starts I’m met with the first inclusion of music. I hear a simple, somber and yet theatrical song, with a longing violin, and deep horns in the background alternating between 3 chords. Catherine Zeta-Jones chimes in: “To enter the palace of brass, follow the pathway of pain. On the straight and narrow the floor is wooden (hear steps on a wooden floor), but cut across with strips of noisy solid metal (hear steps on a metal floor). A hog sleeps on the path (hear hog growling). Find the notes humming in the darkness.” As I stand idle for a few moments, she suggests, “Scan left and right to find the humming notes. Don’t be scared, keep moving. Keep away from the hog.” I use my index finger on the wheel at the top to see if I can hear a note. I hear a brassy sound pulsing faintly ahead of me, and as I inch closer, I realize that this is the sound of the musical note. I step forward with trepidation, one step, in front of the other on the wooden ground. As I turn to face the note, I hear my foot brush on metal. Turning until the note is directly in front of me, I race forward to grab it as I awaken the hog. I hear it coming from a distance as I race forward onto the wood and escape. I slow down when I can no longer hear the hog moving. I again hear a brassy echoing sound in the distance and spin slowly to the right to locate it. As it gets louder I also hear the snorting of a snuffle hog. I take a deep breath and move toward the note quickly. I am able to capture the note and I keep running forward until my feet touch the wooden boards again. Again, I hear a third note in the distance and do the same thing. Somehow I’m able to keep the snuffle hog away. Finally, I hear the exit sound almost in front of me. I quickly navigate to the right until I hear the sound in both ears and race towards the exit. As I walk into the light, I hear a large vacuuming sound and then what sounds like potatoes hitting the floor. “Well done, the chest board awaits, checkered with boards of silent wood and loud metal.”

Level 12: The River

“A river runs through this place, left to right ahead of you. The slasher bird flies back and forth above the river. The trail of notes follows the river bank. Here an old man pleads for help.” He interjects — “Hello, anyone there?” Catherine Zeta-Jones chimes back in, “He’ll be trouble to rescue. More trouble than its worth.”  Before I start the level I listen to the sound of the bird. It flies back and forth slowly across both ears distantly ahead of me. I hear the man in my right ear, asking calmly, “Hello? Anyone there?” As the slasher bird makes its way back from my right ear to the left ear, crowing the entire time. The music note beeps ahead of me, alternating back and forth between a low and a high, string sound.  I wait until I can no longer hear the bird to my right and then I rush forward to the river, towards the musical note. It appears that I’m running on some rough surface, perhaps dirt, or the side of a cliff as I run forward. As I reach the river bank, I trip and fall. I try to move forward again, as I hear the sound of splashing but trip again. It’s too late and the slasher bird moves in for the kill. As I hear my screams and listen to the sound of the bird pecking through my skull, the guide informs me, “If you slip and fall, the slasher bird seeks to peck your skull clean.” When I’m reincarnated, I again wait until the bird is out of my hearing range and move forward to the river. This time I move slowly, one step after another until I capture the note. Once I’ve captured it, I run out onto the other side of the river, and keep going until I hit a wall. Then I turn to the right and begin to walk, when I hear the sound of another note. I walk slowly towards the note even though I hear the bird approaching from my right side. I am able to jump in the river and retrieve the note, as the bird flies overhead. For the first time, I notice my heavy breathing as I’m walking around on dry land. I’m not sure if this is something that I’ve always done, or whether my hearing accuity is improving. I continue to hear the old man in the distance but walk around, in search of either another note or a way out. I hear a phone ringing in the distance and walk forward slowly. As I jump in the river I hear the telephone get louder and I swim towards the phone. When I reach the telephone, the original male narrator answers: “So I can see why you didn’t save the old man. He was such a bore. No matter, into the pipes, a machine of the palace. Ever towards Papa Sangre. [Inaudible].”

Level 11: Quicksand

Catherine Zeta-Jones begins the level by stating: “A reaper giggles besides two pits of quicksand in which lie the notes. In the quicksand you have to move slowly or you will stumble and fall.” As the level begins, I hear the note in front of me, and the bubbling quicksand on both sides of my ears as well as the laugh of the grim reaper ahead of me. As I walk forward, it sounds like I’m stepping on gravels and stone, kind of a crunchy and slightly unstable ground. As I walk forward, I’m killed immediately by a grim reaper.  “You can outrun a giggling reaper. Lure it away from the note and then race back,”she notes. This level is very confusing to me as I’ve just been told to run, but then to move slowly once in the quick sand, having no clue where the quick sand is because I hear the bubbles all around me. I walk forward slowly towards the note, when I suddenly hear a stumbling noise and a deep. sucking sinking noise. I keep pressing the feet on the screen to move forward but I stumble and am unable to do anything. Recognizing that I’m in the quicksand I slowly press back and forth between the two feet toward the musical note and collect it, but I’m unsure where I am. I hear another note to my right so I rotate the screen. Unsure of whether I’m in the quicksand or on stable ground I move slowly, until I realize that I no longer hear the slow sucking sound effect and begin moving quickly towards the note. As soon as it is captured I hear the sound of the exit and run quickly towards it, as the grim reaper approaches from the left side. I’m not sure what to expect and as I’m wondering what’s next, a British man’s voice cuts in asking, “Hello? Hello?” Catherine Zeta-Jones chimes in over the man’s voice: “Excellent. The final challenge of the kingdom of reeds. And another lost soul in torment.” He again speaks up, saying, “I’m here by the rivers edge,” but she concludes the section by warning: “But don’t let your pity trip you up.”

I’m noticing that I’m no longer able to focus as much on making exact judgements about where the sounds are based on my hearing. I run towards the general direction of the note because of the constraints imposed by the and then run frantically to find the note. My listening practices were the most focused during the early stages of the game when I had the time to stand and differentiate between where I was and where I needed to be. Perhaps as I become more acclimated to maneuvering through these stressful environments, my listening practices will also improve.

Level 10: Homerun

This level is very confusing to me. The narration suggests that I should be running in a circle, but I’m not sure how to do that” “It’s a race between you and two reapers, a circle of notes leads you to the exits.”  Instead of trying to run in a circle, I locate the sound of the first musical note to my left, and rush towards it. After I catch it, I vaguely hear the sound of the second note behind me, as well as the laughter of the grim reapers floating in and out of the right side. I race toward the music note, but trip and fall. Immediately I am killed by a reaper as Catherine Zeta-Jones chimes in: “Death by the scythe of a giggling reaper.” I come back to the level, determined to get through. I listen carefully and make sure that each note I hear is directly between the right and left. By focusing on the location of each note, I collect the first three, but instead of the hearing the exit, I hear a new set of notes. This time, I hear a slight flute sound. I run to collect this sound and then I hear another slightly lower flute sound and I run to pick this up. Finally I hear the exit sound, and turning around I walk quickly towards this sound. I get through this level fairly quickly, and by focusing on the sounds and their locations but Catherine Zeta-Jones informs me that the next level won’t be so easy: “Well done and your prize? A warm welcome into quick sand. And festering insects. They don’t flatter like me.”

Level 9: Grim Reaper [Last Before Spring Break]

Catherine Zeta-Jones begins the level by stating:  “There’s something in this field more dangerous than a hog. (I hear the putative grim reaper laughing and what sounds like a scythe swinging) A giggling, grinning reaper. Even if you stand still, as quiet as you can, it’ll come and get you. Ready to run.” As I begin moving through the tall grass (or what sounds like it) I become frenzied, unable to distinctively make out where the reaper is, or where the musical note is. I hear both, vaguely in front of me, but just like in the island, the sound of my charging through the grass, makes it hard to pay attention to other sounds. In an instant I hear the sound of a scythe across my neck, blood spouting forth and the grim reaper laughing. She offers this advice: “You can outrun a reaper. Listen hard while you run.” The second and third times I play, I try to move a little more judiciously, taking a step and then considering where the notes and the grim reaper are, and each time I am killed suddenly by the reaper. As I’m reincarnated a fourth time, I move a few steps toward the musical note and then stop to hear if its closer, rather than walking toward the sound carefully to make sure it is directly in front of me. If I walk straight ahead, I run into the reaper. After playing the game over 15 times, I take a step back and decide to memorize the path I have used in the few instances that I was successful rather than use the musical notes as the primary means of feedback. I remember that the last time I’d gotten the first music note, I’d wiped my finger from left to right and then run until I hit a wall. Then I’d turned the control from right to left slightly and run towards the first note. In order to get the second note, I had turned almost 180 degrees and run straight back from the place I got the first note. I wasn’t able to make a mental map of the one instance that the exit had appeared, so after getting both notes, my only option is to run until I can hear the sound of the exit over the sound of my running through the corn stalks. As I run into the exit I’m met with a huge sigh of relief and some kind words from Catherine Zeta-Jones: “Well done! Up in the air into an open waste land. The perfect spot for a home-run.” Once again I hear a large roaring sound, and trees cracking as I take off in my hot air balloon.

It’s about to be spring break, so I will be back playing the game on Monday, March 26th!

Level 8: The Island-Part 2

Today I was able to find the exit note after only a few minutes, so I’m not sure what was causing me so much difficulty yesterday. Perhaps I was tired. Regardless, this time, after running to the musical note instead of hearing the usual sounds associated with the successful completion of a level, I hear a loud rumbling, roaring noise, almost like the sound of a large amount of water crashing to the ground, and the sound of trees or some other large mass hitting the ground. As I’m wondering what these sounds are, Catherine Zeta Jones exclaims, “Up, up and away! You’re in a hot air balloon plummeting into a nearby cornfield. It’s time to meet the grim reaper.” 

Level 8: The Island

As I start this level, I notice an obvious shift between this level and the past levels. Not only is the background for the image of this stage a slight shade of purple as opposed to the beige that has colored the images for levels past, but as this stage begins, a somber flamenco-sounding guitar begins to play as Catherine Zeta Jones speaks: “In front of you, through reeds and water is an island. A slasher bird nests there. If you step too long on the island, it will swoop and peck you through your skull. Collect the notes and escape in the hot air balloon.” The note this time sounds almost like a violin or an oboe, alternating between two different notes continuously. “Get in the water in order to get close to the notes,” she suggests. The note appears to be towards my left side. As I move forward, it sounds like I’m walking first on gravel, then through reeds, and finally on a marshy ground. I hear a bird cawing loudly on my right side and then on my left side. As a frog croaks on my right side, I suddenly plummet in deep water as I collect the first note. As I press the left and right foot on-screen I hear splashing noises instead of footsteps, which I immediately notice is significantly noisier than the sound of walking. I hear a bird cawing to my right as the second note begins playing, a slightly higher pitched variation on the first musical note. “Good. Now collect the second note.”  I splash toward the second note and collect it. The last musical note, alternates between three notes, and I swim to collect it using the same process as earlier.

As I suspected when I first got in the water, this particular environment has certainly made locating the notes much more difficult because the sound of the splashing now masks the sound of the musical notes and enemies, which I can only hear briefly as I let the controller go. My fear about the slasher bird finding me and pecking through my skull forces me to move about frantically without taking time to listen to where each sound is coming from. I spin the wheel and push the feet on the screen in order to move rapidly around, hoping to hear the sparkling exit sound. As I get back on land, I run across the island, moving on what sounds like gravel, possibly over sand (it’s nearly silent), over swampland and then back into the water. Periodically, I hear the exit sound ahead of me but it is impossible for me to locate it above the splashing sounds. Finally as I hear the exit sound getting noticeably louder, I swim towards it. She whispers, “Be careful,” as I swim closer to the note. Unsure of what she means by “be careful” in this context, I swim forward, when suddenly I hear a bird shrieking loudly in my left ear. In an instant the screen freezes and I hear the sound of a bird pecking furiously at my skull as my character screams. Catherine Zeta Jones chimes in “Your brains are bird food.” I will come back tomorrow.

Level 7: The Charnel Pits – Audio Game “Space”


Catherine Zeta Jones asks, “Is this what they’re guarding? The notes sit on three noisy pits of guts. They will wake the hog and he will charge (Sound of a hog roaring). At the exit a bell rings for you to answer (sound of telephone). A baby screams and cries (sound of baby crying). Is this the soul you have come to save? If you help it, the hogs will hear you both. But otherwise you abandon it to its death. Better than if both of you die.” I hear the musical note,  almost directly in front of me but slightly to the left and the hog appears to be on my right side, in the distance. As I approach the note directly in front of me, she whispers, “Be careful.” I am unsure what to do, because the last time she whispered that, I had to run rapidly across the row of toys and bones, but she didn’t mention anything about what I needed to do this time around. As I walk forward, it sounds like I’m stepping on something squishy (the pits of guts, I assume) so I run forward to collect the note, and keep running until my feet touch solid ground. I hear the hogs snarling and the baby crying in the distance but it appears that I am safe for now. I do the same thing with the second musical note, which is located to my right. For a moment, I’m lost. I don’t hear anything, so I spin around for a moment, trying to listen for a musical note, and in the absence walking slowly and carefully. As I approach something potentially noisy, she warns “be careful” and I quickly run across another squishy sounding substance in order to get to the other side.

As I wander I hear the sound of a baby crying as well as a telephone ringing directly in front of me. I run towards both, which appear to be coming from the same place and then as I approach both the crying baby and the exit I hear the sound indicating that I’ve beaten the level. As I pick up the phone I hear the voice of the male from the introduction: “You helped the lost soul escape to the light, but you know that is not the soul you are here to save. That waits for you with Papa Sangre you must head to the palace of bones.”

Level 6: Bedtime

“The living quarters. Momma hog and baby hog are asleep. Creep around them to collect all the notes. But beware the noisy strips of toys and bone near the exit. It will wake the hogs up.”

As I stand in place in the game, I hear a hog growling to my left and a music note beeping to my left as well. I hear the sound of a fairly large stream of water dripping, like a faucet is running, but I’m not sure where it’s coming from. It seems to be behind me. As I walk forward, I am able to collect both the first and second note, although acquiring the note is particularly terrifying as I am having a hard time identifying where the hog is. I can hear it breathing, sleeping, or growling (I’m not sure) from every direction and my only hope is to make sure that the noises are not the loudest when I’m “looking” straight ahead. As I hear the exit noise I grow tense, remembering that there is a strip of toys and bones around the exit. I have tried this level multiple times and died multiple times (to which she has responded,“That piercing feeling is fangs. That smell is the rotten breath of a hungry hog”) but I realize that the secret is to make sure the exit is directly in front of me before running forward or else risk getting caught by the snuffle hogs as they chase me down. As I approach the exit, I center myself, making sure I hear the glittery sound of the exit equally and clearly in both ears. Quickly I charge forward, running over the bones and toys as I hear the hogs starting towards me. As I make it through the exit, I realize my heart is pounding and my shoulders are tense. “Now through the charnel pits. A chamber full of half-eaten guts and the bones of long dead souls. But here is lost soul, a baby, a special tea-time treat for a baby hog.”

Level 5: Hog Patrol

I begin the fifth level, feeling fairly confident that I have a solid understanding of the game. As the screen shows an image of sunglasses with the words “Hog Patrol” written at the top, Catherine Zeta Jones says, “Collect the trail of musical notes, but a hog is patrolling the room from left to right in front of you. Don’t get in his way or he’ll prove a hungry hog.”

In front of me I hear the musical note to my left. I hear the sound of a hog growling moving slowly from my left ear to my right ear. I wait until I hear him on the opposite side to walk toward the note. As I walk toward the note, I realize I have miscalculated and the note is further to my left than I thought. Unfortunately the hog is coming back so I run and trip only to be eaten by the hog. “You must steer clear of the hog to succeed.”

I start over again in the same place. This time I try to locate the note directly in front of me by turning to the left and then to the right incrementally to judge when the musical note appears to be equal volume between both ears. I am successful in getting the first note, but the second note proves to be too close to the hog and as I move toward it, I am devoured again. I play this level several times before I am able to move to the next level. I realize that regardless of the number of levels I’ve played up to this point, I still don’t have a great sense of where the musical notes and the hog are throughout the space. I can only really tell where the snuffle hog and musical notes are in close proximity to me, but if asked to describe where the notes are in the room, I would have no idea unless I carefully detailed each step on a piece of paper  and even then that wouldn’t be a guarantee of any real understanding of where the different objects are placed. I suppose not having a general map of the room is helping me to work on my hearing because I can’t rely on memory to beat the levels, but rather my manipulation of the controls as I encounter the musical notes and avoid the snuffle hogs.

Hand-Ear Coordination

Painting by Paul Davis.

Playing Papa Sangre has made me curious about the idea of hand-ear coordination. It seems like I am starting to develop some type hand-ear coordination. I am able to maneuver through the level, given a general sense of where the different sounds are. If I know the musical note is to the right I quickly wipe the cursor and move toward the sound, while keeping track of the location of the snuffle hogs growling in the distance.

We often talk about hand-eye coordination, and the importance of developing such skills at a young age, so I’ve become curious to see if there is any scholarship regarding hand-ear coordination and the role of video games in its development. Research conducted by those interested in simulation and gaming in the 1980s  indicated that video game players performed better in a variety of hand-eye coordination tasks than non-players. Where hand-eye coordination comes into play extends far beyond the scope of the sports world. As Barlett, Anderson and Swing remark in their paper “Video Game Effects” such skills are “important for a variety of behavioral tasks, such as performing surgery.” (393) A search of hand-ear or ear-hand coordination did not lead me to anything particularly useful either: an educational site called suggests some tools for helping to build ear-hand coordination; I was somehow directed to an article about text-to-speech synthesis;

Finally after searching online, I discovered an article by Akiko Busch of the American Craft Council, who talks about the fact that “the physical act of listening is so innate and important to the process of making things.” Neurologist Frank Wilson has echoed this sentiment, suggesting that there is something primal about hearing and using the hands. Ultimately what this could mean is that people who play games like Papa Sangre extensively, in which excellent hand-ear coordination is required throughout, could become excellent craftsmen and women, understanding the unique sounds produced by each material and translating this knowledge into the way in which materials are sculpted. This certainly has implications for dancing as well.


Anderson, C. A., Barlett, C. P., & Swing, E. L. (2009). “Video game effects – Confirmed, suspected, and speculative: A review of the evidence.” Simulation and Gaming, 40(3), pp. 377-403.

Busch, A. (2011). Hand-Ear Coordination. American Craft Magazine [online], 71. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from

Level 4: Bed of Bones

So I have died multiple times while trying to get through this level . This time I think about Catherine Zeta Jones’ advice as I move forward. “Run over the bones quickly to the other side.” Instead of trying to run from the hog, which is my first instinct, this time as I crunch on the bones and squeaky toys between me and the musical note in front of me, I run forward, even as I hear the snuffle hog coming. “You’re safe!” She exclaims as I run out onto the other side, the snuffle hog, growling behind me, but not getting any closer. As I stand, she offers me some advice: “Hear the note equally in each ear. Line it up in front of you. Walk forward to the edge of the bones. Listen again. Then run.” I move toward the sound and collect the note without having to walk back over the bones and squeaky toys. “Now collect the next note!” This note appears to be in front of me to the left so I pivot the wheel on the screen and walk in that direction. As I take three steps towards the note, I hear a loud creaking noise, and I jump, later realizing that this is the sound of an old door opening. I continue walking forward and collect the next note. “Good. Now head for the exit.” I hear the exit noise to my right side so I turn and charge forward into the light. As I am transported to the next level, I hear Catherine Zeta Jones: “The hog charged you as you trod on something loud, like some crunchy bones from all the souls it’s eaten before you but you escaped its guard room. Now you must get past the hog patrol. A hog on the move.”

Level 3: The Kennel – Part 2

Today I came back to play the Kennel Level. I have died several times by walking towards the sound of the note (which is very close to the sound of the snuffle hog) only to get eaten. This time I walk slowly toward the musical note, stopping just shy of both the note and the snuffle hogs snarling. They both appear to be in the center of my head, so I’m confused about where to go. I move a little bit to the left and the snarling gets slightly louder. As I move to the right, the musical note gets slightly louder and I determine that it is right in front of me. I can still hear the hog close to me as I walk forward and collect the note.  “Now find the exit (exit sound appears).”  I hear the exit sound behind me so I slowly turn to face the exit sound and walk towards it until I run into the “light.” “Well done. It is difficult to see with your ears. You’re learning quickly. To the next chamber. The bed of bones. A snuffle hogs chamber scattered with squeaky toys and crunchy finger bones. Step on them and the hog will hear you and chase where it last heard you.”

As I noted in an earlier post, the obvious challenges of playing a game in which sound is the main feedback mechanism is not lost on the developers of the dialogue. While scholars in sound studies have tried to move away from comparisons between the visual and the aural, (Sterne, 2003) I actually find this analogy of seeing with my ears quite useful for thinking about the way I’m learning to listen.


Sterne, J. (2003). The Audible Past. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Level 3: The Kennel-Part 1

Deep horns blare in the background starts as Catherine Zeta Jones begins to talk. “You are at the entrance to the palace of bones. It is guarded by a hog. The hog is asleep in the kennel next to a musical note. The hog will eat you if it catches you. If you trip and fall, the hog will wake and chase you (sound of animal growling and running).”

I am now on the main screen with the wheel at the top and the feet at the bottom. I listen to make sense of the environment, now that I know that walking towards the wrong place can result in death. I hear an animal growling in the distance but I cannot clearly distinguish where it is, whether it is directly behind me, or in front of me, to the right, or to the left. I also hear my first musical note blinking in the distance on my right side. I turn to the right and walk toward the musical note, which is now pulsing on my left side and I can hear the snuffle hog growling in the distance. I turn until I hear the musical note in both ears. I am still not able to make out exactly where the growling is in proximity to where I am. I take two more steps forward and both the growling and the pulsing musical note increase slightly in volume. It seems like the musical note is actually more in the left ear than in the right ear so I turn toward the left until the sound seems to be hitting each ear equally. Just as I approach the note, the sound of the growling snuffle hog grows loud in my left ear and suddenly I am listening in horror as the snuffle hog bites into my character (a male, I now learn) and he screams in agony. The entire episode is extremely disturbing as I can hear the sounds of the snuffle hog feeding on the main character. While I can still hear some of the gory sounds of the snuffle hog voraciously feasting, Catherine Zeta Jones calmly says “Careful near a snuffle hog. If it catches you, it eats you. But your soul remains to try again in a new body.” I think I’m  going to try again tomorrow.

Level 2 Conclusions

So far, I’m liking this game. I know that it can’t possibly stay this easy, but for now, I’m feeling good about learning how to listen within this game context. I can’t help but wonder how my listening practices will change when there is more than one sound in my ear range at the same time. Will I be able to focus in on certain sounds?

Level 2: Soul Music – Learning to Listen

The second level begins with the following advice from Catherine Zeta Jones: “You must follow a trail of musical notes and the first of them is here.” I hear something that sounds like the continuous plucking of a sanza note (African instrument pictured below).

“Collect it by turning towards its sound and walking towards it. Another note will then appear. When you have both of them, the sound of the light appears. (Glittering exit sound) Walk through it to exit the chamber.” When she is finished talking I am brought to the screen with the wheel at the top and the feet at the bottom. I hear the sound of the music note beeping in front of me. “Walk towards where you hear the musical note. Walk into the note to collect it.”  As I leave the screen idle she says, “Turn around slowly until you can hear the note in each ear. Walk towards it.” I leave the screen idle to see if she will give me more information. “Walk five steps. Listen and turn to face the note. Walk another five steps, and listen again. All the way to the note.” Finally she asks, “Is the sound in your left ear? Turn left until the sound is in both ears. Do the same if the sound is on your right. Then walk slowly towards it and check again. When you’re very close to a sound, turn left and right. Scan it.  Work out where exactly it is coming from.”

As I take a few steps forward I notice the musical note is beeping in my left ear. I take two more steps and the sound gets louder in my left ear as if I’m approaching something that is on my left side. I touch the wheel at the top and using my right index finger, I scan to the left, pushing the wheel to the right as the sound moves to both ears. Then I walk forward as the sound gets louder. I collect the note and hear a note that sounds far behind me and to my right side. I turn my cursor until the sound seems like it’s between both ears, even if it is still distant. I walk toward the sound as it gets louder, still sounding like it is a little bit too far to my right. As I move forward, the sound seems to be getting further away and I hear the sound of bees or bugs swarming on my right side instead. I use my fingers to turn toward the right until the musical note is between both ears. Then I walk forward and collect the note. “Now it’s time to leave. Can you hear the exit? Walk through it.” I hear the sound of the exit to my right, the glittering noise, filled with little bells, and a warm hum, as well as a light tapping.  I turn toward the right and walk forward, ready for the next level, as she says,

“Well done. Your story starts here in the first palace of the kingdom of Papa Sangre: the palace of bones. You have been summoned here to save the soul of someone who is dear to you. They are in grave danger. The trail of musical notes leads you through the kingdom to Papa Sangre and the soul imperial. In every chamber collect the musical notes and the sound of the light appears for you to exit onwards.(Sound of exit) But beware. There may be monsters. They will kill you if they catch you and then I’ll have to make your soul a new body. Enter the kennel at Dank Cloister with a sleeping snuffle hog (sound of growling animal). If you ever need help, stand still and I will be there in une momento.”

I will start the next level tomorrow.

Level 1: In the Dark Part 2

As I start the second half of level 1, I notice that the screen has changed from the first half. Now the off-white half wheel at the top of the screen is brighter, although the bottom half of the screen with the two feet has remained the same. I am met by Catherine Zeta Jones’ voice: “You will need to find the sound of the light to exit each chamber in the kingdom of Papa Sangre. Now you will learn to listen and to turn to face the sounds you hear.” I hear something that sounds like bells and glitter and then all of a sudden I hear a clock ticking and chiming in both ears, as the female voice softly says: “Now I am turning you slowly in a clockwise direction. Hear the world turn around you. Hear the bell in the distance. The clock nearby. The wheel on the screen tells show you how you turn, you can turn yourself by wiping the upper half of the screen. Hear how the world turns with your head. When you are done, turn right round and I will come find you.”

As she speaks, I hear the sound of the clock panning from ear to ear, almost around and inside my head. Finally the “movement” stops as I hear the sound of the clock ticking and chiming in my right ear. As I leave the screen idle she calls, “I’m over here,” into my right ear. Using my right index finger, I scroll from right-to-left, and the wheel turns to the right, as the voice moves from my right side to behind me. I then use my finger to scroll to the left as the voices move back to the right side and then in front of me. I realize that the way I move my finger across the wheel is the way I would be orienting my body towards a particular sound to hear it better. If I hear a sound on my left side and I move my finger from right to left across the wheel. It is as if I am turning on an axis toward the sound, so that the sound moves from being only audible in the left ear to being audible by both ears and seeming as if it is in the center of my head. If I continue to swipe my finger from right-to-left, the sound will move all the way to the right ear, before disappearing behind me.  As I successfully turn, Catherine Zeta Jones says,  “Yes, well done. And finally, you must learn how to collect the trail of music leading you to Papa Sangre!”

Level 1 Part 1 – Reflections

After playing through the first half of the first level I have made a number of interesting observations. First, I have never played a game on a touch screen before, but I instantly feel more a part of the game than when I have used a controller in the past. I’ve found myself, shifting my weight back and forth in my shoulders as if I’m really walking, whenever I touch each foot on the screen.

Additionally, while I’ve taken notes on the first half of level 1, and made mention of specific locations of sounds within the game (in my right ear, in my left ear), depending on how I put on my headphones, sounds that were specific to my left ear, can be heard instead in my right ear and vice-versa,  thus restructuring the way I play the game each time. Initially after I noted this difference, I was tempted to label my headphones but I think this could actually help me to better gauge whether this game is significantly altering my listening practices.

Finally, this game seems to draw on the ideas articulated by Timothy Cricks’ “game body” (2011). The similes, and metaphors used in this game help to illustrate how video games can extend sensorial understandings to different organs and limbs.  In my brief time playing, I have already noted the use of phrases like,  “see with your ears,” and “walk with your thumbs.” I am certain that this type of language will continue throughout the story and I will hopefully have enough data at the end to make a reasonable conclusion about the rationale for the use of such language.


Crick, T. (2011). The Game Body: Toward a Phenomenology of Contemporary Video Gaming. Games and Culture, 6(3), pp. 259­‐69.

Level 1: In the Dark Part 1

After downloading the app, the game opens with a screen like the picture below:

When I touch “Begin,” with my finger I see an image (shown below) that informs me of two important details: the necessity of a pair of headphones and the means to pause the game (tapping three times on the screen).

This is followed by an image with the words “In the Dark” written on a banner across the top. In the center of the screen is a picture of an eye, with the iris looking like a skull or a ghost. I hear inaudible talking and for a few seconds a woman begins singing operatically, as several voices continue muttering in both ears. Suddenly I hear a man saying, “Somebody help me…I’m blind,” followed by the sound of a telephone ringing in my left ear, while a child sings “twinkle, twinkle little star” in my right ear. As the telephone continues ringing, I hear what sounds like cars driving in the distance, as if I’m on the sidewalk as the telephone is ringing. Suddenly I hear the sound of a door closing and a click as I presumably pick up the ringing phone, the sound of which has now panned from my left ear closer to the center. The voice on the other end of the phone sounds like a man with some type of Spanish accent and he greets me in my right ear:

“Buenos dios compañeros. The soul of someone close to you is in grave danger. To save him you must leave this world and follow me into the kingdom of Papa Sangre. No time to lose!” As the phone call ends, my ears become overwhelmed by loud and deep stereographic horns, a choir, and a screeching whistle that crescendos into a crashing sound and a thud as I hear the sound of someone (presumably my character) falling to the floor, accompanied by a grunt, and the pitter-patter of cement-like shards hitting the ground.

The image of the eye with the words “In the Dark” written across the top has not changed. I suddenly hear the voice of a woman (who’s accent sounds like a mix of British and Spanish). Based on her voice, I imagine her to look like Catherine Zeta Jones, so I will call her that:

“Here you are in the land of the dead, the realm ruled by Papa Sangre. You are a brave soul here to rescue a soul in peril, no? In this underworld it is pitch dark. You cannot see a thing; you can’t even see me, a fluttery watery thing, here to help you. But you can listen and move. I will tell you how. First you must learn how to walk in this body, next you must learn how to see with your ears. You will need these powers to save the soul in peril and make your way to the light. First you must learn how to walk in his body, walk with your thumbs and listen to your footsteps. Left, right, left.”

Suddenly I hear a bell-like swelling sound — one that I recognize as somehow representative of the type of sound that is meant to indicate that a good thing has happened in a video game, and yet I’m unable to describe it in any more detail. As this sound occurs, the screen changes: the screen is suddenly split horizontally in halves: on the top half there is an off-white half wheel with roman numerals represented in bones over a black background and on the bottom half are two skeletal feet, divided by a thin vertical line over a black background as well. The soundscape is filled with a low droning hum that is periodically complemented by a hollow high-pitched howl. Catherine Zeta Jones chimes in as I leave the game idle: “Walk with your thumbs on the bottom half of the screen.” When I press down on the right foot on the screen, I hear the sound of a shoe clicking against a hard surface. I do the same thing to the left foot and then I hear the swelling bell sound from the beginning of the level as she exclaims, “Yes, you’re walking! A little more.”

I take several more steps by pressing back and forth between the two images of feet and then I hear the bell-like sound that indicates success again. “Good. Now try to run. Run too fast and you will trip up.” When I push down too quickly between the different feet, I hear the sound of a person falling and hitting the ground. “You have tripped!”When I press down quickly between the two at a consistent pace, I hear the bell sound and then she proclaims, “Keep going. That sparkly sound is the sound of the light in the exit. Walk towards it.” I hear the pulsing sparkly sound that she has just discussed, which I can only describe as a combination of bell-like, musical box notes, with a whistling sound underneath. As I move closer, the sound gets louder. When I walk into it, I hear a loud burst of glittery bells, and then a wailing noise and a slam. This concludes part 1 of “In the Dark.”

Before Playing Papa Sangre

Tomorrow I will begin playing the audio game Papa Sangre developed by the company Somethin’ Else in 2010. I had heard about this game from a seminar that I took in the fall semester of 2011 regarding video games and music. I was inspired to play this game after an interesting discussion in class, regarding the association of fear with an inability to see. According to the website:

“Papa Sangre is a video game with no video. It’s a first-person thriller, done entirely in audio by an award-winning team of game designers, musicians, sound designers and developers. We’ve created an entire world using the first ever real-time 3D audio engine implemented on a handheld device. Which was BLOODY HARD.”

I am going to play the game almost every day for the next several weeks to explore the interesting relationship between my listening practices and their centrality in my successful completion of the game. I will use this information to serve as a springboard for understanding greater listening practices and why audio games are perhaps far more important than we may assume at first.

Before I begin, I think it may be useful to think about the definition of video games. Although both video and audio games constitute relatively young forms of media, these types of ontological questions regarding their definition may simply be an extension of the discourse throughout the 20th century among theorists who were interested in constructing play as an analytical category. Unable to come to a strict consensus, prominent play theorists like Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois eventually settled on a broad set of necessary but not necessarily sufficient general characteristics that distinguished ludic activities from other forms of life. For example, both theorists contend that play is a voluntary activity with its own set of rules that takes place in a space that is separate from ‘real life,’ a magic circle as Huizinga called it (Caillois, 2001; Huizinga, 1955, pp. 10, 20).

As Mark Wolf suggests, perhaps it makes sense to think of both video and audio games as the combination of a broad set of characteristics as well, although the magic circle in this case operates within a certain technologically mediated space. In terms of criteria that distinguish game-play, characteristics might include the presence of conflict (against an opponent or circumstances), a set of rules, use of some player ability (luck, skill, strategy) and a valued outcome (winning, losing, attaining the highest score or fastest time), all of which are experienced between bodies and some type of programmed virtual space (Wolf, 2001, pp. 14-15).

The primary difference between audio and video games is related to their feedback, which itself can be thought of as the means through which users make sense of their virtual environment and come to understand the successful or unsuccessful completion of certain objectives (McGonigal, 2011). Although video games have made use of sound in new and interesting ways in order to orient game-play, their primary feedback mechanism is still very much rooted in the visual.

Additionally, not only does Papa Sangre require a set of headphones, but the game also has a minimum requirement of an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad or fourth generation iPod. Upon recognizing that all of these interfaces rely on a touch-screen, I immediately began wondering whether the absence of significant visual cues prompted the developers to add this haptic element to the game, perhaps in order to supplement the perceived deficiencies of a “video game with no video” (Papa Sangre, 2012). I certainly recognize that video game controllers such as those used in the N64 have incorporated “rumble pack” technology, which enhances game play by shaking the controller when users encounter particular parts of the game, but there is a large difference between a controller mediating the game experience and the game itself being the controller. Perhaps more and more games are moving in this direction anyways given the proliferation of touchscreen technology, but it may be useful to think about this idea especially considering that the other premier audio game, Deep Sea, also uses a unique interface, through which players wear specially modified gas masks, with headphones and microphones in order to navigate through an underwater world (Hruschak, 2011).


Caillois, R. (2001.) [1958]. Les jeux et les hommes: le masque et le virtige. Paris: Gallimard. Translated by Meyer Barash as Man, Play, and Games. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hruschak, PJ. (2011, April). 2011 Independent Propeller Award Winner: Robin Arnott for Deep Sea. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from http://www.indiepub award-winner-intel-intel-innovation-award

Huizinga, J. (1955). [1939]. Homo Ludens: Versuch einer Bestimmung des Spielelementes der Kultur. Amsterdam: Pantheon. Anonymously translated as Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin.

Papa Sangre. (2012). Retrieved February 10, 2012, from

Wolf, M. (ed.) 2001. The Medium of the Video Game. United States of America: University of Texas Press.