Dubstep & Game Trailers: End the trend

These days, it seems like every other new video game trailer comes packed full of “wubs and dubs,” while short-changing the audience on content.

Dubstep, the highly popular, bass-heavy electronic music genre, has been making frequent appearances in game trailers since the latter half of 2011.

As the “music” of the now-infamous Skrillex began frequenting more and more frat house ragers and crappy sushi bars, so did the gaming industry fall head-over-heels for the latest music trend.

By nature, it’s a high-energy, kinetic style of music that can make even the most mundane actions seem epic.

But this is one fad that needs to come to a swift end.

First off, it should be clear that I don’t have anything against dubstep itself. Even as a pretentious narcissist, I can understand how a filthy, unapologetic bass drop can scratch that dark, dirty corner of your soul like nothing else.

However, what I take issue with is the misguided use of this genre to convey a game’s content and tone.

Take the Assassin’s Creed: Revelations trailer above. Sure the Matta remix of German artist Hecq’s track, “Sura,” is somewhat danceable. And it even looks pretty cool when Ezio stabs nameless guard after nameless guard in beat with the song.

But does any of that tell you anything substantial about the game? In short, no.

AC: Revelations, for the uninitiated, is the third entry in the franchise, concluding the epic yet tragic story of its protagonist. The tone, like Ezio, is tired and desperate. It is not conducive to music that makes you want to attend a first-time rave with a group of college freshmen.

Despite the way they’re usually treated, crafting a quality game trailer is an intricate and difficult affair.

You have a roughly two to four minute window to not only convey what your game is about, touching on context, story, characters and atmosphere, but also provide viewers a taste of what it is like to actually play the game, which can span as long as hundreds of hours.

When you relegate a trailer’s audio to a few minutes of what sounds like speaker feedback and constipated Transformers, you give the audience no solid foundation on which to understand your game. Need more examples? Try and sit through these trailers for Uncharted 3 and Ridge Racer Unbounded.

Caryl Flinn, in her 1992 book Strains of Utopia, gracefully summarizes the importance of a carefully constructed audio component of the visual medium.

“Picture and track, to a certain degree, have a composition of their own but when combined they form a new entity. Thus the track becomes not only a harmonious complement but an integral inseperable part of the picture as well. Picture and track are so closely fused together that each one functions through the other. There is no separation of I see in the image and I hear on the track. Instead, there is the I feel, I experience, through the grand total of picture and track combined.”

In a video game trailer, the right song or construction  of audio can speak volumes towards a game’s tone or feeling. In a few short minutes, you can convey to a potential player the emotional journey they would experience from the game, without them having even touched a controller.

Now, let’s look at an example of a song choice done right in a game trailer. Check out this trailer, also for AC: Revelations, released a few months earlier.

The track featured is “Iron,” by indie artist Woodkid. The slow, menacing drumbeat, combined with the rise and fall of war horns creates a battle-weary and jaded tone. This is only compounded by the morose delivery of the vocals, not to mention the lyrical content.

It is a well-chosen, engrossing musical piece that perfectly complements the experience of playing as a lifelong killer, accomplishing much more than just empty spectacle.

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