The Last of Us: Power of Sound and Music in Video Games

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1072 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Words: 1072|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of Sound and Music in The Last of Us
  3. Sound Design in The Last of Us
  4. Conclusion
  5. Works Cited


The use of sound and music, in The Last of Us, could be considered paramount to the creative direction its developers have taken and its success amongst players and beyond. From the moment the game first loads, music and sound is at the centre of the experience. The first thing we hear are the subtle sound of birds and straight away this sets the tone. This sound effect leads the audience to feel a sense of isolation or space would be fitting for the genre of the game, a survival-horror game set in post-apocalyptic America. Evidently, the developers of the game waste no time in communicating information to the player, though this becomes a little more obvious in the later stages of the game. For instance, sudden and dramatic synth stabs occur when there is the threat of danger, followed by strong timpani drums. This sound is much more uptempo than throughout “safe passage” of play. It works to get the audience’s heart rate going, stimulating urgency and can encourage better immersion in the game’s experience.

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The Role of Sound and Music in The Last of Us

The music throughout this game combines major and minor melodies to help give more information about the game too - I feel there the clash of the melodies create an emotional, defeated mood with the minor sections and a sense of hope with the major. Ideal for a game about survival in a world full of zombies. There are long silences between music and sound to create uncertainty and anxiety in the atmosphere. This is a perfect use of sound because, as a horror game, The Last Of Us provides a better experience by creating moods and atmospheres that are both expected and unexpected. This is an interesting use of music but fits perfectly with the delicate narrative. The personalised soundtrack has the ability to stay second to the graphical content but can demand attention away from the other content at any time. Music and sound can be used in this way to produce greater interaction and structure of the game.

The music is very important to this game and its is suggested that The Last Of Us is one of the first games to place such importance on a musical score. Yes, music has been important to other games and sound has become extremely important to games since but this game was moulded around its score. This is very unique and a great way of ensuring the music hits its cue and has the desired effect on the gameplay. Although it may not always be possible to do this, moulding the game around the sound track has allowed better accompaniment of what is on screen. This may include transition sounds through loading screens or having adaptable music that evolves to its surroundings. Again, this improves the narrative of the game as it demands attention to the character and their story. In some instances, the sound can work as a leitmotif that accompanies a location or character. These can be effective for the player to easily identify the situation (and respond to danger, if necessary) or provide information of content. Music has been a common fixture in games for decades because it can provide greater storytelling. This particular game relies heavily on its emotional content to provide an immersive experience and the music must fit this particular media content. Furthermore, it is not so relevant in 2019 or, it could be argued, in 2013 (when the game was released) but music can counteract the graphical limitations games may have. For part of extreme horror and panic, arpeggios sound, raising heart rate (a technique also used in The Shining) placing panic at the forefront of events. Music and sound constantly change to help the player empathise and understand experiences. As with most games, The Last Of Us relies heavily on the congruence between the game’s content and its sound which maintains engagement and provides realism.

Sound Design in The Last of Us

How the instrument is played may have a lot of say in the way the sound works. For example, downbeat pianos represent the depression of the characters and variations of this can represent new themes or moods. Throughout, the composer uses a wide variety of sound production tools and techniques to create depth and work in unison with the gameplay. Many techniques are copied from TV and movies to create different themes and moods that change perspective. Using crescendos and introducing more instrumentation as a piece builds develops tension and sound FX are utilized to create guidance for completing task or introducing realism. For instance, the sound of rain hitting the windows and seagulls etc. These are sounds a player can relate to, improving empathy. “Downfalls” in instrumentation clash with uptempo parts to articulate the stories' concentration on human life’s refusal to quit whilst fighting the current state of the world they live in - desolate. Differentiations between sonic content and atmosphere make it easier to identify situations i.e. the difference in sounds in a moment of panic or calm. The composer constantly alternates between solo instrumentation and full orchestras. these are used to provide different narratives. In some instances the game doesn't use percussion which is much more emotionally effective.

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The composer and sound designers of The Last Of Us could be considered unconventional but this gives the game its unique character. DIY instruments made out of metal and plastic that interesting sounds with the aim of making the player better understand the story and the world in which the characters reside. It allows the player to distance the story from reality but not too much to lose its emotional impact and realism. These sounds combine with the more “organic sounds” created by “common” instruments, like the ronroco, to represent anxiety and solitude together as one theme. Heavy use of the de-tuned ronroco represents the dark world that currently exists through its dissonance. Again, this does not intrude on other parts of the game but is much more dramatic than if the composer used long sweeping melodies that a more appropriate for epics, like Game of Thrones. This allowed engineers to develop unique sound design such as the clicker sounds. These sounds were created through sidechaining and comping layers of audio. Unconventional and creative sound design led to unique artifacts and FX that have become synonymous with the game. 

Works Cited

  1. Naughty Dog. The Last of Us. Sony Computer Entertainment, 2013.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Last of Us: Power of Sound and Music in Video Games. (2023, August 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“The Last of Us: Power of Sound and Music in Video Games.” GradesFixer, 04 Aug. 2023,
The Last of Us: Power of Sound and Music in Video Games. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Apr. 2024].
The Last of Us: Power of Sound and Music in Video Games [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 04 [cited 2024 Apr 13]. Available from:
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