Hyperacusis and Gaming Soundtracks
Regular everyday sounds are physically painful for people with hyperacusis or decreased sound tolerance. This means sometimes we need to use hearing protection to cope when other people don’t need any. Sound quality is an important factor. For example, metallic higher pitch sound sources usually hurt more than natural lower pitch sound sources. This means metal knives or forks hitting or scraping on a plate can be excruciating, but wooden utensils or chopsticks sounds are less painful.
I really noticed this difference with our latest new games. We got the Nintendo Switch as an early Festivus present because of being trapped in quarantine. First my partner played Zelda Breath of the Wild. I had no problem with the soundtrack on low, even for monster slaying. But when he finished and switched to The Witcher, I had to pull out my hearing protection. The background soundtrack has a repeated metallic sword on sword type clinking sound. It’s in scenes where there’s a blacksmith nearby. And hurts so much it makes my teeth ache. Monster slaying is also painfully loud.
I was deciding between my high fidelity corded premolded filtered musician’s earplugs or my heavy duty corded foam earplugs. It reminds me of how I used my high fidelity earplugs at the loud Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses concert, but used my high noise reduction foam earplugs at super loud head banging concert by one of my favourite bands: Avatar Metal. Which would I need for The Witcher?
When he noticed me with two sets of earplugs slung around my neck, my partner started turning down or muting the volume when I’m watching him play The Witcher so I don’t have to use hearing protection at all. Which is really nice of them.
I wish audio designers for games would think about quality of sounds, especially for the many people with hearing health issues like decreased sound tolerance. They could have picked a different sound without sacrificing gamer or gamer audience enjoyment.