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Why Your Last Sounds Matter Most

What if the last sounds in an attack combo, the last words your character say in your game, and the last sound your player hears late-game were remembered the best? A psychological phenomenon called the recency effect implies that this is likely the case.

According the American Psychological Association, the Recency Effect is "a memory phenomenon in which the most recently presented facts, impressions, or items are learned or remembered better than material presented earlier." We can exploit the recency effect in video games to make important endings more memorable and exciting. Here's how:

We Can Use the Recency Effect in Cutscenes

We can exploit the recency effect by emphasizing "lasts" in a game or a film. If there's a cutscene, a sound effect can act like a closing statement. In Ludwig's second cutscene within Bloodborne, we hear the sheen of his Moonlight Greatsword and an excited neigh at the end. His delight and the power of his sword are memorable because of this flourish.

We Can End Boss Fights With Bombastic Sounds

Once a boss is defeated, you can let the player know this with an exciting and distinct sound effect. Not only does this boost game feel, but it offers consistency throughout gameplay. After most of the bosses are defeated in Hollow Knight, the sounds of their corpses shaking then exploding reinforce key elements of the story and communicate that you've won.

We Can Tighten and Improve Possible Endings

Depending on the impression you want to leave on your player, certain endings would benefit from a definitive sound effect to go along with the music. If this sound signals the end of something, even better. For example, in Disco Elysium, (spoilers ahead), the sound of music and Kim's police car door closing take us immediately to the game's title and credits.

In Closing

The recency effect can give game developers and sound designers a guide to what sounds might stick with the player the most. There are many other psychological phenomena that we can consider when designing games and their sounds. To learn more about the psychology of audio and video games, see my other posts or contact me.


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