Scholar Karen Collins provides a historical exploration of the history of arcade game audio in her article, “Game Sound in Mechanical Arcades: An Audio Archaeology.” Beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present, she studies the role audio plays in furthering the enjoyment and novelty of carnival and arcade games. After reading this historical examination of arcade sounds, I concluded that Tsum Tsum draws heavily from a history of simple games with rich audio effects. In particular, the audio of Tsum Tsum is critical in enhancing immersion and in creating the sense of reward and accomplishment so commonly associated with casual games.
First, let’s examine the sounds of Tsum Tsum. I’ve included a video below of the game-play to give a sense of the audio effects of the game. As you can tell by watching it, the audio in Tsum Tsum is highly rewarding. Each Tsum makes a pleasant, popping sort of sound when you connect it to another, and for each chain of Tsums the player connects quickly, the pitch gets higher and higher, creating a sense of excitement. Using the power-ups from the character in the bottom left-hand corner (in this video, Anna from Frozen) also creates pleasant and exciting noises. Although it’s hard to tell because this player moves so quickly, the soundtrack also changes during the game’s “Fever Time,” becoming even faster and more upbeat. The game’s audio tracks overall are bright, fun, and pleasant, enhancing the enjoyment of playing the game.
Tsum-Tsum, as a casual game, has a fair amount in common with arcade games. The game is not narrative heavy, rounds are short, and the mechanics are relatively simple. Collins highlights the importance of audio in attracting players to arcade games and making them a rewarding experience, so it only makes sense that a casual, arcade-style game would follow the same pattern. Collins cites Dren McDonald, a freelance casual game sound designer, who explains that “If you’re doing a game, say, like a Bejeweled type of game, everything in that game is to reward you and make you feel like you’re really accomplishing something.” Tsum Tsum certainly follows this philosophy. Just like with the arcade games Collins studied, the simple gameplay is accompanied by a rich audio landscape, making the play experience highly rewarding. Additionally, Collins identifies that as early as the 1930s, designers used sound effects to enhance a game’s immersive qualities. Tsum Tsum’s audio definitely accomplishes this goal. Like Jamie Madigan identifies, a good match between the visual and audio components of a game makes the play experience more immersive. Hearing the popping sound as the player connects the bubble-like Tsums on her screen makes a more complete and immersive sensory experience.
While casual mobile games are a relatively new technological development, Karen Collins proves that rich sound design has been a component of arcade and carnival games since their inception. Tsum Tsum is descended from this tradition of immersive, stimulating audio in simple games. The delightful popping sounds and upbeat soundtrack of Tsum Tsum are but one instance in over 100 years of deliberately rewarding game sound design.
A video of Tsum Tsum gameplay. Source
Collins, Karen. “Game Sound in the Mechanical Arcades: An Audio Archaeology.” Game Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, Oct. 2016.
Madigan, Jamie. “The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games.” The Psychology of Video Games, 20 Oct. 2015, www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/07/the-psychology-of-immersion-in-video-games/.