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IEZA: A Framework For Game Audio

January 23, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Surprisingly little has been written in the field of ludology about the structure and composition of game audio. The available literature mainly focuses on production issues (such as recording and mixing) and technological aspects (for example hardware, programming and implementation). Typologies for game audio are scarce and a coherent framework for game audio does not yet exist.

This article describes our search for a usable and coherent framework for game audio, in order to contribute to a critical discourse that can help designers and developers of different disciplines communicate and expand the borders of this emerging field.

Based on a review of existing literature and repertoire we have formulated a framework for game audio. It describes the dimensions of game audio and introduces design properties for each dimension.


Over the last 35 years, game audio has evolved drastically -- from analogue bleeps, beeps and clicks and crude, simplistic melodies to three-dimensional sound effects and epic orchestral soundtracks. Sound has established itself as an indispensable constituent in current computer games, dynamizing1 as well as optimizing2 gameplay.

It is striking that in this emerging field, theory on game audio is still rather scarce. While most literature focuses on the production and implementation of game audio, like recording techniques and programming of sound engines, surprisingly little has been written in the field of ludology about the structure and composition of game audio.

Many fundamental questions, such as what game audio consists of and how (and why) it functions in games, still remain unanswered. At the moment, the field of game studies lacks a usable and coherent framework for game audio. A critical discourse for game audio can help designers and developers of different disciplines communicate and expand the borders of the field. It can serve as a tool for research, design and education, its structure providing new insights in our understanding of game audio and revealing design possibilities that may eventually lead to new conventions in game audio.

This article describes our search for a usable and coherent framework for game audio. We will review a number of existing typologies for game audio and discuss their usability for both the field of ludology, as well as their value for game audio designers. We will then propose an alternative framework for game audio. Although we are convinced frameworks and models can contribute to a critical discourse, we acknowledge the fact that one definition of game audio might contradict other definitions, which, in the words of Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman "might not be necessarily wrong and which could be useful too" (2004, p.3). We agree with their statement that a definition is not a closed or scientific representation of "reality".

We initially focus on a useful categorization of game audio within the context of interactive computer game play only. The term "game audio" also applies to sound during certain non-interactive parts of the game -- for instance the introduction movie and cutscenes. It concerns parts of the game that do feature sound and interactivity as well, but do not include gameplay, like the main menu. It even includes applications of game audio completely outside the context of the game, such as game music that invades the international music charts and sound for game trailers. We intentionally leave out the use of audio in these contexts for the moment, as there might be other, more suitable, frameworks or models to analyze audio in each of these contexts -- for example, film sound theory for an analysis of sound in a cutscene.

1 Making the gameplay experience more intense and thrilling.

2 Helping the player play the game by providing necessary gameplay information.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Gareth White
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Dr Mark Grimshaw, Divisional Leader for Digital Media in the School of Art and Design at the University of Wolverhampton, recently completed his PhD thesis and published at DiGRA 2007 on the subject of audio in first person shooters.

His 8 page DiGRA paper presents a thorough but accessible typology and the
383 page doctoral thesis is an exhaustive study of the subject.

Grimshaw, Mark and Schott, Gareth. "Situating Gaming as a Sonic Experience:
The acoustic ecology of First-Person Shooters". Situated Play, Digital Games Research Association. (Tokyo: The University of Tokyo, September, 2007).
(Last accessed 24th January 2008)

Grimshaw, Mark. "The acoustic ecology of the first-person shooter".
Unpublished PhD thesis. (New Zealand: University of Waikato, 2007).

(Last accessed 24th January 2008)

Best regards,
Gareth White

Inger Ekman
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I agree with Gareth White that Grimshaw's PhD wold have been a good reference to include. I would also like to point you to two other texts discussing game sound functionality and setting some foundations for a framework that I thought you may find informative:

Ekman, Inger (2005). Understanding Sound Effects in Computer Games In Proc. Digital Arts and Cultures 2005, Kopenhagen, Denmark.

This is my own attempt at a first framework, written some years ago. The main dimensions under scrutiny are diegetic/non-diegetic (determined by where sounds emanate from and how they behave in the game world) as well as the referent-relationships of functions, i.e. whether the event behind the game is part of the diegesis (something happening in the game world) or not (player's actions with non-diegetic parts of the game such as interface buttons). I think at that point I was a bit too nitpicky with the distinction of diegetic, going too strongly for audio realism. Nevertheless, some aspects of realism (e.g. the transmission of sounds between players that you mention, too) can readily affect the interpretation of sounds as belonging or not belonging to the game diegesis.

Can't find the whole proceedings online anywhere, but the paper is available at:

Joergensen, Kristine (2006). On the Functional Aspects of Computer Game Audio. Proc. AudioMostly 2006, Piteň, Sweden.

Joergensen acknowledges there is a diegetic/non-diegetic divide, but continues to distinguish between game sound by their functions. She identifies five main functions: action oriented, athmospheric, orienting, control-related and identifying.

Available at: