Posted by: Jess Riley | September 23, 2008

Background Noise

On World of Warcraft, there’s a lot of background noise coming from the game; there’s the voice emotes, there’s the music for each area, and there’s sound effects like battle noises and NPC noise. Sometimes, I find that this really enables the feel of a scene I’m working and helps me to get in the character’s headspace (for instance, nothing says fear like sitting home alone and suddenly hearing maniacal laughter – only realising after you’ve almost jumped out of your skin that it was something in the game) (Alright, alright, maybe I’m just really weird). This is, of course, the point of it; watch any movie or any television show, and background music will play to evoke some kind of emotion from the audience.

Now, some people call this an underhanded tactic that relies on the music to do the job that the script and the actors should be doing themselves; I won’t go into that debate, but I will note that music is very effective at inducing some kind of emotion. Sometimes, though, you’ll want a particular feel in the roleplay that just doesn’t suit what’s going on around you – the characters will be doing something that doesn’t fit with the mood music.

The reasons you might face this might vary quite a bit; one of the more obvious examples is when something happens in game to change what’s going on around you. I have had at least one scene – and I’m sure most Horde players know what I’m talking about – wherein I left a battleground into the Undercity and was roleplaying with someone who had been in the battleground with me about our glorious victory, when suddenly I realised I could hear something odd in the background – I turned up the volume and realised that it was Lament of the Highborn.

There are a few ways someone could take this jarring difference from the feel of the scene – turning the volume back down and pretended it wasn’t happening, or moving the scene out of the immediate area, or responding as though my character had just noticed the song as well, and react in character to that. At the time, I felt that the latter was most appropriate, so our discussion of our glorious victory was put on hold as one of the two of us silenced the other, and knelt down in respect to Lady Sylvanas until the end of the song.

Of course, this gets tiresome; if there’s a sudden influx of people wanting to make Lady Sylvanas start her song, interrupting your roleplay every few minutes to kneel down in respect again would just get boring. I know it. Since then, I’ve had several scenes interrupted by the musical stylings of Lady Sylvanas.

In most of these cases, I think the most appropriate action is to move into the next room to finish the scene. I suppose I can’t really put my finger on why, but personally, I feel weird about roleplaying chatting in front of a singing Sylvanas. Call me crazy, but I always have to make sure I move out of the way or go silent until she’s done. I suppose I’m just a sucker like that.

Most of the time, when there’s these jarring differences between what you want to play and the feel of the music in any given place, it’s not something like this – rather, it’s the theme music for an area. Now, the Undercity has very eerie music playing the whole time, and when you’re going for a more upbeat scene, that can get distracting. Turning down the music and ignoring it, or putting on more upbeat music of your own to listen to instead… well, is that defeating the point?

The Undercity, to stick with the same example, is a pretty eerie place; while certainly people who are there all the time would get used to that, maybe having that undertone of eeriness pervade your scenes isn’t a bad thing at all. It could get distracting from roleplaying your triumph, or your romance – but really, the Undercity is a pretty grim place that distracts from a lot of that anyway. Maybe it’s not bad to take your cues from the background music even when it doesn’t suit the specifics of the roleplay; it’s there for a reason, after all. Music can be a big cue to a scene, and even if we’re not put off by the visuals, the effect the music has on us might just be the same effect that the big, rotting guards have on the denizens of the Undercity.

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