Objective and Subjective Sound Design


Many game developers miss out on the opportunity to fully address sound effects in their projects, summarizing their application to "sonorize what is being seen."

Sound perception has different characteristics from imagery, being more subjective and penetrating more incisively into our subconscious. In an analogy, the image enters through the front door, being of more immediate absorption. Meanwhile, the audio sneaks into our minds through the window in the back, creating a universe open to interpretations in our heads.

Sounds can convey various emotions, intensifying certain aspects of a game that the image or gameplay did not get, giving another perspective to the player about what goes on in the context of the game.

As far as emotion is concerned, it is possible to think of the sound effects in two scopes: objective and subjective. The objective sound effect is to give the player certain information - the sound of a falling tree can be created from mixing and manipulating sounds of breaking branches, earth and rock debris, foliage and other sound sources with natural relation. In this way, the objective sound effect has the function of telling the player "Look, this is the sound of a falling tree".

The subjective sound proposes to adjectivate the tree and to transmit certain emotion to the player with this event. In the context of the game, this falling tree may represent, for example, a defeat for the player or a restart. If it carries negative meaning, it may be a good idea to mix manipulated sounds of threatening animals, a violent storm, screams or other sounds that lead to a bad experience.

Thus, the subjective sound effects carry an emotional meaning illustrated in the game and that had the intention of being transmitted to the player.

Using these and other assimilations, we seek to access a library of "mutual references" in the creator-player relationship, taking into account diverse factors such as cultural aspects, the displayed media, and the target audience.

It may seem uninteresting when such assimilations are so superficial that they become clichés, but even they serve to create an initial connection between the game and the player. In good dosage, clichés play a fundamental role as a sort of starting point for creating deeper relationships between both sides, making the whole experience more sensitive.

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