Mickey Mousing

Whalen, in his article on music and video games, brings out one aspect in particular which he describes as “mickey mousing”.  This effect is basically the synchronization of certain events or activities in a game and the music that accompanies them.  Whalen uses the example of Mario’s jumping sound contrasting it when Mario is small and when he is super Mario.  The game plays a “bouncing” sound that many people associate with a jump or an upward motion.  The goal of this is to increase a players immersion in the game by having the music respond to what the player would do in a way that the player would expect.

This reminded me of the part of any Zelda game when the character opens a chest.  Chest’s always contain good items and they are associated with a slowly increasing triumphant set of chords that culminate in a trumpet blast.

This music combines with a slow camera rotation around Link as he opens the chest and then holds the item aloft.  The music definitely adds to the feeling of accomplishment or success when Link gains another item.  Once my friend had this sound as his ring tone and when I heard it in a different context from the game it still gave me that feeling of accomplishment.

Do you think that playing the game made me associate this sound with discovery and completion, or did I already associate the sound with good feelings?

What if the same action were performed to a different sound, or an anti-sound like a dirge?  Would I associate the action with the same feelings?

In what other more modern games do you see the concept of mickey mousing?

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4 Responses to Mickey Mousing

  1. rcummins says:

    I have recently played Ocarina of Time and I must say it uses sounds perfectly to correlate with certain actions. I would have to say that playing the game along with other cultural actions makes me associate the sound of opening the chest with discovery and completion if it is reinforced enough. I think that the sound, tied to an action, can invoke that same feeling when one hears that same sound again or when one performs the same action. Just as one can invoke certain feelings to certain smells (have you ever smelled something that smelled like your old kindergarten and in brings back those feelings and memories?).

    I have to stress what I believe is the importance of learned experiences when associating certain sounds to certain experiences. I’m just not quite sure I believe that certain sounds invoke certain feelings innately, across cultures (if there is evidence to this, then I’m certainly willing to change my views). If you were raised so that every time you did something good your parents praised you and played the sound of a cricket chirping, then you would associate cricket chirping with feelings of acceptance and praise.

    One example I thought of for mickey mousing was the sound of Kirby gulping up air when he flies. Instead of having him silently taking in breaths, they have the sound of very loud gulps. Another example of Kirby is when he is sucking up an enemy it is if he is a vacuum, used to show that he is sucking up anything and everything around him.

    • Jason Ko says:

      I find it interesting that you thought kirby makes the sound of loud gulps as he flies. While this could be completely true, I always thought of it simply as a sound effect, a sort of boing-boing.

  2. I consider myself to be a pretty strong advocate of the necessity of music in video games. A great way to determine whether or not you would experience the same feelings of achievement after opening the chest would be to play the game without the sound. When I was younger, I was pretty afraid of some parts in Zelda: Windwaker, (let’s clarify I was in 5th grade usually playing in the dark) so whenever I was in a dungeon and felt as if something was about to pop out and scare me, I would mute the television. You would be surprised to find out what a difference sound and music makes toward your gaming experience. Climactic scenes in certain video games such as Dead Space 2 are far less scary with no eery music playing in the background. Winning a race in Mario Kart or beating a level in Sonic Adventures is significantly less rewarding without the short triumphant jingle tagged to the completion of the game/race. However, that’s just my personal opinion.

    Sometimes I find muting the sound is beneficial to my game play. For example, usually when I play Tetris I mute the sound. Considering the fact that the music accelerates as the blocks begin to fall faster, my adrenaline raises and my brain senses that I am in danger of losing the game. By shutting the sound off, I find that I become a more successful player. There are also some levels in Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 that have really distracting (not to mention annoying) sounds when you try to lock on a shot, or shoot your weapon. It’s less distracting to play with the sound off for those levels, I usually don’t complete the level if the sound isn’t off.

    Here’s a fun example of what happens when ill fitting music is playing during what clearly can be viewed as a children’s tv show. (I trust we all have seen Spongebob Squarepants before.) In this particular episode, Spongebob and his friends struggled to put together a band to play during a half-time show. The episode ends with a remarkable performance of the band’s rendition of “Sweet Victory”, leaving the viewer pleasantly satisfied and feeling inspired and uplifted. This is what happens when the choice of song, well… doesn’t exactly fit the theme of the episode. Just make sure your speakers are low… its pretty loud.


    … After watching that, I would be hesitant to watch Spongebob ever again… or fall asleep tonight.

    • Katie – I like how you point out that you can use the sound effects to your advantage by eliminating them in Tetris. You’re absolutely correct that the frantic music contributes to the adrenaline-raising nature of the game. Now, I wonder what would happen if you played really slow music while playing the game.

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