Every now and then i begin to hear a dissonant wail in the distance causing a brief stir of alarm within my chest and a tightening of my nerves. Am i crazy?
Luckily not! It seems there's a WW2 enthusiast or something nearby because occasionally (and randomly) during the day an air raid siren will sound. It's a testament to the unsettling nature of this dissonant wail that it cuts through whatever else i'm doing and makes me sit up and pay attention. I'm also constantly surprise that, despite not having ever lived through World War 2 or any other major conflict on home shores, i immediately respond emotionally to the siren's call.
It has such a powerful emotional meaning in history that even I am trained to heed its call and it's no surprise that they chose it for the trapping of the Eloi by the Morlocks in the 1960 film adaptation of HG Wells' The Time Machine.
This feeling links in rather nicely with an article over on The Brainy Gamer. Though the article focuses mainly on dissonance in relation to game interaction and feedback i think there needs to be more purposefully dissonant feedback in games: sounds and graphics.
How many of the most memorable games you've played have had one particular sound or creature that freaked you out or had you on edge every time you knew it was coming? Or perhaps just provided a fond memory of encountering them in the game? Doom 1&2 did this for me. The spiders and the Arch Vile put me on edge every time i heard their sound effects. Morrowind had the followers of Dagoth Ur where there would be whispering chants in the background of their sanctums. Killzone had the red eyes of the Helgast. Ico had the contrast between the Queen and her minions and Yorda. Stalker had the psychic enemy and the blood tentacled guys (sorry, my memory fails me).
These little details add to the game world and environment and they also help reinforce certain aspects of the games the designers are trying to put across.... whether it be danger or the alien nature of a world or place.