Smart phones and other portable devices have become an essential source of entertainment for people. As time passes by, more and more game applications are made for mobile devices. However, due to the small dimensions of the screens, immersion is difficult to achieve using iPhones or iPods.
The company “Somethin’ Else” decided to innovate creating “Papa Sangre”: a horror audio based game for the iOS. The player is supposed to be lost in the land of the dead, where everything is dark and nothing can be seen. Someone’s life is in danger and the player must rescue him and escape, or he will stay trapped in the darkness forever. The world is recreated fully with binaural soundscapes, that can only be appreciated through headphones. Just a few images can bee seen in the game for navigation purposes:
Michel Chion mentions in his book “Audiovision, Sound on Screen” (1994), that hearing sounds without seeing their cause, can create huge emotional impact. He quotes Pierre Schaeffer who explains how acousmatic listening (the excersice of hearing sounds without seeing their source) allows the sound reveal itself in all of its dimensions, making us draw our attention in traits normally hidden. A crashing melon, for instance, can be used to represent a tank crashing a little kid, or it can also represent a funny situation at the beach (Chion 1994, p.32-46).
In a certain way, images limit the imagination, and thus, listening to isolated sounds makes our minds go far beyond those limits. Something similar happens when reading a book with illustrations or reading a book without them. This is why in horror films, sometimes isolated sounds suggest scarier things than if there were any images present.
The use of binaural technology in Papa Sangre fits perfectly into the “iDevice” culture that we live today, as everyone that has an iphone or an ipod uses headphones. Somethin’ Else created unique soundscapes and absorbing immersion using this technology, which basically consists on having a mannequin head to place two microphones, one in each ear. The recordings can simulate sounds coming from thousands of sources, creating a 3D impression for the listener, and thus, making the immersing experience more effective.
Even though this game was made in 2010, I personally believe it is still an innovative approach that helps giving more relevance to sound in the visual media scene. With these kind of games, people become more aware of the vast potential of audio to influence the perception of image in favor of immersion. This is crucial, as handheld devices become more popular, and the game industry has to find effective ways to create immersion.
Chion, Michel (1994) The Audiovision: Sound on Screen. New York ; Chichester : Columbia University Press.
Doctorrow, Cory (2011). Papa Sangre: binaural video game with no video. (Internet) Available from:<http://boingboing.net/2010/12/19/papa-sangre-binaural.html>(Accessed 15 November, 2011)
Edge Magazine (2011) Somethin' Else on Papa Sangre's value. (Internet) Available from: Edge Magazine: <http://www.next-gen.biz/features/somethin-else-papa-sangres-value> (Accessed 15 November, 2011)
Papa Sangre (Internet), Available from the Papa Sangre Website: <http://www.papasangre.com/> (Accessed 15 November, 2011)