For occupational reasons, I recently subjected myself to the entirety of Call of Duty: Black Ops II with no sound effects or music. The experience was awkward and unsettling, Lynchian in its surrealism. With no orchestral score or visceral gunfire, everything seemed out of place, flattened by silence. A helicopter sweep in with no introductory chopping of its propellers or brass instruments announcing its dramatic arrival. From the jungle of Angola to the jet fighter scene in Los Angeles, the trappings of warfare became play pieces, like cut-out marionettes at a puppet show.
The sound of violence sits alone in all the silence. Every grunt and cry of pain of the hundreds of slain enemies echoes constantly. I can also hear Mason and Harper yelling about some unheard threat or voicing their anger to the non-existent audience. Without the sound of incoming bullets, the urgency of the situation vanishes. Instead, Mason's silence expresses a cold distance from the battle. His steady breathing while aiming down his scope, amid shouts of anguish, seems suddenly monstrous.
This is not the right way to play Call of Duty, I know. Like a sitcom needs a laugh-track, the shooter needs its musical flare and auditory foliage. Without it, the violence is naked. The cries of pain seem almost free of cause, brief and alone with no aural cues to mark their passing.
I remember talking with friends about the sound of video game weaponry, praising the sound of sniper fire and the satisfying click and lock of a bolt-action rifle. Not once have I called the sound of suffering perfect in its fidelity and satisfying in its delivery. I shroud anguish, muffling the consequences of violence under the loud, explosive, and bombastic sound of digital warfare.