14 May 2018
In Chapter One of “Sound Play: video games and the musical imagination” the author, William Cheng, discusses his experiences with the video game Fallout 3, noting the influence of the music and sounds within the game. He first discusses the three diegetic radio stations – Enclave Radio, Galaxy News Radio, and Agatha’s Station. Cheng notes that the music and voices emanating from these stations have the opportunity to allow listeners to reminisce; however, there also filled with more negative motives. Cheng describes the music of The Enclave to be imperialistic and xenophobic. He describes Agatha’s Station as having potential for elitism, exoticism, and colonialism. He ends this conversation by saying, “And of course, the fact that all this music is transmitted through radio is enough to fuel endless debates about consumerism, commercialism, and propaganda” (Cheng 35). Cheng then steers the conversation into the violence of the game, noting the juxtaposition between the violent nature of the game and the cheerful, upbeat, or patriotic music. However, when playing the game Cheng notes that they seem to go together. He writes, “soundtrack and savagery alike, when repeated ad nauseam,, easily become relegated to the status of background noise. To the extent that the two exist as mundane, redundant components of a gaming experience, they go together just fine” (Cheng 51). However, the music and sounds in the game seem to have an obvious influence on a user’s actions and experiences in the game.
Similar to Chapter One of Sound Play, the Introduction to Sound Play also has similar arguments within it. The Introduction to Sound Play first notes the role of the imagination in virtual worlds, like video games. He writes, “Imagination: it’s the life force of make-believe, a driving principle of play, and the crux of how we derive pleasure and enchantment from virtual worlds….Much of the appeal of video games fromes from their ability to translate our physical input into extravagant sounds and onscreen animations (Cheng 4-5). This is similar to Cheng’s argument within the first few pages of Chapter One where he discussed the role of the imagination in the human fascination with imagining the end of the world.
Chapter One of Sound Play also featured an interesting discussion on the relationship between music and violence. This discussion reminded me of the documentary we watched in class after reading Chapter 31 of The Auditory Culture Reader. In that documentary it was noted that some military soldiers used rock music to amp themselves up in war times. Although the music is drastically different in Fallout 3, some players did say that the music influenced their aggressive and violent behavior. Similar to that, the music from the band Disturbed was widely listened to in the military due to its aggressive and loud nature. This music affected the moods of the soldiers and, according to them, was able to keep them awake and agile in times of crisis. Both chapters seem to discuss this connection between music and violence.
This chapter also connected to Chapter 2 of Radio and the Gendered Soundscape. In this chapter, Ehrick discusses how radio stations were censored due to the fear of propaganda entering the airwaves during World War II. Ehrick writes, “World War II was also the first major radio war, and radio propaganda and consequent struggles over who controlled the airwaves emerged as an important background in the Rio de la Plata as in many other parts of the Americas and beyond” (Ehrick 87). During WWII Hitler took great advantage of the power of propaganda through radio, film, and his speeches. During this time, it was common for pro-Nazi propaganda to infiltrate societies through radio. This is similar Cheng’s discussion of possible propaganda being spread over the airwaves of the three radio stations that are featured in Fallout 3.
Although not the main focus of the chapter, I was interested in the Sound Play’s small discussion on how in the world of Fallout there was no new music because the atrocity of the time depleted any creative energy. It was interesting to compare that make believe circumstance with the circumstances of the African American slaves discussed in the Sonic Color Line. As most know, African American slaves sung religious songs for many different reasons. Their music was used to send messages and to keep hope in the darkest of times. These unbelievably difficult times for these African American slaves produced an entire genre of music that is still practiced today. There was not a particular chapter in the The Sonic Color Line that discussed the spirituals sung by African American slaves in depth, but it was mentioned briefly in Chapter 3 with the Jubilee Singers and their rendition of the spirituals. Stoever writes, “Fastidiously dressed in Victorian finery and singing ‘spirituals’ in a muted pianissimo, the Jubilee Singers audiovisually performed what Alexander Weheliye dubs ‘sonic afro-modernity,’ where sound offers ‘more flexible and future-directed provenances’ through which black subjects understand themselves and (re)negotiate their participation in Western modernity” (Stoever 133-134). Unlike in Sound Play, it seems in the real world the most difficult times are still not devoid of music.
Finally, Sound Play Chapter One can be loosely tied back to an aspect from the Introduction to The Auditory Culture Reader. In this introduction there is a small reference to the meanings of sounds to an individual. Bull and Back write, “Sounds are embedded with both cultural and personal meanings; sounds do not come at us merely raw” (Bull and Back 7). This is contradictory to the world within Fallout 3. In that world, those who listen to the music do not understand its historical significance due to a sort of mass amnesia. The music is not listened to or acknowledged by the people within the game. To them, it does appear to come at them merely raw. However, that is the product of imagination and living in a make believe world. However, it does not match the notion presented by Bull and Back that sounds and music will always have some sort of meaning to its listener.
- How does music play a role in other ways of virtual reality, such as movies or television?
- What other instances do we see where difficult circumstances, or even times of war, have created new songs?
Word count: 1062