In the Maze: Sound as spatial affordances

“The wall of sound” was a popular metaphor for describing the musical productions of Phil Spector, but what is the basis for this metaphor: can sound be thought of has having material properties – texture, solidity etc. – somehow related to other material objects (such as walls)?

This study aims to investigate the spatial affordances of sound. Are sound with different qualities – pitch, loudness, timbre (spectrum and envelope) – perceived as having different affordances in regards to navigation in a three-dimensional virtual space?

The hypothesis is that sound, just like visual stimuli, can be understood from the principles and theories James J. Gibson presents in his work about ecological visual perception in general and his theory of affordances in particular. This study is done in order to empirically validate the claims in Wilhelmsson’s Ph.D dissertation Enacting the Point of Being, where the author applies Gibson’s theories while discussing the aural qualities of computer games. So far sound has not been fully utilized in commercial computer games and is not given as much weight in the production process as the visual aspects. Digital games can be described as sets of affordances but these are predominately visual to their nature; while sounds are used in great effect to promote moods, excitement and arousal, the computer game player is asked to interact with the game primarily based on visual stimuli. This study aims to better understand our perception of sound in virtual environments and to inspire game designers use of this rather underexploited modality in games.

 

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