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

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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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