hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

More Than Just Noise: Epinephrine

3:00 PM on 09.13.2010 // Nihil

[For his Monthly Musing, Nihil walks us through the process of how exactly game music can get us so hyped up. Want to write your own Musing? Click here and start writing! -- JRo]

I wanted to come up with something creative to talk about on this topic. Something different. Maybe a little controversial. Something that would stir up a discussion. But more importantly, something that would make me sound smarter than I actually am. When that failed, I thought about the thing I love most about video game music... About any kind of music, really. I thought about its ability to get me pumped up and ready to take on all-comers. So I'll leave the "because JOURNALISM" to someone who cares more about that, and I'll talk about what I know...


Wikipedia says it increases heart rate, contracts blood vessels, dilates air passages and participates in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. The major physiologic triggers of adrenaline release center upon stresses such as physical threat, excitement, noise, bright lights, and high ambient temperature. Or something.

It's basically the essential component for making strenuous, physical snap decisions. It shoots from the adrenal glands into your body whenever your mind thinks it needs to move out of (or into) harm's way and quick. Jumped up from hearing a gunshot in the middle of the night? Adrenaline. That "Oh Crap!" feeling you get before the first drop of a roller coaster? Adrenaline. Pretty much everything John McClane does? Awesome. It makes you more alert, able-bodied, and capable of taking care of business!

How does this apply to Video Game music and sound? Well I'm glad you asked, Person-who-didn't-ask.

Let's talk about sound first. As I mentioned, a sudden loud and/or disturbing noise in an otherwise quiet environment will make you perk right up. Jump-scares in horror movies and games are a perfect example of this. It's meant to keep you on your toes. With the proper atmosphere and pre-built tension, it can be effective about 2 or 3 times, even if nothing actually happens. You're walking down a dank, dirty hallway in an abandoned building at night. Nothing but a few patches of blue moonlight illuminating small spots through cracks in the wall and ceiling. A shriek here. Some shattering glass there. Add something dark 'n freaky popping out of nowhere and you got yourself a shot of adrenaline!

This is only effective to a point, though. Dropping the "DUN!" piano cord and crap jumping out at you will get old real quick. You'll be anticipating things coming around every corner, which is enough for people who get scared easily. For me, it breaks the suspense and thrill because I know something is coming, eventually, and I'll either fight or flee in a by-the-numbers encounter. All you're doing is exploiting a base instinctual reaction, and you'll lose my attention automatically if cheap-ass sudden movements are all you've got for me. So once you have your Boo-tactics down, it is time to take it to the next level: CRESCENDO!

Now this can create a jump-scare, multiplied by infinity - or however much effort the creators put into building the tension of the situation. Combining shrill music and sound, it begins slightly understated but eerie, slowly ramps up, and ends with a bang (though sometimes, a bang isn't required). This is way more effective than a normal jump-scare because the tension is established and sustained for a period of time. Remember that roller coaster example I gave? This is the soundtrack to that moment. The music acts as an aural conduit for everything you (the audience) are feeling. It plays on your nervousness, your dread, and it gets you ready...

Timing is crucial, because if it goes by too quick, it losses its effectiveness and becomes just a plain jump-scare. If it's drawn out overlong, we'll get sick of hearing that goddamn racket! Maintaining those notes and frequencies for a very specific amount of time before the jump/reveal is key to getting the adrenal rush going.

It's an art form, really. It takes skill to pull off effectively and efficiently. It has to be deliberate and methodical. Has to be... Well, it kinda has to be like sex. GOOD sex. The kind that starts out slow; teasing and prodding you. Building up the already ripe tension. Making you either giddily await or utterly lament what's coming next. Getting you hotter whether you want it to or not. Progressively rising louder... faster... and when it finally...

Right... Well... Yes.


So we've talked about music and sound that creates a physiological response on a reactive, instinctual level. How about some on a more proactive, emotional one? I briefly mentioned in an earlier blog post of mine, that my first encounter with game music that got me pumped up was with Bucky O'Hare on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Let's take a look back, shall we?


....nrut dluow I .ti ot gninetsil ,VT eht ta erats dna yad eht fo elddim eht ni ereht tis tsuj dluow I .emag siht deyalp I nehw saw ,efil eritne ym ni ylbissop ,cisum yb devom reve saw I emit tsrif ehT-


The first time I was ever moved by music, possibly in my entire life, was when I played this game. I would just sit there in the middle of the day and stare at the TV, listening to it. I would turn it back on after lights-out and fall asleep to it.

It gave you a reason to care about Bucky's mission and his friends.

It made it very clear, that if you didn't kill the Toad Marshal, everything Good in the universe will be lost.

It made you want to save the fucking world.


Fascinating stuff, right? Game composers and sound engineers have taken that same concept, and made its execution evolve with the capabilities of the industry and the visions of talented creative directors. Taking music & sound, and making it evoke an emotional, as well as physiological response; usually to an extremely tense situation. One game I've played in semi-recent years that implements this masterfully comes to mind...

Half the time you spend in "Shadow of the Colossus" is spent traveling in near silence. The other half is spent doing variations of the above; taking down living skyscrapers.

A nice and interesting touch to the encounters is the soft music that begins to play when you enter a colossus's domain; the low rumble as it lumbers around; illustrating a beautiful calm-before-the-storm feeling. When it comes time to get up in its grill, however, the music switches to fit the current situation. You need to dodge an attack the size of half a city block, somehow climb up this thing, and then stab it in the face without getting thrown off. All the while with crazy adventure music blaring in the background, and perhaps in its own unsubtly subtle way, cheering you on?

It's an experience best described in one word and two syllables: FRIGGIN EPIC

Epic horns, epic strings, epic choir. I love it. The music starts out big and energetic, and stays that way until what needs doin' gets done. It could also be akin to the sustained middle-part of the CRESCENDO effect, only the way it fulfills its purpose differs. It's working on a separate set of nerves, building a different kind of tension for a different kind of stressful situation - The kind you run into on purpose. Remember that John McClane example I gave? This is what he kicks ass to (when it's not Rock & Roll). Action-packed trailers and scenes are a great example of how music can build up mental and physical hype; get you psyched, get you pumped up. Give You Adrenaline.

So now you have a pretty good idea of not only what I love about video game music & sound, but what makes it tick. Since I couldn't think of anything to put up for debate, feel free to share similar thoughts and experiences or differing preferences and inclinations. Or even if you believe I got something wrong or left anything out, leave a comment.

Are you like me, and enjoy the rush? Do you get your kinky-sex-jollies from the thrill of dangerous action and the shock of disturbing horror? Can you take the plunge?

Or am I gonna have to stick you with this needle full of epinephrine to get you off your ass?

 Follow Blog + disclosure nihil_bones

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our moderators, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

Nathan D avatarNathan D
"Everlasting. True love. I am yours." -Rule of Rose T^T
Shinta avatarShinta
MGO's pretty fun! I suck at it though. I mostly hang back and just mark enemies and get the occasional sniper kill. It's pretty fun to be semi-useful with a very hands off role like that. Love my avatar character guy too.
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
Fuck Insecticons
nanashi avatarnanashi
they pooped in my food they pooped in my food they pooped in my food they pooped in my food
Robo Panda Z avatarRobo Panda Z
I have been accused of the greatest of crimes - cookie snobbery.
KyWii avatarKyWii
Rock Band 4 is really fun...takes me back to my teenage days of high school. Also reminds me of all the hours I wasted on a plastic guitar instead of getting better on a real one xD
Avoclefo avatarAvoclefo
Team Fortress 2 just got a massive community-made Invasion update. SFM short, reskins, cosmetics, and 4 brand new maps?!?! God, I love this game and its wonderful community so, so much. [youtube][/youtube]
Rad Party God avatarRad Party God
AARRGGGHHHH!!!, GODDAMIT!, fucking SOMA has crashed 3 fucking times in a row and I always lose ~20 minutes of playtime!, playing the same section over and over kinda ruins the tension! >.<'
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
N-Not that P1 isn't perfect the way she is! Isn't that right sweetie? Yes it... Oh, now don't you go and listen to those P2 fans! They just go around spreading rumors and pretending Hitler was just a handsome gentleman in sunglasses, that's what THEY do!
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
Persona Q has made me realize I really want a Persona 1 remake on 3DS in a similar style. A lot. A loooooooot. You listening, Atlus?
Super Mario Maker, the announcement of Sonic Lost World for Steam, and remembering all of the mods that got made for the PC version of Sonic Generations makes me wish SEGA/Sonic Team would make their own dedicated Sonic level creation game.
gajknight avatargajknight
Hey, is your fridge running? You better catch it. I mean, it has all your food, and without food, you die. Like, forever. You don't wanna die right? If you die, how will you watch The Good wife with your favourite bowl of Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Go.
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
My local Best Buy is drowning in Marth & Dark Pit amiibo
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
Spooky yet totally true gaming fact: the bushes and the clouds in Super Mario Bros are the same exact shape. #Spooky
Sr Churros avatarSr Churros
It is coming fast AAAAAAH
Fuzunga avatarFuzunga
The newest PS4 update finally got rid of that bug where I'd get the "you can customize your power options" message every time I turned on my console!
El Dango avatarEl Dango
Should I just pass on MGSV? I haven't really liked any of the games after Snake Eater, and it's being used as a money sink at the moment.
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
[Youtube][/youtube] All the episodes are on youtube now. Also I never knew they got to do a season 3. Pretty cool. Now back to Transformers. Scored a gc to my favorite thai place too. Pad ahoy bitches. It's been too long.
ashamasha avatarashamasha
i have almost all the pieces i need to build my own Arcade machine... and the last one arrive this Saturday! Soon, one my childhood dream will became true!
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Interviewer: Konami, why are you selling cosmetic DLC for MGSV? Konami exec: I breathe through my skin.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -