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Sad music when you are 'killed' increases the pleasure of playing

A game of checkers becomes much more fun when music reflects your next move. Research shows that dynamic music strengthens players' involvement in games, and the computer game industry is starting to realise the value of soundscapes.

It is something we all know. A horror film without sound is not particularly scary. In computer games, great dramas also unfold. You take a hit or are even killed. And according to new research, when music reflects the drama unfolding on the screen the pleasure of playing increases.

- We got two people to play checkers on a computer. Artificial intelligence tracked their game and adjusted the mood of the music according to their next move. If they were about to make a crucial move where they could potentially lose the game, the intensity of the music increased, says game designer and assistant professor Marco Scirea from SDU Embodied Systems for Robotics and Learning.

When the well-known board game was pepped up with atmospheric music, the pleasure of playing increased. In total, 29 people participated in the experiment and in the subsequent interview the players said that they had a better and more engaging playing experience when the music was dynamic and supported the atmospheres in the game.

Robot composer

Marco Scirea is a great music lover and has developed the robot composer MetaCompose. He has fed the artificial intelligence with completely basic musical knowledge from Western classical music: rules about which music features create feelings such as joy, excitement or fear. The robot composer follows the development of the game on the computer and composes music according to the intensity of the game.

- Computer games have a tendency to become boring after a while. My thesis is that this is because of the very monotonous soundscape. This is a very small study, but it's the first time that research has shown that dynamic and emotive music strengthens the playing experience.

Music strengthens different moods, and it could be interesting to research further into whether music in games can create feelings

Marco Scirea, assistant professor

Recently, Marco Scirea won the "Best Paper Award" for the best scientific article at the AudioMostly conference in Wales, and the gaming industry is gradually realising the potential of soundscapes to create more intense atmospheres in games. Marco Scirea points out Melodrive, a German startup from 2017, as a company that creates original music that matches what is happening in the game.

- Computer games are visually appealing, but now it's time to focus on what a dynamic soundscape can add. Music strengthens different moods, and it could be interesting to research further into whether music in games can create feelings. For instance, if you're stressed, can a game with the right music make you less stressed?

Read more

Do you want to work with game development? Read more about the Master of Science in Engineering - Learning and Experience Technology.

Meet the researcher

Marco Scirea is currently teaching game development at BSc and MSc in Engineering - Learning and Experience Technology. At the same time he has developed different types of games. Marco Scirea completed his PhD in Affective Music Generation and its Effect on Player Experience: the final objective was to create a system where, by using a cognitive model of the player, we would be able to identify the player's emotional state and be able to reinforce or manipulate it through the use of mood-expressive music to improve user experience.

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