To Mask Or Unmask: How sounds are used to hide or reveal a game’s history.

The original Space Invaders was a mega-hit video game that was created as part of Japan’s long road to economic recovery in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When it was first conceived in Japan in 1978, the aliens were humans, but the developers pulled back from making the enemy human, which was considered potentially immoral. Thus, the game developers refrained from making the game similar to real historical events. However, In LaPensée’s Invaders she seeks to reveal the history of indigenous tribes and natives. Particularly, she seeks to represent “the Indigenous people’s struggle [in which] more and more Europeans made their pilgrimages to [their home land], America.” As I kept these game histories in mind, I noticed how the game developers mask or unmask the game’s history with sound and visuals.


(Figure 1.0) The original Space Invaders graphics which are less human looking.

When I played Space Invaders it sounded more like a video game. Whereas the sound of gunfire was odd rather than what I know and understand as actual gunfire. The choice in sound seems to evoke the sense that the “invaders” are unrelated to events of World War II. Thus, I did not think about the game’s history or anything serious. In addition, the sound supports the game’s visual (figure 1.0) because the avatars look nothing like human beings or objects I recognize in “reality”. Thus, as a player I am far more removed from thinking about the tragedy of World War II.  As I shoot the strange-looking invaders with foreign gunfire I do not consider the long tragic fight during that time. In this case, the game developers use sound and visuals to help me disconnect from the game’s history.


(Figure 1.5) LaPensée’s Invaders color scheme is black and white.

In comparison, Elizabeth LaPensée’s Invaders (figure 1.5) is a lot different.  The sounds are much more familiar such as the sound of “shooting” sounds like arrows. It seems that she wants the player to connect this sound with the visual of Native Americans. In LaPensée’s version the player is clearly a Native American fighting the invaders. In addition, the game’s color scheme is black and white which was most likely chosen so the player focuses on the essence of the game. Overall, the sound and colors help me recall instances in history when Native Americans had to fight for their land. Contrary to Space Invaders, LaPensée wants her players to become aware of the game’s history.

So, what do I make of this? Why would game developers do this? My guess is that game developers have always struggled with games that have serious undertones. What is lost in making a game fun with serious undertones is the rich history that created the game. When I play Space Invaders, my interaction is surface because I only interpret the game as fun. Thus, I do not get the underlying tragic story within a game like Space Invaders. In contrast, when we look at LaPensée’s Invaders she is telling the tragic story of Native Americans. What is lost here is the aspect of fun because of the topic of seriousness. While I did enjoy the game, I wonder if other players may not because it reminds them of past injustices.



2 thoughts on “To Mask Or Unmask: How sounds are used to hide or reveal a game’s history.

  1. I enjoy how you touched on the “disconnect” that comes with playing Space Invaders, as I did not consider that. After reading your post however, I agree that it is harder to immerse oneself in a game live Space Invaders, where the sound is much more synthetic and video game like, than in a game like Invaders, where the music and sounds of shooting arrows are much more realistic. Reading this post also made me wonder whether our educational background has an affect on the way we look at the games. For example, my history classes in high school focused a lot more on the injustices faced by Native Americans than Word War 2. So if not for the book we were assigned for class, or the way the question was framed, I would have never considered World War 2 as an influence for Space Invaders.


  2. Sound in games is incredibly underrated in how important they are to the actual experience. Play a game with the sound muted. Just once. Realize how incredibly much sound contributes to your experience, and how utterly lost you feel without it. Turn on the sound, breathe a sigh of relief.


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