Team Audio: Emotion Designers

Original Author: Ariel Gross

I think our current titles might be throwing people off. Sound designer, audio designer, audio artist… they just don’t convey the underlying purpose of what we do, which is make people feel something. People want to feel something, and Team Audio is gonna give it to them. We’re gonna hit ‘em with the nostalgic song, the sounds of laughter and people in love, and then we’re going to drop an explosion, then horrified screams, then coughing and weeping and debris and confusion. It’s what we do. If you have an awesome Team Audio at your side, then your games will make people laugh harder than they can remember, or make them feel like they’ve just injected hot adrenaline into the pits of their stomachs, and maybe, just maybe, you can wrench a tear from their eyes.

I’m not saying we’re the only ones, by the way. I can feel something by looking at a painting. I saw a painting by Delecroix once that chilled me to the bone. And a majestic sunset doesn’t need sounds to make me feel something, but I will say that adding a soft “I love you” in my ear to that sunset will turn my legs into cooked spaghetti. I also don’t need the sound on to feel the exhilaration of speeding down an alley in a muscle car, but when I hear the engine tearing the air around me to shreds, I’m probably gonna crap my pants. Emotionally, that is. An emotional pant-crapping.

Anyway, I fully acknowledge that when we work together across all disciplines, that’s when the magic happens.

Team Audios out there, we are emotion designers, and we can sing this glorious news to everyone. Fortunately, a lot of our colleagues recognize this already and want to exploit it, which takes some of the work off our own shoulders. These are the people that involve us early to talk to us about pacing and tone and emotion. They want to hear what we’re working on, and they provide feedback about how the sounds and music make them feel.

And then there are the ones that haven’t put their finger on it, or they might be completely oblivious to the idea. They’re not bad people, though. Just like people who don’t listen to music a lot aren’t bad people. They’re not! Most of the time these people just need to hear it said plainly, “we’re emotion designers,” and then they have a catharsis, and you have to hold them for hours and hours while they blabber through their tears and snot.

I’m sure there are also those crusty audio vets out there, the ones that have allowed the relentless onslaught of late timing changes and object impacts and mouth noises harden their hearts, and when they read this their smirks become just a little more permanent, and I’m at peace with that. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind, or to be so far from creative sound design on a daily basis that it’s painful. I know what that feels like, and some people let it get the best of them, but I’m trying to stay soft and to remind myself why I care about sound and why I’ve devoted so much of my life towards this line of work. It’s because I like to feel things when playing games, and I like to make other people feel things when they’re playing.

So, I’m just going to keep reminding people that Team Audio is here to make the player feel something, and that we’re good at it, and that we want to talk about it. I’m going to say it to everyone, even strangers walking down the street. I’m going to grab them by their lapels and get two inches from their faces and mutter under my breath, “we are emotion designers.” Because even though we have tons of assets to churn through and meetings to attend and e-mails to read and bugs to fix, I think we should strive to keep our heads above the muck and remember that we have the opportunity to give someone a feeling that can stick with them after they’ve turned off the game. And that’s amazing.