Massively Overthinking: Do you associate music with memory in MMOs?


The other night, I tried to log in to the Star Wars Galaxies emu and the music hit me hard. See, I play SWG Legends almost every day, but I play with the music and sound off since I often have more than one toon logged in and that can get raucous quickly. So I had sort of forgotten the power that music had over me.

So I got slammed with that login music in the other emu – it’s the piece from the end of Empire Strikes Back – and actually teared up. That login music is clearly stored in my brain next to years of experiences and memories playing the original game, and it made me homesick, which is weird since I still play! And it reminded me that I should probably start turning on music and sounds again since I’m missing out on forging new memories associated with these soundtracks.

Let’s talk about this for Overthinking this fine week. Do you pay attention to music and sound in MMOs? Do you associate certain pieces of music or sounds with specific moments in your MMO life? What’s the most memorable track you can think of, without going to look it up, and why?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): My initial thought was, “Not really,” but just to be sure, I went back and listened to a lot of MMO music for this. While most of it reminds me of the game it’s from, not a lot of it triggered anything specific, just vague nostalgia. For example, I saved some tunes from Istaria/Horizons, but going back and listening to them mostly makes me think of crafting, yet I have lots of fond memories of exploring, roleplaying, and event-crafting a rainbow bridge to unlock the Fairy race, which the music just doesn’t trigger.

In fact, I have more memories from non-MMO music that was playing while I was playing MMOs. For example, whenever I hear Don’t Turn Around, I think about stealth-ambushing Alliance players with my brother in Alterac Valley, but none of the music from the zone even registers in my mind. The Excalibur song for Asheron’s Call’s advertising often gets me excited, though so does Riddle of Steel for Ocarina of Time’s ad. Part of this may be because I know some of the MMOs I played either didn’t really have music (Asheron’s Call and I think Darkfall Online) or it just didn’t speak to me (World of Warcraft, with very few exceptions, like the Brewfest music).

If cut-scenes count, the Shadow Kingdom theme from AC2 makes me think of the character Isin Dule, who is probably my favorite MMO lore character to date (Thrall was pretty cool, but I feel they made him too god-like). I hear that, and I just want to read about the Shadow storylines and search vainly for AC2 screenshots of the Shadow Kingdom PvP skills.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Two pieces always hit me hard. The first is the original LOTRO character screen music. Not LOTRO Legacy (although that one is certainly a Chance Thomas masterpiece), but the first one. I was so excited to try my first MMO. An MMO that would allow me to experience Tolkien’s Middle-earth in all is three dimensional glory. The memories come rushing back.

The second piece is related. That serene music that plays in the Archet starter area in LOTRO. I recall my first steps into Middle-earth, when my biggest concerns were wild boars and searching for kinsfoil to heal a mysterious ranger who’d showed up unannounced. I don’t know that I even noticed the music at the time, but revisiting that area brings it all rushing back.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I already wasted my best example in the intro, so you’ll have to take a runner-up from me! I’d add some Ultima Online pieces to the pile. You probably think it’s gonna be Stones since someone always says Stones. But for me, it’d be the piece that always played when I recalled to my keep in the far tippy top of Yew: Forest. And it teleports my soul right back to those early days. When EA redid the music, it took away a lot of the midi charm, honestly.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): You know, I’ve been trying to stay a little more focused with my tasks recently. Usually, when I play an MMO, sound’s off and I have some show playing on a second monitor (or maybe even a staff meeting, but don’t tell my boss). But recently, I’ve been trying to not multitask when I play MMOs. So that means sound and music is on.

I feel like I’ve been getting a little more fun out of the game, listening to the music, letting the earworm dig in. And in the case of Swords of Legends Online, I would’ve been missing out otherwise!

I encourage people to try to just play their favorite MMOs without distraction. It makes a difference.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Oh I absolutely pay attention to music in MMOs. When the tunes are good, they add emotion and impetus to the tasks I’m doing. I don’t very often mute music in my MMORPG gaming, save for in Final Fantasy XIV, but that’s only when I’m not doing new dungeons or main quests.

A standout song that immediately flings me back to the game is WildStar’s Our Perception of Beauty. This song played at a pivotal moment of the game’s story when the reason for the game’s events — and even the creation of Nexus itself — was being unveiled, and it absolutely captured the melancholic yet hopeful nature of the character Drusera.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Music is intrinsically entwined with me, so I definitely do play games with the music on. Music and sound is as much an experience of gaming — and anything in life for me — as the visual. (Except special effects sounds, which I end up loathing in most games!) It has to be really bad, jarring stuff for me to turn it off (and I can only recall one game where I did). Interestingly, I live in the music in the moment while I am playing. For the most part, I couldn’t tell you what music I loved most and where it is from: I just enjoy as I am listening. Those who watch the streams have heard me remark on the current music many times. But just ask me to randomly recall something? Nah. It will come to me when it darn well wants to and cares nothing for attempts to bid it hither on demand.

Two notable exceptions to this rule are Star Wars Galaxies (intro music and Mos Eisley cantina music) and Astroneer. One note of the SWG music just opens the floodgates to the amazing memories and powerful feelings of the phenomenal time I had playing it. The cantina music always takes me not to the movies, but to the many adventures I had right in those walls. Astroneer is a surprise one that I can recall instantly, and that’s because the intro music is just so soothing! If I ever just need to sit and breathe, I can fire that game up then just unwind.

Wish I could remember more when asked because there is a ton of awesome music in games worth enjoying!

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I do appreciate the music but often turn it down. I just tend to have something else on my mind when I’m running through dailies or trying out a new game. The music in Leafling is surprisingly legit. It’s just got a nice beat.

I can’t say there’s any piece that really hits home for me. Likely the one that is closest is “Fear not this night” in Guild Wars 2. It pulls me back to gaming with a baby in my lap. The baby is getting big and the amount of time I can just sit and play for one long session is getting shorter.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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Stormsong Minstrel
Stormsong Minstrel

No. I always turn music off in any mmo I play. The only music I hear is from cutscenes & player played (bands of Minstrels in Lotro). otherwise – let there be silence, interrupted by killed Hobbit…


I’m not sure if it’s psychological, physiological, something about how game music composing has changed, or whatever, but I have a much harder time placing video game music from the 2000 onward. I mean, I identify more readily music from The Lost Vikings than from World of Warcraft, despite having likely spent over a thousand times more playtime with WoW.

As a result, I have little association between MMO music (which I only started playing after 2000) and the gameplay.

This isn’t exclusive to games, mind. For example, there’s at least a hundred or so Anime intro and ending songs from the 80s and 90s that I can sing along in Japanese (which isn’t my native language), whereas if you played me music from movies and series I saw in the last decade and asked me to tell where it came from I would likely fail. Heck, the only Marvel-related music I can readily recall are the old Spider-Man song and the intro of the 90s X-Men cartoon, despite having watched almost every movie in the MCU.

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Frequently. Many is the time I find myself humming or whistling some MMO or game theme that is stuck in my noggin on endless repeat :)


If I hear the original music for Westfall, Elwynn Forest, Teldrassil, The Barrens or Stranglethron Vale, I can’t help but imagining I’m in respective zone on my first playthrough of WoW from 2006 when I first fired the game up and experienced what an MMORPG is for the first time.


The first thing I do is turn off the music in almost every game I play. The games encourage this by doing 2 things:

1) blasting it all the time (I’m ok with thematic music that cuts in and out, but constant music is not ok)
2) neglecting to mute the game on loss of focus. I don’t need to be hearing crap when I’m in some other application.

That said, no, I don’t normally associate music with memory in games. Maybe it they license some good songs (I still remember an old apple-2e game I had, Conan, played AXEL-F and that was quite memorable!)

Toy Clown

Same nostalgia for me with SWG: The first time playing SWG:Legends and I was listening to the music that plays while you load into the game, I had tears in my eyes! I used to experience anticipation loading into SWG, visualizing what I was going to do, friends I would do those things with, and then being dropped into the game as the music finishes, followed by the datapad and droid soft beeps and whistles. It was all sort of magical.

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Do you associate certain pieces of music or sounds with specific moments in your MMO life?

This is the weirdest fucking thing…I have a vivid EQ1 memory of soloing mushrooms at the zonein of The Deep on my Shadow Knight way back in the day that gets triggered by a Three Doors Down song—a group I’ve never liked. It must have been on the radio or something, because I can remember every damn detail of that night—my shithole Philly apartment, having the windows wide open because it was hot as balls and there was no AC, the incessant beeping that, weeks later, I would discover was a smoke detector that who-the-fuck-knows-how was in my ceiling (no, it wasn’t a drop ceiling…somehow this fucking thing ended up between two floors of a 20-story building). And that was like the only time I had ever set foot in that zone. That one night I spent a couple hours soloing shrooms but the XP was shit and there wasn’t enough space to fearkite very well, so I never went back.
I have basically zero other memories of that apartment or that era of EQ, but this one memory, triggered by that one song…it’s weird.


Pigtails are of two thoughts on this. And a third…

1) There’s not enough electronic music in MMO’s. However, I’m glad that City of Heroes and EVE Online have bucked that trend. But I wish more games would introduce it more…as I would allow to insert more into my earworm disc player more.

2) I do however appreciate when MMO’s explore more world music though. Which is a nice break from that cinematic Wagner schlock, which is the usual go to for most MMO’s I’ve played…

3) Speaking of which, I am trying to purge Jeremy Sol said earworm disc player collection, after it was reported he’s a real shit-gibbons in RL. You know, he’s a amazing talented composer who made that Wagner schloack much more tolerable to listen too…but I can’t listen to it now without a bad taste being left in my mouth. So /bleh. >.<

Disclaimer: The above are strictly my opinions as the reader is not obligated to agree with them. And ones I generally keep to myself, but the topic subject was asking of them of sorts. Because ultimately it's about what MMO music sticks with me and what ones don't. /shrug :)

Bryan Correll

Wagner himself wasn’t exactly a a sterling example of humanity, but I still love the classics.

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Nothing brings me back to a memory and feeling I had while playing an mmo as easily as music does. And some are overwhelmingly recognizable and bound to to places. Of course you also have theme music, such as the EverQuest and World of Warcraft title screen music, which is powerful on its own to bring on a sense of nostalgia and general memories, but it doesn’t signify place and specific memories, like some other tracks do.

Rivervale in EverQuest and Kelethin in both EQ1 and EQ2. If there was ever a track that could suddenly transplant me to a mindset of being surrounded by hobbits, an angry dog and a hateful brownie or suicidal elves that build treetop cities without handrails – these are them.
And that weird track from when you’re near the Karanas bridge.

Atlas Park from City of Heroes always brings me back to that plaza, teeming with throngs of unique (or borderline copyright infringing) costumed heroes running to and fro.

Cold Science of Supremacy (and it’s derived tracks) from Wildstar, bringing back memories of exploring the ruins of a lost civilization and slowly realize just how f**ked up they were.

And as much as I hate these two tracks; the Stormwind and Ogrimmar city themes from World of Warcraft. Oh – great…I’m in Storgrimmar again. Blech (there are MUCH better capital cities than these two).

The Rak’tika Greatwood from Final Fantasy XIV – I played this track so much that my husband hates the zone now. The entire Shadowbringers soundtrack was just phenomenal!

Ca’ial Brael’s theme music from Vanguard SoH brings me back to being a little fox dude running around playing the diplomacy card game with a city full of stuffy elves.

From roaming the grim, sterile streets of Omni City in Anarchy Online to the (way too many) hours spent in the aptly named Scarlet Gorge in Rift, the music of these places and experiences has been more significantly branded upon my mind than most other musical associations I tend to make.

Perhaps it’s because of the limited scope of senses available for the memories we make when playing an mmo. There are visuals, sounds and your own mental/emotional state. But there are no smells, nothing to touch, so heat or cold, no wind on the skin. Sight and sound. And the sounds are limited in scope – not the vast cacophony of real world sounds – even if you are far from civilization, the wind, water, animals, insects – there is always noise. In games just the occasional sound effect, maybe an ambience track and music.

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I had an experience like the one you mention in your intro Bree, but it was with EQ1 not SWG. EQ was my first MMO and there were a few years in the early 00s that I played every night for several hours a night. Built a lot of great memories with the guild I was in until, inevitably, drama happened and it all fell apart in about a week. I quit playing and aside from a brief dabble now and then didn’t play for years. Until one night, somewhat on a whim, I patched it up and launched it – and the first few notes of the theme song blindsided me with a gut punch of nostalgia that sent literal chills up my spine. It’s never happened quite like that since, but that one moment was very unexpectedly powerful.

Suffice to say I ways play with music and sounds on though I do turn the volume way down at times when I need to be able to hear other things like voice chat. I may not always be consciously paying attention to it but I know some portion of my brain always is and hearing the music outside the game often calls up visual memories of the zone it’s from or a particular play session or whatnot, even if the effect is rarely as strong or as visceral as the one I described above.