On Audio and Video Game “Space”

by Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

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.